Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:21 “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the
father the child: and the children shall rise up against their
parents, and cause them to be put to death.”
Gazing down the corridor of time, Jesus’ unpleasant predictions of persecution now become even more foreboding. Family will turn to foes. Jesus foresaw people who should protect us rejecting us, and becoming informants against us.
Knowing how painful this would sound, Jesus mentioned it only after He had alluded to the deep connection His followers have with their Heavenly Father (v. 20). Be consoled in having a spiritual family in addition to a physical family.
Notice that in the context of family ruptures came Jesus’ first mention of possible martyrdom due to acceptance of Him. We would be tempted to deem this morbid prediction an unbelievable fantasy were it not for the fact an abundance of evidence exists to prove the prognostication has been often fulfilled. Love for Christ, reciprocated with bitterness against Christ, has split many family circles.
During intense Roman persecution in the second and third centuries, many believers were betrayed to civil powers by family members. In the Inquisition, King Philip of Spain said he’d rather have no subjects than heretics, and claimed, “If it were my own son, I would bring the fagot.” As proof of his bloody zeal, he let his oldest son Charles be executed because he seemed to favor Protestants.
Nazi fanaticism destroyed family ties, teaching children to betray parents. State superseded home. Family love was sacrificed on the altar of nationalism.
In one generation, Mao ravaged three thousand years of family tradition in China. Anthony Grey depicts young Kung and his sister Ai-lien participating in a Red Guard rampage. Their little mob is taken to punish an elderly man whose hidden Bible had been discovered. Unknown to Kung and Ai-lien the old man is their grandpa. With peer pressure applied beyond their ability to resist, the two join in beating him to death. Dying, the old man catches a glimpse of his beloved offspring. “For a second or two he stared in disbelief at his two grandchildren–then a terrible look of despair came into his eyes and he seemed to shrink in size.”
Some religious cultures hold a funeral for any family member who becomes a Christian. Relatives consider them no longer alive. Other religious cultures permit, yea encourage, poisoning family members who convert to following Jesus.
This hostility of one religion toward another, and the disdain of the irreligious for any and all religions, plus the bulldog tenacity of those who cling to religion, combine to prove religion is an issue of utmost importance in people’s lives.
Secularists and shallow spiritualists refuse to acknowledge this. They say we should all drop our distinctive teachings and embrace one religious system to end prejudice. This is impossible and foolish. The key to ending prejudice is not everyone believing the same thing, but instead respecting each other’s differences.
For many believers, the most painful part of being a Christian is their feeling of betrayal from those most loved, the rejection sensed from their own family. It hurts when home, the place that should be our haven of safety, becomes a den of conflict. Family feuds are the fiercest. No enemy is harsher than kinfolk offended and estranged. When family members oppose us in anything, it hurts deeply.
The obvious question is, why are family members who become Christians often persecuted? First, the family may have no spiritual history or interest. My father-in-law was saved as a boy in a revival meeting conducted by a General Baptist woman preacher. With sheer excitement, he ran home to tell his family what had happened, but they could not have cared less. He told me they would have been much happier had he stayed home that night and pitched a little more hay.
Second, the family may have a longstanding non-Christian religious tradition. Relatives can bitterly resent any divergence from old, established family ways. To differ seems presumptuous, irreverent, pompous, judgmental. Rejecting a family religion is deemed equal to rejecting family. Loving Jesus is seen as hating family. Those reaching for the new are resented by those holding to the old.
Third, the family may have a sinful lifestyle. They resent any who oppose their way of living or who stop participating with them in vices they consider fun.
Fourth, the family may have a stereotype of Christians as fanatics, bigots, or hypocrites. The family may fear the new believer will become an embarrassment.
While examining the reactions of unbelievers toward us, we need to consider what our response to their reactions should be. How should we handle family and other loved ones who reject our faith? First, live a holy life. We cannot be flawless, but must be circumspect. Unbelievers are sensible enough to know believers can’t be perfect, but there has to be a marked difference between them and us. Be the kindest resident in the house. Volunteer for tasks no one else wants to do–take out garbage, wash dishes, dust furniture. Find positive ways to stand out.
Second, caution may be better than zeal. Don’t talk about religion a lot. Try not to “preach” or wax eloquent too much. Avoid being a nuisance or irritant. We don’t want our family to dread seeing us coming. Invite them to church, but not every week, maybe every two or three months, especially for special events.
Third, love them. Watch for tender, touching, teachable moments. When they’re stressed or worried, when life becomes tedious for them, say, “I’m praying for you.” Even lost people have vague appreciations of prayer. The fact they do not believe in Jesus doesn’t mean they don’t believe in some kind of higher power.
Fourth, accept them. Don’t whine, chide, or try to push our new paradigms on them. State our positions, but back off quickly. Bend as far as we can without breaking a direct Bible command. Remember, we became Christians, they didn’t. We changed, they haven’t. They are still prechristian. Don’t be surprised they act the same way they did. Don’t be angry at lost people for acting like lost people.
Fifth, try something new. I remind us, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results. Many of us have long been concerned about lost family and friends, having tried for years to win them to Jesus. Forgive my boldness, but we may have repeatedly tried the old ways long enough. Maybe we should quit doing the same things while expecting different results.
Try a new approach. Add a fresh, heightened level of intentionality to our efforts. First, enlist as many people as possible to pray. Badger saved acquaintances, Sunday School class members, and prayer warriors. Let them see our tears. Unload our hurting heart, ask them to help us bear this grievous burden. Give them no rest, harassing them to give God no rest on behalf of our lost loved one.
Second, ask a small group of Christian friends to help enfold our lost loved one. Ask them to come alongside us in accepting our lost loved one as is. If he curses or talks about Playboy magazine, no rebuke. If she orders a beer or talks about gambling, no rebuff. Prayer and unconditional acceptance of our beloved prechristian may be the two most profitable gifts our saved friends can offer us.
Ask one another for these two gifts. Let’s do this for each other. Pray for, and socialize with, someone’s beloved unbeliever. Let’s help woo them to Jesus.