Note: this is a message I preached at Hope Community Church in Harare, Zimbabwe. I was there as part of a Short Term Missions team and was privileged to have an opportunity to speak while there. There is no audio for this message.
Today I’m going to talk about the most important thing there needs to be in families. It is truly a privilege for me to be able to share God’s Word with you this morning. It is incredible that I can be at home worshipping with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is what we are! Through the incredible grace and mercy of God our Father we have been adopted into His family and are His children. What good news for the fatherless, the widows, the orphans and those whose earthly families have disowned or abandoned them. What good news for all people in this world who have the opportunity to know our Father in Heaven.
I am told that Hope Community Church has a theme this year of “Taking things to the Next Level” and the particular theme for this month is families. Talking about families can really be taken in so many different directions. In fact, to belong to a family can mean so many different things in different contexts:
Family of Man
To belong to the family of man is to belong to the human race. Every single one of us has a lineage that traces back to Adam and Eve at the very beginning of creation.
Family of Tribe
Genesis 11 records the story of the Tower of Babel and the progress of this family of man to the point where they thought that anything was possible if they put their minds to it. Indeed the author of Genesis records that,
Genesis 11:6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
Then scripture records that God ended up scattering mankind over all the earth according to the different languages they spoke (as a result of their destructive attempts to build a tower reaching to heaven). This “scattering” resulted in numerous tribal families that still exist all over the world today. Some of these tribal families have formed nations and then there are still nations within which there are more than one tribe.
Family of “Blood”
Another context of family is the one that that every single one of us is born into. That is the family of parents and children and our extended family – uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, grandparents, grandchildren etc. It is often characterized by the phrase “blood – related”.
Family of “God”
Finally, there is another context in which family is referred to in scripture and that is the Family of God. The Israelite nation is the first to receive this distinctive description and they were not only a tribal family but God himself referred to them as being a part of His family. The twelve tribes of Israel descend from the twelve sons of Jacob. God Himself was often referred to in the Old Testament as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Later on in the New Testament there is the broadening of God’s family to include all those who are “adopted” into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. In Christ, we become children of God.
Matthew 12:46-50 (NIV)
46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.
47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”
49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.
50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
In this context then, the church is considered to be family – which is why of course we refer to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (Will you turn to your neighbor this morning and say good morning my brother, or good morning my sister!)
Scripture has so much to say about families and I could spend a great number of messages just diving into this subject yet I do not doubt that God will fail to teach you much from His word through the leaders he has blessed you with here at Hope Community Church.
Today, however, I feel led to share a message to you concerning families that comes from one verse found in the gospel according to Luke. It is actually a verse I initially did not want to trouble with because of the fact that it is a troubling verse. Every once and a while I come across something that Jesus has said or God has seen fit to include in His word and I wish that it wasn’t there. At first glance, it appears to throw everything I think I’ve got figured out into disarray. Yet, if I truly believe that scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness (as the apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy) then I must not ignore these troubling passages I come across. Instead I must take the time to ask God what He is saying and why He said it!
Friends, I want to share an important lesson I’ve learned about reading God’s Word. When you take the time to prayerfully understand the troubling verses in the Bible it is therein that you often find the most beneficial treasures and insights that reveal a pathway to the next level in your relationship with God and your growth as a believer! And so today, I want to share with you from Luke 14:26,
26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26 (NIV)
Do you see why this verse is troubling? When I think about my family, I think about how much I love them, how much I care for them, how much I want what is best for them. When I think about what we need to know about our families, the first thing that comes to my mind is that we must love them. Yet, here Jesus speaks something that at first seems to throw all that out the door. He uses the word hate – and specifically says – if anyone comes to Him and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – even his own life – he cannot be Jesus’ disciple. Now why on earth would Jesus say that?
It’s interesting to note that Jesus uses the word hate relatively few times when He spoke to the people He encountered. Hate is a rather nasty word. It is often given the definition of being the opposite of love. But really, hate is also a way of describing a preference for something over another. Hate is not the opposite of love but instead is the absence of love. The less you love something the more you hate it. This is a key to understanding Jesus’ use of this word here.
