Christians have idols that we love to hate, at least superficially, like materialism or pride. For some reason these are the idols that are the ones that typically get the “amens” and “that’ll preach” comments when the pastor serves up a message about them. But for some reason, there are certain idols that we just love to love. Were the pastor to preach on an inordinate love of conservative politics, or the American dream, or the nuclear family I’d venture a guess that we wouldn’t hear as many “amens” during that sermon. Yet, even the good and well-intentioned things that we do as Christ-followers can become idols if we allow them become so prominent that Christ loses His preeminence in our lives.
I like how Tim Keller defines what an idol is: “[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give what only God can give.” Keller’s definition reminds us that even good things can become idols if we are not careful. This is why Jesus used such an extreme example in Luke 14. He wanted his listeners to wholly follow him and not allow even their family to get in that way.
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
Some dismiss this text as a command that cannot possibly be taken literally but I would challenge that line of thinking. What did Christ mean when he said we should “hate” our fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters? Jesus is teaching on the costs of discipleship here. The focus is not on the family, per se. This verse is teaching us that we must not allow even our families themselves to become idols that separate us from Christ.
A recent Barna Study came to the sobering realization that many families have misplaced their priorities. According to that study the majority of evangelical American Christians are “most likely to point to their family as making up a significant part of their personal identity.” Next on that list is “country” before “My religious faith” (who comes in third). Our love of family has usurped God as our primary identity marker.
Many Christians rightly point to Scripture and say that God loves the family. All throughout the Bible we read this important concept.
But when we come to the Gospels, we find that Jesus seems to give a mixed bag of instructions concerning our immediate family.
While these verses certainly shock us, they would have come as even more of a shock to the first-century audience to whom Jesus was talking. Loyalty to your immediate family was considered the noblest of all virtues to those living in that era. But Jesus was saying, “Following me means you now belong to two families: your natural family and your spiritual family.” Unlike the surrounding culture, Jesus points to his spiritual family as being most important to him.
“While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).
Jesus calls on us, by example, to place our loyalty with our new spiritual family. This raises an unavoidable conflict. Which family do I place as my top priority? Most of us would probably rank our relationship priorities in this way:
But both Scripture, the history of the early church, and the very testimony of Christ paint a very different hierarchy of priorities. Jesus did not call his followers into some secret society. Our relationship with God is not some private calling. When God saved us, we became part of a movement—we were adopted into a new family. Any notion that we can separate loyalty to God with loyalty to God’s family is dubious as best!
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)
I would propose to you that much of the American church has it wrong! Somehow and somewhere we’ve been led to believe that our relationship with Jesus is primarily a personal one, but that is just ludicrous. My relationship with Jesus is a relational one and the best way for me to relate to God is to relate to His community—His family. Thus, a thoroughly Scriptural based priority structure would look like this:
While this ranking might be tough for the average American Christian to swallow it certainly makes better sense of those “anti-family” statements from Christ like the one in Luke 14.
While our natural families are still the most significant earthly relationships we have, we must learn to place our natural families in positions where we can best relate to our spiritual family. These two families ought not be placed in positions where they are competing for our time and attention. Therefore, excuses like “I can’t go to church today. I need to spend time with my family,” simply don’t make sense Scripturally. Church time is family time. Claiming that “I can’t get involved in church right now because I need to spend time with my family” doesn’t make sense either. Church time is family time. What better way is there to teach your children to have a love for the ministry than to get them involved in the ministry?
As in any case there is a danger to skew this out of balance. There are some pastors, for example, who may fail to faithfully shepherd, love, and nurture their wife and kids because they’re so consumed with their church responsibilities. Their church becomes their new family and they leave their physical family in the dust. This is a shame and in no way should it be replicated as the norm.
Bottom line, we have our priorities reflect God’s rather than trying to squeeze God’s Word to fit our priorities. In order to make this a reality there is a harmonization of these two priorities. Church time is family time so let the church minister to your family and let your family minister to the church but never, ever, allow them to compete with one another!
Keller, Tim., Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (New York: Dutton, 2009), xvii.
Caleb Phelps was born and raised in New Hampshire and is an avid fan of all things New England sports. He grew up in a pastors home and was saved at the age of 12. As a young junior higher he sensed God's call on his life to go into full time Christian service. Caleb graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb served as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. In September 2018 the Lord moved Caleb and his family to Palm Bay, FL where he now serves as senior pastor at Faith Baptist Church.
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