For several years, I served in a church that was known for its commitment to world missions. Many of our college kids were called into full-time cross-cultural ministry, including a bright young man named Bill. The reaction of his parents, however, caught Bill by surprise. His family had supported missionaries financially, prayed for them, and even fed them Sunday lunch when they were on furlough from the field. But the idea of their son giving his life to overseas missions was too much for Bill’s parents. They wanted Bill to find steady employment and raise a nice Christian family—one that supports missions, of course—like they had.

Bill’s parents are hardly unique. American adults, according to a recent Barna study, are “most likely to point to their family as making up a significant part their personal identity.” Country and God come next. Christians are no exception; natural family has usurped God and his family as the primary identity marker for most church-goers.

Most of us prioritize our commitment to family above our commitment to the church. This is unfortunate, because the Bible offers us a different set of relational priorities.

Jesus: Pro- or Anti-Family?

Many Christians rightly say that God loves family. All throughout Scripture, families are given the task of rearing children in the Lord. Husbands and wives are commanded to be faithful to one another, and children to their parents. Paul writes that “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

Yet in the Gospels, we find a mixed bag of instructions about family. In some places, like Matthew 15:3–4, ...

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