Jesus' response with regard to His visiting family members may seem a little harsh or at least strange to those of us who have made our families the most important issue of life. Even a person who doesn't see family as so important could wonder how Jesus could speak in a relatively dismissive way about the very person who raised Him, at least in the earthly sense (Mary), and about the brothers with whom he was raised.
I believe that Jesus made this statement to make an extremely important point to His followers: even though we are physcially born into families, when we become born again, we are literally born into another family, a spiritual family that actually usurps the physical one. This scripture redefines what the word "family" really means for the Believer.
If each member of a family becomes born again, then they all become part of this new family, but if members of the same family have different born again statuses, they no longer are part of the same spiritual family, at least until the spiritual status of the members changes.
This is because when a person becomes born again and commits himself to serving God with his life in righteousness, he becomes a child of God:
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God..." (John 3:1).
But while we are unsaved we are not yet children of God. It has often been said that we all, that is every human born into the world, is a "child of God," but is that really true? What does the Bible have to say about that?
If one searches the Bible he will learn that those who by their own freewill determine NOT to accept Christ as their Savior actually remain children of darkness, and more specifically, children of the devil. The following scripture makes this point clear,
"He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil..." (1 John 3:8-10).
So, anyone who remains unsaved and makes no effort to become born again remains a member of Satan's kingdom as he has no Holy Spirit endued power to discontinue a life of continuous sin, and in God's eyes he actually remains a child of Satan. While God has created us all, the ONLY WAY TO BECOME A TRUE CHILD OF GOD is to become born again.
Now, how does this apply to our families? Though we are biologically speaking part of earthly families, on a far more important level we are also members of spiritual families and on a grander scale than that part of spiritual kingdoms. Our born again status determines which spiritual families and kingdoms we are a part of.
If all the members of a family are unsaved, they remain unified in the servitude of sin and of demons. However, when members of that family get saved, that sinful unity is broken. Remember Jesus saying the following?
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-36).
This sword of which Jesus speaks is one of severance as it severs people out of Satan's kingdom and into His. When we become born again and join Jesus' kingdom our minds are transformed from darkness to light and the way we think is completely revolutionized. We determine in our hearts to discontinue sin and to serve God, and as we read and implement His word God changes us from the inside out. We acquire a new found desire to do right and to please God while we begin to put sinful selfish desires behind us. We still make mistakes, but the truly born again person's heart is set on rectifying those errors and getting right, "For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again" (Proverbs 24:16). This happens because the born again expereience gives us a brand new spirit, cleansed from the filth of serving sin.
Our other families members, however, who do not share the same experience, stay of the same sinful mind and cannot comprehend what the born again Believer is experiencing. They are stuck on the same spiritual path and way of thinking while the saved has begun to walk a separate path. The sword of severance has caused the family members to now be against one another and has made foes out of them. Family "unity" changes to disunity and the formerly "peaceful" functioning morphs into a constant underlying and unresolvable (short of all being saved) tension.
As Jesus said in a slightly different yet still applicable context, "...if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (Mark 3:25), so family members divided by differing spiritual status begin to go their separate ways as the family unit unravels. Even if they live in the same house, the level of intimacy between them changes. Time is often spent in "other" rooms, or outside of the home where each member can be with others of the same mind. The newborn Christian may find respite at Church or with other Believers while the unsaved remains with his or her old companions doing the same old activities.
Amos 3:3 asks, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" with the answer understood to be no. Of course, the Believer prays and intercedes for his biological family hoping with all his heart that they, too, can join the family of God. Also, Believers married to unbelievers are NOT TO LEAVE their unbelieving spouses unless they are in physical danger or are being cheated on. You may not agree with your spouse spiritually, but you can spend MUCH time in prayer to God for the conversion of that spouse and you can be the light of the truth to that spouse in the mean time.
But here's the rub. In a great number of cultures worldwide, there is a worship of the family unit that in God's eyes amounts to idolatry. This not only applies to unbelieving cultures, but within the Church itself. Too much emphasis is placed on the albeit good characteristics of the unity and strength found in family, rather than on serving and loving the Lord, and this becomes worship of the gift of unity God has provided rather than the worship of Him. The family unit becomes a god that usurps God Himself within that family.
