Summary: God's way it to transform "frenemy" relationships into friendship relationships.

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Title: The Frenemy Dysfunction

Text Genesis 37:1-4 and 12-28

Thesis: God’s way is to transform “frenemy” relationships into friendship relationships.


Popular culture likes to portray a dysfunctional family as endearing. Three well worn examples might be the Connor family featured on Roseanne; or the Bundy family on Married with Children living in Chicago and running approximately the same time as Roseanne; and there was the Foreman family of the70’s Show, set in a fictitious place in Wisconsin.

The animated family we know as the Simpsons is equally challenged. Homer has less than ideal parenting skills, Bart is the under-achiever and his sister Lisa is a neurotic vegetarian. The mother, Marge Simpson shows signs of deep-seeded depression. And Maggie, the baby of the family, has been sucking on a pacifier for 20 years.

But their antics are nothing compared to the dysfunction of some of the families in the bible. Beginning with Adam and Eve and their children we have deceit, jealousy and murder. In the story of Jacob and Esau we have the story of parental favoritism, deceit, deception, sibling rivalry and estrangement. King David did not fare well in wives or children. He may have been a man after God’s own heart and a great king but he managed to raise a world class dysfunctional family. Some might say, “the bible consistently portrays the family, not as a Norman Rockwell group, beaming with gratitude around a Thanksgiving turkey, but as a series of broken relationships in need of redemption.” (Dave, Goetz from Eugene H. Peterson, Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager, Eerdmans, 1994, pp. 110-111)

The wiki people say a dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior and even abuse on the part of individual family members occur continually and regularly, leading other members of the family to accommodate such actions.

I’ve heard that there is no kind of family in existence other than dysfunctional ones. I do not believe that to be true. However, I don’t believe that every family that considers itself “functional” as opposed to “dysfunctional” is…

• You’ve all heard the saying, “Relatives are like fish. After three days they start stinking.”

• George Burns once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family… in another city.”

• I once heard comedian Jeff Foxworthy comment to the effect that whenever he gets to thinking his family is dysfunctional, he just goes to the state fair and watches people until he begins to realize that he must be royalty.

While family dysfunction may amuse us on some level there is nothing amusing about the level of dysfunction in our story today. It is the story of Joseph. And it is not the story sung in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Our story today is not a family friendly musical.

Our story today is about a tragically dysfunctional family.

I. Dysfunction is present in the microcosm of the family.

“When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” Genesis 37:4

I’ve heard it said that the family is a microcosm of society and even culture. What we observe in the family is a little picture of the big picture. If something exists in the family it exists much more so in the broader culture. So if we observe dysfunction in the family we can also see that same kind of dysfunction being acted out in conflicted communities and countries. Jealous, hatred and vengeance are the international condition.

When I wrote this I thought of the dysfunction of our own government… a government of people who are elected to serve. They make good money at it and once they get to Washington DC they do whatever is necessary to stay there and the thought of actually working together for a common good is unthinkable. They are like a bunch of grown-ups who never learned the most basic lessons we learn in kindergarten like, “how to play in the same sandbox with the other children.”

So in one photo op we see a bi-partisan group of pols playing golf together or attending a banquet together or lunching together as amiable good friends but in the next photo op they are on camera slamming the character of their colleague across the aisle. It is nothing short of two-faced duplicity and it is what makes for what we now call “frenemies.”

A frenemy is a friend /enemy. You like a frenemy and you hate a frenemy. You work with a frenemy when it is convenient and self-serving but when it is not the frenemy becomes a nemesis. The Urban Dictionary states, a frenemy is “an enemy disguised as a friend.” and twists the old adage to say, “Keep your friends close, and your frenemies closer.” (Urban Dictionary Word of the Day, May 20, 2007)

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