Siblings are mentioned often throughout the Old and New Testaments. Some of the most famous siblings we find are Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1–8); Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19–27); Joseph and his eleven brothers (Genesis 37); Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Numbers 26:59); Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:18); and Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:1).
Love among siblings should be a natural thing, and the Bible uses such phileo love as an illustration of love among believers. The Bible commands us to love one another in the family of God as we would love a brother or sister: “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10, ESV). Paul expressed his love for the saints in Philippi this way: “My brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1).
Unfortunately, not all siblings express love for one another. Many of the famous sibling groups previously mentioned are known for their interpersonal conflict and even hatred for each other. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy, thereby committing the first murder (Genesis 4:3–8). Jacob and Esau were at odds from the time they were in the womb and into adulthood (Genesis 25:23; 27). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:12–28). Even Martha and Mary’s story contains a disagreement between the sisters (Luke 10:38–42).
Jesus Himself had siblings—brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, and an unknown number of sisters (Matthew 12:46; 13:55, 56). Jesus once used His family as a picture of His relationship with His followers: “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46–50).
In saying this, Jesus was not disrespecting His family or saying they were not important. Rather, He was likening a close family relationship to the bond He shares with everyone who believes in Him. In fact, Jesus’ bond with believers is even stronger, since it is not marred by jealousy, anger, frustration, or disagreements.
So what can we learn from the biblical examples of brothers and sisters? It’s important to understand that conflict between siblings is not part of God’s plan for the family. Although God ultimately used each situation to bring about His will, the conflict between some of these siblings caused murderous jealousy, grief, wars, and broken families.
There are a few principles that can be applied to any relationship. First, we are to love others in a way that reflects the agape love of Christ: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).
Second, we are to show kindness to each other, treating those around us the way we want to be treated (Ephesians 4:32; Luke 6:31). This means that we should not only respond gracefully in the face our siblings’ anger or accusations, but also go out of the way to serve them (John 13:12–14).
Finally, Paul instructed believers to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18), avoiding arguments and conflict and playing the role of peacemaker when disagreements arise within our families.