Family values; the Levites, you, and your pastor...

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Who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; And he did not acknowledge his brothers, Nor did he regard his own sons... (Deuteronomy 33:9)

Probably the most scandalous parts of Scripture to those of us committed to the reform of marriage and family life are the places God warns us that we must put Him first, above our families. It's that "above our families" part that gets us, but this is what our God Whose Name is Jealous requires and He commends those who obey Him in it. The text above shows the blessing given to the Levites by Moses at the end of his life. He blessed them because in obedience to God's Word they slew their own brothers and sons (Exodus 32:25-29).

John Bunyan highlights the constancy of this choice between loved ones and God at the beginning his Pilgrim's Progress when he describes Christian running from the voices of his family who were crying after him to stop, turn around, and come back home. Covering his ears with his hands...

Christian keeps running toward Jesus crying "Life! Life! Eternal Life!"

Those who love the Word of God make special note of this theme across the Scriptures. Jesus warns us that our love for our Heavenly Father must never take second place to our love for family members. He commands those who follow Him to hate our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters—and yes, our husband or wife. Jesus does this Himself: remember how He relegates His Own mother and brothers to a position below those precious ones who do the will of His Heavenly Father? Remember also His zeal for His Father's House? Remember His cleansings of the Temple—actions that surely brought his loved ones, disciples, and friends no end of grief from other Jews. But His disciples understood his actions to be zeal for His (Heavenly) Father's House. Too, when Jesus' family left Jerusalem to travel home, He stayed behind in Jerusalem discussing the sacred Scriptures with the rabbis in the Temple. His father and mother came back to get him and were irritated by the way He had inconvenienced them, but Jesus responded, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house" (Luke 2:49).

In the middle of the holiday season, surrounded by loved ones, we should remember this and be glad. Yes, we have fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and some of us a husband or wife; yet we must keep in mind that in Christ we become the adopted sons of God and we gain a Father, an Elder Brother, and more brothers and sisters than the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky. By the work of the Holy Spirit completing our adoption by our Heavenly Father, we gain a family that will never be disbanded, never expire. Our flesh and blood families are only temporary. The family of God, though, is perpetual because the Heavenly Father and Elder Brother we share are from eternity past to eternity to come.

This is a comfort to those whose Christmas holidays were difficult because of the disobedience and unbelief of their loves ones. Always remember that your unbelieving loved ones' feet are on slippery places and they will fall under the judgment of the Holy God. It is imperative that you choose God over your family members regardless of how close you are to them and how much you love them. Jesus Himself has warned us...

of the danger of choosing our earthly family over our Heavenly Father. We must heed His warning:

Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:51-53)

Jesus is not exaggerating, here. He loves His sheep and from love He warns us of the dangers He knows will try our souls.

And although the temptation is constant, we must not judge God according to His work in our loved ones' lives. His decrees are His—not ours. His ways are high above our ways, His thoughts far removed from our thoughts. He does not conform Himself to our earth-bound priorities. He is God! We are not.

If we demand He save our wife, son, or father and then sit back and judge His responsiveness to our demands, we do not worship the True God, but an idol of our own making who exists to please us and confirm our petty notions of fairness. There are so many ways to replace God with man. Family values and love is one of the most pervasive ones within the conservative Reformed church. But God is not the God of family values. He is the God Whose Family trumps ours. He is the God Whose Fatherhood Alone establishes fatherhood and sonship upon this earth. He is the Father (pater) from Whom all Fatherhood (patria) on Heaven and Earth gets its name (Ephesians 3:14, 15).

Again we read the blessing Moses gave the sons of Levi at the end of his life:

Of Levi he said, “Let Your Thummim and Your Urim belong to Your godly man, Whom You proved at Massah, With whom You contended at the waters of Meribah; Who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; And he did not acknowledge his brothers, Nor did he regard his own sons, For they observed Your word, And kept Your covenant. They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, And Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You, And whole burnt offerings on Your altar. O LORD, bless his substance, And accept the work of his hands; Shatter the loins of those who rise up against him, And those who hate him, so that they will not rise again." (Deuteronomy 33:8-11) 

Here are the comments on this blessing by Puritan pastor Matthew Henry:

[Moses] commends the zeal of this tribe for God when they sided with Moses (and so with God) against the worshippers of the golden calf (Ex 32:26 &c)., and, being employed in cutting off the ring-leaders in that wickedness, they did it impartially: the best friends they had in the world, though as dear to them as their next relations, they did not spare if they were idolaters. Note, Our regard to God and to his glory ought always to prevail above our regard to any creature whatsoever. And those who not only keep themselves pure from the common iniquities of the times and places in which they live, but, as they are capable, bear testimony against them, and stand up for God against the evil-doers, shall have special marks of honour put upon them. Perhaps Moses may have an eye to the sons of Korah, who refused to join with their father in his gain-saying, Nu 26:11. Also to Phinebas, who executed judgment, and stayed the plague.

Henry adds this helpful word for pastors, elders, and deacons:

And indeed the office of the priests and Levites, which engaged their constant attendance, at least in their turns, at God's altar, laid them under a necessity of being frequently absent from their families, which they could not take such care of, nor make such provision for, as other Israelites might. This was the constant self-denial they submitted to, that they might observe God's word, and keep the covenant of priesthood. Note, Those that are called to minister in holy things must sit loose to the relations and interests that are dearest to them in this world, and prefer the gratifying of the best friend they have, Ac 21:13 20:24. Our Lord Jesus knew not his mother and his brethren when they would have taken him off from his work, Mt 12:48.

Take heed, brothers and sisters, that we not allow our love for family to turn us away from our service to the Bride of Christ. Pastors are often facile in our explanations of the pecking order of our life: we say, "God first, then family, then church, then everything else." But this is not God's way. This is not the order of His priorities. Yes, He comes first, but after Him it is no easy order and it certainly does not promote our families over His Bride. Yes, as Dad warned me in his ordination charge, "Don't sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry." True and wise, but to say this is not to say the blood family trumps the Family of God.

Contrary to the common proverb "blood is thicker than water" meaning we owe our clan greater loyalty than we owe our neighbors, the opposite is true. For Christians, water is thicker than blood. The waters of Baptism trump the blood of family and clan. Thus, for the believer, water is thicker than blood.

And moving from pastors, elders, and deacons to members of the congregation, if you choose to leave a church because you are ashamed that your homeschooling children are exposing your sins to the church as they become adults and are admonished by the elders, it's plain to everyone that the honor of your fatherhood or motherhood takes precedence over the honor of God's Fatherhood. That your reputation is more important to you than His.

Your family is temporal but His is eternal. Your family's bond is your blood while His family's bond is the precious blood of His Own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!