Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10: 35 Introduction
Our text deals with one of the most painful aspects of Christianity. It can, and often does, rip families apart. Being a sixth generation preacher, I never had to endure the agony of being divided from family due to my faith. In thirty-six years of preaching, though, I have seen in countless families the devastation conversion to Christ can cause.
In preparing this sermon, I did all my homework, as I usually do. After studying over forty commentaries I had my notes in hand and began working on the manuscript, but soon realized I had compiled a body of cold facts and information on a topic that needs warmth, heart, and soul. I decided to interview a handful of our own members at Second who have suffered family devastation due to their decision to follow Christ. To preserve their anonymity, I have compiled their responses into a collage which Second Act will present today. The words of our members will have more impact on you than any lesson I could prepare.
Matt. 10:35 “For I am come to set a man at variance against his
father, and the daughter against her mother, and the
daughter in law against her mother in law.”
No prediction has ever been more strikingly fulfilled. Claiming to be a divider, Jesus did not shroud His intent in vague generalities, but gave a concrete example of the trouble He will cause. What unites us to Jesus can divide us from family. Conversion to Christianity causes strife, often under our own roof.
Our text depicts a typical household in Israel: father, mother, unmarried daughter, married son and wife. The parents have become believers in Jesus. The younger ones are opposing the older generation’s decision.
Notice Jesus’ blunt honesty here. He is the one who sets “at variance.” He takes upon Himself blame for the rift. His message is the cause of the strife.
If we are spiritually divided from our family, make sure the blame is totally Christ’s. Don’t add more blame, such as our own hypocrisy, pride, or impatience.
The pure, unadulterated story of Jesus causes enough division on its own. We don’t have to add to it. If any hate, hostility, and animosity exist, make sure they are all on one side, the unbelieving side. Remember who moved. We, not they, changed. They did not ask for this. It was not part of the original bargain.
Be especially careful not to display judgmental attitudes. A member of our church shares a painful testimony.
“When I became a believer, a huge gulf suddenly came between me and what had been a close knit family. My dad, as even keeled as they come, went ballistic. He said my spouse and I had become religious fanatics. Rejection from my parents was something I had never experienced before. It traumatized me. I over-reacted. Being a new, immature believer, I became judgmental. I was so excited about serving Jesus and being obedient to Him that I was unwise in handling the situation. I lashed back at my parents. The result was an open hostility that lasted for two years. Things finally settled a bit, and then we went through a few years of quiet isolation and rejection. Now Mom and Dad are more open to religious matters. They have come a long way, and even ask us for advice and spiritual counsel. We have seen them transformed. If you are a new believer coming out of an unbelieving family, quickly find older, more mature Christians to pray with you and give you counsel. Love your family now more than ever before. Do all you can to avoid coming across as judgmental. Otherwise, you may lose many valuable, precious, irretrievable years, as we did.”
When we believers are forced to distance ourselves from unbelieving family members, we are quick to think of our pain, but fail to realize our families still love us and are also grieving. We hurt. Our decision hurt them, too.
One of our members said,
“My family was dismayed. They thought I was going the wrong way. After many years they have shown an ever increasing pride in me, but initially, the separation hurt them as much as it did me.”
Conversion from a non-Christian home can turn a whole family against us. Unbelievers resent our leaving them. Mounting to a higher spiritual level is always considered a rebuke by those left behind. Belief in a believer condemns unbelief in an unbeliever. It is a statement of separation, of disagreement, of claiming all the family’s previously shared values, mores, and customs are deficient. It sends a signal that the unbeliever needs something more in life.
Conversion in an unbelieving family also brings sinners into close, repeated contact with reminders of a holy God, a thought very unpleasant at best. The new believer’s presence is a constant, painful reminder to anyone wanting to stifle and repress thoughts of God because they wish to pursue earthly, fleshly desires.
One of our members recalls,
“I was immediately pushed away at arm’s length, and kept there. In every way possible, one message came through loud and clear, you’re different, you’re not really one of us any more, your opinions are no longer valid because you’re a goody two-shoes.”
Following Jesus always entails a huge cost. He never promised us anything other than a difficult row to hoe. We follow in the footsteps, not of a prima donna, but of One who died on a cross. Christianity is a cross-lift, not a cake walk.
When becoming a believer, half-profession won’t do. A Christian has to count the cost, and then whatever that cost, burn his bridges behind him.
For Christ-followers, God’s Kingdom is ultimate (MT 6:33), superceding even family. The pain can be excruciating, as some of our members testify.
“The worst part has been having to isolate my children from their own relatives. My family was so sinful that it was essential for us to raise our children separated from extended family.”
“We tried to isolate our children as much as possible. We didn’t want them influenced, but through some cousins, sin made its inroads and had a devastating effect on our children.”
“Had I not become a believer, our family would have been much closer, more close-knit. My children are not emotionally attached to their grandparents. It always makes me sad when I see multi-generational families in church together. It reminds me of what my children and I have missed.”
A huge hurt entails knowing many of our most dearly loved ones probably will not be in Heaven. I asked our members, we know with God all things are possible, but humanly speaking, will your lost family members ever believe?
“Hard to say. Possibly, there’s a 50/50 chance for some. Maybe, on a death-bed.”
“No, I pray for my parents and siblings every day, but humanly speaking, it’s impossible. There’s been too many years in sin, fun is all that matters.”
“No, they’re too busy, there’s no room in their schedule for religious things.”
Often there is not enough holiness, kindness, or humility to overcome the rift, to convince the lost family members to cross the divide, to come to Jesus.
Hear another of our members.
“My goal in life was to be close to my father, to make him proud. Going against his values broke my heart, and his. I have felt very alone in life. In addition to the pain of my own personal isolation, I carry frustration and hurt over my dad’s continued refusal to accept Jesus. Recently, my father nearly died. I rushed to be at his side in the hospital and tried one more time to win him to Jesus. Dad scoffed at me, mocked the Bible, and expressed anger at God, brazenly saying, I want to see God, I have questions to ask Him.”
You can imagine the pain I was sensing in this person’s voice as I conducted this interview. All I knew to say was, “I am so sorry.” He immediately responded,
“Following Jesus has been worth it.”
Amen and amen.
Allow me a final word of comfort. If you are surrounded by an unbelieving family, do not carry incessant blame. Remember, Jesus was opposed by His own family. Ultimately, adults are responsible for their own behavior and choices. This does not give us license to be careless, but can allow us to sleep well at night.