In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way. Last time, we talked about going the extra mile. Literally. But this is our final foray into season 1 of Tough Passages, and it’s a doozy: does Jesus really say that we have to compete with our family for His love?
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.
The Secular Response
So believing in God, according to the Bible, is like a life-or-death game of Family Double Dare, only instead of having color-coded teams it’s every man (woman and child) for themselves.
First century Israel was a distant place, but not an unrecognizable place. God’s people in that time were devout, hardworking, and deeply devoted to their families. Family was bound up with the land that they owned, and both were crucial for survival; the extended family, consisting of multiple households, formed a clan which worked the land together, helped one another through lean times, and protected one another; at its heart, these clans and the families which made them up were the building block of Israelite society, up through the life of Christ.
Further, God often worked and dealt with families as a unit, usually (though not always) through the father; the Old Testament patriarchs and their families made up the nation of Israel, and the lineage of Christ Himself came down through them. Even Jesus and His apostles dealt with families frequently, leading the men, women, children, servants, and extended family to saving faith all at once in the case of Lydia’s household.
So why did Jesus tell us it’s a battle for His love against our families?
Easy answer: He didn’t.
First of all, Jesus was speaking here to His disciples; twelve men who were among the first to know Jesus as the Son of God, to worship Him and sit under His teaching, and to see Him when He was raised from the dead. They were going to face some big opposition to their message, even from their families.
If you have a good relationship with your family, when they have concerns about your lifestyle, you tend to listen; and the concerns that Jesus’ disciples were going to be facing were deeply rooted in a Jewish belief system that believed those who turned from God would be losing their favor with God.
Then, as now, the followers of Jesus would be faced with opposition to following Christ as God—even from their families. And Jesus’ words are simple and blunt here: If you believe that I am worth worshiping and following as the God and Savior of the universe, you can’t follow your family when things get difficult.
I don’t think Scripture ever says it more explicitly than this: valuing your family more highly than Him is a form of idolatry, of valuing something lesser over God. If Jesus is the source of all life and salvation, if He is the source of eternal joy, if He is our only hope and power, then He is worth all our worship and praise; and God’s reward for that valuation is finding your life in Him.
And if your family isn’t coming with you on that mission, or if they’re trying to stop it…it’s not worth giving up that reward to have a little bit less strife around the dinner table.
This statement, originally spoken to the family-loving Israel, hits home when you realize that Jesus is saying “your most valuable institution isn’t worth anything compared to friendship with the Creator.”
Maybe you have a great family, and they all love the Lord; or maybe you just go to church to get away from your family. It’s not a competition. We don’t get points. But in valuing Jesus as the most valuable, we gain an eternal, joyful reward – and a huge family: Christians around you who worship together.
It’s not just a cool idea. It’s the way God made the world to work.
• • •
This is the end of Tough Passages: Season 1. Thanks for reading, and make sure you keep an eye out for the start of Season 2 in the future!
Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture; we hope you stick with us. If this isn’t a satisfying answer to you, please comment below. I’d love to talk it out.
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