Fleshly Relatives: Delight or Dilemma?

By P.J. Casebolt

Both the Bible and society recognize the advantages, privileges, and responsibilities of fleshly relationships. These relationships can be the cause of much delight, or they can put us in a dilemma from which we cannot, or will not, extricate ourselves.

“But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8). Husbands, wives, parents, and children enjoy a relationship that is as old as the human race, and a source of delight which cannot be duplicated by any other means. By virtue of this relation- ship, we even obtain an extended family which comes under the heading of “in-laws.” While these in-laws can also provide their share of dilemmas, we automatically extend and receive blessings which can be realized in no other way.

By virtue of inheriting privileges which belong to fleshly relatives, we also inherit responsibilities which are primarily ours. It may have been that because of this relationship, Barnabas entertained a responsibility to (John) Mark which the apostle Paul did not have (Acts 15:37-39; Col. 4:10). It is sometimes easier to say what we would do concerning someone else’s relatives than what we would do if they were of our own household.

When we are faced with a dilemma that arises because of a fleshly relationship, we may have to look to our spiritual relationship with the Lord in order to resolve such a dilemma. Under the law of Moses, when a relative put you in a position where you were tempted to deny the Lord, you had the unpleasant but plain responsibility to side with the Lord (Deut. 13:6-11). And other households in Israel were to “hear and fear” and allow “no more any such wickedness . . . among you” (v. 11).

In my own personal experience, I am noticing a trend which seems to be developing into a pattern of alarming proportions. An isolated case may not imply a trend, but when several such instances arise in different congregations within a short period of time, it is time for alarm. And the Lord is concerned over even one instance when it concerns the welfare of his children (Luke 15:4-10).

Digression among the Lord’s people has always alienated not only brethren, but also fleshly relatives. It was so among the Israelites, it was so in the first and 19th centuries, and it has been so in the 20th century. But as a rule, families were divided because of their personal convictions with respect to those issues which divided brethren and churches. Now, I see families being united, but united in doctrinal error due to fleshly relationships. Some can discern truth from error, and in the past have taken their stand for truth, but now they are taking a position which is influenced by their fleshly relatives and not by truth.

In the majority of these cases, I am noticing that it is the children who are having an adverse effect upon their parents, instead of the other way around. Traditionally, whether by human tradition (Matt. 15:3), or by divine tradition (Deut. 6:7), the parents and grandparents have exercised influence upon children and grandchildren, not vice versa.

I can sympathize with relatives who face the dilemma of seeing other relatives identified with false doctrine and practice, and who are forced to decide between their loyalty to the Lord and loyalty to fleshly relationships. And any relative who puts another relative in the position of having to deny the Lord in order to please man is not a relative who loves either his Lord or his own relatives as he should. Paul said that charity “seeketh not her own . . . but rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:5, 6). If we claim to love God, then we prove that love by keeping his commandments (John 14:15, 23). If we love our fleshly relatives, our brethren, or our neighbors, we will do what is best for their souls, not that which is convenient or popular.

Are we the only ones who ever faced the dilemma of having to decide between our love for the Lord and our love for relatives? Certainly not, and neither should we think that the Lord will make an exception in our case.

David’s own son, Absalom, “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” and usurped his father’s throne (2 Sam. 15:6ff). David mourned for Absalom to the extent that Joab had to rebuke the king because he was showing more concern for his son than he was for those who had remained faithful to David (2 Sam. 19). When our relatives put us in such a dilemma, the best way out is to side with the Lord and those who are on the Lord’s side (Exod. 32:26-29).

The apostle Paul loved his kinsmen in the flesh so much that he would have sacrificed himself on their behalf (Rom. 9:1-3;10:1-3), but he gave up his fleshly relationship with all (Phil. 3:7, 8) of its benefits in order to win Christ (Gal. 2:10-14). And Jesus himself taught that if we deny him in favor of any fleshly relative, that he will deny us before the Father (Matt. 10:32-39). In any such dilemma, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Not only can I sympathize with those who face a difficult decision with respect to fleshly relatives, but at least in this one area, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17), figuratively speaking. So, allow me to offer some advice which may help others to resolve their dilemma.

“Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1, 2). Paul referred to both Timothy and Titus as his sons “in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4).

I come from a large family, and it is a wonderful thing to see peace, unity, and love in either a fleshly family or in the Lord’s family (Ps. 133:1). And when possible, our spiritual relationship in Christ enhances even a delightful fleshly relationship. But if we have never known, or must forego the delights of a fleshly relationship, we can have multiplied numbers of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in the family of God in this life and eternally in that life which is to come. But the rich man did not want his own fleshly brethren to follow him into torment (Luke 16:28), and fleshly relationships will not hinder our status in the resurrection (Matt. 22:30).