In this sermon I discuss four blessings when choosing God over family. There aren’t many situations more difficult for Christians to face than having to choose God over family. Allow these four encouragements to help you if you find yourself in this situation.
Table of Contents
- The Gospel Creates Peace Between God and Man
- The Gospel Creates Division Between Man and Man
- Encouragement One: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Be Like Christ
- Encouragement Two: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Teach Our Children
- Encouragement Three: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Discuss Our Faith
- Encouragement Four: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Show God We Love Him
Consider the following:
- A relative claims to be a believer but wants to marry an unbeliever, so you’re unable to support the relationship.
- A relative claims to be a believer, but is living in habitual sin, so you have to confront the person.
I know people and when they chose God over family:
- It meant supporting church discipline against a family member
- Or it meant asking a child to leave the house because that child was rebellious
As you can imagine, even though these people made the right decision, it was still excruciating.
There are examples in the Old Testament of people having to choose God over family members. For example…
Moses called for the execution of the individuals responsible for constructing the Golden Calf. This meant some Israelites had to kill their own relatives…
Exodus 32:27 [Moses] said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you KILL HIS BROTHER AND HIS COMPANION AND HIS NEIGHBOR.’”
This gives us a good idea of how wicked idolatry is.
Another example involving idolatry…
King Asa was one of the greatest reformers in the Old Testament. When he purged the idolatry from the land, he even had to punish his own grandmother, because she made an idol…
1 Kings 15:13 [Asa] removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. And Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron.
I can only imagine how much criticism King Asa might’ve received for banishing his own grandmother.
You could listen to this and say…
“Well, this is the Old Testament. It was much harsher. We are in the New Testament, which is more loving and gracious.”
But we have reached the verses in the New Testament that show that even though we aren’t called to execute family members, we are still called to choose God over them.
But before Jesus talks about choosing Him over family members, He first talks about the divisiveness of the gospel, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
Look with me at verse 49…
Luke 12:49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
Fire represents judgment, so Jesus is saying He came to bring judgment to the earth.
This isn’t how we normally think of Jesus’s first coming, is it? We think about him bringing judgment at his second coming but bringing salvation at his first coming.
For example, he said…
John 12:47 I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
Yes, Jesus came to save the world in his first coming…but what happens to people who reject him?
They get judged!
In the very next verse Jesus said…
John 12:48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words HAS A JUDGE; the word that I have spoken WILL JUDGE HIM on the last day.
So, reject Christ, get judged, and experience the fire he brought.
But now look at the next verse for those who RECEIVE Christ…
Luke 12:50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
So right after talking about the judgment unbelievers will receive, Jesus talks about the judgment HE received for believers.
The baptism Jesus is referring to is the crucifixion. The word baptize means immersed, and sometimes it’s used to describe being baptized, or immersed, in trials. We even talk about a baptism by fire when we’re talking about people suffering. That’s what Jesus is saying about himself here.
Notice he said how great is my distress until it is accomplished, or until the cross is behind him.
Because Jesus is God in the flesh we can lose sight of his humanity. But right here we see a very human response to the cross. JUST THINKING ABOUT being crucified was greatly distressing to him.
We know that Jesus’s distress became even worse as his death approached. In the garden it was so bad he sweat drops of blood…
Luke 22:44 Being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
But despite his distress and agony at the thought of going to the cross this was the reason he came and he was determined to do it.
Notice how Jesus tied these two great events together:
- The judgment of unbelievers
- The judgment He received for believers
He tied them together because his suffering on the cross is the only way we can escape the fire to come upon the earth. So there’s a clear association between the two.
Right now following Christ sounds really good, because we can avoid judgment.
But Christ also wants us to know that following him comes at a cost, and that cost can be division from our own family members. Look at verse 51…
Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
This is an interesting verse, because it introduces a view of Jesus that contradicts not only what the world believes, but even what many in the church believe. Here’s what I mean…
There are unbelievers who don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, but if they hear you:
- Condemn sin
- Preach repentance
- Discuss judgment or punishment, especially hell
- Talk about God’s wrath or anger
They’re going to quickly pipe up about Jesus being a man of peace. They might have never wanted anything to do with Jesus earlier, but the moment they can use him to defend their beliefs they’re going to do that.
But here’s what’s interesting…
There is a lot of truth in what they’re saying:
- The announcement in Luke 2:14 when Jesus came was, “Glory to God in the highest, and ON EARTH PEACE.”
- Ephesians 2:17 says Jesus “Came and preached peace.”
- He regularly told people, “Go in peace.”
- He told his disciples, “My peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you.”
- He taught, “These things I have spoken to you that IN ME YOU MIGHT HAVE PEACE.”
So how do we explain this? Was Jesus a man who brought peace or division?
The answer is yes!
