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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, Jesus appears to be pro-family, questioning the Pharisees’ commitment to the fifth commandment to “honor your father and mother.” But in other places, he seems to be anti-family. For instance, in Luke he says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (14:26).

While shocking to us, the meaning of Jesus’s statement in Luke would have been especially challenging to his first-century audience. Ancient Mediterranean society was a strong-group culture. The health and survival of the group took priority over the goals and desires of individual members. Loyalty to family constituted the most important relational virtue for persons in the New Testament world.

But following Jesus meant belonging to two families, a natural family and a faith family. Unlike his surrounding culture, what is most important to Jesus is faith family: “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matt. 12:46–50).

Jesus’ call to join a new family generates an unavoidable loyalty conflict.
Which family do I now owe my ultimate loyalty?

Getting Our Priorities Straight
Most of us would rank our relationship priorities like this:
My family
God’s family (church)

But both Scripture and Christian history reinforce the idea that the family of God should rank higher than natural family. Jesus did not primarily call individuals into a private relationship with him. He calls us to join a movement, to become part of a new family. The notion that loyalty to God could somehow be separated from loyalty to God’s family would have been foreign to Jesus and the early Christians. As third-century theologian Cyprian of Carthage famously said, “He who does not have the church for his mother cannot have God for his Father.”

As I started my walk with the Lord, I personally had this conflict brewing in my mind. In my Somali culture family is very important. My whole identity is found in who my family is and how well I honor them by playing my role well. As the oldest son a lot of pressure fell on me to be who my parents wanted me to be. Being a Muslim family this came with a lot of religious duties. Here is the framework of priorities as a Muslim:

Allah (god)
Fellow Muslims
Others – (non Muslims)

As God opened my eyes to who He is, my priorities changed so much.
The first four of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with God (Exod. 20:3–11); the next six address our relationships with other humans (Exod. 20:12–17). The first command that relates to other people is the command to honor our parents (Ex. 20:12), which Paul described as “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph. 6:2).

Jesus himself said that following him may result in going against one’s parents (Matt. 10:34–36). And yet, he never abrogated the fifth commandment. In fact, Jesus not only upheld it; he strongly rebuked people who made religious excuses for not caring for their parents (Matt. 15:3–9).

When Cru (the ministry I worked for after college) first began to see young people coming to Christ from non-Christian backgrounds, we were naturally concerned about the rejection they might face from family members. We tried to ensure them that any rejection they experienced at home would be offset by warm acceptance in the Christian community. Soon, however, we realized that our counsel may have been unwise. Too often, we failed to stress how important it is for new believers to maintain good relationships with their families. In our excitement at seeing conversions, we overlooked the importance of healthy family relationships.

In my personal life, I was disowned for announcing my new found love for Jesus and who he is and was in history. In my youth and excitement, I didn’t see the wisdom of holding back a lot and allowing my family to see the slow changes that were happened in me through the work for Holy Spirit. Looking back, I am saddened of the missed opportunity. But I am not weighed down from it, our God is an awesome God. He can reach the hardest of hearts. I pray for my family daily, this is a wonderful gift from the Lord.

Not all accept this gift due to fear of losing their family. During my time with Cru, a student from Saudi Arabia, came to all our events and international student bible study. After developing a friendship over 3 years, I asked a deep question.

What is stopping you from accepting Jesus into your heart?
The student wrote me this response: “My fear is that the ‘fear of loss’ overweighs seeking the truth. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a day that would pass by that I wouldn’t be thinking about it. I see it as a scale to me between the two ‘believes,’ each one having its own truth, miracles, stories, facts, history,..etc. It hurts my heart and brain when thinking deeply about it, as if a mathematical problem trying to solve. I do think it’s amazing though to be redeemed from all your sins by just believing in him (Jesus).”

Later they shared what the fear of loss means:

“My parents guided me when younger but their trust for me after moving abroad has protected me in enormous ways from falling off the right path more than they probably think. I sometimes wonder if they themselves would have questions, too, as much as I have if they were in my shoes. As much as I love asking questions and learning, it’s not fun to have it take over your mind all the time. Though I come from a highly educated, modern, loving and devoted Muslim parents and miss them everyday, I have loved to not be surrounded by that to know that I’m making the choice of Islam or ethics and not being drifted with the traditions. Something I learned from life is that no mater where you go, it doesn’t change who you are. However, I don’t know if its a test from God to test me out on my believes to see what I’m made of.”

