“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34 -39)
The tension between living with and for our earthly families and the family of God can often be profoundly strong, especially when one professes their love for Christ in the midst of a home of unbelievers. It is often said that the bond between members of a family are undoubtedly the strongest… the thickest…. because it is the blood that connects them. Even the worldly adage of “our blood is thicker than water” can be used to justify and sustain familial allegiances and relationships. Family is assumed to be the place where we, as humans, love one another despite our differences, beliefs, and attitudes; the place where our earthly and sinful behavior “should” be easily excused because… well… we’re family. For many, it is the place we learn to love freely and selflessly. It is a place where we radically come face-to-face with the beautiful and painful experiences of doing life with others – of trying to live in peace and harmony with other flawed people.
At times, I find it particularly challenging to witness to some members of my family about the goodness and healing power of Jesus Christ. On a superficial level, it’s easy for me to believe that I cannot be used to effectively shift their perspective and way of life. Of course, I can personalize my relationship with God by sharing specifically what He has done for us, is doing in my life, and how I’m choosing to process my most challenging experiences through the lens of His love. But despite that willingness to witness in this fashion, I’m left wrestling with these questions: How does one navigate their devotion to a physical family in the face of their allegiance to God, all while subduing their insecurities and doubts? How do we persevere with what we know is eternal and true and still appreciate the conflicting views of our non-believing family members whom we so desperately want to see in heaven?
In Matthew 10: 32-39, Jesus answers these questions in a way that is unsettling. Specifically, He calls all of His followers to acknowledge Him before others, as He will then acknowledge them before the Father in heaven. Jesus also tells us that “He came to turn man against his father, daughter against her mother…” and that “the one who loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; the one who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” From this, it’s clear to see that we are not to put our earthly families above our allegiance to God; that the relationship we have with our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers does not compare to the relationship we are to have with and in Christ. He is in and ABOVE ALL things, including the blood of the earthly relationships we hold so dearly.
To follow such a command would be a challenge for even the most faithful and scripturally well-educated believers who know the correct order and direction our obedience and worship should take. Years into my faith, my heart still struggles in obedience to God’s command to put Him first – completely above those who have raised, supported, and loved me before I came to love the Him. Sometimes, I wish I could love them all equally – both God and family. But, I know that He has loved me FAR longer than they have and will love me FAR longer than they will. It is here, in the truth of this knowledge, that I see my allegiance to the Father. It is here that I pray such an allegiance will never cease; not even upon the consequence of physical death when standing firmly upon my faith and salvation.
Indeed, it is true that salvation can only be brought about by grace and through faith in the blood saving work of Jesus Christ. It is true that we, as humans, cannot save anyone; that we’re not superheroes or the wisest of all judges. We are simply, yet profoundly, who God made us to be. And in that light, He has fashioned to use us in both beautiful and perplexing ways. I imagine that He’s put us within families to be an example of a variety of things; that he’s graciously given us a relationship with Him in order to recognize that the purpose and utility of our actions can only be brought about by Him and through Him. To assume that we have the power to do more than He’s entrusted us with or in a manner that is contrary to His will is not only folly, but damaging to the gospel that needs to be shared with so many.
And yet, it is through His will and love that I see the redemptive importance of blood, but also the value of His water in our witness. Christ’s blood on the cross was not in vain — it was indeed “thick” and the pillar that forms our faith. But most importantly, it is His resurrection – His overcoming of death- where we find a hope for ourselves and others. It is here that we find the everlasting life promised through the satisfying water He offers when we are most parched. From this drink, we have the capacity to gulp down the power of the Holy Spirit and offer witness to those who need the refreshing taste of a clean new life.
Like the Samaritan Woman at the well, Christ knows exactly what we need, when we need it, and who He has called to be a child in the Kingdom of God. When we’re able to rest in this fact, we can come to see that our unbelieving families and friends are in the hands of the most perfect preacher of the good news. We’re able to see Jesus’ outstretched arms inviting us into partnership with His holy and magnificent authority – inviting us to pray alongside with Him. We’re able to see that our hope of seeing our families in heaven rests not on our backs, but on the One whose back carried the cross.
God will surely use every experience, word, and thought to give us the courage we need to witness and proclaim His gospel. He will give us what we need to love and draw near the other children He’s known since the beginning of time. And it is this love and grace that proves we are members of God’s eternal family and that the unbelieving members of our earthly families can be too.
Worship for Encouragement