Monday, 28 July 2008

Family responsibility

My wife and I were discussing responsibility to family because she was having difficulty reconciling 2 passages of Scripture.

While travelling to Jerusalem, Jesus speaks to some of the crowd travelling with him.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9)
Leaving aside a full explanation of these sayings, Jesus is saying that belonging to the kingdom of God supersedes belonging to family. This is also seen in other passages such as:
"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18)
So if we are to leave family for the sake of the kingdom, how does that fit in with Paul's statements about family responsibility?
Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.... But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5)
Looking at Jesus' words it seems that leaving family members could theoretically be asked of us (not that it necessarily is). Note, however, that the comment about leaving houses etc. is in the context of the rich young ruler who does not want to give up wealth for the sake of the kingdom. So this is more a comment by Jesus on the importance of choosing the kingdom over anything else, even very important things such as houses and family. Jesus follows this with a promise that God will give us more than we give up. And this may be part of what Jesus is saying in the Luke 9 passage. Parents and family are having a hold on someone who Jesus wants to join the kingdom.

Compare with Paul's comments which do not relate to a competing call for believers. Rather they are to discharge the call of the kingdom by caring for those to whom they have responsibility for.

My conclusion in our discussion was that we are to care for those whom God has given us responsibility for, but we do not necessarily need to respond to those who would put their own claim on our lives.

We are responsible to look after our children. God may also give us other children to be responsible for. God may call us to give our children to others to look after so that we may do a task for him—we are still caring for them appropriately as we are delegating our responsibility for that child to another at God's request (one should be absolutely certain they are hearing correctly from God in such a situation!*).

But an adult does not need to acquiesce to a demand from family to live or act according to their agenda. A request to remain part of the family business, or not to leave until one's parents have died may not be legitimate. If at some future time one's parents become infirm, the child may now have the responsibility for them placed on him by God and he needs to discharge that responsibility appropriately.

*This comment needs its own post to explain more fully, I don't mean to suggest that this is a common request from God.

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