17. Dealing With Elder Brothers
I was sitting in the living room of our home when my daughter, came running into the house to inform me that her younger sister, Bethany, had just disobeyed me by going next door to play. As I looked into the face of my daughter, I was impressed with a truth that had never before occurred to me. Why was she so concerned with telling me something bad about her sister? Was it because of her concern for her sister’s safety? No. Was it because she wanted her sister to have the blessing of being obedient? No. Then, why?
She was trying to gain favor with her father, by removing favor from her little sister. She was insecure with her own standing with me. She falsely perceived that my favor towards her had something to do with my favor towards her younger sister. The less favor I had for the younger sister, the more I would show towards her. Every parent knows that this is not the case. My daughter’s favor with me was independent of the favor I had with her sister. In fact, her favor with me could actually increase when she became concerned with improving the favor of her younger sister with me. I am proud of her when she encourages her little sister to please me.
Do you know why we have problems with elder brothers in our churches? It is because they are insecure with their own standing with God, so they feel it necessary to gain favor with God and men by causing others to lose favor. They feel that by accepting the prodigal they are losing some of their own favor rather than realizing that they are actually pleasing their father, by encouraging their brother.
In fact, you will notice in the story of the prodigal son that the father went out, himself and tried to reinforce the elder son’s security because he perceived that his son felt that his position was being threatened by the return of his brother. He was insecure, but did not need to be. This is the case with so many elder brothers in our churches who have a difficult time accepting the return of the prodigals.
I will not deny the fact that one of the most difficult obstacles in my life over the past few years has been knowing how to deal with my elder brothers, who refuse to accept my return. It is very painful and discouraging to be rejected and especially difficult when you are trying to turn around and rebuild your life. I wish I could say that every Christian accepts back those who have fallen, but they do not. Many have a very difficult time doing so.
In my situation I have found that there are two basic types of elder brothers. Let me give these and elaborate on each one to help you better understand what faces the person being restored.
1. Those who have a personal problem with me. When I failed, there were people who had a great amount of confidence in me, and were hurt so badly by my failings that they will not accept me back. Their devastation prevents them from rejoicing in my return. These are good people. They perhaps are afraid of being hurt again, so they are building a wall to keep it from happening again. In some cases, they are so angry at me for letting them down, that they just cannot forgive me.
If you were in a position of leadership, you will have people like this. They are wounded by you, so they will not accept you back. You must be prepared for that and not allow it to dampen your spirit. Sometimes those people will be ones to whom you were the closest, and even helped the most by you. In my case, there have been a few people whose rejection hurt me the most. They will never know how much it hurt me, that they would not accept me back, but I had to overcome it.
These people usually will accept back a fallen sinner, but in your case it is different because they are still hurt and have not learned to deal with it. I will cover how to deal with all elder brothers more later, but let me warn you not to allow yourself to judge these people even though they are judging you. They are good people who have been hurt and you cannot allow them to hinder your spirit.
There are also those who had some personal dispute with you and who see your fall as vindication for their side. Often these are the ones who will be the most vocal against you. As a pastor there were some people with whom I had differences in my ministry and who still harbor a bitterness towards me. They saw my failing as justification for them, and still have anger towards me. They have written me off as evil, as a way of protecting themselves.
There are others who have anger or bitterness towards my dad, so they have seen my failures as a vindication to their conscience for that which they harbor against him.
Some of the meanest things that have been done against me, have been done by people who hate me for some reason which often is unknown to me. In some cases, I did not even know they had any problem with me because they had held it inside. When I fell, they suddenly took that which had been seething within them and used it to get their revenge. In many cases they will never get over it, and nothing you do will ever cause them to change their spirit towards you. You must learn to accept the fact that they cannot welcome you back.
2. Those who are unable to accept back anyone who has fallen into sin. There are some Christians who simply will not forgive people who have had a failing in their life. These people typically fall into one of two categories.
(1) People who have extremely idealistic view of righteousness. It is sad but there are Christians who only seem to understand the hatred of God, but never discover that God’s hatred for sin is based on His love for us. They are those harsh Christians whose convictions are stronger than their love for people. They have a warped view of God, so they have a warped view of sinners. There are people like this in almost any church. They will forgive, but they will not forget and put it behind. They will hold it over your head from now on, as a reason you are not as fit for service as they are.
Some of these people can forgive certain sins, but not others. They are the ones who see sin in categories based on their prejudices. Somehow, they have decided what sins are the worse sins and if you commit those, you may as well give up on any chance of ever coming back. These are basically good people who just do not understand the grace of God as it is illustrated over and over again in the Bible.
