On Family Loyalty and Christian Discipleship

As a born-again Christian over the course of several decades now, I am often curious to read what other Christians have written regarding Bible difficulties.  Today, I read an interesting post over at Bill Muehlenberg’s blog entitled, “On Family Loyalty and Christian Discipleship.”  He categorized it under the headings of “Christianity,” “Difficult Bible Passages,” and “Family.”

To be honest, I became a bit alarmed when I read some of the sections of the post that were about “radical discipleship.”

Excerpt:

Radical discipleship means putting God first above everything else – even above good things which God has blessed. That may mean having to choose at times between loyalty to Christ and allegiance to family. That is what Jesus is on about here: the radical call of Christian discipleship.

When I read that, I immediately thought about the term “cult.”  For me, the only reason I can think of to have the need to “choose, at times, between loyalty to Christ and allegiance to family” would be if certain family members are causing harm to the Christian and/or purposely attacking any member for their Christian discipleship.  Didn’t Jesus also tell us that the “wheat (true believers) and the tares (fake or false adherents)” will grow together, and at the harvest will then be separated?  Well, Bill’s next several paragraphs helped to ease my fears about where he was going with this:

Let me finish with a few wise words of commentary here, just on the Matthew passage. Craig Blomberg cuts to the chase: “Theological syntheses must balance Eph. 6:14 and 1 Tim. 5:8 with teachings like these. Devotion to family is a cardinal Christian duty but must never become absolute to the extent that devotion to God is compromised.”

R. T. France puts it this way:

Like many prophetic oracles, this saying is cast in an absolute form which needs to be set alongside other contrasting aspects of Jesus’ teaching. Family enmity is not a virtue in itself, nor is it the universal experience of Jesus’ disciples, but it is a matter of priorities. Loyalty to Jesus and his mission comes first, and the result of that may be that family ties are strained to breaking point. But there is a new family relationship for disciples of Jesus which more than compensates for what may be lost by loyalty to him (12:46-50; 19:27-29).

Robert Mounce comments, “The issue is one of priorities: our commitment to Christ must be greater than to anyone else. Jesus is not counseling his followers to ride roughshod over family affection or responsibility. The point is that when a person pledges solidarity with Christ and his mission, nothing – not even the love of a family member (understood as unsympathetic to the Christian faith) – must be allowed to stand in the way.”

Again, the point is not to trash family relationships but to fully exalt Christ in everything. As Daniel Doriani comments:

Jesus assumes parents and children love each other. He approves of love in the family. But he says love of family must never push him into the background. A disciple must love him supremely, more than father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife. If we must choose between pleasing Jesus and pleasing our family, Jesus says we must love him more than father or mother (10:37).

This is not about the Christian repudiating or attacking his own family. The point Jesus is making is that when we come to Christ, family members may well turn on us and reject us. As D. A. Carson puts it, “He does not mean that those he wins as his disciples will turn against their family members, but that by winning men and women to himself their family members will turn against them.”

Ah…OK, that makes more sense.  I have experienced when a family member “turned against me” because of her unbelief in Jesus Christ and her rejection of God’s Word, the Bible.  This person even went so far to spread rumors about me to another relative in order to trash me and turn that relative against me as well.  Sadly, she passed away back in 2011.  Even though I tried to reach her with the Gospel on several occasions (books, emails, sharing my dad’s journey to faith before he died), and prayed for her salvation, her belief was that she would go to heaven because she was kind to animals.  Of course, I won’t know until I get to see the Lord in eternity whether or not any of my invitations to her about her need to accept Christ as Lord and Savior helped her make that eternal decision.

Back to the article.

Bill writes:

So these hard words of Jesus about radical discipleship are NOT meant to be used as an excuse for believers to ride roughshod over their own families. Family life is held in high regard in Scripture, and Christians should do all they can to maintain healthy family relationships.

I know about this type of situation.  When someone marries into another Christian family, one might think that they are “safe” regarding Bill’s admonition that discipleship doesn’t mean to “ride roughshod over their family” members.  Unfortunately, this is not always true.

There can be many reasons for a spouse to encourage her husband to become estranged from his family. You can read my former post about that HERE.

Another reason could be that the Christian spouse that the son married into is in a kind of family cult.

I was surprised to read that Bill had been exposed to cult behavior.  It could happen to anyone.  And, if a particular spouse is not aware of the underlying reasons why a wife would want her husband to abandon his family, he could be manipulated into doing it.

Bill wrote:

Having been in a few cults early on in my Christian journey I know how normal it is for the new convert to be urged to hate their family and turn against them. It is quite common in the cults for the leader to pit the believer against the rest of their family, and insist that the cult is his new family.

