Honoring Family while Avoiding Idolatry

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Family Comes First?

It goes largely unchallenged when someone says, “Family comes first.” For believers in Jesus, however, this is not a true phrase. Family does not come first. Jesus comes first in all things. Jesus himself said in Matthew 10:37, “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.” Jesus—not family—comes first.

But this does not mean that Christians neglect their families. Following Jesus will lead us in the best possible way for us to live out marriage and parenting for their intended purposes. But this does mean that Jesus leads us to approach our families with different priorities than those around us. In this post we’ll explore some big pictures ideas as well as some practical suggestions for living out our family lives under the lordship of Jesus.

Priorities

If Jesus takes first place in our lives, then this means that our priorities will reflect this. This means that parents are called not only to provide for the physical and material needs of their children, but parents are called to live out the Scriptural calling for parents.

Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The calling for fathers—and parents in general—is to bring children up in the training and instruction of God. This involves teaching our children about God and his character and his commands (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) as well as teaching our kids about practical wisdom for all sorts of areas of life (Proverbs 1:8-9). Parents are not just providers, and a parent is much more than a taxi service that takes kids to their various events. Parents are teachers. And the primary sphere of teaching concerns Jesus Christ and his gospel.

This means that parents are called to reflect grace and truth (John 1:14) to their children. We show them the deep mercy and kindness and affection of God. We also show enough love to discipline and correct them (Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 19:18). Parents bring joy and also order. Just as God disciplines his children (Hebrews 12:4-11), parents are called to discipline their children. This is not a license to bully or to vent anger. It is a calling to correct behavior that will be destructive.

But parenting is not just about keeping good order in the home. Parenting is about shepherding a child’s heart toward Jesus. It is about using the teachable moments to talk about our sin and our need for a Savior. It is about helping kids to discover the joy of a church family and to find the gifts that they’ve been given in order to serve that church family. It’s about reading Scripture, praying, and having deep and open conversations. It’s about putting Jesus at the center.

Traps

Most Christian parents would probably agree with the importance of everything that has been said so far. And yet most of us look at our lives and see that other priorities have crowded out the things that truly matter. We have fallen into traps that keep us from reflecting Jesus more fully in our families. There are many traps, but I’ll name three big ones.

The Trap of Busyness. Southern California families are always on the go. With sports, music lessons, martial arts, school activities, vacations, and fun outings, there is little time left over for spiritual development. None of those activities are sinful, and we fall into a trap when we fill our schedules to the brim and leave no time for church involvement or spiritual attentiveness.

The Trap of Safety. Recent generations of parents have become obsessed with safety. While there is definitely a calling for parents to protect their children, safety is not the top priority. We want children who will grow up to be courageous, who will be willing to sacrifice themselves for others, and who will be willing to take risks for the sake of the gospel. This will not happen if parents are unwilling to allow kids to take risks, to get hurt, and to experience some setbacks. We miss out on spiritual growth if we are committed to playing it safe.

The Trap of Success. Every parent wants success for their children. But how do we define success? Are we committed to maximizing our kids’ earning potential, while utterly ignoring their character and their relationship with Jesus? Successfully launching our children into the world is less about their financial status and more about their spiritual stability.

Best Practices

Scripture does not give us a manual in precisely how to order our lives in order to foster godliness in our children. But the priorities that we are given will inevitably lead to practical outworkings. Here are three to consider.

Commit to Your Church. The church is the bride of Jesus Christ. As Christians are primary commitment is to Jesus, and our secondary commitment is to his people. Take in a sobering reality: Your kids are highly unlikely to be more committed to church than you are. If church takes a backseat to other activities, don’t be surprised when your kids opt out of church involvement later in life. Commit not only to attending services at your church, but commit to being involved and serving. And look to have your kids involved not only in their age-specific activities, but also in the body of Christ as a whole. It has been a blessing for me not only to see my kids involved in Children Ministry and Student Ministry, but to also get to sit together in our church services (after all, at some point they need to learn how to do that) and to worship side by side.

Read and Discuss Scripture. It can feel daunting to lead “family devotions.” Many parents don’t feel up to the task. If you feel overwhelmed, start simple. Make family dinner time a priority, and simply read a chapter from the Bible at the dinner table (maybe a chapter from the LBF Church Bible Reading Plan). Then simply ask each member of the family to share about what part of the chapter most stood out to them. See where the discussion leads. If you want to make it even better, create an expectation that each member of the family will read that chapter in the morning so that they will be more prepared to discuss it at dinner. If you are afraid that you won’t know what to say in every situation . . . you’re probably right. But let God’s Word do its work. It is better to have a slightly awkward discussion of Scripture than to avoid it out of fear that something might go wrong.

Set an Example. While it has been said over and over again, it is true: More is caught than taught. If you want your children to love Jesus, cultivate a love for Jesus in your own heart. If you want your kids are read the Bible, read the Bible regularly—and talk with them about it. If you want your kids to apologize when they do something wrong, then apologize when you do something wrong. If you want your kids involved in your church, then be involved in your church. If you want your kids to pray, then let them see you praying. Seek Jesus in your own life, and allow him to lead you in the specifics of how you lead your children toward him.

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