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The Church Ethic
of Family Part 2: The Family
Importance of Family Part 1: Marriage
The Importance of Family Part 2: The
Divorce and Remarriage: Introduction
Separation and Divorce in the Law
Marital Separation in the Gospels
Marital Separation after the Gospels
Marital Separation: Objections
Marital Separation: Objections
4-6 and the Early Church
Remarriage Addendum: Exception
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men
and Women (Part 1)
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men
and Women (Part 2)
Comparative Peer Dynamics Chart
It is difficult to separate the importance that the modern
church places on marriage from the importance it places on
the family. Obviously the two are closely related. The modern
church's view of the importance of the family can be summed
up in four points. First, the modern church teaches that the
preservation of the family is unquestioningly part of God's
will. Second, that God's intention is to use the family as
a key building block for growing the church. Third, that the
Bible identifies the family as the ideal environment for spiritual
growth. Fourth, the modern church teaches that the believer's
responsibility to their family is a fundamental aspect of
their following Christ.
We will now examine these points to see what the Bible has
to say about them.
First, does the Bible teach that the preservation of the family
is unquestioningly part of God's will? Second, does the Bible
teach that God's intention is to use the family as a key building
block for growing the church?
Actually, no, it teaches the opposite.
It is interesting to note that the word "family" occurs only
one time in the New Testament in Ephesians 3:15 where Paul
has God's family in view not our individual families. Beyond
that though, we can see that the preservation of the family
is not a priority for the growth of the church. This can be
seen in Matthew 10 and Luke 12.
Matthew 10:34 "Do not think that I came to bring
peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.
35 For I have come to "set a man against his father, a
daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against
her mother-in-law'; 36 and "a man's enemies will be
those of his own household.'
Luke 12:51 Do you suppose that I came to give peace
on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
52 For from now on five in one house will be divided: three
against two, and two against three. 53 Father will
be divided 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 her mother-in-law."
Here in these two passages Jesus clearly states that the family
unit will be divided over him and his message. His words here
contain no apprehension about this phenomenon. They convey
no concern on God's part to preserve the family.
Now, obviously we are not arguing that God is against the
family or wants families to separate. All we are demonstrating
is that the importance of the preservation of the family is
over-emphasized by the modern church as a priority of God.
Jesus' words here force us to conclude that God fully understood
that families would divide because of Christ and that His
response seems to be "so be it." As such it seems that the
family is not God's chosen building block for the church,
instead He seems to have individuals in mind for this task.
But doesn't the Bible portray the family as the ideal environment
for spiritual growth? Not exactly.
Matthew 13:57 So they were offended at Him. But Jesus
said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in
his own country and in his own house." 58 Now He did
not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
Mark 6:4 But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not
without honor except in his own country, among his own
relatives, and in his own house." 5 Now He could
do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands
on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He marveled
because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages
in a circuit, teaching.
Matthew 10:21 "Now brother will deliver up brother
to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up
against parents and cause them to be put to death.
Mark 13:12 Now brother will betray brother to death,
and a father his child; and children will rise up against
parents and cause them to be put to death.
Luke 21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents
and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some
of you to death.
These passages out of Matthew, Mark, and Luke clearly convey
that, far from contributing to the spiritual development of
the believer, the family often acts in opposition or as an
obstacle to God's will for the individual.
So then, what responsibilities does the Christian have to
their family? Is the believer's responsibility to their family
a fundamental aspect of their following Christ?
Apparently not. Instead, Jesus seems to relieve the individual
believer from the responsibilities that our families might
expect of us.
Luke 9:59 Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But
he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." 60 Jesus
said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you
go and preach the kingdom of God." 61 And another also
said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and
bid them farewell who are at my house." 62 But Jesus
said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and
looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate
his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,
yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
From these passages it seems that Biblically like marriage,
our family can distract us from our devotion and pursuit of
Christ. Jesus' clear command is that his followers cannot
be distracted from their devotion to him because of family
This expectation of God is further attested to in the following
passages. As we read through them it is important to contrast
them with the responsibilities we often perceive that the
individual has to their family. Think about how we understand
commands like "Honor your father and mother" and how these
commands don't apply as we might expect in the situations
Matthew 4:21 Going on from there, He saw two other
brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother,
in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets.