Bill continues to write:

This is certainly not what Jesus had in mind when he said these words. Family life is something God-ordained and we need to show proper respect and love for family members.

But then, he also wrote:

The main message of Jesus here is that at times we will have to risk alienating our own family as we fully follow Christ.

When an in-law family is involved in a cult (or, even just cult-like behavior within that small family), they can give a new member of the other side of the family a reason to alienate his own parents and siblings!  I’ve seen it happen and it is excruciatingly painful, terribly sad, and certainly not biblical in nature!  The example I can share here is that “unhealthy communications” and “perceived crossing boundaries” were excuses used for a son to dump his Christian family members; without any effort to discuss such grievances.  Even the suggestion by his side of the family to go to Christian family counseling in order to resolve the issues at hand has been rejected.

Bill admits:

It is unfortunate (alienation from family members) when that does occur, and we are not to go out of our way and seek for that to happen.

Well, in the example that I shared above, the female in-law family DID seek for it to happen.  Terminology like counseling someone into “taking a deep dive” and “purging someone out of his bottled up self and shallowness, even if that means countless hours of staying up all hours of the night to get to the root of your hearts and listening to the convictions of the Holy Spirit… even if it hurts!” was used.   And saying to the untrained in-law “mom” who is doing the so-called “counseling” that “it doesn’t come overnight and you have to work for that transparency…such a blessing that you explained AND most importantly demonstrated that it takes continued commitment and listening to God to make it work!…and that there’s no “easy” way.”  She continued:  “I am so excited for me and Carey to follow in that!”

Now, those particular paragraphs may sound innocent and like there isn’t anything wrong with what is being espoused.  However, when it includes encouraging the husband to abandon his Christian parents (to whom he had previously always expressed love towards, and had written wonderful praises and thanks for his good Christian upbringing in decades worth of birthday cards and Mother’s/Father’s Day cards) and also caused him to choose to become permanently estranged from them; one could look at it as being very damaging.  Such a Facebook post now sounds cult-like and quite scary!  It very well could be another kind of “spirit” working within that family dynamic; NOT the Holy Spirit of God.

Even though my family member (who died in 2011) rejected me for my faith in Jesus Christ, often mocked me for it and even told lies about me to other family members, I still did not become estranged from her.  I continued to attempt to reach her with the Gospel.  And, despite some of the mean things she had done to me over the years, I had to FORGIVE her for them!  When I finally prayed about it and did forgive her for years of dislike, mean things done in the past,  and lies told about me,  a heavy burden was immediately lifted off of me!  THAT is the Jesus Christ that I know and worship!  Only He could do that for me.  When I am weak (and filled with un-forgiveness), He is strong and through the power of the Holy Spirit, had years of pain lifted off of me!

That act of forgiveness was what was NEEDED in order for me to start re-establishing a new relationship with her (mostly via phone because she lived across the country)!  A reunion of sorts was planned, but sadly, she died before that could be arranged. One of the last things that I had discussed with her was my post about Remembering Dad. I hope she read it and took it to heart.

As I had written in the case of Aurora and Carey, outstretched hands and the willingness of communicating with estranged family members requires forgiveness. Such a trial in life as this may be necessary in order for Aurora and Carey to work out conflict within their own lives. Perhaps the parents and extended family members on the son’s side of the family are just collateral damage. It could be a necessary time in the young couple’s lives to go through, in order to see what they have done more clearly. Ultimately, it is my hope and prayer for them to be reconciled back to the parents that raised their son in a Bible-based church and manner; a family that takes seriously 2 Timothy 2:15 that requires believers to “rightly divide the word of truth.”  That is key to the adherence towards  true Christian faith.

Hat tip:  Bill Muehlenberg’s blog

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2 Responses to “On Family Loyalty and Christian Discipleship”

  1. christinewjc Says:

    After reading a devotional from Dr. David Jeremiah’s Turning Points magazine entitled, “You Are Heard” (September, 2017) the currently estranged mom of “Carey” in my recent posts has had a revelation – of sorts. She shared that it appears that the family dispute is actually a trial, between husband and wife, in the life of her son. And, his parents are basically “collateral damage.”

    Sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain what is really going on in a young marriage; especially when grievances written in an email to the shocked parents were never addressed throughout the son’s life. Going “dark” and not speaking with, or being willing to see the parents, leaves them helpless as far as helping to resolve the problems between the son and his parents. When someone states that they “need space” and “do not want any contact with them (the parents)”, or, for the parents “not to send anyone else to contact him”; this mom has concluded that there is nothing that she or her husband can do right now to remedy the situation. The entire scenario rests in the next step taken by the son. It can be very difficult to wait, but when all measures of reconciliation efforts have been rejected, what else can they do?