(2) Those who have been unable to get forgiveness and freedom from sin in their own lives. Human nature often causes people to judge others harshly because of their own struggles with sin. You will find that often those who cast the most stones at you are those who have the most difficulties in their lives. They are broken, so you cannot expect them to react spiritually to you. The fact that you have dealt with your failures, pricks their consciences because they have not dealt with their own.
Forgiveness is not a virtue that can originate from within us, but one that must spring from our relationship with the Lord. If we enjoy the forgiveness we have with the Lord, it will be much easier to extend that same forgiveness to others. Tragically, those who do not realize God’s forgiveness and acceptance have trouble applying it to others.
One other type of person fits in this category. A person who was saved out of a terrible life of sin often resents Christians who fall into sin. They see us privileged, and feel that we are not worthy of another chance because we messed up the opportunity we had. I have found many of these people with marvelous testimonies of God’s redemptive grace, but they have not been willing to extend that grace to those of us who have fallen.
What to do?
There is such a danger to the person coming back when they become aware of the fact that there are people who really do not want them back and who are not going to accept them back. It becomes even more difficult when some of those people become vocal about it, or even mount a campaign to stop your return. I decided to add this chapter because I know that I am not the only one who returns to elder brothers.
Some may face it to a minimum and others may face an onslaught, like I did. Let me try and help you by giving you some ideas of how to deal with them
1. Do not blame anyone for not accepting you, and do not judge them for
their judgment of you. Do not allow the sin of another, to lead you back into sin. Give
the elder brother the benefit of the doubt and leave the judgment to God. You failed.
Worry about that, and not the way you think they should be accepting you back.
There were times when I became more concerned with the way I was being treated than I was with the way I was living. I pointed my finger at my elder brothers because they were pointing their fingers at me. It got me nowhere, except further from the Lord. The only person I can get right with God, is me, so I better not worry about trying to get the elder brothers right.
I also had to learn to show compassion on them. In many cases they were better Christians than I had ever been. They had remained faithful to the Lord and were angry at me for what I had done to their Lord and His name. Sometimes, they were filled with righteous indignation at me for what I had done and they were still trying to get over it. It sometimes takes others a while to get over the anger we caused by our sins. If a person sins against someone you love, it makes you angry at them and sometimes it is difficult to forgive them for it. When I sinned, I hurt the Lord who these people love, and they were angry at me for it.
By the way, those are the ones who will forgive you the quickest after they see the fact that you have made things right with the Lord. That is all they want, and they will accept you when they see that you are sincere in getting those sins out of your life.
2. Do not allow yourself to consider what people think of you. One of the most difficult parts of coming back is everyone knowing about your failures. Facing people is very difficult because you are always wondering whether or not they have accepted you back. When I first starting going places where many preachers were gathered, it was difficult because I knew there were many who probably would not accept me back. I had to forget about that and just do my best to be as gracious as I could.
Each time I was confronted by someone new, I had to take their reaction to me at face value, and not try to read between the lines. Facing people is very hard, but the key is not to worry what they are thinking, and just face them under the grace of God. Worry about what God thinks and not what men think.
3. Be sure you came back to the Lord and not to people. I did not come back to the Lord for the sake of man, but for the sake of my relationship with the Lord. It is important that I do not allow myself to overly concern myself with what men think because it only matters what God thinks. I must make everything right with Him and allow Him to work in the hearts of others as to their opinion of me. I cannot make everyone believe that I am sincere so I must not try to do so. If I am not careful, I can get to a place where I am constantly trying to convince others I am right instead of just doing what is right. That is a good way to slip back into sin.
4. Let the elder brothers be tools of God for reminding you of where you were and what God has done in accepting you back. David was a great example of using this principle. When he was being accosted by Shimei, he did not allow his servants to take Shimei’s life because David knew that God could use this attack as a reminder of his sins. What a great example of the humility of David. He knew that this man was not attacking him falsely, so he did not choose to punish him for his accusations. David accepted it like a broken man. By the way, David had every right to take the life of that man, but David had given up his rights in order to be right.
This will never be easy, but it will be important in the restoration process. There are some wonderful lessons to be learned at the hands of those who will not forgive you. God will turn to good what they mean for evil. That is His way, so do not get into His way by trying to fight back. Allow Him to do His perfect work through you, at the hands of those who are trying to do you harm.
Let me testify. I would not have made it back, had it not been for the way God used enemies to humble me and force me closer to Him. At times, when I got a little too confident, they were there to remind me of who and what I was. They drove me to my knees time and time again. There were even times when I was tempted to sin and an elder brother would accuse me, making me to flee to the Lord for strength in my time of temptation. Praise the Lord for elder brothers. As much as they hurt, God can use them to help.
