Does God Come First in Your Family?
“You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart.”—MARK 12:29, 30.
1. How important is it that we love Jehovah?
“WHICH commandment is first of all?” a scribe had asked Jesus. Rather than give his own opinion, Jesus answered his question by quoting from God’s Word at Deuteronomy 6:4, 5. He replied: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’”—Mark 12:28-30.
2. (a) What opposition did Jesus have to face? (b) What may at times make it difficult to please Jehovah?
2 To obey what Jesus called the first commandment—the most important one—requires that we always do what pleases Jehovah. Jesus did, even though on one occasion the apostle Peter took exception to Jesus’ course, and on another his own close relatives did too. (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 3:21; John 8:29) What if you find yourself in a similar situation? Say that family members want you to cease your Bible study and your association with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Will you put God first by doing what pleases him? Does God come first, even when family members may oppose your efforts to serve him?
The Snare of Family Opposition
3. (a) What may the consequences of Jesus’ teachings be to the family? (b) How can family members show whom they have greater affection for?
3 Jesus did not minimize the hardship that may result when others in the family oppose the member that accepts his teachings. “A man’s enemies will be persons of his own household,” Jesus said. Yet, despite that sad consequence, Jesus showed who should come first by saying: “He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me; and he that has greater affection for son or daughter than for me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-37) We put Jehovah God first by following the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ, who is “the exact representation of [God’s] very being.”—Hebrews 1:3; John 14:9.
4. (a) What did Jesus say was involved in being his follower? (b) In what sense are Christians to hate family members?
4 On another occasion when Jesus was discussing what is really involved in being his true follower, he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Jesus obviously did not mean that his followers should literally hate their family members, since he commanded people to love even their enemies. (Matthew 5:44) Rather, Jesus here meant that his followers must love family members less than they love God. (Compare Matthew 6:24.) In keeping with that understanding, the Bible says that Jacob “hated” Leah and loved Rachel, which meant that he did not love Leah as much as he loved her sister, Rachel. (Genesis 29:30-32) Even our own “soul,” or life, Jesus said, should be hated, or loved less, than Jehovah!
5. How does Satan cunningly exploit the family arrangement?
5 As Creator and Life-Giver, Jehovah deserves complete devotion from all his servants. (Revelation 4:11) “I bend my knees to the Father,” the apostle Paul wrote, “to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name.” (Ephesians 3:14, 15) Jehovah created the family arrangement in such a marvelous way that family members have natural affection for one another. (1 Kings 3:25, 26; 1 Thessalonians 2:7) Satan the Devil, however, cunningly exploits this natural family affection, which includes a desire to please loved ones. He fans the flames of family opposition, and many find it a challenge to stand firm for Bible truth in the face of it.—Revelation 12:9, 12.
Facing Up to the Challenge
6, 7. (a) How can family members be helped to appreciate the importance of Bible study and Christian association? (b) How can we demonstrate that we truly love our family members?
6 What will you do if you are forced to make a choice between pleasing God or pleasing a family member? Will you rationalize that God does not expect us to study his Word and apply its principles if doing so creates family dissension? But think about it. If you give in and cease your Bible study or association with Jehovah’s Witnesses, how will loved ones ever understand that accurate knowledge of the Bible is a life-and-death matter?—John 17:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.
7 We might illustrate the situation this way: Perhaps a family member has an excessive craving for alcohol. Would ignoring or condoning his drinking problem be of real benefit to him? Would it be better to keep the peace by giving in and not doing anything about his problem? No, you probably agree that it would be best to try to help him overcome his drinking problem, even if it means standing up to his wrath and threats. (Proverbs 29:25) Similarly, if you truly love your family members, you will not give in to their efforts to stop you from studying the Bible. (Acts 5:29) Only by taking a firm stand may you help them appreciate that living by Christ’s teachings means our very life.
8. How do we benefit from the fact that Jesus faithfully did God’s will?
8 Putting God first may be very difficult at times. But remember, Satan also made it hard for Jesus to do God’s will. Yet Jesus never gave up; he endured even the agony of a torture stake for us. “Jesus Christ [is] our Savior,” the Bible says. “He died for us.” (Titus 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:10) Are we not grateful that Jesus did not give in to opposition? Because he endured a sacrificial death, we have the prospect of everlasting life in a peaceful new world of righteousness by exercising faith in his shed blood.—John 3:16, 36; Revelation 21:3, 4.