Another key to understanding this word is to look at the context in which it was used. When you read the surrounding verses of this passage you’ll discover that Jesus was speaking to a crowd that was following Him. There were many people who followed Jesus in that day. There were some in the crowd who were curious about this man who claimed to be the Son of God. There were some who did not know what was going on but just wanted be with the crowd. There were some who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and were looking for more entertainment. There were some who followed Jesus’ because they enjoyed His teaching and wanted to hear more. Then there were those who followed Jesus around because someone had dragged them along. But there were also those who followed Jesus because they loved Him and wanted to be with Him as much as possible. There were many in the crowd that day. But Jesus was speaking these words to challenge them to the next level! In essence, He is saying, “I see that you are following, but if you want to be my disciple love everything else less and love God more. Indeed Jesus communicates the same thought in Matthew 10:37-38,
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37-38 NIV)
Jesus is imparting this important knowledge, that if anyone is to go to the next level in their relationship with Christ and in His effective work through them then there must be a shift in primary loyalty and love to Him. You must love God more, and everything else less. This is the path to the next level in your families. Jesus spoke to the crowd that day and He was giving them a clear choice – you can remain just a part of the crowd following me around. But if you truly wish to go to the next level then you must love me more. More than your family, more than anything else, even more than your own life.
How does one love God more?
When the word love is used. It is often interpreted by the listener as the description of an emotion. Something that is the opposite of hate. But really, love is so much more than simply an emotion. There are times where love is a choice of one thing over another. Let’s be honest now. There are times when husbands and wives don’t like each other very much. We say or do something, or forget to do something that leads our spouse to being upset and perhaps a little angry and in those times they don’t like you very much. However, that does not necessarily mean, in those times, that the husbands and wives don’t love each other. Because you see, love is more than just an emotion – it is more than simply a feeling. Love is a choice. It is saying, I prefer you over and above any other – I love you.
If this is so. How does one love God more? The feeling of love is something that we don’t choose – it chooses us. But the actions and the commitment of love is something we do choose. It is with this understanding that it possible to love God more. When we say we love God more it means that we love something else less. It means that God is the priority in our lives.
To help us understand what it means to love God more there is a beautiful story in the Old Testament involving a man named Abraham and his son Isaac. I say it is a beautiful story but it certainly doesn’t begin that way.
Abraham was old when Isaac was born, old enough to have been his grandfather, and the child became at once the delight and idol of his heart. No doubt, from the moment he first stooped to take the tiny form of his child awkwardly in his arms, he was an eager love slave of his son. Isaac was no ordinary child, he had been born miraculously to a mother and father way beyond their child-bearing years. He was a boy through whom God assured Abraham the promises He made to him would be fulfilled. He was a child of hope, a child of blessing.
God went out of His way to coment on the strength of this affection Abraham had for his son. As Abraham watched his son grow from babyhood to young manhood, the heart of the old man was knit closer and closer with the life of his son, till at last the relationship bordered on becoming dangerous. Scripture is clear that Abraham loved his family and even more so loved his son. However, at the point of this love becoming dangerous God stepped in to save both father and son from the consequences of a uncleansed love.
God went to Abraham one day and said,
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” — Genesis 22:2 (NIV)
The writer of this sacred text does not give us a close-up of the agony that night on the slopes near Beersheba when the aged man had it out with his God, but respectful imagination may view in awe the bent form wrestling convulsively alone under the stars. Possibly not again until One greater than Abraham wrestled in the Garden of Gethsemane did such mortal pain visit a human soul. What did Abraham think of? What heart conflict battled and raged in the depths of his soul?
Perhaps he might have thought if only he could be allowed to die himself instead. That would have been a thousand times easier, for he was old now, and to die would have been no great ordeal for him who had walked so long with God. Besides, it would have been a last, sweet pleasure to let his failing vision rest upon the figure of his stalwart son who would live to carry on the Abrahamic line and fulfill in himself the promises of God made long before in Ur of the Chaldees.