5. Do not get a persecution complex. If you get criticized by the elder brother for what you did, that is not persecution. The Bible clearly states that persecution is only for that which you are not guilty of committing. The truth is, that I did sin and I must accept the consequences of my actions, which includes the fact that there will be people who will not forgive or forget what I did. Getting a persecution complex will only lead to discouragement, or criticism of others. Accept it for what it is; it is a part of the price for sin.
6. Do not allow the critics and doubters to overwhelm the love and support given by others. My dad helped me with this greatly. One day, when I felt beat up by those who refused to forgive me and give me another chance, he sat me down and put it all in perspective. He told me that 95% of the people were pulling for me, even though most of those people were not vocal about it. I know that is true. Gravitate towards those who do support you and do not allow the few to determine your future.
Let me share a principle that has been greatly helpful to me. Success always is accompanied by critics; that includes success in allowing God to restore your life. You will have critics, so accept that fact and do it in spite of them.
7. Do not interpret silence as criticism. I must admit that I had a big problem with this. I thought that everybody who did not speak to me was rejecting me, and that was not the case. Many times people are responding with silence because they do not know what to say to you. It is like seeing a good friend right after they have been told that they have cancer. You want to say something, but you do not know what to say, so you say nothing to avoid the situation. I had to learn to assume that this was the reason people avoided me and not because they were against me. I believe that is true.
The Devil will put all kinds of thoughts into your mind while you are recovering from your fall and many of those thoughts will damage you if you do not get victory over them. Most Christians care deeply, but do not know quite how to tell you. Believe that, and accept their silence as a sign of support and not a sign of rejection.
8. Do not allow the elder brothers to be an excuse for not making it back. You must stand before God, not men and give an account for yourself. There will be no one else to blame when you do. We are responsible for overcoming obstacles that stand in our way of doing what we ought to do. Do not allow yourself to start getting bitter and blaming the elder brother for the fact that you are not getting back to where you ought to be. Do not allow them to be your stumbling block. What you do with the mercy and grace of God is totally up to you, and no one else can be held responsible for discouraging you to fail.
9. Do not attempt to explain yourself to those who speak harshly to you. It will happen. People will come up to you after you have failed and say things to lash out at you. It has happened to me. Bro. Gibbs gave me some great advice when I first began to face Christians as I traveled with him. He told me to agree with anything negative they said and to testify on the wonderful grace and forgiveness of the Lord.
Let me give you an example. I was at a meeting where a large group of preachers were attending. One preacher approached me and told me how foolish I was for disappointing my dad and blowing my opportunities for the Lord. Of course it hurt, but this is what I said to him. “Sir, you are right. I did blow it, and worse of all, I failed the Lord. I want you to know that I am sorry and I have made it right with the Lord the best I know how. Would you please pray for me that God would continue to reclaim my life?”
He was speechless. I had admitted to my failures and I had asked him to pray for me. In a sense, I had submitted myself to his rebuke, and in so doing, had broken his spirit towards me. His countenance completely changed and he became a real friend to me. There were quite a number of times I had to allow someone to blast me, but almost every time I gave a sincere and broken reply, I was greeted with love and tenderness. Many of these people became my greatest prayer supporters.
I thank God for this advice because it gave me a new ability to face people. My answer was a confession of the fact I had indeed failed. Many times it brought healing to their heart as well, because they were struggling with how to deal with me. Reconciliation was able to come because I allowed them to get it out of their heart.
10. When rebuked, get over it as quickly as possible. This is vital. Do not dwell on the hatred or harshness of the elder brother. Forget about it as quickly as possible. Several times, I was devastated by someone who was not going to forgive me. I had to get on my knees quickly and start thanking the Lord for His grace, mercy and forgiveness. The quicker I plugged back into Him, the quicker I was able to get through it, and back on track.
It hurts, but it is going to happen. Learn to get over it quickly, and do not allow it to fester. Forgive that person immediately, and make certain bitterness does not creep in because that will destroy you. Do not dwell on what they said or did.
11. Do not try to change people’s opinion of you. There are some people who have not accepted me back who I want so desperately to convince to forgive me and give me a second chance, but I must realize that their problem is within them and has nothing to do with me. They are just using me as their excuse. I cannot convince someone to get their heart right, but I can pray for them as the Bible commands that I do. Believe me, if I could make everyone accept me back, I would, but I cannot. Some people will not be convinced no matter what I do, so I must leave it in the Lord’s hands.
12. Accept the fact that it elder brothers may follow you the rest of your life. This is something that I wish were not true, but the fact is that there are some people who remain bitter elder brothers to me for the rest of my life. Maybe they are not really brothers at all. Maybe they are tools of the Devil being used to discourage me. I must accept the possibility that they will keep bringing up my failures to me for the rest of my life. Satan is the accuser and he will do everything he can to accuse me for my failures as long as I live. I cannot allow myself to get comfortable with the idea that all the elder brothers will have a change of mind or heart.