A Possible Rich Reward
9. (a) How can Christians share in saving others? (b) What was Timothy’s family situation?
9 Did you realize that you too can have a share in saving others, including dearly loved relatives? The apostle Paul urged Timothy: “Stay by these things [that you have been taught], for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Timothy lived in a divided household, his Greek father being an unbeliever. (Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14) Although we do not know whether Timothy’s father ever became a believer, the possibility that he may have was greatly enhanced by the faithful conduct of his wife, Eunice, and of Timothy.
10. What can Christians do in behalf of their unbelieving mates?
10 The Scriptures reveal that husbands and wives who steadfastly uphold Bible truth can contribute to saving their non-Christian mates by helping them become believers. The apostle Paul wrote: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her; and a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband. For, wife, how do you know but that you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know but that you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12, 13, 16) The apostle Peter described how wives, in effect, could save their husbands, urging: “Be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives.”—1 Peter 3:1.
11, 12. (a) What reward have thousands of Christians received, and what did they do to receive it? (b) Relate an experience of a family member being rewarded for faithful endurance.
11 In recent years many thousands have become Jehovah’s Witnesses after months and even years of opposing the Christian activity of their Witness relatives. What a reward this is for Christians who have remained steadfast, and what a blessing to the onetime opposers! With emotion in his voice, a 74-year-old Christian elder related: “I often thank my wife and children for sticking with the truth during the years that I opposed them.” He said that for three years he stubbornly refused even to allow his wife to speak to him about the Bible. “But she used psychology on me,” he said, “and began witnessing to me as she rubbed my feet. How grateful I am that she did not give in to my opposition!”
12 Another husband who opposed his family wrote: ‘I was the worst enemy of my wife because after she got the truth, I threatened her, and we quarreled every day; that is to say, I always started the quarrel. But all in vain; my wife stuck to the Bible. Twelve years thus passed in my wild fight against the truth and against my wife and child. For both of them, I was the Devil incarnate.’ Eventually the man began to analyze his life. ‘I saw how mean I had been,’ he explained. ‘I read the Bible, and thanks to its instruction, I am now a baptized Witness.’ Think of the wife’s grand reward, yes, having helped ‘save her husband’ by faithfully enduring his opposition for 12 years!
Learning From Jesus
13. (a) What is the main lesson husbands and wives should learn from Jesus’ life course? (b) How can people who find it difficult to submit to God’s will benefit from Jesus’ example?
13 The main lesson husbands and wives should learn from Jesus’ life course is that of obedience to God. “I always do the things pleasing to him,” Jesus said. “I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 5:30; 8:29) Even when Jesus once found a particular aspect of God’s will distasteful, he was obedient. “If you wish, remove this cup from me,” he prayed. But he quickly added: “Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” (Luke 22:42) Jesus did not ask God to change His will; he showed that he truly loved God by obediently submitting to whatever was God’s will for him. (1 John 5:3) Always putting God’s will first, as Jesus did, is vitally important to success not only in single life but also in married and family life. Consider why this is so.
14. How do some Christians reason improperly?
14 As noted before, when believers put God first, they seek to remain with their unbelieving mates and are often able to help them come into line for salvation. Even when both mates are believers, their marriage may be far from ideal. Because of sinful inclinations, husbands and wives do not always have loving thoughts toward one another. (Romans 7:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 7:28) Some even go so far as to pursue getting a different mate, though they have no Scriptural grounds for divorce. (Matthew 19:9; Hebrews 13:4) They reason that for them this is best, that God’s will for husbands and wives to stay together is too difficult. (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 19:5, 6) This is without question another case of thinking human thoughts rather than those of God.
