Sibling Rivalry, Strife and Spite
A few years ago I visited a family to talk with their teenage son about downloading things from the internet. He was very able at the process and I had never done it before. While I was in the home an exchange took place between the young man and his youngest sister, who was probably about five years younger than him. She had been using his computer, which she was allowed to do, but had gone about five minutes over the allocated time. The boy, in his later years of high school, shouted at his sister and hit her, demanding that she get off his computer.
Several things about this exchange were troubling. The level of spite and violence was shocking. The fact that he did not even ask his sister to leave his computer, but immediately began abusing her was also out of place. The response from the family indicated that this was something they had all become accustomed to. When the mother tried to call her son to account for his actions he justified himself by pointing out that the sister had gone over her allocated time. The mother accepted that, rather than challenging the spite and violence of the son’s actions. No-one seemed embarrassed or uncomfortable that this was played out with me watching.
Siblings in the Bible
Having grown up with four brothers and then raised five sons I was personally distressed to see the bitter attitude so evident between these siblings. I had never experienced anything like it in my youth or as a parent. I took it for granted that siblings get along happily and resolve their upsets in positive and constructive ways.
So I reflected on what I had seen, seeking some wisdom. We know that it is possible for siblings to dwell together happily and that God blesses them when they are in unity (Psalm 133). We also know that it is possible for sin to tempt siblings to be violent to each other, as was the case with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). We also know that siblings can offend each other, resulting in serious barriers being built up between them (Proverbs 18:19).
One older lady told me that when she was growing up each of her siblings made serious attempts to kill the others. I thought she was joking, but she explained that they would regularly throw each other down flights of stairs, hoping to do serious injury. There was deep hatred between them all.
Resolving Sibling Rivalry
What should we do in a case where siblings have developed ill-will toward each other?
It’s a Serious Matter: The first things parents should do if there is evidence of sibling rivalry or spite is to take the matter seriously. This is not just a passing phase. This is not normal. This is not something to be put up with. It is completely contrary to what God wants and blesses in a family. Sin is at work. That’s what God told Cain, when God said “Sin is close at hand” (Genesis 4:7).
Parents need godly wisdom to resolve this situation. This is not a time for hasty and impassioned words and actions. A wise, thoughtful and measured response is far better. Remember that anger from a parent is a waste of time, since Solomon teaches that the “rod of anger will fail”, Proverbs 22:8.
Find the Spiritual Roots
Outward behaviour comes from the heart of a person (Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45). Seek God to show you what is going on in the heart of your child or children that is causing them to be spiteful toward one another. The deeper issues could be jealousy (which might spring from insecurity), unforgiveness for past actions, resentment of the advantages the other child has, feelings of shame within the angry child for their own secret personal failures, despair that their hopes and dreams are amounting to nothing, and so on. Remember that hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12). When a child gives themself over to sin they become a slave and may end up hating their own self because of the secret struggles they are having.
Pray with Authority
Before trying to fully resolve the matter with the children it is best to have covered the whole thing in prayer. If you can be confident in God’s blessing, wisdom and grace in your home then you will be much better able to navigate the emotional challenge of dealing with vexing issues. Pray for healing for your children. Bind the enemy’s work. Ask for grace and wisdom. Ask God to confirm the things which you are sensing as key issues (so that by the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses every word can be established – 2Corinthians 13:1). Resist the devil. Bind the enemy. Claim God’s salvation for your whole household. Present your family to God.
Speak with Authority
When you are properly prepared, you can speak into the situation.Remember to speak to your child’s heart – since that is the critical area where breakthrough is needed. You are looking for a change of heart, not just a change of behaviour. A good start can be to investigate the situation. Ask the child or children, either individually or in a group setting, to explain what is behind the strife that you observe. This will probably illicit the justifications and accusations, but at least you will have the child addressing the issue. You can then let them know what it is that you are sensing about the situation. You might then ask, “Do you think there is any substance to what I have just said?” You are looking for your child conceding that their behaviour has not been totally appropriate, even if it is done in response to some provocation.
Lead the Children to Humility Before God
The greatest outcome is that your children present themselves to God, in humility and conviction of sin. As they call on God for His grace they are practicing a glorious pattern which you want them to employ throughout their entire lives.
Lead them to Repent, Forgive, Renounce Evil, Resist the Devil and Live in Freedom
Your children have been brought into moral danger. When they perceive that and then find God’s deliverance they will be experienced in Christian ministry, not only for themselves but as a basis for helping others. Have them understand and work through the steps of Personal Repentance; Forgiveness of Offenders; Renouncing Evil – revoking the connection that they have established between themselves and sin – such as spite, jealousy etc; Resisting the Devil and doing spiritual warfare to claim their victory and freedom; and then standing before God to receive grace, newness, cleansing and a whole new future of freedom.
Don’t leave the matter to just follow its own course. Advise the children that you will be monitoring what is happening and that you will be asking them to give you an update and self-audit in some set time in the future. If the situation is very intense and change may be a struggle then you could set up a review within hours or days. If the matter is more sporadic then you might set up a review time several weeks later. Be sure to follow up and at least revisit the topic.
Throw Yourself onto God
You will already have done this, but it is important to see these emerging challenges as God’s way to call you to higher levels of commitment and wisdom in your parenting. So throw yourself at God’s feet and allow God to take you beyond where you may have wanted to go. The very area of challenge may become the platform for international ministry, a best-selling book, or a new intercession ministry. Let God be God in your life.
You may not need any of the above thoughts, but I trust they encourage you in moving forward in God’s purposes on your whole family.