Older Brother Syndrome
If you’ve been following my faith posts the past few weeks, you know that my church is currently studying the story of the Prodigal Son (click HERE to listen/watch any of the previous messages). If you know the story, you also know that the story is really about two sons and a father who loves them both unconditionally. This part of the story uncovers what is commonly known at “The Older Brother Syndrome.” 

In Luke 15:22-24, the father warmly welcomes his younger son back home: 
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
Meanwhile, the older brother is working out in the field and hears the celebration. He’s so angry at his father’s response that he refuses to join the party. His father begs him to come inside. Rather than comply, he responds (Luke 15:29-30): 
“But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”
Maybe it’s just me, but I can relate to this older brother just a bit (of course, I can also relate to the younger brother, but that’s a different story). I’ve always been a bit of a “people-pleaser.” I made good grades, participated in all the right extra-curricular activities and came home before curfew when I was still living at home with my parents. When I went away to college, I kept at least two jobs to pay my portion of the bill…and once I graduated, I immediately got a job. You could say I lived by the book. Meanwhile, I watched my brother go “prodigal.” However, each time he returned, my parents treated him almost exactly the way the father in this story treated his young son…with unconditional love.
IMG_3074 RSThe easy response in situations like this is to call your sister and talk smack about your prodigal brother for two hours (oops – guilty…love you brother). It might also be easy to throw a mini-temper tantrum because this brother stole all the attention. If you can even partially relate, I’m sure you’ve got your own version of how this story plays out. Regardless, this is what is meant by the “older brother syndrome.” Unfortunately, these easy responses have major consequences.
  • If we allow the older brother/sister syndrome to take over, it will affect how we see ourselves. For example, in verse 29, the older brother immediately boasts about all his good works. He sees himself as perfect and is therefore full of pride. The root of pride is self-righteousness.
Luke 18:9-14 tells the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. I won’t tell the whole story here, but the takeaway is this, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

People don’t tend to become self-righteous overnight. This kinda thing usually occurs only after you’ve been in the family for a while (aka been a Christian for 10-15 years). Our minister would explain it as someone who’s serving in the church, tithing and leading a small group…then one day they look in the mirror and start believing that God got a pretty good deal. Furthermore, they start believing that others are “below them.” You might also see this in small towns that are not used to interacting with people who hold different belief systems – it can be easy to judge a person who is not like you. Either way…
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” ~ Isaiah 64:6
Alright – I think I made my point on that one…I guess I really needed to hear that part again. Moving on…
  • If we allow the older brother/sister syndrome to take over, it will affect how we see others. 
I started to elude to this when I mentioned how it’s easy to judge people with different belief systems. Consider our first introduction to Mary Magdalene (Luke 7:36-47) – what you see is not always what you get: 
“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” ~ vs. 37-38
Simon is ready to judge Mary Magdaline, but Jesus is ready with a response (vs. 44-47):
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
At our core, we are all the same. We are all sinners. And we all find ourselves sizing other people up to make us feel better about ourselves. However, in God’s eyes, our sins are all the same. Which leads me to the final point.
  • If we allow the older brother/sister syndrome to take over, it will affect how we see the father. We will forget how good God has been to us. 
Let us not forget that in the first part of the story (back to the Prodigal Son), the father divided his property between his two sons. In fact, according to Jewish law, the older son would have gotten twice as much as his younger brother. Yeah…he forgot that part. But I think that all parents expect a certain degree of immaturity from their kids from time to time. In this case, the father responds, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” 

So how do we avoid the older brother/sister syndrome? I’m going to start by trying my best to stop focusing on what other people are doing or not doing…it’s none of my business. I’m going to try my best not to judge a book by its cover. I’m going to love people where they are. I’m going to focus on my personal relationship with God. What are you going to do?

(If you’re interested in hearing the original message, click HERE.)

    Yep – I find myself saying that a lot to my kids right now… it doesn’t matter what he/she did, it’s how you react/act that matters to God.

    Sounds like a great series! :)

    I could learn a LOT from this as well! I can use this in a “situation” I’m dealing w/ right now. Thanks mama!

    Thanks for your thought-provoking study, and your question…great job! I think we all need to read this and apply it!

    I think you nailed it. When we focus on what other people are doing is when the problems start, and they “why not me”?” creep in.

    Keeping our eyes on our path is hard to do. Especially when we see success of those around us, but it’s the only way to truly live our life, and not want someone’s else’s.

    Enjoyed this post. I must click around your series a bit more.

    Absolutely awesome. I have had to deal with these kinds of situations numerous times in the past and finally said no more. This is a great reminder for me to just focus on Jesus. Thank you.

    I thought this sermon from Mike was one of the best he has EVER done! I can SO relate to the older brother sydrome & struggle with this daily. I’m terrible & usually don’t take notes in church so this is a great recap for me! Hope you don’t mind if I pass along to my small group.


    If you only knew what these words mean to me. This verse is always on my mind…thank you, really, thank you.



    Thanks for sharing this. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking like the ‘big brother’. I need to look at my failings and not other. :)

    Great post. Yes I have leafrned from long agao to just worrie and work on myself. Not try to fix or please anyone else.

    We are so much alike, girl. This post really hits home…and tho, I no the story, this was a wonderful reminder.

    great post! Thanks for sharing!

    PS- Are you going to be blogging about your pregnancy? And baby when baby arrives?

    Oh yes. I can so relate to the older brother. I totally get it, but I love this story from the parent perspective too. Now that I have kids of my own I completely understand that as well. Love your image!

    I need to remind myself of this. Reminders are good!
    Thank you.

    Thanks for sharing this! We can all learn a lot from that story!

    Great post! It is easy to focus on our own righteousness sometimes. I am trying to raise my kids in a way where I don’t focus on their outward behaviors so much, but their heart. It’s hard. We want to see behaviors, but God wants the heart.