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  2. christinewjc Says:

    While reading a post over at See, there’s this thing called biology I had a revelation of sorts regarding the case of “Carey and Aurora” that I have been writing about!

    Here is a copy of my comment there:

    I have not read the ESV version of the Bible. I’m a fan of the NKJV. Have used the NIV in the past, but now find that the NKJV is much more accurate (IMHO).

    I’m stunned that Genesis 3:16 has obviously been changed from the truth of the NKJV: “Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
    to a totally different meaning in the ESV version that “Your desire shall be contrary to[fn] your husband, but he shall rule over you.” The footnote says “or against.”

    Wow! That’s quite a revelation for me! I know of a young woman who uses that version of the Bible and is currently in the process of being a “contrarian” influence towards her husband of almost 2 years. This explains quite well why she has become an “undermining daughter-in-law” towards the husband’s parents; encouraging him and manipulating him into the decision to abandon them because of perceived “unhealthy communication” and “crossing boundaries.” I have been writing about this sad situation at my blog and I have my suspicions that this family which claims to be “Christian,” has an obviously skewed version (maybe even cult-like!) of “Christian” marriage! (IB, if interested in more details please see my post at Talkwisdom: “On Family Loyalty and Christian Discipleship.”)

    Matthew Henry commentaries are often quite long, but thorough in content. That is why I often trust them more than “modern versions.”

    Here’s a relevant excerpt:

    Gen 3:16

    We have here the sentence passed upon the woman for her sin. Two things she is condemned to: a state of sorrow, and a state of subjection, proper punishments of a sin in which she had gratified her pleasure and her pride.
    I. She is here put into a state of sorrow, one particular of which only is specified, that in bringing forth children; but it includes all those impressions of grief and fear which the mind of that tender sex is most apt to receive, and all the common calamities which they are liable to. Note, Sin brought sorrow into the world; it was this that made the world a vale of tears, brought showers of trouble upon our heads, and opened springs of sorrows in our hearts, and so deluged the world: had we known no guilt, we should have known no grief. The pains of child-bearing, which are great to a proverb, a scripture proverb, are the effect of sin; every pang and every groan of the travailing woman speak aloud the fatal consequences of sin: this comes of eating forbidden fruit. Observe, 1. The sorrows are here said to be multiplied, greatly multiplied. All the sorrows of this present time are so; many are the calamities which human life is liable to, of various kinds, and often repeated, the clouds returning after the rain, and no marvel that our sorrows are multiplied when our sins are: both are innumerable evils. The sorrows of child-bearing are multiplied; for they include, not only the travailing throes, but the indispositions before (it is sorrow from the conception), and the nursing toils and vexations after; and after all, if the children prove wicked and foolish, they are, more than ever, the heaviness of her that bore them. Thus are the sorrows multiplied; as one grief is over, another succeeds in this world.
    2. It is God that multiplies our sorrows: I will do it. God, as a righteous Judge, does it, which ought to silence us under all our sorrows; as many as they are, we have deserved them all, and more: nay, God, as a tender Father, does it for our necessary correction, that we may be humbled for sin, and weaned from the world by all our sorrows; and the good we get by them, with the comfort we have under them, will abundantly balance our sorrows, how greatly soever they are multiplied.

    II. She is here put into a state of subjection. The whole sex, which by creation was equal with man, is, for sin, made inferior, and forbidden to usurp authority, 1 Tim. 2:11, 12. The wife particularly is hereby put under the dominion of her husband, and is not sui juris-at her own disposal, of which see an instance in that law, Num. 30:6-8, where the husband is empowered, if he please, to disannul the vows made by the wife. This sentence amounts only to that command, Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; but the entrance of sin has made that duty a punishment, which otherwise it would not have been. If man had not sinned, he would always have ruled with wisdom and love; and, if the woman had not sinned, she would always have obeyed with humility and meekness; and then the dominion would have been no grievance: but our own sin and folly make our yoke heavy. If Eve had not eaten forbidden fruit herself, and tempted her husband to eat it, she would never have complained of her subjection; therefore it ought never to be complained of, though harsh; but sin must be complained of, that made it so. Those wives who not only despise and disobey their husbands, but domineer over them, do not consider that they not only violate a divine law, but thwart a divine sentence.
    III. Observe here how mercy is mixed with wrath in this sentence. The woman shall have sorrow, but it shall be in bringing forth children, and the sorrow shall be forgotten for joy that a child is born, Jn. 16:21. She shall be subject, but it shall be to her own husband that loves her, not to a stranger, or an enemy: the sentence was not a curse, to bring her to ruin, but a chastisement, to bring her to repentance. It was well that enmity was not put between the man and the woman, as there was between the serpent and the woman.

