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Supporting Member Question – Can a person’s family become an idol? I live in an area where the family is king. Even when people do not like their families, they are still king! Blood ties are strong.
My experience has been that for some people new covenant relationships will always play “second fiddle” to the natural relationships regardless of whether or not the natural relationships are regenerate or unregenerate. What are your thoughts?
The most obvious answer to your question is “Yes.” We can make idols out of anything. Men can idolize women. Women can idolize men. A single person can idolize marriage. A teenager can idolize the cool group at school.
There is nothing known to humanity that we can’t turn into an idol. We turn love into lust. We turn hunger into gluttony. We take words and use them sinfully.
Since Adam and Eve took a dive in the Garden of Eden, everything has been up for grabs as far as idol-making. Nothing is safe. We can use everything sinfully. A person’s family is no exception. Our hearts are idol factories, so said John Calvin.
We are tenaciously loyal to ourselves, and without the protective care of others, the chain-breaking power of the Spirit, the clarity from the Word of God, and the sovereign providence of the Lord, we’re all vulnerable to our sinful desires.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (Peter 5:8).
Your question is a good one, and it behooves every Christian to think about what you’re asking. God has called us to an “alien life,” which means this world is not our home.
As you suggest, there is a new covenant. There is a new way of living. This new way is not eclectic where we can pick and choose what areas we want to give to God. He is Lord over all.
Our Savior gave us the pattern for what it means to live the alien life. He was able to prioritize His relationships without being aloof or uncaring.
He was unflinching because He had a biblical filter through which He defined His relationships. Carefully read the three passages below to gain a clearer perspective on how Jesus thought about your question.
“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 is my brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:48-50).”
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27).
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:34-37).
These passages could be confusing or considered uncharitable to the unbiblical mind. If they are not correctly applied, a person could easily slip into one of two ditches that the Bible would not support:
Jesus did not live in either ditch. He did not un-love His family, and He did not allow His family to manage His biblical priorities. We cannot conclude otherwise because we know He was perfect, which means He never made a mistake regarding His “theology of relationships.”
The answer to the “hate riddle” in Luke 14:26, is a matter of priorities. The real question is, “Who do you love more?” We teach our children to love God more than they love us. There is a hokey acronym for this: JOY–Jesus, Others, Yourself.
Jesus was using hyperbolic language in Luke 14:26, where He said you must hate your family to be right with Him. We know this is hyperbolic language because of the “principle of non-contradiction,” the Bible does not contradict itself, and God does not teach us to hate our fathers and mothers.
What He was saying is our love for Him must be greater than our love for our families. This kind of love should not be a hard concept to grasp when we consider our call to “God-first living” (Matthew 6:33).
Let Me Illustrate – You may have heard the expression, “He passed me so fast that it looked like I was sitting still.” A person may say this when he is driving a car and another driver zooms by him at a much higher speed.
The slower driver is not sitting still when he talks about the other driver passing him. He is hyperbolically conveying how fast the other guy is driving.
The Savior is not calling you to hate your family, but He is calling you to have a love for Him that makes all other “loves” look like hate in comparison–hyperbolically speaking.
He is calling you to place a higher priority on Him and your Christian family–since we are in His body–than those who reject Him, even if some of those people are family members.
God created you and placed you on earth for a purpose. Your job is to figure out your purpose. That, of course, is easy–to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31). He allowed you to be born into a family because that is how it works–we are born into families. We’re not born and left in the wild to fend for ourselves.
Usually, we mature into young men and women while living in the context of the family that God used to bring us into the world. The family construct is how God set it up from the beginning (Genesis 1:28). A man and a woman procreate, a child is born, and that is the start of the journey that has no end.
During this journey, some of us have an experience with God. We are born a second time (John 3:7). At that point, we receive another Father–an eternal Father.
Though we do not disrespect our earthly fathers, we are now living on another plane, with new and more meaningful priorities. We have entered into the family of God.
