We Ought to Provide for Our Families
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” I Timothy 5:8.
God calls us to provide for our relatives, and especially the members of our household. It is so important that Paul says that someone who does not do this is worse than an unbeliever. As Stacey and I are thinking through our situation, we know for sure that it is of high importance that our families are cared for. The priority in this verse is the members of one’s household, though it is extended to all of their relatives. The idea is that if you have members of your family that are in need and are not being cared for, your soul is in danger. We are not taking this reality lightly, as we spend time everyday in prayer for Margie and for wisdom as to how we should respond.
I would like to point out what this passage does not say, though. This passage does not say that one must be in physical contact with their family. This is vital not only for missionaries, that live far away from their families, but also for the large number of believers that do not live in the same town as their families. No one claims that to be a faithful Christian we must see our families every day, or once a week, or at least on holidays. The truth is that “providing for relatives” looks different in every family. And there is a lot of freedom in this passage.
We Ought to Hate Our Families
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:26.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jesus at one point called great crowds to himself in order to remind them to count the cost of following him. Here he says, in the above verse, that if anyone truly wants to be his disciple he must “hate his own father and mother.” I have struggled to understand what Jesus means in this passage. I believe that the language is intentionally strong, and hyperbolic. But I do not think that means that we ignore it, or just explain it away.
Many commentators think that in this passage the issue is comparison. We ought to love God SO MUCH that comparatively our love for our family is so small it does not seem to be love at all. I really love hamburgers. And my love for hamburgers has only increased since coming to the land-of-no-hamburgers. But it would be foolish to compare my love for hamburgers with my love for my wife. You might even wonder if I should use the word “love” for my hamburger relationship. This dynamic should be similar for our love for God. If we were to compare how much we loved God with our love for anyone else, it should seem wrong to even use the same word for the two. If what I have for God can properly be called “love,” hate must be the closest thing for my relationships to others.
While I have no doubt that the comparison interpretation is true, I think that what Jesus is calling believers to is greater than even that. Being a missionary I have been privy to comments that many people do not receive. One such comment has been that becoming a missionary means that I hate my family. “How could you take your grandkids so far away from their grandparents?” “How could you take your kids so far away from Western medical care?” When others, mostly nonbelievers, look at my life, many of them see hatred. I think that this is because, for a large portion of the population, family is the highest value. The idea is that you must be willing to do anything for family. “Blood is thicker than water” and all that.
I kid you not, the look in some people’s faces when I have told them that we are going to raise our children in a village in Africa is quite similar to what I see when people talk about a deadbeat dad. That is because being here in Africa is a choice that we have made that prioritized the salvation of the Bakoum over family. And to many people in the world today, that actually looks like hatred. And these are often people that do not even really understand my love for God. They are not comparing our relationship with our family to anything. They just see that we do not place our family as the highest priority and what they see instead is hatred. I believe that this is a fuller image of what Jesus had in mind in this passage: prioritizing Jesus over family to the point that, to an outsider, it looks like hatred.
What Should We Do?
You can see why there would be conflict in the counsel that we receive: these two passages seem to be contradictory. But at the end of the day, they are not. The Scriptures do call us to care for our families, which is the earnest desire of our hearts. It has been extremely hard to concentrate on language learning because we would much rather be comforting and caring for Mom. We long to do everything we can to help. But the world’s expectations of what this should look like are not the same as ours. We know it is vital (even eternally impacting) to provide for our families, but at times the way this is played out in our lives looks like hatred. This is because of the fact that, while family is of great value to the Christian, it is not the ultimate value. If family was the ultimate value, we would not be here in Cameroon. Ever, let alone when our mom is sick. But we must consider what it means to follow Jesus first, before even our families.
All of that to say, in some situations there is no doubt that missionaries leaving the field to care for sick or aging parents is the right choice. This is when they would not be provided for apart from such an event. For the time being, this is not our mom’s situation. She has an incredibly loving, healthy, and retired husband caring for her (thanks Dan). She is surrounded by the love of her physical brothers and sisters, as well as many Christian brothers and sisters. I cannot tell you what a great comfort that is to us. But it still tears us apart. We talk frequently, and seeing Margie sick and weak is so painful. We long to be with her. And we will be with her soon (furlough starts in March 2017), and even sooner if a need arises. But for now we stay here, working to see the Bakoum people saved. Why? Because we love Mom more than most, but God more than all. And we are so thankful to have a mom who can say to us that she understands.
If you would be interested in writing a card to Margie (or Dan) as they go through this tough time, please email me and I can give you their contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org. Margie loves receiving cards and especially drawings from kids. We have sent some but they take a really long time to get there. This would be an awesome way that you could help us provide for them.