Matthew 10:34-39

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Matthew 10

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Afshin Ziafat has shared his rather fascinating story with Decision Magazine.

I was born in Houston and grew up in a devout Muslim home. My dad was very involved in the Iranian Muslim community…Growing up, I was taught the five pillars of Islam and told that if I did them to the best of my ability, then maybe I’d get to Heaven.

I spoke Farsi, not English, so God, in His incredible plan, provided a Christian lady who tutored me, teaching me the English language every day by reading books to me. When I was in the second grade, she said, “Afshin, I want to give you the most important book that you’ll ever read in life.” As she handed me a small New Testament, she asked me to promise to hold onto it until I was older…

Every day, I’d read under the covers in my bed with a flashlight so my parents wouldn’t see what I was doing. Meanwhile, at my high school, a Christian student sat across the table from me at lunch and told me about Jesus. I’d debate against him each day, and then at night I’d go home to read more about Jesus.

One day, I got to the Book of Romans, and the third chapter completely changed my life. I read about a righteousness that comes apart from what I do for God. This righteousness comes as a gift to be received by faith. I was struck by Romans 3:22, which says that this righteousness comes to all who believe. I thought I was born a Muslim and would always be a Muslim, but that verse said that this righteousness was for anyone who believes, of any ethnicity. A couple weeks later, a guy invited me to an evangelistic crusade, where I heard the Gospel proclaimed and came to faith in Christ…

I decided to hide my newfound faith. I would sneak out to church, intercept mail from the church I was attending and keep my Bible hidden.

But my dad found out. He’d seen my Bible, and he’d also seen other evidences in my life. He sat me down and said, “Son, what’s going on? There’s something different about you.”

I said, “Dad, I’m a Christian.”

“Afshin,” he said, “if you’re going to be a Christian, then you can no longer be my son.”

Everything in my flesh wanted to say, “Forget it. I’ll be a Muslim.” I didn’t want to lose the relationship with my dad. So even I was surprised when I said, “Dad, if I have to choose between you and Jesus, then I choose Jesus. If I have to choose between my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, then I choose my Heavenly Father.” My father disowned me on the spot.[1]

Ziafat would go on to become a pastor and, by God’s grace, he now has a relationship with his father, though his father has yet to come to faith in Christ. But the story raises a question that is, as we have seen, a most literal question for many people in the world today: if following Christ meant losing the peace of your home and family life or even losing your home or family itself, would you still follow Him? Would you follow Him if it cost you everything and everyone? Jesus speaks to this difficult question in Matthew 10.

The peace that Christ offers is universal in scope but particular in application.

Jesus begins by making a statement that seems most curious.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

What makes this statement curious is that it seems to conflict with the pronouncement of the angels found in Luke 2:14. Probably most of us are most familiar with the King James Version’s rendering of this verse:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

However, what Jesus says in Matthew 10:34 certainly qualifies that KJV’s universal tone in its rendering of that verse. What is more, the way other translations (more accurately) render that verse show that even the angelic pronouncement was qualified. Consider:

New International Version
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

New Living Translation
“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

English Standard Version
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Berean Study Bible
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!”

Berean Literal Bible
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!”

New American Standard Bible
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

New King James Version
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

These other translations suggest what Jesus makes explicit in our text: in reality, the coming of Jesus will mean peace and conflict for many.

There is a sense in which Jesus brings both universal peace and universal conflict. That is, peace is offered to the entire world, though much of the world rejects this offered peace. What is more, conflict comes even to the redeemed people of God in the world, as our passage will make very clear. So, in this sense, the lost are conflicted in and among themselves and the redeemed are frequently in conflict with the lost who resent them following Jesus. This would be a kind of universal conflict.

In another sense, though, it would be most accurate to say that the peace that Christ offers is universal in scope but particular in application. It is universal in scope in that Christ is offered to the world. It is particular in application, however, in that the peace of Christ is only received by those who place their faith in Him. There is a general sense in which the revolution that the gospel has brought about in the world has offered peace to the world through the creation of benevolence and educational and healthcare structures that have seasoned all of humanity. But even these are not exhaustive in their reach and are prone to the caprices of human failure. The true and lasting peace of Christ—the peace that sees us through these dark days and that will be with us as we step into eternity—is experienced in a true and abiding sense only by those who are Christ’s.