We become children of the King, and we take our marching orders from Him. Out of respect and Christian love, we never forget where we came from, and we always show honor to those whom God used to bring us into the world.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (John 19:26-27).
Sometimes people think in extremes. For example, they feel guilt and shame if they love their Christian brothers and sisters more than their bio-family.
You must examine this kind of guilt and shame. It is not from the Lord. If it were true, Jesus would be wrong to love those who did His will more than those who did not.
Jesus had one filter He used to figure out this problem: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” His starting point has to be your starting point. The “will of God” is how you discern the family you love the most. But you must be careful in your thinking. Love has differing degrees of intensity.
We can love a mountain and love our mothers, but not love them the same. You love your child, and you can love your neighbor’s child, but you do not love them the same.
There should not be any shame in your differing degrees of love. I love my family more than I love you, and you love your family more than you love me. With that said, we can still love everybody, just not to the same degree or in the same way. The question you still have to come back to is, “Who will you love the most?”
Will it be Christ and His body, or will it be the unregenerate world, even if some of your family members are part of the unregenerate world? This is a worldview, life-shaping question. It is a question every person does answer, either explicitly and biblically or by default, based upon the condition of their relationships.
As to your question, there is no doubt some people do not have a biblical worldview on the family. For some folks, the family does supplant biblical common sense.
They do not divide relationships between those who do God’s will and those who don’t do God’s will–the saved and the lost. They split the group between who is in the bio-family and who is not.
They are wrong and cannot support their view with the Word of God. It’s impossible. This problem is where you and I will have to put on our biblical thinking caps.
Upon reflection, you’ll probably realize this is not their biggest problem, and this is perhaps not the hill where you want to die. There is something more rebellious in play here.
And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them (1 Samuel 8:7).
In Samuel’s day, there was another kind of family. It was a nationalistic family that succumbed to unbiblical groupthink. God had a plan for their lives, but they did not like His plan. They wanted to do it their way.
Samuel was frustrated by their decision, so the Lord brought clarity to Samuel. He reminded His servant about the broader issue: they were rejecting God as their King by choosing one of their own to be king over them.
Rejecting God is the real problem when people prioritize relationships between bio and non-bio rather than regenerate and non-regenerate. When the bio family becomes king, as you have seen in your experience, you need to focus on the real issue. They are acting out of ignorance, rebellion, or both.
My recommendation would be twofold: (1) cast a vision among those who will listen to biblical thinking; (2) work with those who want you to work with them.
Don’t get hung up on how they live their lives but keep plowing the furrow that God has called you to cultivate. He will build His church.
In the story of Samuel and the Lord, the advice Samuel received was to let them continue as they were doing, and he was to carry on as the Lord had called him. Paul said it another way:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Our Father has given you a proper and reliable perspective on family. You are not going to jump into the ditch of making your family king regardless of their faith commitments, and you’re not going to jump into the ditch of not loving your unregenerate family members.
Continue to live in the middle. Love those who will allow you to love them, but be clear without being rude regarding your faith commitments. This kind of “love” should not be hard to do. There is grace to appropriate for this.
There have been times when my unsaved mother would visit when I gave her the option of going with us to our small group or staying at home.
She always chose to go with us to the small group. In one sense, it’s no different from saying, “I’m going to run some errands and will be back shortly. Would you like to come or stay?”
She had no problem with this. She understood that we had a life to live, part of which meant being with our Christian brothers and sisters, running errands, and doing other things. Our world did not stop when she showed up.
We were able to love her and our brothers and sisters in Christ. And in 2011, at 72 years old, she became a believer. Now she is my regenerated mother.
I suppose some could argue, “What if she would not have gotten saved?” while uploading the question with guilt-manipulation by placing her lack of salvation on my affection for my Christian family.
That kind of thought process would be unbiblical thinking. If a person chooses hell over heaven or sin over redemption, it will not be because of me. It will be because they have rejected the Lord from being their King.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).