By David Faust
Most parents would say the same thing about their children. We intuitively recognize the incalculable value of our children. We want our families to be happy, healthy, and unified.
That’s why it’s startling to read Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 10: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (vv. 34-36).
On the surface these verses appear to suggest something completely out of character for Jesus. He was an obedient and respectful son (Luke 2:51) who grew up with at least six brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3). At the cross he showed special kindness to his mother (John 19:25-27). Why does Jesus predict that following him might turn family members into enemies? Is he the Prince of Peace or a sword-bearer? A healer of broken households or a home-wrecker?
“I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” is a form of expression known as the “limited negative.” It means, “I came not only to bring peace, but also something else: a sword.” Elsewhere Jesus emphasizes comfort and peace (John 14:25-27), but here the sword is a grim but honest way to highlight the hardships we face when we follow Christ.
The Lord brings peace by overcoming evil with good, but in that struggle, good often suffers.
R. C. Foster wrote, “Jesus was enduring suffering and death. He predicted that those who followed him must expect the same. . . . Christ must rank first no matter how difficult human relations may become.”
If all of your family members are walking with the Lord, be thankful; but pray for the Christians whose households are divided. Over the centuries many believers have had to break with their own families and endure ridicule and persecution in order to be faithful to Christ.
The Theology of the Cross
Jesus continues, “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” (Matthew 10:37). This doesn’t mean we love our families any less; it means we love him even more. If we put the Lord first, he will deepen our love for our families and lead us to become better husbands, wives, parents, sons, and daughters, but Christ himself must be our highest priority.
The paradoxical theology of the cross permeates Jesus’ teaching. We must die in order to live, serve in order to succeed, sacrifice in order to prosper, let go in order to receive, surrender in order to triumph, be last in order to be first. Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (vv. 38, 39).
It’s counter-cultural but true, and it applies to families as well as to individuals: Be selfish and lose; deny yourself and win.
1. Is your family united, or divided, over matters of faith?
2. How can you demonstrate the theology of the cross in your home this week?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for February 3, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.