    If any readers went to the Matthew Henry commentary link (above), they would have also read an awesome excerpt about the remedy of the saving grace afforded by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Genesis 3:15 portion of the commentary:

    2. A perpetual quarrel is here commenced between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil among men; war is proclaimed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That war in heaven between Michael and the dragon began now, Rev. 12:7. It is the fruit of this enmity, (1.) That there is a continual conflict between grace and corruption in the hearts of God’s people. Satan, by their corruptions, assaults them, buffets them, sifts them, and seeks to devour them; they, by the exercise of their graces, resist him, wrestle with him, quench his fiery darts, force him to flee from them. Heaven and hell can never be reconciled, nor light and darkness; no more can Satan and a sanctified soul, for these are contrary the one to the other.
    (2.) That there is likewise a continual struggle between the wicked and the godly in this world. Those that love God account those their enemies that hate him, Ps. 139:21, 22. And all the rage and malice of persecutors against the people of God are the fruit of this enmity, which will continue while there is a godly man on this side heaven, and a wicked man on this side hell. Marvel not therefore if the world hate you, 1 Jn. 3:13.

    3. A gracious promise is here made of Christ, as the deliverer of fallen man from the power of Satan. Though what was said was addressed to the serpent, yet it was said in the hearing of our first parents, who, doubtless, took the hints of grace here given them, and saw a door of hope opened to them, else the following sentence upon themselves would have overwhelmed them. Here was the dawning of the gospel day. No sooner was the wound given than the remedy was provided and revealed. Here, in the head of the book, as the word is (Heb. 10:7), in the beginning of the Bible, it is written of Christ, that he should do the will of God. By faith in this promise, we have reason to think, our first parents, and the patriarchs before the flood, were justified and saved and to this promise, and the benefit of it, instantly serving God day and night, they hoped to come. Notice is here given them of three things concerning Christ:- (1.) His incarnation, that he should be the seed of the woman, the seed of that woman; therefore his genealogy (Lu. 3) goes so high as to show him to be the son of Adam, but God does the woman the honour to call him rather her seed, because she it was whom the devil had beguiled, and on whom Adam had laid the blame; herein God magnifies his grace, in that, though the woman was first in the transgression, yet she shall be saved by child-bearing (as some read it), that is, by the promised seed who shall descend from her, 1 Tim. 2:15. He was likewise to be the seed of a woman only, of a virgin, that he might not be tainted with the corruption of our nature; he was sent forth, made of a woman (Gal. 4:4), that this promise might be fulfilled. It is a great encouragement to sinners that their Saviour is the seed of the woman, bone of our bone, Heb. 2:11, 14. Man is therefore sinful and unclean, because he is born of a woman (Job 25:4), and therefore his days are full of trouble, Job 14:1. But the seed of the woman was made sin and a curse for us, so saving us from both.
    (2.) His sufferings and death, pointed at in Satan’s bruising his heel, that is, his human nature. Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness, to draw him into sin; and some think it was Satan that terrified Christ in his agony, to drive him to despair. It was the devil that put it into the heart of Judas to betray Christ, of Peter to deny him, of the chief priests to prosecute him, of the false witnesses to accuse him, and of Pilate to condemn him, aiming in all this, by destroying the Saviour, to ruin the salvation; but, on the contrary, it was by death that Christ destroyed him that had the power of death, Heb. 2:14. Christ’s heel was bruised when his feet were pierced and nailed to the cross, and Christ’s sufferings are continued in the sufferings of the saints for his name. The devil tempts them, casts them into prison, persecutes and slays them, and so bruises the heel of Christ, who is afflicted in their afflictions. But, while the heel is bruised on earth, it is well that the head is safe in heaven.
    (3.) His victory over Satan thereby. Satan had now trampled upon the woman, and insulted over her; but the seed of the woman should be raised up in the fulness of time to avenge her quarrel, and to trample upon him, to spoil him, to lead him captive, and to triumph over him, Col. 2:15. He shall bruise his head, that is, he shall destroy all his politics and all his powers, and give a total overthrow to his kingdom and interest. Christ baffled Satan’s temptations, rescued souls out of his hands, cast him out of the bodies of people, dispossessed the strong man armed, and divided his spoil: by his death, he gave a fatal and incurable blow to the devil’s kingdom, a wound to the head of this beast, that can never be healed. As his gospel gets ground, Satan falls (Lu. 10:18) and is bound, Rev. 20:2. By his grace, he treads Satan under his people’s feet (Rom. 16:20) and will shortly cast him into the lake of fire, Rev. 20:10. And the devil’s perpetual overthrow will be the complete and everlasting joy and glory of the chosen remnant.

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