What about the request God had made? How would Abraham slay the lad? Even if he could gain the consent of Isaac’s troubled and fearful heart, what about the promise God had made Abraham…, “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” (Genesis 21:12, NIV).
Friends, this was Abraham’s trial by fire and he did not fail the test. While the stars still shone like sharp white points above the tent where the sleeping Isaac lay, and long before the gray dawn had begun to lighten the east, the old saint had made up his mind. He would offer his son as God had directed him to do, and then trust God to raise him from the dead. The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:19) tells us that this was the solution Abraham’s troubled heart found sometime in the dark night.
Scripture tells us that Abraham woke up “early in the morning” to carry out the plan. It is incredible to see that, although Abraham was wrong as to God’s method, he had still correctly sensed the secret of His great heart. And the solution accords well with the lesson Jesus was trying to teach those following Him around. “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” You must love God more than anything else in your life, including your own family.
God let this pained old man go through with the journey right up to the point where He knew there would be no retreat. Just as Abraham was about to pierce the heart of His son on the altar of sacrifice with a knife sharpened for the purpose, God forbade him to lay a hand on the boy. To the wondering patriarch He now says in effect, “Its all right, Abraham. I never intended that you should actually slay the lad. I only wanted to remove him from the temple of your heart that I might reign unchallenged there. I wanted to correct the perversion that existed in your love. Now you may have the boy, sound and well. Take him and go back to your tent. Now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Heaven opened and a voice was heard saying to Abraham,
16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,
18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
— Genesis 22:16-18 (NIV)
The old man of God lifted his head to respond to the Voice, and stood there on the mount strong and pure and grand, a man marked out by the Lord for special treatment, a friend and favorite of the Most High. Now he was a man wholly surrendered, a man completely obedient, a man who truly loved God more and possessed nothing. Here’s the key to this story: Abraham had everything, but possessed nothing. He understood more now more than any other time that the real treasures in his life were not external but were inward and eternal. He understood that it was God who possessed Him, He belonged to God and God is the one He loves more. In that place of total surrender He had everything.
This beautiful story of Abraham and Isaac teaches us that we love God more by,
1. Making God a priority in every part of our lives.
Now I have taught before and preached on other occasions in my life about the importance of including God in every part of our lives. Certainly that is valuable, but I’m sure Abraham did include God in His relationship with His son. Where Abraham erred and what God corrected was that even though Abraham included God he began to love Isaac more. God became less of a priority in His relationship with Isaac.
Friends, if your family is going to go to the next level you need to make God a priority in your family and in every part of your lives….
2. Learning about His desires
Because Abraham had a close relationship with God He was in a position to learn the heart of God and what it is God desired Him to do.
i. Read God’s Word
ii. Pray and hear God’s voice
3. Carrying out His wishes.
You love God more when you obey His will.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:46-50 (NIV)
4. Celebrating His victories.
i. Testify about His goodness
ii. Praise Him for His greatness
iii. Pass on His Wisdom.
Friends, in order for anything in your life to go to the next level, in order for your families to go to the next level you must love God more. You must seek after Him with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. You must make Him a priority in every part of your life. You must learn what it is that God desires – Read His Word, Pray and hear His voice. You must carry out His wishes as you learn them. And You must celebrate His victories.
The wonderful benefit of this pursuit is that everything in your life gets carried to the next level. And this includes our families. For our families to experience the blessings and the fullness of God there must be a priority of God being first. When you love God more, your family benefits.
I believe there are people here today who want to go to the next level. I believe there are people here today who want to see their families go to the next level. You want to walk in the blessings of God. You want to your family to be a place of positive heritage. You desire your family to be place of security. You want your family to be a place of love and joy and peace. You want your family to be place of growth not atrophy. If that is you this morning then like Abraham did with His son Isaac you must consecrate your family to God and love God more. You must determine that no one or nothing else will take the place of priority in your heart but God. You must decide today that you will not only say Jesus is the Lord of your life and of your family but you must live the truth that He is Lord – make Him a priority in every part of your lives, Learn about His desires, Carry out His desires, and Celebrate His victories.