The Gospel Creates Peace Between God and Man
Listen to this verse…
Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Our sin made us God’s enemies. But after we repent and put our faith in Christ we are reconciled to Him…
Romans 5:1 Since we have been justified by faith, we HAVE PEACE WITH GOD through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:20 Through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, MAKING PEACE BY THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS.
So the gospel brings peace between God and man.
But here’s the thing…
To be reconciled to God we experience division from unbelievers.
Think of it this way…
Everyone is born in the same group, and that is the group of sinful people who are separated from God. When we are reconciled to God we are separated from this group. We can’t remain part of it. It is one or the other and this creates division.
The Gospel Creates Division Between Man and Man
Listen to these verses illustrating the division that occurred over Christ during his earthly ministry…
John 7:12 There was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”
Hear the division? Some people think he’s good, and others think he’s bad.
So, a few verses later we read…
John 7:43 So THERE WAS A DIVISION among the people over him.
Here’s another example…
John 9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And THERE WAS A DIVISION among them.
And another example…
John 10:19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.
So even before Jesus went to the cross he was creating division. People are finding themselves in one of two groups: those who rejected him and those who received him.
And this division played out past Christ’s earthly life and will continue throughout all of human history. Everyone will find themselves in one of these two groups.
Listen to what happened when Jesus sent out the 12 apostles, and how it created division…
Matthew 10:12 As you enter the house, greet it.
How did they probably greet the house?
They probably said, “Shalom,” or “Peace be with you.” This was the common greeting of the day.
Matthew 10:13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it,
Sounds pretty good at first, doesn’t it? Their peace comes upon the house. Everyone’s getting along well.
Now listen to what it says…
Matthew 10:13b but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
They’re supposed to take their peace with them. They can’t even leave it there.
And it gets worse…
Matthew 10:14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
The division is so strong that when the apostles left they’re not supposed to bring anything with them…not even the dust.
Listen to how Peter describes unbelievers and we get one insight into why there’s division…
1 Peter 4:3 Gentiles…living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and THEY MALIGN YOU.
What does it mean that they malign you?
- New King James says speak evil of you
- NASB says slander you
- NIV says abuse you
- Amplified covers all the bases and says, “they criticize and abuse and ridicule you and make fun of your values.”
Basically, they’re not going to treat you well when you’re not doing the things they are doing.
Notice how the gospel contains a tremendous irony:
- It creates peace like nothing else in the world creates peace: it creates peace between God and man.
- It creates division like nothing else in the world creates division: it divides every single person in all of human history into two completely separate groups: believers and unbelievers.
And the division between the groups is so strong that it can even divide families, which Jesus tells us to expect in the following verses.
For many throughout church history embracing Christ has meant ruined relationships with family members. Look with me at verse 52…
Luke 12:52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.
Notice Jesus added the words in one house. He could have said there will be three against two and two against three:
- In one workplace
- In one school
- In one business
- In one organization
But he says in one house, because he is talking specifically about division in families.
Look at verse 53…
Luke 12:53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Again, we might expect him to say…
They will be divided:
- Master against servant
- Student against teacher
- Player against player
- Coworker against coworker
But instead, Jesus only mentioned family members turning against each other.
Why is that?
Did Jesus not mention division in other relationships, because we’re not supposed to expect division in other relationships?
No, that’s not it at all. We can expect division in every area of life because of our commitment to Christ.
Jesus worded it this way because, if he expects us to choose Him over:
Then there is no relationship he wouldn’t expect us to choose him over.
Instead of naming every imaginable relationship, he named the closest and most intimate ones and said…
“If you want to follow me you must choose me even over these people.”
And this implies if we would choose him over these people, we would choose him over any people.
Few things are as difficult as choosing God over family, so I would like to give you four encouragements if you find yourself having to do so.
Encouragement One: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Be Like Christ
Jesus is a great example of what he preached. He demonstrated choosing God over family by teaching that the closest relationships in His life weren’t with His physical family, but His spiritual family.
Briefly turn to the left to Luke 8:19…
Luke 8:19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd.
These brothers would be Jesus’ half-brothers: they have the same mother, in Mary, but a different father. Joseph is their father, but God is Jesus’ Father.
Jesus’s family can’t reach him, but…
Luke 8:20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.”
I want you to picture what this looked like…
Jesus is in Capernaum. His family members traveled 30 miles from Nazareth to see Him.
- I don’t know the last time Jesus had seen Mary or His brothers, but it’s clear they went to great lengths to reach Him.
- For all of them to be able to go together like this would’ve taken an amount of coordination and communication.
They arrive, but they can’t get inside the house. Jesus is told they’re waiting outside. So what do you expect Him to say at this moment?
- Bring them inside! Don’t make them wait out there.
- Oh, wow, my mother and brothers are here, I better go see them.
- Excuse me just for a moment – you’re not going to believe this – but my family just showed up.
Nope! Listen to what He said instead…
Luke 8:21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
In the parallel account in Matthew 12:48 He [said], “WHO IS My mother and WHO ARE My brothers?”
