The Tragedy of Desiring a Great Family

A sermon by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte NC, May 21, 2006

How important is your family to you? Is it important enough? Is it too important?

Can your family be too important to you?

Consider Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus says:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If the joy we find in anything of this world is greater than our joy in God, that has become an earthly treasure, that has become an idol. This is true even of God’s good gifts – especially God’s good gifts, such as the family.

Four weeks ago we began this sermon series considering money and possessions in this light. In subsequent weeks we have discussed sex, career success, and entertainment. The main point of the entire series is that:

One last time, hear this profound biblical truth in the words of C.S. Lewis:

Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Today we consider perhaps the most difficult possible earthly treasure: The family.

What attitude should we have towards our families? Should they be the source of great joy?

On first reading, the Bible is quite confusing on this. Consider two themes we find in Scripture. Ephesians 5 and Psalm 127 provide us with examples of one theme:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, . . .   28 husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it. Ephesians 5:25, 28-29.

3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.  5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! Psalm 127:3-5 

We husbands are to love our wives. We are to nourish and cherish them. We are to find joy in giving her joy. Our children are blessings. Remember, the word translated “blessed” can be translated “happy.” The man who has many children is blessed, is happy.

That seems clear, doesn’t it? Loving our families is mandatory. Our families are supposed to be sources of great joy.

But consider a different theme in Scripture, best represented by Luke 14:26. Jesus is speaking:

"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.”

And this verse is not alone. Indeed, Matthew 6:19-21 which we’ve already seen says the same: If we love our families too much, they become earthly treasures.

What is the biblical balance here? How can we have the right, biblical attitude towards our families? We’ll consider this issue today under three headings:

Why the Family?

To have a proper view of our families, to appreciate them and to keep them from becoming idols, we need to understand why God puts us in families. We’ll look at four answers briefly this morning.

First, the family is a crucible for sanctification, a factory in which God makes His people into His likeness. Proverbs 27:17 tells us:

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

How much more is this true within the family! Family members see you when you are exhausted, when you are sick, when your defenses are down. Many people can live a lie in front of their neighbors; some can live a lie in front of their fellow workers. Very few can live a lie within a marriage or within the family. We inevitably see the impact of our own sinfulness in our families. And this is a vital first step to take in our sanctification.

Furthermore, the family must deal with such sin within its midst. This can be – though often is not – the occasion for receiving and giving grace. This grace works changes us into the likeness of Christ. This leads us to the second reason God puts us in families:

The family provides us with opportunities to love with God’s love, to be agents of His love. Consider Ephesians 5 again:

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way husbandsshould love their wives Ephesians 5:25-28 (emphasis added)

Christ loves the church and this leads to Her perfection. In the same way husbands loves their wives, contributing to their sanctification. Think about this: God not only uses families to change us into His likeness, but He specifically uses your God-like love to change you and your family members. He does not use your manipulating them or your yelling at them, but your Christlike love.

This dynamic flows not only from husbands to wives but also from wives to husbands, from parents to children, and from children to parents. God gives each one of us the huge privilege of loving the unlovable.

Third, the family is God’s chosen method of passing down godly heritage from one generation to the next In the family, we produce the next generation physically and spiritually. Psalm 78 is especially powerful on this point:

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. Psalm 78:4

In our families we are to speak of and delight in the might, power, and love of our Lord. God put us in families in part to fulfill this purpose. Parents. Especially fathers: Are you ensuring that this takes place in your family?

Finally, the family is a picture of who God is. Consider Ephesians 3:14-15. Paul writes: 

I bow my knees before the Father,  15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,

To understand what Paul is saying here, unfortunately we need to know a couple of Greek words. Fortunately you already know this root from the English word “patriot.” Paul says, “I bow my knees before the patera, from whom every patria in heaven and on earth is named.” “Family” is a good translation for the word patria, but misses the link to the word translated “Father.” One preacher suggests translating this: “I bow my knees before the Father from whom every fatherhood is named.”

The idea is this: God is the perfect father. The family of God is the perfect family. To the extent that our families are good families, they present pictures of who God is. As Scripture clearly shows, in God’s design the family is a picture of His relationship with Himself (Father and Son) and His relationship with His people (Husband and Bride, Father and Sons or Heirs, Father and children).

