Jesus First; Family Second
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
In my childhood and teenage years, I had a dear friend at church. He later married outside the faith. Each day of his adult life has been a spiritual zero.
Hyman Appelman, famous evangelist who affected me profoundly, was declared dead by his family when he told them he had become a Christian. The family had a funeral for him. When his mother died, he begged to be allowed to come home for her funeral. They made him sleep in a backyard shed.
When young, I heard a preacher say no woman would bring his ministry down. Do I need to finish the story? He married a lady who did that very thing.
What do these three stories share in common? A believer’s spiritual life was damaged by a family member. Many here could tell a similar story.
People related to us physically can be disconnected from us spiritually. Our nearest kin can be our most distant soul-mates. Some live under the same roof, sleep in the same bed, and eat at the same table, with family whose loyalties are polar opposites. Family members can be our faith’s most formidable opponent.
It is often easier to deflect poisoned arrows from enemies than soft jibes from family and friends. Those who love us most sometimes tempt us most. For some believers, the kind concern of unbelieving family members is seductive. Their love is misplaced and misdirected, but potent, because genuine and strong.
For other believers, the test is in the barbs at a family reunion, the snickers, the rolled eyes, the harsh words of exasperation toward our perceived fanaticism.
Jesus experienced the pain of family rejection. He used their opposition to His ministry to teach truths about family pressures that seek to damage our faith.
Matt. 12:46-47 (Holman) He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.”
Jesus was the oldest of at least seven siblings. He had four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude, plus unnamed sisters (Matthew 13:55-56).
Their spiritual story seems to have ended well. They evidently became Christ-followers. James and Jude wrote Bible books. James led the first council of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13). It was said he had camel knees, having callused them from spending excessive amounts of time kneeling in prayer.
All was well in the end, but at the time of our text, Jesus’ family was not yet ready to support His ministry. His brothers flat out disbelieved in Him (John 7:5).
Even His mother Mary seemed to misunderstand Him at times. She finally believed firmly (Acts 1:14), but in these earlier days was evidently perplexed. She seemed, like John the Baptist, confused about Jesus’ Messianic role. When Jesus at age 12 stayed in the Temple, Mary complained, “Son, why have you treated us like this?” (Luke 2:48). When the wedding wine ran out, and she prodded her Son to act (John 2:3), Jesus let her know she didn’t understand what He was about.
Jesus endured the same agony many of you suffer. His family did not support Him spiritually. From this crucible of torment, Jesus taught a vital lesson.
Matthew 12:48-50 But He replied to the one 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, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”
Don’t miss the eyewitness’ dramatic touch–Jesus waved His hand toward the 12. Commoners, a motley crew at best, were His beloved. The gladness and at-home feeling Jesus could not find among His own kin He found among the 12.
Matthew saw Jesus wave his direction and never forgot it. A despised tax collector, he wasn’t used to feeling loved, but when Jesus pointed to the 12, Matthew was included. Jesus loved Matthew as much as He loved His family.
Jesus loves you and me as much as He loved His mother, brothers, and sisters. What humility! Jesus the Son of God has stooped to call us His family.
This fact has comforted many who were disowned by kin due to conversion. Sometimes, like Jesus, we too have to find our home in a place outside our homes.
Whom Jesus accepts as family we dare not reject. In a local church the lonely find community, the ostracized find acceptance, the outcast find a home.
Jesus’ words were not an effort to lessen family love. In His final hour He cared for His mother (John 19:26). After His resurrection He personally sought out His brother James (I Cor. 15:7). God the Father placed value and esteem on family bonds by putting His only begotten Son in an earthly family, and having Him be raised in a home. Blood is a bond nothing can sever for better or worse.
Loving Jesus and fellow believers more should not make us love family less. Never speak disrespectfully to your parents. We are to honor them, even if we disagree with them. When speaking difficult truth to them, lower your voice.
Never speak unkindly to siblings. If we have to be firm, do it gently. Don’t burn bridges. We have to handle family tenderly, but must never let them woo us away from doing right. Never let family interfere with our work for God.
Beware also the flip side of this activity. Don’t ever be the one who tries to interfere with God’s will in someone else’s life. Never try to dissuade family from attempting a closer walk with Jesus, from sacrificial living, from taking up a cross.
This thought often presses on me when I think of our baby dedication times. Do parents mean it? Our IMB says mission candidates suffer their main resistance from family members who resist their children and grandchildren going overseas.
Jesus’ statement of love for us also stated what He expects from us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, must ever be allowed to keep us from serving Jesus.
Jesus’ own words will serve as our parting thought. He warned us, when we follow Him “a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:36-37).