In John 16, Jesus speaks of the peace that his people have even in the midst of tribulation.

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

In Ephesians 6:15, Paul speaks of “the gospel of peace.” This, again, would be applicable specifically to those who receive the gospel. Yet the reception of the gospel is a potential peace for the whole world, were it to come to Christ!

Even so, as for the world at large goes, the jarring words of Jesus have been proven true time and time again:

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

The peace that Christ brings is eternal even if the conflict that can result is excruciating.

This lack of peace can be excruciating and painful for the believer for it can threaten our closest human relationships. Listen:

35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

There are two components to this. First, Jesus says that houses will be divided on account of Him. Craig Blomberg writes that the NIV’s rendering of verse 25 “Turn…against” (i.e., “I have come to turn a man against his father…”) “is a bit mild for a verb (dichazo) that refers to incitement to revolt and rejection of authority (i.e., to sow discord).”[2] This would apply to the ESV rendering as well (i.e., “set…against”). The fissure that will happen in families because of Jesus is no small things. Such fissures and breaks can be cataclysmic and brutal.

I have seen this. I have seen families set at odds over the gospel. You likely have as well. And, most importantly, Jesus saw a measure of this in His own family! Consider the picture we find in Mark 3.

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

Jesus’ family thought He had lost His mind and came “to seize him.” They thought He had gone crazy! In John 7 we read:

For not even his brothers believed in him.

So when Jesus speaks of family being at odds because of Him He was speaking not only prophetically but experientially. He knew what these words mean.

The second component of this section is a hard word.

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

What Jesus is talking about here is the ordering of our affections. Any earthly love, exalted above Jesus, becomes an idol. Again, this is a hard word, a difficult word, and one that makes us pause, or should. We should consider our own faith in light of such a saying. Do we love Jesus more than anything else?

In another sense, verse 37 explains verse 35. That is, the reason why family members will be at odds with one another over Jesus is because Jesus demands our full and complete devotion! Jesus is a threat not only to family peace but to family assumptions, namely the assumption that there is nothing of greater value than the earthly family. Jesus threatens that assumption by showing us that, in fact, there is something greater and that, in fact, even love for family needs to be reshaped by the love of God demonstrated on the cross of Christ.

We might paraphrase this saying like this: we love one another best when we love one another second to Jesus. To exalt any human love above love for Christ is to say that that particular human love does not need to be Christ-shaped. The call to love Jesus preeminently is therefore a call to bring all other loves under His Lordship and care. He is not asking us to be indifferent to our families. He is asking us to realize that our father or mother or brother or sister or son or daughter cannot be the Lord of life and that if we attempt to make them so we truly will not love them as we ought.

Craig Blomberg has offered a helpful insight on this that we should not miss.

Theological syntheses must balance Eph 6:1-4 [Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.] and 1 Tim 5:8 [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.] with teachings like these. Devotion to family is a cardinal Christian duty but must never become absolute to the extent that devotion to God is compromised.[3]

In other words, we must hold such a saying alongside the clear biblical mandate to love and honor and care for our families. The call of Jesus is therefore not a call to abandon our families. It is actually a call to love them with a cross-shaped love that refuses to lift them above love of God or the mission to which we are called. And it is this that brings the conflict that Jesus speaks of in our passage. It is this reality that is misconstrued by family members who have not come to Christ in repentance and faith as indifference or rejection. But it is not indifference or rejection. Rather, it is the love of God that unsettles and wounds even as it makes whole and heals.

What we lose for Christ cannot compare to what we gain in Christ.

The passage ends with another difficult word, but a word of hope.

38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

To follow Jesus is to carry the cross. This too will offend those who are outside of Christ, yet it is the way of Christ even still. But the way of the cross is a paradox: it looks like death, but it is really life. If you try to cling to your life (i.e., “finds his life”) on your own terms and live it by your own designs, you will ultimately lose it. Reject the perfect love of Christ in favor of earthly loves and you will miss the greatest love of all. But if you will lay your life down at the cross and take hold of Christ, you will find that what you have gained is so much greater than what you have lost!

