“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38).
One of the few commonly held virtues remaining in our society is a sense of fealty and loyalty to family. For the most part, people are expected to help take care of their family members– providing for them, caring for them, and being involved in family life.
On the whole, this remains a good thing– God established families (Genesis 2:24), and throughout time, the family has been the basic unit of social cohesion. God, through the New Testament, teaches people to provide for the physical needs of their families, both immediate and extended (1 Timothy 5:8), and for husbands and wives, parents and children to honor Him through serving one another in their various roles (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). Those who are qualified to shepherd a local congregation as elders will be married and have a faithful immediate family (1 Timothy 3:1-8). Believers must honor their father and mother and fulfill their responsibilities in the family whether their family members believe in God or not (Ephesians 6:1-2). God, therefore, expects people to still live and function within physical families.
Yet there is a family of greater value that was established in 30 CE on the day of Pentecost– the church (Acts 2:42-48). Be not deceived: the church is to function like a family. Paul calls the church the “household of God” in 1 Timothy 3:15, and the core of any household is a family. Throughout the New Testament Christians refer to one another as “brothers” and “sisters” (cf. Acts 11:29, 12:17, 1 Timothy 5:1-2), with God as their Father (1 Timothy 1:2). This is God’s great wisdom manifest in the church: people of all different races, classes, ethnicities, personalities, languages, and nationalities all working together and having the same concern for one another in a big spiritual family (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28)!
God is our Father whether we have enjoyed a healthy relationship with our earthly father or not (Hebrews 12:5-11); likewise, the church is our spiritual family of brothers and sisters whether we enjoy a healthy relationship with our family or not. We must show great concern for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, those who share as heirs of eternity in glory (1 John 1:7, Romans 8:17-18). For some among us, the spiritual family is the only family they have really ever known or care to know. The church may be the only family in which they have been loved, accepted, and encouraged. God is honored and glorified when the church takes care of its own!
We ought to understand that the family of God ought to take precedence in honor in our lives over the physical family, since Christ is glorified in His Body, the church (Matthew 10:37-38, Ephesians 5:23-33). Whereas the earthly family, especially when it is comprised of many unbelievers, may be a source of temptation and discouragement, fellow Christian brothers and sisters are there to build up and encourage (1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:25). Christian brothers and sisters share a common faith and hope that is far more valuable than any blood connection (Hebrews 10:23, Jude 1:3)! We must devote our energies and resources, therefore, to the edification of our spiritual family.
But what happens in the wonderful situation when our physical family members are also fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? We certainly must maintain our familial responsibilities toward them, and do what we can to build up our Christian family members. Nevertheless, we cannot devote all of our energies and resources upon our physical family to the neglect of other brothers and sisters in Christ and please God. The physical family is important but it is never all-important. There are other brothers and sisters in Christ who should not be neglected, especially when they do not share in the benefit of having their physical family members as believers!
We must find balance in terms of family, as in all things. The physical family is important, but we must resist the temptation to idolize the family and neglect the encouragement and edification of fellow Christians with whom we share no earthly relation. We must remember that our devotion to Christ comes before everything and everyone, even family (Matthew 10:37-38). Yes, we serve Christ when we serve family as God has commanded (Ephesians 5:22-6:4), but Christ is not honored when we still prefer the blood connection to the spiritual connection of all believers. Let us serve Christ in all things, and show Him honor by strengthening our spiritual family!