A commonly overlooked fact of scripture is that most of what Jesus said about the influence of biological family members in a young person’s life once they reach the age of independence was not positive. Here are some examples:  


“And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’  But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:59-62)


For I came 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 man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:35-37, repeated in Luke 12:53)


You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends…” (Luke 21:16)


Jesus spoke these words primarily to people who came from devout Israelite families who believed in the true God and His written word. If these statements applied to Israelites in Jesus’ day, they can also apply to Christians today.


For some Christians, family opposition is the greatest obstacle they will ever face to obeying God’s call on their lives. We are born craving acceptance from our parents. They represent God to us. Our understanding of right and wrong is formed by their approval or disapproval. This tremendous influence does not suddenly disappear when we reach adulthood. Therefore, obeying God when it goes against our parents’ wishes can feel like rebellion or sin.


Christians who grew up in Muslim, Buddhist, or Jewish families and then converted understand the price of following Christ. Many are completely rejected as outcasts. Some are even threatened with death. Christians today should understand it is possible to experience similar, if less extreme, shunning for following Christ even if they were raised in Christian homes. We live in a lukewarm generation. It is possible for Christian parents (or pastors and other long-term influencers) to be threatened or offended when their young adult children pursue a calling that is different than what they envisioned.


One older couple at my church took a vehement stand against their son and daughter-in-law becoming missionaries in a dangerous part of the world for fear of their safety. They wouldn’t even consider that it could be God’s hand leading them. The pastor finally counseled them that they had no right to hold their children back from God’s will, if this was it, because they didn’t belong to them – they belonged to Him. Similarly, the leader of a marriage-and-family ministry said the number one obstacle young people face when becoming a part of their ministry is opposition from their Christian parents. The parents don’t like the stigma and uncertainty associated with having to raise support as missionaries.


Another source of opposition is that some Christians are very dogmatic in their devotion to a particular set of doctrines or a denomination. Therefore, they treat going to another church/denomination or embracing different doctrines (other than the non-negotiable doctrines of the faith) almost as if they had converted to another religion.


I read the testimony of one man who grew up in a church with very formal, ritualistic services. As a result, Christ never seemed personal or approachable to him. In his teenage years, a friend invited him to a church with a friendlier atmosphere, genuine heart-felt worship, and practical in-depth teaching about living in relationship with God. Without criticizing, he switched churches and began to pursue God passionately. However, this offended his pastor and parents so much that he was eventually ostracized from his family.


Most Christian parents sincerely want what is best for their children. However, Christian parents’ counsel is sometimes more a reflection of their own values than God’s kingdom. They may be more concerned with their children’s financial security, social status, geographic proximity, physical safety, or normal family life than whether they truly serve God with all their hearts.


No Debt Other Than Honor

Children owe their parents honor, but they don’t owe them a life lived the way their parents envisioned. Nor do they owe them repayment for all the sacrifices they made. Parents sacrificing for their children is not an option; it is a command and a responsibility. It is their duty before God.


There is a scene from a classic movie, Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, that illustrates this well. In a heated exchange, the father reminds the son of all the sacrifices he made for him. However, the son does not accept this as grounds that he must choose the life his father wants for him:


Father: You know how far I carried that [mail] bag in 30 years? 75,000 miles! And mowing lawns in the dark so you wouldn’t have to be stoking furnaces and could bear down on the books. There were things your mother should have had that she insisted go for you. And I don’t mean fancy things. I mean a decent coat. A lousy coat! And you’re gonna tell me that means nothing to you and you could break your mother’s heart?


Son: Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing. If you carried that bag a million miles you did what you were supposed to do because you brought me into this world and from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me, like I will owe my son if I ever have another. But you don’t own me. You can’t… try to get me to live my life according to your rules… You’re my father. I’m your son. I love you. I always have and I always will.


Godly Counsel

Sometimes, giving godly counsel requires more than biblical knowledge or life experience. Sometimes it requires having the Lord’s perspective of the specific situation, which may be contrary to human reasoning since the Lord sometimes asks us to trust Him by faith, not fully understanding His reasons or how everything will work out (ex. Proverbs 3:5). When this is the case, some parents may actually be the least qualified to give godly counsel because they have an instinctive, negative response to something that seems dangerous, foolish, or doesn’t fit into accepted family views.


Even in godly families, sometimes God leads adult children into things their parents did not envision for them. Here are two possible reasons God might do this:


1)      First, He wants to set adult children free from needing their parents’ approval.


2)      Second, He wants to help parents relinquish control and influence over their children’s lives unless asked for input.


Relinquishing influence can be a difficult and grief-filled process. I recently heard one pastor say that learning to relate to their adult children was more difficult for him and his wife than the “terrible twos”. Involved parents invest about twenty years continuously guiding the course of their children’s lives. When children become fully independent, there is a death that takes place – the death of one role and the birth of another much less prominent one.


Jesus Modelled This

Jesus did not only speak about the possible need for young adults to go against the urgings of their parents and family members – He modeled it. In Mark 3:20-35, Jesus came to his hometown to minister. Because His message and ministry were so different from what His mother and brothers expected, they thought He literally had lost His senses. They tried to take Him into custody, but Jesus wouldn’t allow them to have access to Him. When others told Him they wanted to see Him, He replied: “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Then, looking around at His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”


This must have been a deeply painful moment for Jesus. Imagine the bond between Jesus and Mary. Mary was a godly woman who only wanted the best for Him. Jesus knew this. He was likely very close with His siblings as well. Since He was the oldest, He probably felt protective and responsible for them. Even so, Jesus knew there could be no competing loyalties contending with His devotion to obey the Father. He also knew the best thing for Mary and His brothers in the long term was to fulfill His calling, even though it meant severing ties with them in the short term.