What we lose for Christ cannot compare to what we gain in Christ.

And this is true even of family. It is a telling fact that many who have lost their earthly families as a result of placing their faith in Christ have found in the church a true family. The church becomes our family in a higher and truer sense. This helps us understand the remarkable scene we find in Mark 3 in yet another instance in which Jesus’ earthly family seems to be wanting to hold a kind of intervention with Him.

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

What an astonishing thing to say! Jesus here redefines the family as “whoever does the will of God.” In other words, the people of God are a family whether our earthly families take the path of the cross or not.

It is true: what we lose for Christ cannot compare to what we gain in Christ, even if what we lose is our family!

We must, then, be honest with ourselves. How are our affections ordered? Do we value our earthly relations more than our relationship with Jesus Christ? Again, this question is being asked by numerous people in our own day.  Consider the following article at Open Doors.

What if your family rejected you because of your belief in Jesus? Would you leave home? This is Cheu’s dilemma. Believers from Buddhist countries usually come from very tight-knit families living in equally tight-knit communities. An Open Doors fieldworker tells the story of Cheu after spending some time with him one hot afternoon in Laos:

Among the people sitting in circle in a secret church meeting, a young man in his 20s is more noticeable than any other person. His little gestures hinted at a yearning, his eyes were distant and stare into the distance at nothing in particular. There are subtle flashes of familiar emotions – peace, joy and belongingness. Cheu, a new convert in Christ who was still celebrating his newfound faith in Christ, has to escape the tyranny brought about by his own family and community who were once his providers of comfort and warmth in times of desperation.

“One day, my brother and uncle came to me and lied to me. They invited me to go to their house which I agreed to without hesitation. Little did I know that when we arrived at my uncle’s house, they would beat me and tie me up with a rope. They told me that I need to return to my old faith, they would continue to beat me. They bound me with a rope with my hands behind my back. My brother, an average-sized man but with a solid build, used the side of his palms to hit my neck and face over and over again. I was tied from seven in the morning until seven at night,” Cheu recalled.

It pained me hearing how these words rolled from his tongue. The creases on his forehead and the scars on his right cheek emphasized the evident pain in his eyes and voice.

“How were you able to escape?” I asked. Glancing at my translator, he answered, “At that time, my wife was still pregnant. On the day that it happened, I sent my wife to my in-laws in another village. After sending my wife away, I went home and my uncle and brother came to get my motorcycle. They tied me up and said that I should go back to my old faith, the Hmong culture. ‘If you won’t go back, we will hit you until you die,’ they told me.”

Nearing dusk, he asked the Lord in prayer for guidance. “After that, I prayed and prayed and told God to forgive them and myself. After praying, I lied to my brother and uncle and other people and told them that I would return to my old faith. So they untied me. After they took off my ties, I slept at my house. I went to my wife very early the next morning to pick her up since my in-law’s house is very far from my house. We hopped on a bus to escape and came here. Until now, my uncle and brother and my family still don’t know where I am, and I heard that they are looking for me. I also heard that the village chief, my brother and uncle said that if I come back to our home in our village, they would hit me over and over again until I die.”

It was a stirring question, I know. But Cheu’s somber mood didn’t change. Since the moment I was introduced to him till the moment I left that secret meeting, this was the longest statement I had heard from Cheu.

Cheu and his wife were able to escape from the hands of their oppressors, his family and the village chief. He was welcomed by a community of Christian families in Ban Neuk, a church in Vientiane Province 24 hours away by bus from his province. This church is always open to the needy. A family that provides and defends. A family given to Cheu and his wife by the Lord.[4]

Yes, you may lose your family because you embrace Jesus. But we have this promise: our God is with us and He will never abandon us.

Will you choose to follow Him? Will you love Him above all others?

This is the way of Christ. This is the way of the cross. This is the way of the Kingdom.

 

[1] https://decisionmagazine.com/disowned-for-jesus/

[2] Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew (The New American Commentary) (p. 180). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Blomberg, Craig L., 181.

[4] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/family-disowned-christ/

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