Dealing with Family---Matthew 13:53-58

Matthew 13:53-58 (NIV)

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” 58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

In Matthew thirteen, down to our passage above, Jesus had just finished telling the people and His disciples the parable of the soils, weeds, mustard seed and yeast, hidden treasure and pearl, and the dragnet. Once finished, He then went to His hometown of Nazareth, where He was born and raised. Naturally, the people were familiar with Jesus (they knew His parents and half-siblings) because they had known Him for years and believed they had Him all figured out. And because they were so familiar with Him, it was difficult (though inexcusable) to take Him and His words seriously. There is a difference between being familiar with someone and knowing them. This fact could not be more accurate than in Jesus’s case because the Son of God was right in their very own midst! So in all reality, the people of Nazareth did not really know Jesus well because they would have believed in Him had they truly accepted who He was and claimed to be.

Something interesting to note from our context is that the people were amazed at Jesus’s miraculous powers as if they had never seen Him perform miracles before. That is because Christ never did until after He had begun His public ministry. John 2:11 tells us that His turning of water into wine was the first miracle or sign demonstrated to reveal His glory. Therefore, miracles were new to those who stood amazed yet rejected our Lord’s miraculous workings. Like verse fifty-eight says, He didn’t do many miracles (in Nazareth) because of their lack of faith.

Many of us can easily relate to Jesus’s situation in our present passage. I believe He was teaching a principle that some of the worst opposition many believers will experience in this life will come from their own family members (or those who know us very well, generally speaking). So many of our brothers and sisters in this world live with unbelieving relations and suffer verbal attacks and persecution. It can be especially bad in places and countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Or it may be the case that we have believing family members taking a spiritual nosedive or who once used to be fellow believers themselves but have decided to turn back. Whatever the case may be, we must not base our faith and decisions on the misguided beliefs and actions of others simply because we love them and are/were close to them. Jesus always comes first! And if we are not willing to leave whatever is necessary to follow Him, then we need to ask ourselves whether we have counted the cost (Matthew 14:25-35). Does this mean we give away all our possessions? Obviously, no in most cases since it is unlikely the Lord would be asking anyone to go and sell all they have (even if there have been some exceptions throughout history). Does this mean we stop talking to our family and forsake them entirely? Again, a pretty obvious no. Could there be some cases where getting away from some family members altogether is advisable (such as an unbelieving abusive parent or someone causing major mental and spiritual damage in our lives)? Yes, but those would constitute more extreme cases (assuming the shoe fits).

Christ’s warning in Luke 14:26 below means going wherever He wants us to go and thinking, speaking, and acting as He wants us regardless of what others may think. If we are not willing to fulfill the Lord’s will for our lives simply because we are letting our love for our family members and others we may be close to get in our way, we will be unfit for the life and service God has for us. We should not misunderstand Christ’s words below to mean we no longer associate, see, and fellowship with our family members (unless we are talking about more extreme cases). Leaving behind (or “hating”) friends and family simply means spending more time doing what the Lord wants us to do by concerning ourselves more with spiritual matters, not “never seeing family ever again or caring about them, ministering to and helping them when the need arises. We also have this warning in 1 Timothy 5:7-8 that applies to all family members (not just widows) a believer may have— “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Jesus was not advocating hate for one’s relatives but a matter of priority. If our love for God is growing, then our love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and, eventually, all men will grow (2 Peter 1:5-8). And suppose one is married to an unbeliever. In that case, we have the following from 1 Corinthians 7- “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”

Luke 14:26 (NIV)

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Matthew 10:34-39 (NIV)

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

As a quick side note, there is no contradiction between Matthew 10:34-35 and Luke 19:10. Christ came and died for all (He came to seek all men), but in doing so would inevitably divide those who truly wanted Him from those who rejected Him. This comparison seems to refer to a believing family member amid unbelieving relatives but can also apply to some fellow believers in their relationships with one another. For example, those who are red-hot for God may not mix well with and may have to part ways with less serious (lukewarm) Christians who may have a bad influence on them (as a more extreme example).