He called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and
their father, and followed Him.
Mark 1:19 When He had gone a little farther from there,
He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who
also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 And immediately
He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the
boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.
These two passages describe Jesus calling James and John.
Both brothers immediately abandon their father in the middle
of work. Yet this is not considered inappropriate in the least
bit, rather it is expected. Though they left their father
in the midst of working, James and John were not considered
to be dishonoring their father. This is because when compared
to following Jesus, such things as even working to assist
our parents have little weight.
Matthew 12:46 While He was still talking to the multitudes,
behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking
to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, "Look,
Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking
to speak with You." 48 But He answered and said to the
one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?"
49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and
said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For
whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother
and sister and mother."
Mark 3:21 And when his friends heard of it, they went
out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself...
31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing
outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32And a multitude
was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your
mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You." 33
But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My
brothers?" 34 And He looked around in a circle at those
who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My
brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is My
brother and My sister and mother."
Luke 8:19 Then His mother and brothers came to Him,
and could not approach Him because of the crowd. 20 And it
was told Him by some, who said, "Your mother and Your brothers
are standing outside, desiring to see You." 21 But
He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are
these who hear the word of God and do it."
In these three passages, Jesus is approached by his mother
and brothers who wish to speak with him. Jesus doesn't even
seem to acknowledge them and expresses little concern for
their request to see him. Instead he states that his familial
obligations fall to those who hear God's word and do it, and
not to those to whom we are family by blood. The conclusion
that we must draw is that from Jesus' perspective believers
have little or no obligation to our natural family members
who aren't truly his disciples.
(It is also interesting to note that Mark's account of this
event includes an indication that the intention of Jesus'
mother and brothers was to lay hold of him because they thought
he was out of his mind. See Mark 3:21, including a word study
in the Greek.)
Matthew 19:27 Then Peter answered and said to Him,
"See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what
shall we have?" 28 So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I
say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man
sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me
will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes
of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers
or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands,
for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit
Mark 10:28 Then Peter began to say to Him, "See,
we have left all and followed You." 29 So Jesus answered
and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who
has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother
or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's.
Luke 18:28 Then Peter said, "See, we have left all
and followed You." 29 So He said to them, "Assuredly,
I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents
or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom
In the above three passages we see that the disciples all
left their homes and families, wives and children and parents
to follow Jesus. They left their desire for these things and
their responsibilities to them. Clearly Jesus expected no
less from any of his disciples.
Matthew 8:21 Then another of His disciples said to
Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." 22
But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury
their own dead."
Luke 9:59 Then He said to another, "Follow Me."
But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."
60 Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead,
but you go and preach the kingdom of God." 61 And another
also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go
and bid them farewell who are at my house." 62 But Jesus
said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow,
and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
Both Matthew 8:21-22 and Luke 9:59-62 demonstrate that Jesus
expected his disciples not to hesitate in following him even
over matters regarding their responsibility to their family.
Such concerns seem to be given no place by Jesus as factoring
into our pursuit of him and his teachings. Jesus' teaching
in these passages upholds the opposite of the view held by
the modern church, that the believer's responsibility to their
family is a fundamental aspect of their following Christ.
Instead, Jesus seems to relieve the individual believer of
any obligations to natural family members who are not his
disciples. Luke 2 affirms that Jesus upheld following God
as the highest priority in his life even when it would seem
inappropriate to do so by our understanding of the individual's
responsibility to the family.
1 Timothy 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and
specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith,
and is worse than an infidel.
On the other hand, when our family (household) follows Christ,
then our obligations to them remain fully intact. Only with
regard to unbelieving family members are we relieved from
our familial obligations.
