As a Christian, how do I sort out the difference between my obligation to family on the one hand and to the work of the gospel on the other? And what's my responsibility to my extended family as compared with my obligation to my immediate, nuclear family? Is there any distinction between the two? My feeling is that many believers are too quick to try to save the rest of the world when what we really need is to become more effective missionaries at home and to create stronger, godlier extended families. What do you think?
That's an interesting question. Here at Focus on the Family we have always maintained that family is a top priority for anyone who claims to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the years we've witnessed the damage that can be done to spouses and children through over-commitment to church programs and activities. As a result we do not recommend that believers go out and try to "save the world," whether in local ministry or through missionary outreach, at the expense of their own households.
We're aware that evangelicals of past generations often saw things differently. Many of them held the view that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is Job Number One, and that Jesus, in passages such as Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 14:26, teaches that "the church trumps the family system." For our part, we're convinced that this interpretation of Christ's words is both misguided and dangerous. Not that we wish to minimize the importance of gospel outreach and ministry – far from it. But we do believe in maintaining a healthy perspective and keeping first things first.
The apostle Paul seems to have felt the same way. In laying down requirements for those who aspired to positions of leadership in the church, he said that a candidate for the office of overseer should "rule his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)" (1 Timothy 3:4, 5). Later in the same epistle, he made the bold assertion that "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8).
So much for the Christian's obligation to his immediate family. When it comes to the question of extended family – an issue that seems to be weighing heavily on your mind – we can't help feeling that the playing field shifts significantly. That's because, in contemporary culture, the members of our extended families – aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and even grandchildren and grandparents – are rarely members of our own household (to use Paul's term). We generally don't bear the same kind of responsibility toward them as we do toward spouses and children, nor are we committed to them in quite the same way. As a result, we aren't in a position to speak into their lives with the same degree of urgency and authority. We can, of course, serve them, reach out to them, and influence them in many ways – and in some cases, God may lead us to care for an extended relative as our own But there's an important sense in which our footing with them does not differ appreciably from that of a very close friend. This may explain why Jesus Himself was able to accomplish so little among his own extended family in His own home town. As He Himself acknowledged, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house" (Mark 6:4).
If you think it might be helpful to discuss your concerns with a member of our Counseling staff, please feel free to give us a call. They all are trained and licensed in the field of clinical psychology, and you can speak with our counselors for a free consultation.
Building a Strong Family