Before I tell you what Jesus WAS DOING, let me tell you what He WASN’T DOING…
- He wasn’t rejecting or abandoning His earthly family.
- And He wasn’t minimizing the importance of earthly family members.
Instead, he was emphasizing the importance of his spiritual relationships with those who obey.
And I mention this because it’s a good example for us in this discussion.
When we choose God over family members:
- We aren’t rejecting or abandoning them
- We aren’t minimizing their importance
Instead, we are emphasizing the importance our relationship with God.
You know that I believe God is repetitive when He wants to make sure we don’t miss something. This is one of those accounts that’s in all three of the synoptic Gospels…so we don’t miss it.
Similarly, when Jesus spoke to Mary, there’s no record of Him calling her “Mother.” Instead, He always called her “Woman”:
- John 2:4 Jesus said to [Mary], “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
- John 19:26 When Jesus saw his mother…he said, “Woman, behold, your son!”
There were two relationships between Jesus and Mary:
- The Mother and Son earthly, physical relationship
- The Sinner and Savior heavenly, spiritual relationship
It’s clear which relationship Jesus emphasized, and we must do the same with our family members.
Encouragement Two: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Teach Our Children
Picture the situation, which perhaps some of you have experienced. We have experienced this in our home, and so I’m sharing what we were able to do and some of the good that I was able to see from it…
You have unbelieving family members who invite your children to something:
- Maybe they invite them to a movie you don’t want them to watch
- Maybe they invite them to do something you’re uncomfortable with
- Maybe they simply invite them over, but you’re not sure what’s going to happen so you’re forced to say they can’t go
And then maybe your children get upset with you.
But think of the wonderful teaching opportunity this provides. You can sit down with your children and say…
- “Do you think this is what Christ would want for you?”
- “As your parents this is one of our most important stewardships. We want to be wise and only have you do what he wants.”
- “Our greatest love and loyalty has to be reserved for the Lord. That’s why we made this decision.”
This allows our children to see our faithfulness to Christ, and they might remember this for a long time. Hopefully they’ll be encouraged to make the same decision in the future with their children.
Encouragement Three: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Discuss Our Faith
Let’s go back to the previous example and say that we didn’t just upset our children. Let’s say the family members got upset too. This can provide a wonderful opportunity to talk to them about our faith. We can say…
“I’m very sorry that this upset you, and I understand why it did, but as Christians we believe…”
Then explain the motivation behind the decision. At best they’ll see where we’re coming from and possibly have a change of heart. At worst they’ll be angry, but at least they’ll remember we had the courage to do what we thought God wanted us to do.
They might disagree, but at least they won’t think we’re hypocrites. And hopefully they will even respect your convictions.
The next part of lesson two…
Encouragement Four: Choosing God Over Family Allows Us to Show God We Love Him
When situations arise and we have to choose between God or family members, there’s really no choice. Our greatest love and commitment must be to Christ.
It’s easy to say we love God, but choosing Him over family members allows us to demonstrate that truth.
Think about this for a moment…
When we choose God over family members, it’s painful, but it’s also…what?
It’s a privilege, because of what it communicates to the Lord:
- Our love for him
- Our loyalty to him
- Our commitment to him
Go to Luke 14:26…
Luke 14:26 “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.
In Scripture, the word hate doesn’t always mean hate. Sometimes it is used to create a contrast, or to elevate one thing above another. It’s not even necessarily that one thing is devalued or demoted. Instead, it’s that one thing is given greater value or promoted. For example…
Romans 9:13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
This is a quote of Malachi 1:2-3 and it sounds pretty bad!
It’s not referring to an actual, emotional hatred, so much as it’s figurative language to describe God choosing Jacob over Esau, and as a result Jacob received all the blessings that Esau didn’t. So in contrast it could look like God loved one and hated the other…but that’s not literally the case.
It’s the same with Luke 14:26. Jesus didn’t mean we should hate our parents, spouse and children, and that’s obvious because that would contradict numerous verses, and some of Jesus’s own words about loving others, including our enemies…so how much more our own family members?
But again, the idea is when contrasting our love for the Lord with the love we have for others, including family members, our love for the Lord should be so much greater it would almost appear as though we hate them.
Let me conclude with this…
Not only does the gospel create peace between God and man, but it also creates peace FOR man…
Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And THE PEACE OF GOD, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
For those in Christ we can experience a peace that surpasses understanding. This means no matter what we experience:
- No matter how difficult…
- No matter how painful…
- No matter how troublesome and anxiety causing…
We can have a peace that surpasses all understanding …which is to say we don’t even understand why we’re experiencing it.
But we can only have this peace from God if we’re at peace with God.
I have heard it said peace with God leads to the peace of God.
But before we can have the peace of God we must first be at peace with God and that requires being reconciled to him through his Son Jesus Christ.