There are people who fell into a sin twenty years ago, and still are being scorned by others in their churches for that which has long been forgiven and forsaken. Some people will never forget. Some will fight everything you ever try to do for God, with a reminder of what you did long ago. Face up to it and do not allow it to stop you from going forward for the Lord.
13. Don’t allow your friends to point out the elder brothers. One thing that I have learned that helped me, was to stop my friends from telling me who did not like me and who was still criticizing me. There are a couple of reasons to avoid this. First, you do not need to let your spirit be dampened. Secondly, you do not need to have a temptation to get bitter at them. If you do not accept me back, I am better off if I just assume that you do want me back. That way, I have nothing that can cause me to fester a bitterness to you.
I have had friends who seemed to think it was their job to tell me of every person who was against me. My dad used to tell me to avoid it because he could see what it was doing to me. One day, I decided to really follow his advice on this and it made a great difference in my spirit immediately.
14. Do not try to do God’s work for Him. In the story of the prodigal son, we see that the prodigal did not try to go to his brother to get him to accept him back. He left that to his father to care for. That is very important because often we will do more damage by confronting the elder brother than by allowing God to deal with them.
I found myself wanting to go to them to try and explain myself and most of the time it did no good. In fact, they often mistook it for pride or making excuses. The best thing to do is to pray for them and let the Lord convict them of their attitude. Also, you need to remember that it may not really be you, that they are struggling with. It may be something within,that is keeping them from forgiving you. You cannot deal with that. You must let God do His work in them.
15. Do not become an elder brother to others. Let me be very personal. I have many enemies. I know that. Very few days go by in my life that I do not receive some hateful reminder of the fact that there are people who hate me and would destroy me if they could. Wait a minute. Recently, I heard of a preacher who had fallen into sin and was being restored. I found myself beginning to scrutinize him to see if he was sincere and was doing all the right things in his comeback. What should I have done? Rejoiced and celebrated his return.
You see, part of me wanted him to have to go through as much as I have gone through before he be accepted back. Because his name was not Hyles and his sins were not broadcast all over the nation, I felt a tinge of hurt and began to think like the elder brother. I had to confess it to God and make it right. I should be thrilled at every prodigal who returns and not compare my circumstances to theirs.
Shortly after this, I heard of a brother who had left the ministry and run off into sin. This particular brother had been a real elder brother to me and had treated me with much contempt after I had come back to God. Somehow, I had learned my lesson enough to really grieve for this man. I hope that somehow God could use me in his life to restore him to a place of fellowship again. I am not bitter at him, and trust that I will treat him with the grace that he was unable to show towards me because of some hurt that was in his life at the time.
16. Do not run from elder brothers. Many Christians make the mistake of going someplace where no one knows them rather than facing the uneasiness of those who know all about what they have done. I am totally convinced that this will only lead to the danger of making the same mistakes again, or not fully cleaning up your life because no one knows what you have done in the past. There is a certain safety of being in the midst of those who know about your failures. It forces you to walk circumspectly at times when you may have been tempted to be careless.
As painful as it is to face those who are still thinking critical thoughts of me, they do force me to prove my walk daily. It is not the easy way back, but it may be the healthiest.
I have noticed that many individuals who make mistakes in their lives go into hiding for reasons of their own pride and end up making those mistakes all over again. Because I chose to remain in the circle of Christians I had been in all of my life, I go to church with people who have heard the most horrible things about me. They scrutinize my every move. Right or wrong they remind me all the time that I better scrutinize my every move lest I become a castaway again.
How To Free A Church of Unforgiving Elder Brothers
In closing, allow me to recommend something that could solve many of the problems of unforgiving elder brothers in churches. The preacher who preaches the fact that it pleases God, when we lead another into greater favor, will be a church that will more readily accept the prodigals.
I sat my daughter down in our living room and I told her that I loved her and I loved her little sister, Bethany. I told her that it would please me if she would try and remind her sister to be obedient and please mommy and daddy. I told her that I would be even more proud of her if she was kind and encouraging to her sister and not mean spirited. That little girl became the sweetest little encourager I have ever seen. She still gently prods her little sister along because she knows in doing so,she is pleasing me. I brag on her all the time for her sweet spirit towards her sister. It truly delights me to see her concern.
That is exactly how we must build our churches. We must show people that the Father is pleased with us, when we gently encourage our brother to do right and please the Father. Those kinds of churches will be greatly blessed.
Yes, the elder brother is out there. He always will be there anytime there is a prodigal returning. The prodigal must be aware that sometimes those elder brothers can do much damage if we allow them to. Be prepared my fellow prodigal, the elder brother awaits you with resentment, but the Father is the one who matters most.