Changing Loyalties and the New Family of God
Note from Rachel: I’m back! My 3-month blog sabbatical stretched into 3 ½ due mostly to travel, but I’m glad to be home and writing again. Without further ado …
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. (Matthew 10:21–22)
From the start of Matthew 10, Jesus has been laying out the cost of being on-mission for the kingdom of God.
He began by calling and supernaturally empowering his apostles to heal and deliver, but then he instructed them to deliberately go on their mission without earthly power. They weren’t to take money or supplies with them — not so much as an extra pair of sandals.
Once he had reduced them to a state of dependence on God and others, Jesus let his apostles know they would not be universally welcomed. Despite the fact that they were proclaiming the kingdom of God and the long-awaited Messiah, and despite the fact that they were bringing God’s power to heal, deliver, and restore wherever they went, many of their own countrymen would reject them and throw them out of their villages.
Not only that, Jesus went on, but they would be persecuted on a wider scale as well. The apostles and their followers would be dragged before magistrates and kings, local courts and foreign ones, to be “martyrs” — witnesses — to the nations.
In short, they were to be sheep among wolves: harmless, pure, and faithful in the midst of persecution.
The coming of the kingdom of God was going to reorder everything. But it wasn’t going to do it as a conquering, sword-swinging temporal power.
It was going to do it in a much more subversive way, and much of the time, it would look like Jesus and his people were losing.
The Greatest Price
None of this can have been easy for the disciples to swallow. But in verses 20–21, it got even harder. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child,” Jesus told them. “Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death.” Not only would they be kicked out of the towns and persecuted by the ruling elites, but many of Jesus’s followers would face ultimate rejection from their own families.
Again, Jesus was incredibly honest with his disciples about the cost of following him. It wasn’t going to be easy. It wasn’t going to be cheap. It was going to cost them everything.
Even in the Western world today, these aren’t easy words to read. Family ties are strong. Blood runs deep. No one wants to be betrayed or rejected by their own family. Most of us don’t want to be the cause of conflict and tension within our homes.
But in the Middle East, and in many parts of the world today, Jesus’s warning was even more gut-wrenching. Family was everything. There was no “self” outside of family. Family was identity, honor, economics. Family was the past and the future. Family was the ultimate loyalty.
To give up family — and worse, to be seen as betraying family, to be the cause of the rift — was to pay the ultimate price.
Jesus was calling his followers to give up the most foundational thing in their lives, the basis of their entire identity and their baseline loyalty, to identify instead with him. With his name. With his purpose.
With his family.
From Earthly Family …
In many ways, “family first” is an admirable attitude. After all, God designed family — and his design is a good one.
Family binds people in mutual care and loyalty. Family calls us to live sacrificially and to honor others before ourselves. Family is the context in which most of us learn to understand the world and our place in it, and family forms a fundamental web of connection that anchors us as we move through life.
In fact, family is so important to God that two of the Ten Commandments specifically safeguard it: “Honor your father and mother” and “Do not commit adultery.”
Yet, Jesus was clear that his followers could not put their earthly families before him. In fact, they should expect their families to turn against them — and when that happened, they should not waver in their loyalty to Jesus first.
… to the Family of God
As valuable, beautiful, and God-ordained as family is, in our broken world, it too can set itself against God. Mutual love and loyalty can turn a hardened face to the rest of the world and become tribalism, a “we first” mentality that justifies racism and ethnic warfare. Honor can become control; authority can become authoritarianism.
Finding our identity in earthly family, we can cease to find it in our Creator.
When Jesus came into the world, he came to bring us back to the original plans of God. He came to reconcile us to God and restore creation to our Father’s first intent. But we can’t enter into this restoration project unless we are willing to reorder our priorities. Jesus must be first — before anything else in our lives — or the restoration will fail.
If we aren’t willing to be hated and rejected for Jesus’s sake, even by our own families, we won’t be willing to love for his sake either — to love our enemies, to love those who are different from us, to cross tribal lines.
If we don’t value his name above everything else, we’ll hang on to other identities, and those other identities will end up taking precedence over obedience to God.
In a very real way, Jesus calls us to trade our earthly families for his family. He must be first, absolutely first, in our lives. His new creation must mean more to us than our old roots.
This is how we remake the world.
The Old and the New
Jesus didn’t call people to betray or hurt their families — he simply warned his disciples that rejection by their families would be a natural consequence of following him. Those who follow Jesus inadvertently expose idols of all kinds, and those idols typically put up a fight.
Family is still God’s beautiful idea, and we are still called to honor, love, and serve our earthly families as one way we honor, love, and serve him.
But we’re called to do so in a context of giving our families up, and of incorporating our lives within a larger body — one that transcends bloodlines and ethnic cultures to identify with the name, the mission, and the person of Jesus.
Jesus’s twelve apostles must have heard this call with pounding hearts and a lump in their throats. They were truly sacrificing everything for the work of the kingdom — and so far, all Jesus had promised them was hardship and suffering because of it.
But in Jesus, in his name and his kingdom, they saw a future that would make it all worth it — one where all the children of God could become members of one family, with one Father, united in love and in wholehearted loyalty to the One who created us and who ultimately gives us our purpose, our past, and our future.
This is Part 147 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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