We have in Matthew 10:36 the words “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (see also Matthew 10:21). Verse thirty-six refers to unbelieving family members who have come to hate their believing relatives because of how opposed the differing views and lifestyles of both groups are. And that is because one person follows Jesus whom they hate, explaining why they have come to detest His followers (see passage below). Matthew’s words in this context apply to all periods, especially the dark hour of the Tribulation, where truly committed believers will be persecuted like never before. And although it may be the case that, in prior years (in many cases), one’s family members may have been kind and inclusive, the Tribulation will cause the love of many to grow cold, resulting in unbelievers betraying believers and seeking their death (Matthew 24:12). Based on the context of Matthew twenty-four regarding the Olivet Discourse, a sizeable number of those who will betray the elect will be former believing family members who have fallen away from the faith. Elsewhere in this ministry, we have already discussed the great apostasy that is to claim one-third of all believers alive during that time during the first half of the Tribulation. That is why Matthew twenty-four ten mentions that many will turn away from the faith and hate and betray each other.

John 15:18-25 (ESV)

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

To continue discussing our main passage (Matthew 13:53-58), the principle of “little honor in one’s own home” applies to believers worldwide. Unfortunately, the scope of the problem doesn’t just involve unbelievers but fellow siblings in Christ (parents, siblings, and relatives). It is easy to describe the issue as being cool with others but not as much around your family. But before we go too far with this, we need to be fair in stating that many individual Christians are blessed with godly, righteous family members who help and contribute to their spiritual growth. Or it may be that one’s relations are godly people and help to a lesser extent but don’t understand a particular member of their family who has taken their love for God a few steps further. But whatever the case may be, it is a commonly agreed upon truth that family can often bring the worst out of us simply because they are the least likely individuals to take us seriously. If spiritual differences are involved, then much about a certain individual(s) will suffer misunderstanding. There is also a difference between knowing someone generally and knowing them spiritually, even if there are many exceptions to the truth that family members will understand us, usually speaking most of the time (that isn’t always true per se). That is because the Spirit’s voice is still small and not discerned through any physical senses. No one can look into the life of another and say where the Holy Spirit is leading them. But assuming a believer is doing what they should be doing (despite their own imperfections and fair share of mistakes, past, present, and future), then the lack of understanding from their family members (assuming they are believers in this case) is going to stem from an attitude of indifference toward the truth. How incredibly true is this for believers who have broken free from the trends of our current lukewarm era of the church known as Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)!

Since family know us so well, they are less likely to take us (“us” as in growing believers in general) seriously. It is hard to gain any ground with people who don’t want to listen to and accept much of what you have to say to them because they don’t think you are worthy of that type of honor and respect. And because you are related to them, they will feel even more comfortable calling you out and trying to tell you what to do. This can be a good thing if someone is in the wrong and needs to be confronted and rebuked because of it (or what have you). But not if a believer is doing what the Lord would have them do. Jesus was doing what His heavenly Father wanted Him to do, yet was often misunderstood and rejected by some of His family members (although many, if not all, were or became believers later on). Yet we must never compromise the truth for other people’s sake, even if they think they know what is best for us.

However, none of this changes the fact that our relatives who “get us wrong” are still our family members (physically and spiritually-assuming they are believers). They are never to be viewed as enemies or “competition” since they are “marching on the same road to Zion.” We need to be united with them in our hearts in the sense that we think, speak and act toward them as we should. We are all members of God’s household. But we must go wherever the Lord leads us despite the pressures to compromise and do things “their way.” How well and how much we can work with them depends on how much they are willing to give and receive spiritually. It is a matter of degrees and will vary from family to family. We do what we can by “throwing the pearls when we should” but “holding onto them when we shouldn’t throw them” (Matthew 7:6). Unless we have a very good reason for doing so, we should never cut ourselves off from our family members just because they may not be on fire for God as much as we are (hence they misunderstand us and sweep what we do under the carpet). The only thing we cannot do is compromise what God wants us to do just for their sake!

The tricky part of the great test of putting up with those who know us so well (not spiritually but generally) is how to talk around them without “hitting a nerve.” What every individual should do is an area of application that depends on what the Spirit wants them to do so that we cannot say anything else about the matter except that our words need to be seasoned with grace (Colossians 3:6) in a godly manner without sinning against our brothers and sisters. If our conduct (in thought, word, and action) is pure and blameless in that we go where God wants us to and conduct ourselves as we should, then that is all that matters. As long as we are doing what we just described, we will do just fine despite having to put up with our family members’ lack of respect and understanding. We are still to love them and be a light and an inspiration to them through the influence of our Christlike behavior.