Older Brother Syndrome


In the famous story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel’s, there is another story going on that we many times overlook.

The father has welcomed the prodigal home and celebrated his arrival with a party for the whole household. However, there is one who is not so happy about the return: the prodigal’s older brother.

In the midst of partying and rejoicing over the lost son’s return, the father realizes his other child is not at the gathering. Making his way outside, away from the joyful music and delicious food, he finds his oldest son sulking.

“I am here always. I do all I can for you. Never once have you thrown a party on my behalf! Where’s my reward for being the good one?” He says to his dad.

At first glance, it seems like the older brother is a whining, spoiled brat, jealous over his father’s love for his younger son. But if we listen to his words, we find there is something deeper going on his heart. There is an accusation in his words that are deeper than the want for a party. It is the accusation that the father does not love him.

Many times when we see the story of the Prodigal Son, we identify with the lost son. We know we’re sinners and have messed up royally and really don’t deserve grace and mercy. Yet, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we find ourselves in the Heavenly Father’s embrace. We count our blessings and thank God for them.

But can we also identify with the big brother? How often have we sulked outside the parties of life, because we haven’t received what we think we deserve for being the good one? Why don’t we get the blessings, when we have tried our best to walk the straight and narrow and another person who has messed up their lives just walks in and takes the blessings we think we deserve?

Could it be that we have isolated ourselves? Could it be that we have misjudged the Father’s intention and love for us? I believe that many times we have wrongly accused God of not caring and ignoring us, because we have believed a lie.

We understand that God has saved us by his grace. He had mercy on our souls, Jesus died in our place, so that we could be free to have relationship with God. And we are grateful. But the lie we have believed is that though salvation is free, the rest of our lives is to be about being deserving of that sacrifice. We may not have to earn grace, but we have believed that we have to prove ourselves to keep it.

But what did the father say to the big brother in the story?

“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate, because your brother was dead and now alive, lost but now found.”

Essentially, dad was telling his son, you already have everything. You already have this powerful relationship with me that you could have accessed at any moment you needed me. You have access not just to my hand, but to my heart as well.

God the Father wants us to experience not just grace that provides entrance into relationship with Him, but also grace that keeps us in relationship with Him. You don’t have to work so hard to prove your love for God, He already has showered you with his love. He already approves of you.

He wants you for his own. He wants you to live with him as a son lives with his father, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you. A son should never fear his father’s voice. Neither should a son ever fear asking his father anything. Even if the answer is no, there is always a reason for it. Father does know best.

Too many times, we are the big brother living in the house, feeling like a servant, rather than the son that grace has made us become. The young brother, on his return, simply wanted to live as a servant in his father’s house, because he knew he had failed so miserably. But the father put a ring on his finger and robe on his back and made him a full member of the family again.

The older brother was a full member of the family, but was so concerned about proving his worth to his father, that he missed the point altogether. He was already a son!