Families are thus important in God’s plan. We have the great privilege of being part of that plan, of living it out in our families. But families present us with danger also.

The Danger of Families

Because of the intimacy of the relationships, because of the depth of earthly joy available within a good family, families can become earthly treasures. Our husbands and wives can become idols. We can seek our greatest joy in a good family.

Paul Tripp tells this story of a woman he was counseling:

I once was talking with a lady who had been married many years. She was married to a person who, very honestly, I would have to say was a bad man. He was angry, controlling, and manipulative. He said and did hurtful things. She had dreamed of the ultimate husband, but she certainly hadn't gotten him. Now she was so embittered by the blessings other women in her church enjoyed that she said she could no longer go to worship. She felt as if God had forsaken her, so much so that she couldn't read her Bible or pray. As I listened, I wanted her to understand her identity in Christ. I wanted her to know the love of the Lord; that God is a refuge and strength, an ever‑present help in trouble. So I started reading her passages that spoke of the amazing, abundant love of God, and in the middle of a verse she said, "Stop! Don't tell me again that God loves me. I want a husband who loves me!" And she pounded her fist on her chair as she said it.

We can feel for her and have compassion on her and realize that she makes such a statement out of deep pain. But we also need to realize that this woman has made an idol of a good husband. She is seeking joy through a loving husband, and she wants that joy more than she wants God Himself.

We see this same error in some Christian literature on the family which at least implies (if it doesn’t say outright), “Follow biblical methods of raising a family and you will have a great family! You will have great joy!”

But Jesus says,

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.  Matthew 10:37

So we can never say:

Joy in Jesus is ultimate. Not joy in family.

Remember that the family is supposed to be a picture, a pointer to what God is like. Joy in a good family is a foretaste of the joy we have in Christ, a picture of the joy that exists within the Trinity. When we make the joy of an earthly family our primary goal, we are distorting the whole meaning of the family.

Think of it this way: How many of you have seen the film Hotel Rwanda? The film tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who saved the lives of hundreds during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Imagine that you are Paul Rusesabagina’s wife. You keep looking at the movie. You love Paul in the movie. You talk about Paul in the movie, saying, “Oh, he’s my hero!” But when the real Paul comes up to you, offering you flowers, you say, “Leave me alone, I want to look at the movie!”

That’s what we’re like when we put our own families on a higher plane than God. To love our families more than we love God is to love the picture more than the reality.

We are to love – we are commanded to love – those in our families. But don’t miss what they point to – the greatest joy imaginable in the family of God.

Thus we are to love our families greatly, we are to love our families sacrificially. But we must always love God more.

John Piper captures this idea in a poem he wrote for his eldest son’s wedding. After exhorting his son to love his wife more than wealth, more than friends, more than ease, more than sex, more than art, more than fame, and more than breath, he writes:

Yes, love her, love her, more than life;
O, love the woman called your wife.
Go love her as your earthly best.
Beyond this venture not. But, lest
Your love become a fool's facade,
Be sure to love her less than God.

It is not wise or kind to call
An idol by sweet names, and fall,
As in humility, before
A likenessof your God. Adore
Above your best belov’d on earth
The God alone who gives her worth. . . .

The greatest gift you give your wife
Is loving God above her life.

Ponder those last two lines: “The greatest gift you give your wife/Is loving God above her life.” To make her (or your children) your greatest treasure is to violate the very purpose of the family.

Loving our Families More and Less

Practically, what does this mean? How do we live this out? How do we love our families more and less?

Consider once again two verses we read at the beginning. First, Ephesians 5:25:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

How do you love your wife as Jesus loved the church, yet love her less than God?

You do exactly what Jesus does. He does NOT love the church more than He loves God the Father! The church is His great joy and delight. But His love of the Father is greater still. We do not displace the Father in His love!

Jesus enables us to share in the love He has for the Father and to share in the love the Father has for Him, as He says in John 17:26:

“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

So in Ephesians 5, Paul is speaking to Christian husbands. He therefore assumes Jesus is already first in their hearts. He tells them to be ready to give up all for their wives, as Jesus gave up all for the church. Indeed, this is way of becoming like Christ, a way of being filled with the Spirit. Paul is not making a comparison between the husband’s love for God and his love for his wife. Instead he tells husbands to love their wives because they are no longer dead in their trespasses and sins, because they are made alive, because they are seated with Christ in the heavenlies, because they are filled with the Spirit. Such Christlike love is impossible apart from the miraculous work of the Spirit in us. And if the Spirit has done the miracle of enabling us to love our wives with Christlike love, He also has done the miracle of enabling us to love the Father with Christlike love.

