“Be very careful, then, how you live— not as unwise but as wise,” Ephesians 5:15, NIV”
It has often been said that the first four of the Ten Commandments is about honoring God, and the last six are about honoring others. How interesting then that right at the head of the last six God places family. Family is meant for a blessing and God associates well-functioning families with long life. That is because family members are capable of caring for one another in a way that strangers do not. A strong family can handle outside pressures and stresses that would crush individuals.
The Devil knows this is the case. As a result, he targets families for special attention. In many cases, families that should be safe harbors are battlegrounds of neglect, disrespect and abuse. The cycle begins with a slight or abuse either real or imagined by one family member, then in retaliation, other family members quickly choose up sides. When the lines are drawn and parties defined, Satan can easily step into the division and tear the family apart. Like World War I, families become separated by “no man’s lands” with little to no communication across the divides.
The assault against families has spanned the ages. Even in the time of Jesus, it was true. Sadly, even the church was involved. According to the Gospels, the church had determined that if you were serving the church, it was acceptable to neglect your family. “For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honour his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” Matthew 15:4-6, NIV
Behind the false facade of religious piety, lay hidden areas of neglect and abuse. Where a family member might normally expect compassion and support, he or she found only emptiness. The church too often taught that this is allowed as long as the church was advanced. This was true in Jesus’ day. It is also true today. Family members continue to face neglect and loneliness over misguided piety.
In November, 2010, a reader wrote to the online journal, The Standard: “My wife is born-again but her behaviour in the last few years is offending me. She rarely has time for the children and I as she’s always away on all weekends attending to this or the other church matter. She has church responsibilities literally every day. I have complained to the church leadership but received no response. She rarely sees the children, which has forced me to play the role of father and mother. We no longer make love since she is either on her periods, fasting or thinking about church matters. Is this okay or common with others? What would you do if you were in my place?”
You see, it is not only the misdirection of one’s wealth that can be considered neglect. It can also be the misdirection of one’s time and energy. We have an obligation to others and above all to our families. Should we save the world and find our families shipwrecked in the end? A balanced approach would place value on both the church and the family. God created men and women to be intimate in the marriage union. He created men and women to nurture and raise up children who love God. He created children to be the support and stay of their parents in their elder years.
Paul wrote to the Roman church, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” Romans 13:7, NIV We too often find it easier to pay tribute (taxes) than to pay honor. Perhaps because we have more respect for the strong arm of the law, than for the needs of our families. This is not how God wants it to be.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—” Ephesians 5:28-29, NIV This verse applies equally to husband and wife. We are to care for one another as we would care for our own bodies. Notice also that the verse does not subordinate one’s care of their spouse to care for the church. We are told “just as Christ does the church.” In other words, our love for our spouse should be the same as the love Christ holds for the church. If we say the work of the church is more important, we are misguided.
The greatest witness is not that of telling a stranger about Jesus. It is about the loving touch when a family member is dealing with severe trial or sickness. There is more Gospel in that touch than in all the correct doctrine one could preach in a lifetime. Neglect of family is never excused in any case, and certainly never by church activity.
Far too many are leading lives of quite desperation, trapped in relationships with those who use the church to escape genuine intimacy. For the non-Christian, divorce is an obvious escape from that loneliness. But for the Christian, whose only ground for divorce may be adultery, there is no easy out. This is especially true if the church leadership holds the spouse up as a paragon of virtue, a real “worker for the Lord.” To divorce someone placed on such a lofty pedestal is to incur the disdain of the church. In the end, these individuals either must divorce and leave the church under a cloud while the “saintly” spouse remains, or they must suffer silently, never able to share the heartache they live with daily.
If we are to see our families in the kingdom, we must dedicate equal resources of wealth, time and energy to our families. We cannot neglect them. I do not want to stand before God one day with the people I have brought to Jesus and have Him ask me, “But where is your child? Where is your spouse? Where is your mother and father?”