Luke 2:43 When they had finished the days, as they
returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And
Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44 but supposing Him
to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and
sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So
when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking
Him. 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him
in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both
listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who
heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother
said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look,
Your father and I have sought You anxiously." 49 And He
said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that
I must be about My Father's business?" 50 But they
did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
Here in Luke 2, Jesus as a young child remains at the Temple
without consideration for how this might worry his parents.
When his mother remarks about it, he makes no apology, but
rather seems to indicate that they should've expected this
from him. We see a similar attitude portrayed in John 2.
John 2:3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother
of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." 4 Jesus said to
her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?
My hour has not yet come."
When asked by his mother to miraculously supply the more wine
for the wedding at Cana, Jesus responds to her in a manner
that we might normally think was inappropriate for a son speaking
to his mother. Instead of calling her mother or mom, Jesus
calls her "woman." Similar to his behavior in Luke 2, Jesus'
response to Mary here seems to contradict our understanding
of what God expects from children regarding honoring their
One last thing before we conclude this study pertains to the
issue of having children and God's will. Many times the church
assumes that it is a given that God wants married couples
to have children. But Jesus' warning in Mark 13 and Luke 21
coupled with Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 7 seem to
provide some additional perspective.
Mark 13:17 But woe to those who are pregnant and
to those who are nursing babies in those days!
Luke 21:23 But woe to those who are pregnant and
to those who are nursing babies in those days!
1 Corinthians 7:28 But even if you do marry, you have
not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless
such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that
from now on even those who have wives should be as though
they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not
weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those
who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use
this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world
is passing away. 32 But I want you to be without care.
He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord--how
he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares
about the things of the world--how he may please his wife.
34 There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The
unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she
may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married
cares about the things of the world--how she may please her
husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not
that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and
that you may serve the Lord without distraction.
We are not suggesting that God is against believers having
children. But, we must consider that Paul's language regarding
the distraction of marriage would also apply (perhaps even
more so) to child rearing. Taken together these passages show
that we cannot simply assume that God's will is always in
favor of our having children. Rather, it seems that God wants
us be mindful of our circumstances, wisely and prayerfully
considering how having children may affect our walk with God.
This is especially true as Jesus' return draws near.
The unfortunate, but unavoidable result of the comparison
we've just performed is that the modern church has once again
developed positions that deviate from the Biblical perspective.
As we stated the modern church places a great deal of priority
on marriage and the family in the life of the individual believer.
With regard to marriage this emphasis comes in two unscriptural
premises. First, marriage is viewed as God's will and calling
for (most or many) Christians. Second, marriage is viewed
as advancing the spiritual development of the individual believer.
With regard to the family, the modern church also promotes
four ideas that we have shown to be unbiblical. First, the
modern church teaches that the preservation of the family
is unquestioningly part of God's will. Second, that God's
intention is to use the family as a key building block for
growing the church. Third, that the Bible identifies the family
as the ideal environment for spiritual growth. Fourth, the
modern church teaches that the believer's responsibility to
their family is a fundamental aspect of their following Christ.
In contrast to the views of the modern church, the Biblical
perspective on marriage is that it is allowable, but not the
preferred will of God for Christians. It is identified not
as God's will or choice, but a product of our will and choosing
(and also with a lack of self-restraint). Biblically speaking
marriage is identified as inhibiting our spiritual development
as individuals, as a distraction limiting our freedom to be
fully devoted to following Christ.
In contrast to the views of the modern church, the Biblical
perspective on the family is that God's intention to grow
the church is indifferent to the preservation of the family,
and even at the expense of the family. God is primarily concerned
with the individual more than He is for the family. The building
blocks that God intends to use to grow the church are individual
believers, not families.
Furthermore, the Bible portrays the family not as the ideal
environment for spiritual growth, but as often being an obstacle
standing in the way of the spiritual growth of the individual.
Also, it would seem that the Bible does not uphold any obligations
of the believer to natural family members who are not disciples
of Jesus. Of course, finally and above all our families must
not supercede or impede our devotion to Christ.