Abandon Family? For the Sake of Christ?
Jesus said it!
My morning reading had me in Luke 18 where Jesus answered Peter's observation that he and others had left their homes to follow him, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:28-30)
Jesus said a few other things that seem to be anti-family. In Matthew 10:35-36 He asserts, "For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household."
Then there's this. "To another he said, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' And Jesus said to him, 'Leave the dead to bury the dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Yet another said, 'I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (Luke 9:59-62)
Provocative stuff! To say the least. And from Jesus!
Marriage and family are God's idea
God himself said, "It's not good that the man should be alone." (Genesis 2:18) He created Eve and the first family came into being. But Adam failed to play the man and allowed Eve to succumb to the wiles of Satan. Their legacy? Dysfunctional families. Show me a family in Scripture that isn't dysfunctional.
Yet when God chose an agency through whom to deliver a Savior into the world he chose a family. God promised Abraham, "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring (read family) after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you." (Genesis 17:7)
There's no doubt that the Scriptures encourage healthy families. Officers in the church must be godly family men (I Timothy 3:4). Marriage is to be pure and permanent (Matthew 19:1-9). There is direct teaching regarding marriage and family life (Ephesians 5:22-33)
Cynics are fond of pointing out such apparent confusions in Scripture. They insist on their own flawed interpretation of Scripture and then reject the whole. But there is a reasonable solution that takes into account all the Scriptures quoted above.
The family - God's building block
There can be no doubt that the family consisting of a male and female united as husband and wife and what children God chooses to give them is His design for human society. By that arrangement our God-given longing for intimacy is met, a healthy and godly next generation is born, and eternal principles are modeled. This was how it was supposed to be. Had sin not infected the system there would never be any conflict between family commitments and loyalty to God.
But our sin and alienation from God turned us from grateful recipients of his creation blessings into desperate clawers after anything that will assuage our need for intimacy and significance. To hell with the rules! So while we still have families they've become means of personal gratification to which we feel entitled. Heaven help the grandparent who becomes burdensome or the spouse who doesn't fully satisfy or the child who shows some independence.
Enter the gospel
The gospel asserts that God himself satisfies our need for intimacy and significance. This happens when a person humbly repents of his rebellion and seeks forgiveness for his sin and renewal by faith in Jesus Christ. Of course this is an experience that grows over time.
Now family members become secondary to our Heavenly Father. God's normal means of satisfing our needs is through a loving spouse and respectful children and loyal friends beyond the family. But remember that sin has infected us all. So the best family will still fall short of filling our deepest soul longings. Until Jesus returns and we enter the New Heavens and the New Earth God has given us an extended family, the congregation of his people. That's why we call each other brothers and sisters. So in this life to a significant, albeit not full, degree our basic human needs may be met.
But suppose we forget
So attractive can be our spouses and so darling our children that we easily invest our entire sense of well-being in them. Therein lies the problem. God's gifts have become more important to us than God himself. God is God and we're not. Get used to that. If you don't, you put at risk not only yourself, but those you love most dearly.
Peter, a dear friend of Jesus and a member of his inner circle, once tried to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem where He was certain to be arrested. Jesus had some shocking words for him. "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Matthew 16:23)
Jesus didn't mean that Peter had become Satan or even that he was possessed by Satan. Nor was He rejecting him forever. Peter went on to become a great advocate for the gospel and authored two biblical books. But at this particular moment he played a Satan role. Jesus had to rebuke him and proceed with his plans. So it is sometimes in our families. Those most dear to us may stand in the way of our following what we believe God desires. It feels horrible, but it is life in a sinful world.
How the gospel divides families
I've mentioned one way in the previous paragraph. But there are others. When one member of a family follows Christ but the others don't there is an invisible wall that appears. If the new Christian grows in his faith his lifestyle will change. He's no longer entertained by what others in the family enjoyed. His priorities begin to run counter to that of mom and dad, brothers and sisters. He may feel condemned as a goody, goody. Life can become pretty uncomfortable. The same dynamic takes place when a member of a Christian family decides to leave the Christian faith. Of course it's painful and awkward, but it unavoidable in a fallen world.
The challenge for those who follow Jesus is to make sure that the fissure is over Christ, not over one's own peccadillos. In fact ours is to bend over backwards to show patience and kindness to those who have never shared or have rejected our beliefs. Let's face it. The hardest place to do that is within our own families. They have the goods on us and don't mind throwing them in our faces.
But Jesus had it a lot worse.