Most people seem to have a “love-hate” relationship with their family. Everyone has a family, and many have an idea of what their ideal family life would be. Sadly, the “ideal family life” is imaginary: how far our family is from the ideal is really the important question. Families can be a great source of unconditional strength and support, but families can just as easily become a source of discouragement, pain, and suffering. Some relatives are lovable and love freely; conversely, we all seem to have at least a few relatives whom we would not mind never hearing from again. Whether our family is mostly functional or mostly dysfunctional, family life is changing at an unprecedented rate. Our culture tends to emphasize the individual and his fulfillment over that of the family; as people become more mobile, families are spreading out over larger distances. In such an environment, does family even matter anymore?
The family has been called the basic unit of civilization, and for good reason: however much we may try to run away from it, we are shaped by our families. We first learn about who we are, what we are supposed to do, and our place among others through our experiences with our families. Family connections were critical to survival: even if everything else went wrong, the family was the one group of people who would be there for you and provide for you. Little wonder, then, that Jesus uses the example of hostility amongst family members to demonstrate the great cost that could be incurred for following Him (cf. Matthew 10:34-39): rejection by family would be the worst rejection of all!
None of this is coincidental: this is how God set up the world and human relationships (Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 1:20). Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, was raised up in a family with a mother, father, brothers, and sisters, and likely extended family as well (Luke 2:41-51, Matthew 13:55-56). Family is one of the common denominators among all human beings: regardless of age, gender, culture, or station in life, we all came from parents and have (or had) some kind of family somewhere.
God expects those who serve Him to honor their families. It is possible that family members may not approve of the decision to follow after God (cf. Mathew 10:34-39); regardless, we are likely to have family members with whom we do not get along easily, or who are difficult people.
Yet Scripture is clear: children are to honor their parents and obey them in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-3); even if the parents are not obedient to God, they are still worthy of honor. Parents are to love children, raising them in the admonition and discipline of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Responsibility toward family does not end with one’s immediate family. Paul tells Timothy that anyone who does not provide for “their own,” especially “of their own household,” has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8); a believing woman who “has widows” is to take care of them, so that the church can take care of “widows indeed” (1 Timothy 5:16). This goes beyond parents and children; it involves the extended family as well.
The idea of family life is not some quaint notion of times past; the development of healthy and strong families is as critical as ever. That development is completely dependent on us: we must decide to value and honor the relationships we have with family members, and support them as we have opportunity. Let us honor our immediate and extended families so that it may go well with us in life!
Ethan R. Longhenry