August 22

Difficult passages about families in the New Testament

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward 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)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39)

The passages cited above are some of the most difficult for children (and some adults) to understand. Jesus would never contradict God’s command in the Old Testament to honor one’s father or mother. (See Matthew 15:3-9.) He is certainly not teaching children to abhor their parents and siblings but is instead teaching them to love him more than they love their them, as stated in Matthew 10:37. When Mary and his brothers sought to speak with Jesus, they did not attempt to hinder Jesus’s work but came to warn him about the danger he faced from the Pharisees.* Rather than deny them, Jesus was “hating” (loving less) the protection of his biological family and loving his disciples, his spiritual family, more. We are to do the same.

Who better to teach these difficult passages than Christian parents who love their children? The fact that believers belong to a greater family in Christ is cause for celebration, not fear or anxiety. Wherever I go in this world, I will have a mother, brothers, and sisters in Christ. When your children go off into the world, it is a joy to know that they have a family who seeks their good and ideally loves them as Christ loves them. Unfortunately, many Christians do not understand or appreciate that every believer in Jesus Christ is their brother or sister, that they are the family of God. And many who do embrace this doctrine still do not treat other believers as brothers or sisters, let alone as friends or neighbors. Maybe we need to examine our characterizations of spiritual brothers and sisters. The Bible teaches us that our brothers and sisters in Christ are those who are closest to us spiritually, caring deeply for each other, working together in Christ, for the gospel, according to the gifts God has given us. Here is Peter’s description of brotherly love: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22-23) The believers in Antioch were distressed about their brothers’ need,  “So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.” (Acts 11:29)

What a joy it is when your biological son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, or father is also your family member in faith! Whether or not this is true, we believers have a vast, global family in Christ who need our love and attention. So if you are discouraged about your nuclear family’s unbelief or your singleness, take heart. You will never, ever be without a family if you belong to Christ, and neither will your children if they are his. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

* John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-10.html

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