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There are things God commands us to do that it seems He can’t possibly mean literally, until we encounter a person who has actually done them. Praise God for such individuals! This is the power of testimony. Testimonies are a sermon plus. They convey God’s will but also flesh it out in ways unambiguous and inescapable for the rest of us.
One such command is to love God more than family. In the course of teaching His disciples on the cost of living for truth, Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
Like most Christians, I have heard these words many times and domesticated them to a treacly, toothless sweetness: You conjure all the sentiments you have amassed toward your parents, and claim to feel even more for God.
Most times there is no conflict between the two allegiances. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” says Peter (1 Peter 3:13). But while this is true enough under ordinary circumstances, the apostle must immediately temper it with a less irenic possibility: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (v. 14).
The demonic temptation of ‘family first do-or-die’ is all the stronger for its similitude to virtue.
Thus he hints at what the Lord elsewhere makes plain: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:35-36).
Has any of you felt this yet?
Because we might, in our natural selves, find it monstrous to prefer God to our parents, children, and siblings, when push comes to shove, Jesus saw fit to model it Himself. When His own mother and brothers were putting themselves at odds with God’s plan, He chose not to go with them. He stretched out His hands to a crowd of strangers and declared: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).
It is the time in history to bring out this portion of the Word of God because the last days are upon us for which these words were written.
The demonic temptation of “family first do-or-die” is all the stronger for its similitude to virtue. It is universally deemed unnatural not to put family first. It is the one area where we make exceptions to our scruples, siding with the vulgar brother over the upright nonrelative, excusing a person whom we would rightly disdain if there were no blood tie. Some people I know who think themselves tough-minded and clear-eyed are blind when it comes to the faults of their siblings. Dare point out an inconsistency and their sense of honor will flare up and devour you.
The better to show the uncompromising earnestness of His command (as Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”), God has raised up in our own times men who have chosen God over family at the supreme sacrifice. The late Nabeel Qureshi, who sought Allah and found Jesus (Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus), was not your average Muslim but the grandson of Muslim missionaries to Indonesia. He would fain have chosen family first if there were any way to do it, and in his last gasps of Islamic religion he could be found in the mosque pleading desperately for Allah to reveal himself.
Mosab Hassan Yousef was the Ramallah-born son of important Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, with all the automatic privilege in community that that entailed. When he repudiated Hamas, he was not one of those Palestinian paupers who had nothing to lose by changing sides. He had everything to lose.
With such a cloud of witnesses you and I can feel strengthened when parents or siblings or children reject us and speak ill of us for our faith. Even as we grieve and continue to pray for those we love, we are free, praise God, and experience a joy the world knows nothing of.