Can putting your family before God be a sin?

Fredric A. Carlson

The Bible tells us to care for our families, to give our parents honor and priority, to raise our children to be Christ-followers, and to give our spouses special consideration. But we're also to follow Christ, ourselves? So, when faced with a choice due to time, resources, or just attention span, who do we concentrate on?

Jesus practiced the same priorities that He taught. Without question, He put the Father first in everything. But in doing so He did not neglect His parents. At the age of twelve, He kept both priorities in balance (Luke 2:4951). And with one of His dying breaths, He cared for His mother (John 19:2527). To Jesus, the way of seeing priorities properly was not to make them compete with each other, but to balance them, to keep them in proper harmony, proportion, and perspective.

Jesus' instruction is found in several New Testament passages that you likely already know:

Matthew 6:33: "Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness..."

Matthew 22:3540: " expert in the law tested Jesus with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied, ''Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'" Loving our neighbors includes loving our families.

Paul wrote to Timothy: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8).

God's intention is neither that in loving Him we are to ignore our families nor that in loving our families we are to ignore Him. Instead, we are to love our families as a result of loving God, and as one means by which we love Him. In Ephesians 5:2233, Paul taught the same principle about husbands and wives.

The kind of obedience to God that puts Him first normally means putting family and others first. Putting family and others first for Christ's sake means putting God and His priorities first. We cannot properly put God first without putting our families above ourselves. Properly putting our families above ourselves is one way that we demonstrate that we are putting God first. Most of the time, God does not ask us to choose between Him and family, but to love Him by loving family, and to love family as a result of loving God.

Mark recorded Jesus' necessary condemnation of some hypocritical legalists. They had fallen into the trap of supposedly choosing between the two priorities (Mark 7:913), that is, of making out that their responsibilities to God and family were competing with each other, or conflicting. I summarize Jesus' words: One day some hypocrites, seeking to justify their failure to care for their parents, said to them this about the money they should have been using for that purpose, "It is devoted to God, so I can't use it to help you." Jesus said of them, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" (Mark 7:9).

Jesus also knew that at a very few times a disciple would need to choose between God and family. God sends some believers on missions that require them to leave home. To them He promises, "And whoever has forsaken houses, or brothers or sisters, or father or mother, or children or lands, for my sake, shall receive many times as much..." (Matthew 19:29). Notice in that promise the balancing point, "for my sake." Another such choice for some comes when, under persecution for Christ's sake, they must choose between loyalty to God and loyalty to parents (Matthew 10:2122). In such times of tough decision, any truly Christian family will urge the conflicted person to choose to serve God.

What about Jesus' warning recorded in Matthew 10:3438: "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." In this case, Jesus was talking about loving family instead of God, or more highly than God. Jesus says that such failure certainly would be sinful.

Finally, in order to assist some in a large crowd, some of whom thought that they were following Jesus properly, he said (Luke 14:26): "If anyone comes to me, and doesn't hate his own father, mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple." In light of all the above references, Jesus here cannot be contradicting Himself by commanding His disciples that if they truly loved God they must set out to hate their family members. Someone has properly paraphrased the true meaning of these words as, "To one who truly loves God, his love for his family will appear like hatred in comparison."

So, yes, it can be a sin to put family before God, but in most cases, God expects his children to balance the two priorities.

Image Credit: geralt; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Family-Life  | God-Father  | Personal-Relationships

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Published on 4-11-16