My wife and I just welcomed a new baby boy a mere 9 days ago, our second son. You may think that would make this the worst time to write an article like this. But biblical truth is timeless. And quite countercultural and counterintuitive. Hence, I think this is the best time for it.
As a Christian, I believe Genesis 1-2 is the foundation of relational society. At least human-to-human. It is a tragedy that in America we have watched one family pillar after another fall in popular culture over the last several decades. Our most influential institutions and voices (like the mainstream media, Hollywood, a lot of politics, and even numerous social media influencers currently) have led the charge on the destruction of things like marriage between one man and one woman, marriage for life, sex only for marriage, the cruciality of there being two distinct genders, and the like.
Christians must fight these battles, with grace and nuance when necessary, but also with boldness and a willingness to be rejected as well. It is idolatry when people look for and celebrate meaning and purpose in the perversion of the nuclear family. It is in many ways its own religion.
Yet inside the church I believe there is an equally dangerous idolatry that goes the exact opposite way. And in one key way, it is more frightening. Because Christians typically see the debauchery of the utter disregard of Genesis 1-2 in the U.S. But its mirror opposite is so seemingly normal and assimilated into the church, we can easily be blinded to it. I’m speaking to the idol of “family is everything”.
It is my contention that many people inside the church have a healthy view of Genesis 1-2. And practice it well. They believe in one-man, one-woman marriage. They don’t divorce. They believe there are only two genders. They say, and even in this social media era, post all the right things on these topics. They are staunch in these beliefs.
But they also make their biblical, nuclear family so important to them, that Christ is placed second. Or lower. And that is just as much idolatry as any antibiblical view of marriage, sex, or gender.
Let me lay out a biblical case for this. Because first, I think Christians must always be willing to back up such extreme claims with biblical support. And secondly, this claim of idolatry may be surprising to some. Consider the following passages:
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.Jesus, Luke 14
With a parallel passage in Matthew 10, this is the most obvious and powerful support of this idea. It is hard to read this any differently than the obvious meaning. Assuming you understand that Jesus didn’t mean the word “hate” literally here1. As the Bible clearly teaches us to love our family. Yet no matter what Jesus meant by “hate,” he no doubt means he has to be first in a person’s life to follow him. God, and by proxy Jesus by his very nature, alone deserves preeminence. Anything or anyone else there is, biblically speaking, an idol.
And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God. Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”Luke 9
I do not believe Jesus meant you have to forsake burying family members, or that you can’t say good-bye to family, to follow him. No, in this context I believe Jesus is making the point that people use anything they can to make excuses for why they will not follow Jesus on his terms. He must be our main focus always. If we do not put him first, we are spiritually “dead”. Making him an afterthought is no different than outright atheism.
Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.Luke 20
This is one my wife and I talk about occasionally. This isn’t as clear a truth as something like the fact that Jesus is resurrected. But it does seem that Jesus is saying here that when we are resurrected (i.e., “in Heaven”) we will not be married. If this is the case, then marriage on this earth is a temporary institution. It is not eternal.
That should give us a sober view of what it is for. I am convinced marriage to help us understand our covenant relationship with God. By loving my wife, I should be worshipping God. And being an example of how Christ sees the church.
Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”Mark 3
Earlier in Mark 3, we can see Jesus’s family claims he is out of his mind. We know from the general sweep of the Gospels that his brothers did not believe in him. So with that in view, I think Jesus makes the bold statement here that your spiritual brothers and sisters are more important than biological ones. At least if your biological family isn’t also saved.
Praise God Jesus’s siblings began to follow him in Acts, but Jesus had harsh words for their unbelief before. I think the point is clear: you are going to spend eternity with your family by Spirit, and not your family by blood. Ideally, the latter is the former.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came 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 man’s enemies will be the members of his household.Matthew 10
This is just before the Matthew parallel passage of Luke 14 above. Jesus seems clear that if it comes down to choosing him or your family, you choose him. Even if it costs you relationships with family. Or at minimum creates tremendous conflict.
There are many other passages that could be used in support but I think those suffice for my point. In America today is quite common for people who claim Christianity to without hesitation cast these passages aside. When you have a great family, it is easy to pretend these verses do not exist. And hence focus your priorities on having a great family life at the expense of making Jesus the God of every part of your life.
I fully support things like family trips, vacations, activities, and the like. But quite often I see these things become what life is all about, instead of using them as a means to worship God. They quite often replace things like community with other Christians, i.e., a Christian’s spiritual brothers and sisters.
Even when families take a few minutes out of their day to have a family “devotion” time, it can be woefully lacking as far as what the Bible expects of parents and discipleship. In light of passages like Deuteronomy 6. A couple of short stories in a Children’s Bible followed by a 2-minute prayer doesn’t measure up to the command to talk to your kids about truth constantly throughout the day.
We make family the core of our purpose and relegate Jesus as part of the means to make a great family life. When in the New Testament, the opposite is true. Jesus is the core, and family is one part of our life designed to make more of him.
A person may have been saved as a kid, baptized, worked at VBS all their life, and go to church regularly. But if their family is more important than Jesus, that person either is not a Christian or at best the person may be saved but in great need of repentance. Jesus alone is “everything”. The family was created as a way for us to know and share him. Never to become an idol to replace him as who is most important.
- The most common explanation in my experience is that Jesus was using a Jewish idiom that means to “love less” or “to hate in comparison to our love for Him”. Yet I’ve heard other explanations as well. Notably, I have a friend from China who left for America to study to be a pastor. His family thinks he hates them for leaving them. He views that as a possible meaning. ↩