15. Why is putting God first a protection?
15 What a protection it is to put God first! Married couples who do so will try to stick together and work out their problems by applying the counsel of God’s Word. They thus avoid all sorts of heartaches that result when his will is ignored. (Psalm 19:7-11) This is illustrated by a young couple who, when on the verge of divorce, decided to follow the Bible’s counsel. Years later when the wife reflected on the joy she had had in her marriage, she said: “I must sit down and sob when I consider the possibility that I might have lived separate from my husband all these years. Then I pray to Jehovah God and thank him for his counsel and guidance that brought us together in such a happy relationship.”
Husbands, Wives—Imitate Christ!
16. What example did Jesus set for both husbands and wives?
16 Jesus, who always put God first, set a marvelous example for both husbands and wives, and they do well to pay careful attention to it. Husbands are urged to imitate the way that Jesus exercises tender headship over the members of the Christian congregation. (Ephesians 5:23) And Christian wives can learn from Jesus’ flawless example of subjection to God.—1 Corinthians 11:3.
17, 18. In what ways did Jesus set a fine example for husbands?
17 The Bible commands: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:25) An important way that Jesus showed his love for his congregation of followers was by being their close friend. “I have called you friends,” Jesus said, “because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) Think of all the time Jesus spent talking with his disciples—the many, many discussions that he had with them—and of the confidence he placed in them! Is that not an excellent example for husbands?
18 Jesus took a real interest in his disciples and had a genuine fondness for them. (John 13:1) When his teachings were unclear to them, he patiently took time in private to clarify matters. (Matthew 13:36-43) Husbands, is the spiritual welfare of your wife of the same importance to you? Do you spend time with her, making sure that both of you have Bible truths clear in mind and heart? Jesus accompanied his apostles in the ministry, perhaps training each of them individually. Do you accompany your wife in the ministry, sharing in house-to-house visitations and in conducting Bible studies?
19. How does the way Jesus dealt with his apostles’ recurring weaknesses set an example for husbands?
19 Especially in dealing with his apostles’ imperfections did Jesus provide a sterling example for husbands. During his last meal with his apostles, he could detect a recurring spirit of rivalry. Did he harshly criticize them? No, but he humbly washed the feet of each one. (Mark 9:33-37; 10:35-45; John 13:2-17) Do you show such patience with your wife? Rather than complain about a recurring weakness, do you patiently try to help her and reach her heart by your example? Wives are likely to respond to such loving compassion, as the apostles eventually did.
20. What should Christian wives never forget, and who is provided as an example for them?
20 Wives too need to consider Jesus, who never forgot that “the head of the Christ is God.” He always submitted to his heavenly Father. Similarly, wives should not forget that “the head of a woman is the man,” yes, that their husband is their head. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23) The apostle Peter urged Christian wives to consider the example of “holy women” of earlier times, especially that of Sarah, who “used to obey Abraham, calling him ‘lord.’”—1 Peter 3:5, 6.
21. Why was the marriage of Abraham and Sarah a success but that of Lot and his wife a failure?
21 Sarah evidently gave up a comfortable home in a prosperous city to live in tents in a foreign land. Why? Because she preferred that life-style? Not likely. Because her husband asked her to go? No doubt this was a factor, since Sarah loved and respected Abraham because of his godly qualities. (Genesis 18:12) But the main reason that she went along with her husband was her love for Jehovah and her heartfelt desire to follow God’s direction. (Genesis 12:1) She found delight in obedience to God. Lot’s wife, on the other hand, hesitated to do God’s will and thus looked back longingly at the things left behind in her hometown of Sodom. (Genesis 19:15, 25, 26; Luke 17:32) What a tragic end to that marriage—all because of her disobedience to God!
22. (a) What self-examination will family members wisely make? (b) What will we consider in our next study?
22 So as a husband or a wife, it is vital that you ask yourself, ‘Does God come first in our family? Do I truly endeavor to fulfill the family role that God has granted to me? Do I make a genuine effort to love my mate and help that one gain or maintain a good relationship with Jehovah?’ In most families there are also children. We will next consider the role of parents and the need for both them and their children to put God first.
Do You Remember?
□ What may be the consequences of Jesus’ teachings to many families?
□ What reward have thousands of steadfast Christians received?
□ What will help mates avoid immorality and divorce?
□ What can husbands learn from the example of Jesus?
□ How can wives contribute to a happy marriage?
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How did Sarah contribute to the success of her marriage?