The greatest love you can have for your family members is a subordinate love. If you try to love your family more than God, you will not love them at all. You will hurt them ultimately, not help them, even if, in earthly terms, you have a happy marriage and a joyful family.

God is the source of the greatest joy. And if we divert our families from that joy then we are leading them to springs of water that ultimately will dry up.

So we are to love our families more than anything else on earth. Yet to love them more than God is not to love them at all.

The second verse to reconsider is Luke 14:26: 

"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.”

You may have heard sermons in which this verse is treated as extreme hyperbole; Jesus is simply saying we must love Him more than we love our families. Indeed, some translations tone down Jesus’ words. The New Living Translation renders this verse, “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother.”

But that is not what Jesus says. He says cuts deeper than, “Love me more than you love your family.”

Once again, the key to understanding the verse is to consider Jesus Himself. Did He hate His own mother?

Jesus, of course, was the oldest son of a widowed mother. He would be responsible in that culture for providing for her. Prior to beginning His earthly ministry, He worked as a carpenter, supporting her.

But then what does He do? He gives up His career. He presumably leaves his mother in the hands of his younger brothers. At times she does not understand Him (Luke 2:48, Mark 3:21). As prophesied by Simeon (Luke 2:35), He causes her pain, especially as He suffers and dies.

Now, consider: What did the people in Nazareth think about what Jesus did? Surely some of them said something like this: “That boy! He’s neglecting His mother! Why did He run off to preach and leave her to His younger brothers? He’s just abandoning her, tired of the small town of Nazareth. He doesn’t really love her at all. If He loved her, He would stay with her.”

Do you see? Jesus’ actions look like hate!

My friends, followers of Jesus often appear to hate their families as they step out in obedience to Christ:

When your love for Jesus is ultimate, at times you will appear to hate your family. But you must trust that God loves your family more than you love them. You must trust that God will work all things together for your family’s good. Note: Not for their comfort. Not for their ease. But for their good - even if stepping out in obedience means great stress, disease, and death.

Did Jesus love His mother? Yes. Was she His earthly treasure? No.

Just so with our families. We must love them deeply, above all else on earth. And we must love them much less than we love God.


To find your greatest joy in your wife or in your husband or in your children rather than in God is not some slight error, some insignificant indiscretion. It is idolatry. It is breaking the greatest commandment.

His claim on us is total. And the joy He gives us is full and complete. So the person who has never had a family can have complete joy in Christ. The person who has had an abusive family and never known a loving parent can have complete joy in the family of God. Those of us in good marriages and families have a foretaste of that joy. We should delight in that foretaste.And the foretaste should make us long all the more for the complete meal.

As in work/career, your task is to be faithful:

If you are faithful, will you then have a great marriage, a great family?

Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t need to know the outcome; your task is to be faithful. And your joy does not depend ultimately on whether your faithfulness leads to a joyful family or not. If you belong to Jesus, you will experience great family joy – in the family of God for all eternity. He may well give you a great family joy now – or He may not. If He does: Thank Him for the gift, but find your delight in Him. If He does not: Remain faithful, and trust Him for your joy.

My friends, where do you seek your greatest joy? Desire the ultimate joy of God Himself. Be satisfied with nothing less than the love of the King of the Universe. Throw yourself on His mercy, saying, “I am a sinner, by nature Your enemy. I have no claim on You. Would You in Your mercy save even me by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross?”

Turn to Him! Make Him your ultimate desire! And as your weak desires become strong, your joy will become full. “In His presence is fullness of joy. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

This sermon was preached on 5/21/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. The C.S. Lewis quote is from his sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” The John Piper poem can be found at . John Piper was also the first to suggest to me that Luke 14:26 refers to actions that look like hate (personal communication, date unknown); some of those thoughts are written up in . The Paul Tripp quote is from Marriage: Whose Dream? (Resources for Changing Lives, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1999).

Copyright © 2006, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.

(return to main sermon page)