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Please explain: What can I do when my relationship with Jesus causes family problems?

What can I do when my relationship with Jesus causes family problems?

I had just finished a brief devotion and prayer at my uncle and aunt’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration. The gist of both was that Jesus blesses marriages in this life, and only through faith in Jesus can anyone look forward to the wedding celebration of Christ and his church in heaven.

After I sat down, another relative, who had converted to Judaism for her husband, approached me, and I could tell by her look that she wasn’t happy. “So,” she began, “according to what you preach in your church, there’s no hope for me.”

I replied, “Yes, there is, but it is only in Jesus.” She shook her head and abruptly turned away in anger. I don’t know if she ever spoke to me again after that.

Experiencing division within families

What I experienced that day from a relative is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ ” (Matthew 10:34-36).

It’s amazing to hear Jesus, the Prince of peace, say that he did not come to bring peace but a sword! Yes, Jesus is the Prince of peace who reconciled us to God by his sacrificial death on the cross. That’s the good news of which the angels sang on the night of his birth, “Peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). But being at peace with God can disrupt peace with others, even within our own family. The truth about Jesus and his Word can divide people like a knife cutting through butter.

So what are we supposed to do when an argument breaks out at a family gathering about doctrinal differences between churches? How are we to react to name-calling from family members when we do not respond with a “like” on Facebook about a nephew “coming out”? What do we say when a sister does not invite us to her wedding because we had expressed concern about how she had lived with her significant other before marriage? How do we handle the hurt when a cousin at a family reunion criticizes our church about not letting others come to Holy Communion just because they belong to a church not in our fellowship? These are things we suffer in personal relationships because we want to follow Jesus.

Standing up for Jesus

How are we to handle these things when they happen?

To start, don’t be surprised when they happen! Your relationship with Christ is the most important relationship in your life, and sometimes, unfortunately, it may cause difficult moments and division in other relationships, even within your immediate family. That’s the cost of following Jesus, who said, “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” (Matthew 10:37). Following Jesus means loving him above all things, even family. And at times that won’t be easy.

Why would we want to put Jesus above everything and everyone else, even our loved ones who may give us grief or reject us? You know the answer. Because that is what Jesus was willing to suffer for us! Jesus was willing to be rejected by his own countrymen, church leaders, and even family members so that we would not be rejected by God. Jesus was willing to be forsaken by his Father on the cross so that we would never have to be separated from God in hell. Our loving God put us first in winning our salvation, and now we want to put him first in our lives—yes, even above our family relationships.

We do that by telling family members the truth. First Peter 3:15 instructs us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Jesus didn’t strike back when his enemies struck him, spit on him, mocked him, and lied about him. He quietly spoke the truth and endured that suffering for the salvation of others.

Can we treat others any less, even our own relatives? We are not about winning arguments with relatives but about winning souls. We’re not about being “right” with our family members but being sure that our loved ones know about the righteousness they need for heaven. When hurt and rejection come to us as followers of Jesus—even at the hands of relatives—we leave the matter in God’s hands. What is in our hands is speaking the truth to our family members even when they may not like to hear it.

Contending for the truth, however, does not mean being contentious with the truth. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). When we speak the truth, we always speak the truth in love.

Another thing we can do is simply keep loving family members even when it seems like they don’t love us. The apostle Paul explained what that would look like: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). What that doesn’t mean is that we excuse or accept falsehoods and sin. We can love others while still confessing the truth.

We’re not about being “right” with our family members but being sure that our loved ones know about the righteousness they need for heaven.

Don’t forget about the power of prayer either. What a wonderful tool we have in prayer when problems arise within families because of the gospel. For what shall we pray? Pray that God forgives us if we act in an unloving way. Pray for loved ones who may have hurt us by their words or actions. Pray that Jesus will help heal the hurts and provide more opportunities for the gospel to change things for the better! James reminds us, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Did you ever think that talking to Jesus more will make things better than all the talking you do with others?

Standing up for Jesus can be a battle! Sometimes we win that battle, and the gospel wins the day. Other times it seems like we lose when people reject us and the gospel. That can hurt, especially when it happens within our family.

But two things can help us when that happens. Remember what Jesus said about rejection: “Whoever rejects you, rejects me” (Luke 10:16) and “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).

The relative who was upset about what I said at that anniversary celebration died a few years ago. Since then, I have often wondered, Could it be that the seed I planted that day sprouted to faith in her heart? That is my hope, because that would mean that when I die, we will be together in heaven!

Author: Bruce McKenney
Volume 110, Number 07
Issue: July 2023

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This entry is part 1 of 53 in the series please explain

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