Do you work hard to do God’s work? Do you strive relentlessly to be obedient and holy, working when those around seem less committed? Are you loyal to church, putting its activities ahead of some friendships and all secular events? Do you sometimes feel that God has withheld the desires of your heart, regardless of your efforts on His behalf? If any of these are true for you, you may be suffering from Older Brother Syndrome.
It’s about the surfacing of the older brother’s less-than-welcoming response to his long-lost little bro.
He asks a servant what’s going on, and finds out the cause for the opulent celebration. Here’s what happened after a servant explained the situation;
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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!’”–Luke 15:28-30
Older Brother Syndrome happens when our loyalty mixes with our misguided belief that God is only pleased by our works. It’s sad, but the truth is that churches can reinforce this lie of the enemy. Things need to get done at church, and the statistic that about 80% of the work gets done by 20% of the people holds true there, too.
Church leadership sometimes will casually heap projects and tasks onto the shoulders of people who accept them. Even when the people resist and admit to being overwhelmed or exhausted, unless someone steps up, the doers will do the work because “it has to get done.”
It’s probable that the older brother’s responsibilities increased as a result of his brother’s irresponsible desertion. This is behind the older brother’s unmasked indignation. Older brothers believe that there is someone keeping track of our deeds up there in heaven. We forget Ephesians 2:9, which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.”
Being a “older brother” isn’t a result of doing too much. It’s the result of resenting it.
The older brother was focused on what appeared to be unfairness. He didn’t seem to know his father’s heart. He said he was “slaving.” This isn’t a compliment to his opinion of his dad. Neither did he care much that his little brother was alive.
Forgiveness, in fact, rarely seems fair as we struggle to accomplish it.
At the point of this exchange between the father and the son where the son’s true feelings boil to the surface, his father’s heart toward him is also revealed. Here is how Jesus says the father responded to his confused and hurt elder son;
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”–Luke 15:31-32
Many of us stand before our heavenly Father, wanting to hear the same words. These words are ours; “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” The prodigal son’s inheritance was not based on works. It was based on relationship. So it is with all of us. A deep revelation of God’s intended best for us will heal our hearts and take the shackles of slavery off of us. The cure for Older Brother Syndrome is ours for the asking. His inheritance has always been ours. Seek His face and ask. His love for you is infinite. Trade your works in for relationship with a God who loves you unconditionally. That’s where abundant life begins.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”–Jeremiah 31:3