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Blood or Birth



“My father is Welsh but I was born in Ireland. Who should I support? Should I be governed by blood or birth?”


These were the words uttered by a preacher I heard recently during the Six Nations Rugby Tournament. Wales faced Ireland in a critical match, with Ireland still aspiring to become Grand Slam Champions, and Wales trying to avoid the wooden spoon. The preacher was asking where his loyalty should lie. To his bloodline—his father’s Welsh blood specifically—or to the land of his birth—Ireland?


LOYALTY


Loyalty is one of those words that generates debate. There are some who believe that loyalty is an unvarnished virtue. We should be loyal to our friends in particular, no questions asked. By contrast, others argue that loyalty can lead to disaster. What happens when our friends turn out to be responsible for terrible deeds, and we have continued to support them long after their guilt has been laid bare?


Essentially, loyalty is about our hearts. To whom have we given our hearts? We must make a choice, and then hold to that choice. From that flows loyalty, whether for good or ill. In the Bible, loyalty comes up when Jesus speaks about family.


So, family (birth), Jesus (blood), and loyalty. Here are some reflections.


THE ROLE OF FAMILY


I love my family. My wife and children, especially, are dear to me beyond words. They are essential to my wellbeing. I imagine you feel the same about those dear to you. In addition, it’s clear that the Scriptures speak highly of our commitment to our families. The following verses come to mind.


Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Ex 20.12


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


That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Gen 2.24


If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?

1 Tim 3.5


Family is important, no question. But hold on, because Jesus says some very uncomfortable things about family, doesn’t he? What about this one?


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.

Luke 14.26


Ouch! That’s a tough ask . . . until you place it in context, and realise that Christ isn’t calling for his disciples to abandon their families, but instead is challenging them about their loyalty to him. He must come first in all things. He makes this clear when he follows this statement up with a question about planning to build a tower. This is about the cost of discipleship, made clear with his summary statement in verse thirty-three.


In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14.33


Absolute commitment to our Lord is the cost of discipleship.


MAKING FAMILY AN IDOL


To whom is our greatest loyalty? To our loved ones or to the Lord? As painful as it may be, I think we need to ask ourselves the following question.


Have I made an idol of my family?


Were we ever to ask this question during a sermon, a few caveats are in order.


ALL FAMILIES ARE DIFFERENT


Our families are central to our identity; they give us meaning, and aside from the Lord himself, they are our greatest source of love, without which we cannot survive. Hyperbolic perhaps, but you know what I mean. By contrast, family members are often the ones who have caused us the most pain. Abuse, neglect, stinging criticism—our families form us in so many ways. So family is complicated. Very complicated. Ministers of the gospel cannot possibly know the depth of joy and pain that people experience from their family relationships. Which is why the question above should never lead to dogmatic conclusions about what it means to make family an idol. We just don’t know enough. Just because some are always in church, serving, and others do very little, we cannot draw conclusions about what’s going on their hearts from these observations.


Family relationships are too important, too varied, too complicated.


BEWARE OF THE CONVERSE


We tend to think that more is better. We shouldn’t, but some of us do. More hours teaching, more time doing evangelism, praying, serving. More is good. But could this be a false dichotomy? Since Jesus is focused principally on our hearts, could it be true that some people serve at every opportunity because they’ve never really understood grace? They’re involved in every church initiative, because inside they’re soothing a painful wound to do with . . . well, take your pick . . . not being good enough, seeking affirmation, subconsciously adding to their tally of heavenly brownie points. Some people might actually need to spend less time serving and more time caring for their loved ones. And they may need a better understanding of grace.


So is this a question we should avoid? Is it just too fraught with danger? I don’t think so. Jesus certainly didn’t think so, since he specifically spoke about his followers’ need to prioritise him ahead of their families. It matters to him that he’s number one. He doesn’t shrink from pitting himself against our blood relatives.


What’s the solution?


LEAVE ROOM FOR THE SPIRIT TO WORK


First, this is an important question. It touches on our hearts, and Jesus is all about our hearts. It touches on how we spend our time and our money, a couple of our most important resources. So yes, it’s important. But it’s complicated, which is why there is only one person who can truly speak to us clearly on this question.


The Holy Spirit.


Only God himself can truly challenge us, encourage us, and give us wisdom on this most important of questions. Only he can do this, because only he truly knows our joy and our pain. He it is who guides us, loves us, calls us to follow Jesus and place him first above all things.


BLOOD OR BIRTH?


Are you completely committed to following Jesus? What does that look like when your family consumes so much of your time and energy? It’s tempting to reach for the word ‘balance’ at this point, but I think this is a mistake. ‘Balance’ gives the impression that all our priorities are lined up before us—God, family, career, hobbies—and each receives a measure of our time and devotion. We ‘balance’ them out. But this is wrong-headed. Because Jesus calls us to radical discipleship. He wants our commitment—one hundred percent.


He’s not one of several. He’s one exclusive.


The answer may turn out to be hidden in that word, ‘hate’. Once we let go of our traditional understanding of the word, with its swirl of emotions, then it’s easier to get at the truth that Luke 14.26 is about our priorities, and our ultimate loyalty. A challenge expressed with hyperbole in Jesus’ inimitable fashion. He wants our unrivalled devotion. That’s the point. It is not that we shouldn’t love our families, it’s that our hearts’ first love should be our Lord.


And since he is love, he calls us to love. And whom do we love on earth the most? Generally, our families. With Christ as our Lord, and in his rightful place, he will lead us to love by the power of his Spirit, to live in his ways, with his priorities. By doing that, our families gain a loving family member, they don’t lose one.


In the end, it’s not blood or birth, but blood and birth.


We just need to make sure that blood (Jesus) has our unrivalled loyalty.


Jesus first. Always first.

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