This is hard to hear, heart breaking at times. I bet a lot of international students understand where my friend is coming from. Accepting Jesus does come with a cost, not all cost looks the same for everyone. My heart goes for my friends that are at a position of making choices that may affect not only them but also their family.

My burden is a simple one: we need to help new converts navigate familial issues in a way that honors Christ.
And one of the best ways for new believers to commend the gospel to their family is simply by being an exemplary family member. When the family sees the markedly different yet positive ways the Christian behaves at home, their hostility to Christianity might diminish. A Christian’s new life might even be what the Lord uses to lead some family members to accept Christ.

At the same time, some new Christians grow apart from their family, partly because of their busy involvement with their new family, the church. As new converts spend more time ministering with those in their local church, they sometimes inadvertently provoke their family members to greater hostility toward Christianity.

For some non-Christian families, a family member’s conversion to Christianity is repulsive. Some families in Islamic countries represent the most extreme version of this scenario—even killing children who make a profession of faith in Christ, so called “honor killings.”

In many cultures today, honor and shame are the most important values for evaluating actions. Changing one’s religion shames the family. This value system considers dishonoring the family as a more serious wrong than serious moral sins like adultery or abuse.

New converts need to be wise about how and when they inform their families about their conversion. Sometimes a gradual demonstrating our new life in Christ—like giving up of bad habits and reading the Bible in public—prepares them for the news. But in some homes, even Bible reading would be taboo. Sometimes one family member may be more sympathetic, and it might be wise to inform that person first so that they can prepare others for the news. Especially with minors, it may take a considerable amount of time before a family fully realizes a thoroughgoing conversion has taken place.

New converts also need to think wisely about practical matters—like the time and place of baptism. Baptism in a public place, like a river that runs by the family’s town, may be an unnecessary assault on the honor of the convert’s family. Ideally, unsaved family members would be honored guests at the baptism. Unsaved family members often attend baptisms in our church and when they do we publicly express delight and gratitude over their presence. They in turn are happy to be included in this important event.

We also need to help converts think through their family obligations. As a general rule, Christians should obey their parents, whether they’re Christian or not (Col. 3:20). Only when such obedience involves disobeying the law of God must the child respectfully refuse. Sometimes, parents make unreasonable demands on their children, but unless these demands are oppressive and damaging, we recommend that they obey.

In cultures where family solidarity is strong, some of the most important family events have religious overtones: funerals, acts of remembrance of the dead, weddings, festivals, and family holidays. Not participating in these can be viewed as a serious violation of family honor. We usually talk with new believers about what they can and cannot do at such occasions. Some practices don’t have religious connotations. They can participate in these events without violating their conscience. In a family meal at a special event, part of the food is given to priests before whom the family members kneel. The Christian, of course, cannot do that. But she can help with the cooking, the washing, and the cleaning up. The family may visit a shrine or temple as part of a family holiday. The Christian can certainly join the family on the holiday, but they must stay outside the temple when others go in to worship.

I know of sad situations where parents have disowned their son because he became a Christian. But this disowned son continued to send financial support to his parents when they were elderly, as was expected of sons in his culture. In one case, after many years, the mother re-established contact and came to spend her last days in his home.

In many community-oriented cultures, brothers help pay for the costs of their sisters’ wedding—even delaying their own marriage in the process. Becoming a Christian doesn’t exempt one from such responsibilities. Sometimes, the fact that they conscientiously and sacrificially care for family needs—unlike non-Christian family members—has been a source of joy and a witness to the gospel.

It has been an honor to share my story and limited knowledge. Know you are prayed for and are deeply loved by your brothers and sisters in Christ. I can’t wait to meet you on the other side of this world in heaven. Until that day, May the Lord bless you greatly to do great and wonderful things for the kingdom of God. Love you all.


Helping New Converts Navigate Family Issues


When our immigrant friends accept Christ it is sometimes at a great cost to their family relationships. How can we encourage them to love both their Christian families and their natural families? What happens when families expect them to take part in traditions that are dishonoring to God? Osman shares from both his personal and ministry experiences to answer these questions.

When our immigrant friends accept Christ it is sometimes at a great cost to their family relationships. How can we encourage them to love both their Christian families and their natural families? What happens when families expect them to take part in traditions that are dishonoring to God? Osman shares from both his personal and ministry experiences to answer these questions.