Mary was even explicitly warned that she would be tempted to take offense at Jesus and oppose Him. In Luke 2:34-35, just after Jesus was born, Simeon prophesied to her, saying:


Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”


Notice how Simeon abruptly turned the attention to Mary’s soul after saying Jesus was going to be opposed. Some have interpreted Mary’s soul being pierced as referring to the pain she felt when Jesus was crucified. But the context is clearly about the spiritual condition of people’s hearts being exposed by Jesus’ ministry, as Mary’s was when she took offense and opposed Him.


In addition to Mary and His brothers thinking He had lost His senses in Mark 3, His brothers mocked Him for thinking He was doing special works from God (John 7:3-5), and His entire hometown took offense at Him (Matthew 13:54-58, Mark 6:1-6).


There are seasons when we may need to shift our paradigm for family. Those who encourage us to fulfill God’s call on our lives are like family members for that season. Jesus recognized that God had placed the disciples in His life during that season so that they could be like family to Him. This is why He said of His disciples, “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” This is also why He was able to say to them near the end of His life, “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials.” (Luke 22:28)


Opposition from Spiritual Parents

Opposition can come from spiritual parents, as well as biological parents. One example from the gospels stands out. When some of the spiritual sons of the Pharisees began to follow Jesus, He said to them in Luke 11:19:


And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges.”


The Pharisees ended up accusing the very ones they once taught and shepherded.


There are examples of this in church history as well. For example, under Martin Luther’s leadership, millions of reformists lost their lives or were imprisoned by Roman Catholics for embracing fundamental biblical truths such as individual salvation by grace, not by works, and the right of every Christian to read the Bible in his own language. However, not long after this, the Lutherans turned around and treated Anabaptists the same way. Martin Luther publicly supported imprisonment and execution of Anabaptists because, among other doctrinal disagreements, they denied the validity of infant baptism.


Similarly, Anglicans were persecuted by Catholics receiving some reformation truths, but then turned around and persecuted Methodists and Baptists for inviting personal responses to the gospel and for preaching without a license from the state. Later, Pentecostals came under persecution from previously established denominations for teaching the modern-day operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.



Ridicule by friends, family members, and other believers is one of the enemy’s most reliable weapons for deterring people from following the Lord’s call. In fact, it is present in the lives of many of the men God used in scripture, including many who were born into believing families. Here are some examples:

·         Cain killed Abel because he was jealous of Abel’s intimacy with the Lord. (Genesis 4)


·         Joseph’s parents and brothers took offense at the dreams the Lord gave him about his destiny and his brothers sold him into slavery because of jealousy. (Genesis 37)


·         Jacob’s father-in-law for years tried to delay and distract him from taking his inheritance in the Promise Land. (Genesis 29-31)


·         Gideon’s family members almost killed him for tearing down his father’s idols. (Judges 6:35-31)


·         David’s oldest brother falsely accused him of wickedness just before the moment when God would exalt him before the eyes of the whole nation. (1 Samuel 17:28)


·         David’s mother and father forsook him. (Psalms 27:10)


·         Solomon’s brother Adonijah tried to steal the throne from him just before he was crowned. (1 Kings 1)


·         Jeremiah’s brothers and father dealt treacherously with him when he prophesied of Israel’s coming judgment. (Jeremiah 12:6)


·         Mary Magdalene was criticized by other believers for prioritizing time with Christ over domestic expectations (Luke 10), for an extravagant act of worship (John 12, Mark 14, and Matthew 26), and for truthfully testifying of Christ’s resurrection (Mark 16:11, Luke 24:11).


Each of these saints was great in the sight of God. The ridicule they endured is recorded, in part, so that we will be prepared for the possibility that we too may be ridiculed by friends or family members for following the Lord.


On the other hand, Samuel, Moses, Joshua, and John the Baptist were also great in God’s sight and, as far as we know, had very supportive families. If we have families that are supportive of us living fully surrendered to Christ, whatever the cost, we can be truly thankful. If not, don’t be deterred. Graciously accept their disapproval and continue following the Lord. It is possible to honor our parents even when we do not follow their counsel. In fact, Jesus began His ministry by honoring His mother and His brothers. He performed His first miracle in response to Mary’s entreaty (John 2:5) and kept her and His brothers present right alongside His disciples at the beginning of His ministry in the days the followed (John 2:12).


If we need to reject our parents’ counsel, we can do it humbly. We could say something like:


“Honestly, you may be right and I may be wrong about this. But after seeking the Lord and hearing input from godly people I trust, I still have this conviction. If it’s wrong, at least my conscience is clean before God. He can cover me and redeem this decision if it is a misstep. Please just continue to pray for me. Thank you for caring so much about my future.”


Marriage teaches us to Leave Our Parents

Here is a final thought. In Matthew 19:4-5, Jesus said:


“He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife…”


In a way, marriage teaches us how to follow Christ because both involve laying down every relationship that hinders devotion to this relationship. Many young adults, at one time or another, experience pressure to choose their parent’s or in-law’s wishes over their spouse’s. Therefore, marriage teaches us to graciously accept that sometimes family members will not like or agree with our decisions and that is okay. It teaches us to leave father and mother and become whole-heartedly devoted to another.



Moses is known for many positive things, but the Bible also unapologetically records his failures as a husband and father. We’ll examine these mistakes in the next chapter.