This phenomena clearly applied during Jesus' time, because when we look to the next verse in the "send a sword" passage we see Jesus saying,
"He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37).Evidence of loving family members more than God is shown when we decide against doing those things the Lord requires in order to please or to maintain what we think is a good relationship with a family member. If, for example, an unsaved family member invites the born again person to sin, say by going to rob a store or visit a brothel (God forbid), going with that biological brother in order to please and maintain a "good" relationship with him would be putting that family member before Christ. It also would be putting Satan in front of Christ because in following after sin the person is doing just that.
Stealing or visiting a brothel is obviously sinful, but there are many other far more subtle ways that family members can be used to try to lead us to deny Christ when they are denying Him themselves. They can distract us from praying or reading the Word or discourage us from fellowship with other Christians. They can show disdain for Christianity either aggressively (speaking out) or passively (not speaking, but by using body language and other cues). Demons can use them to try make you feel foolish, or unintelligent, or "all by yourself" in your beliefs.
In that light, it us up to us to be extremely prayerful as well as careful in our relations with our unsaved biological family members. If God does allow us to remain in contact with them, we need to be lights of the Lord to them while not allowing them to lead us back into the old way.
In many cases, however, maintaining constant relations with non-spouse family members is not the right thing for Christians to do. God can and will require many of us to limit communications with family members who hate Him and the Christian way of life. In some cases God may require a complete "blackout" of communication for a season. If we are careful in prayer, God will lead us to do whatever is right, but if God has determined to lead a born again person to limit or even sever contact with sinning family members in order to grow and develop his own Christian life without hindrance, it is important that the Believer follows that leading. If he doesn't, he truly is putting his family before Christ which means he has made an idol of his family while also making himself unworthy of Jesus.
This is why family members can often be Satan's best ally in tempting as well as discouraging the Believer. Which brings us to our main point. Family members are, simply put, just people. Yes, they are people we have a spent inordinate amounts of time with and have shared a major intimacy with, but God is the One with whom we share the greatest intimacy as He actually made us and also LIVES IN US. Remember that, no one else lives in our spirits except God Himself. While we can become one with a spouse, God is still on a more intimate level with us than even that. Seriously, our relations to people are not event to be compared with the closeness we can share with God.
He knows our every thought, our every secret. He's been with us every single moment of our existence. He knows our likes, our dislikes, what makes us happy or sad or angry or pleased. NO ONE can know us on that level of intimacy. To even consider putting family relationships before Him is an incredibly silly task because no family member, spouse included, can know our hearts like God can.When a person becomes born again He can then take advantage of this relationship with God and his real family includes God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the holy angels as well as every other Believer already in heaven and on the face of the earth.
This is why so many of us feel closer to our companions in Christ than we ever felt with our unbelieving family members, because we are of the same mind with them, and we most certainly now are spiritual kin in Christ, through Jesus' precious blood. We become part of a spiritual body - the Body of Christ, and insomuch that each member is following God's Word, we all become one.
Same-minded Christians are all one body, one family, of one mind. This type of spiritual unity cannot be achieved in a biological family without Christ. Reiterating Jesus' point, our real mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers are they that hear the word of God and do it. It's time we as a body stop worshipping the families we were born into and quit making the institution itself into an idol. As pointed out in the scriptures above, Jesus has said plenty about us not doing so and it's time we see it the same way He does. If His own earthly family members weren't automatically members of the kingdom of heaven without believing and adhering to God's Word, how much less are ours?
Let us all strive to be the Christians God made us to be so we can be lights to all members of the human race, and unbelievers of every earthly family can have the opportunity to join the spiritual family of God because we ourselves are letting His light shine in us. Though we ourselves may have a hard time ministering to our own family members because as Jesus said, "...A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house" (Mark 6:4), let us do our best to be lights to our families as long as God allows and to all the members of other earthly families who may have Christians in them praying for their salvation. Let us be used of God to bring as many as possible into the family of His dear Son. A-men.