Family First: Is that Biblical?

Is there any Biblical precedent for putting “family first?” I would submit that this is a myth and a hindrance to true Biblical stewardship.  In my knowledge of scripture I can’t think of an example of any biblical commands that would say that we are to put our families needs above the needs of others. Yet, I see plenty of biblical mandates to put others needs on par with our own: “Love you neighbor as yourself.” “whatever you do for the least of these, you’ve done unto me.” “if you have two coats, share one.”

Family Photo

I’m aware there are stories in the Bible of families lovingly sacrificing for one another, but there are also plenty of examples and commands of caring for those we are not related to, indeed even our enemies. The reason I think dispelling this myth (if indeed it is) is so important to the topic of stewardship is that I think it is commonly used as a justification for a life of stewardship that is directed primarily at our immediate family.

If we believe in “family first” as a command then we feel justified in spending time, energy and money making sure our kids go to the best schools, live in the “safest” neighborhoods, and have a significant college fund saved up. But what about the other kids? What of our neighbors, whom we are supposed to love as ourselves?

I am not suggesting we neglect the needs of our children to serve others, but rather seeing our neighbor (locally and globally) and their needs with the same heartfelt conviction and commitment that we do our families needs.

14 thoughts on “Family First: Is that Biblical?”

    1. Well said. I'm definitely not advocating for the other extreme of neglecting family. Interestingly, this was the first response when I mentioned this idea at a church small group. Here was my further reflection on that:
      Usually when we see examples of 'ministers' neglecting their family it's usually neglecting time and relationship, not necessarily 'stuff' like nice house and clothes, etc. In other words, I think it's almost a completely different conversation. Regardless of who you are or what you do, I don't think we should ignore the importance of our relationships with our family, no matter how committed to your 'ministry' you are.
      However, I can't think of any examples of people giving away all their food so that their own children go hungry, or clothing others while leaving their own children under-dressed.

  1. Good post. It seems biblically all humanity receives family status, even the Inward focused OT Israel was supposed to take care of aliens.

  2. I couldn't agree more. One of the biggest reasons I have so many hesitations about marriage and family life to begin with. I liked the perspective you gave once when I asked something of you that dealt with a similar issue. You said that you looked at [the family unit] as a way to model the love of Christ. But that doesn't put it above the actual calling of Christ to love "the least of these". I'm interested in joining you as you look for truth around these topics.

  3. Hey, thanks for finding me. (how'd you do that by the way?)
    T6 for life! Loved/Love the guys I met there. Are you a Wheatie or Wheaton grad?

    Solid thoughts, I love the term "small-minded love" I think I'll have to steal that.

      1. Got it. Thanks again for browsing. I only know Erin view the blogging world, she's great though.Enjoy Wheaton, would love to hear your thoughts about the school both positive and negative. Peace.

  4. Scot McKnight calls the biblical mandate to love "The Jesus Creed": to love God & love our neighbors as ourselves. "Family first" idolizes family. Yet, for those of us who are married, we likely made a vow that on some level may have elevated our spouse's status. And this is not a bad thing. But it is also the reason Paul urged people to stay single–so that there weren't distractions in ministry.

    You're right. we need to love others in the same way we love our families. The big thing is to look at others as our family as well–our brothers & sisters in Christ, our neighbors, etc.

    For me, I know there are times that I can't love my neighbor as I need to if I haven't been taking care of (loving) myself. There have been times when I have given endlessly to others without self-care, and it has been detrimental. And sometimes taking care of self involves forsaking other things for the sake of my family.

    1. My initial thoughts on this had primarily to do with stewardship as it relates to finances and 'stuff'. In that area, I think it's rare, if ever, that I've heard of someone neglecting their own families needs for the needs of others. But, like you mentioned, there are certainly examples of being too involved elsewhere to care for and tend to family, which I also think is not good.

      Here, I actually think I said it better up here in my comment to Mark:

  5. Interesting post! What do you make of 1 Timothy 5:8. It says:

    "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

    Perhaps this is where the Biblical justification comes from. It does seem to apply to the discuss, although it doesn't mention anything about providing for family as more important than providing for others, and in context, the passage is to ensure that there aren't any widows that aren't taken care of by somebody.

    What's your take on this verse?

    1. Great thought. I think I mentioned this in the post or in one of the comments, but I’ll give a more explicit answer here. I’m not suggesting anyone neglect their family.
      I’m clearly of the belief that we should care for the needs of those around us, starting with immediate family (as the verse suggests). But it doesn’t indicate anything above and beyond (like fancier houses or cars or dance lessons), so I think the case above still stands.

      For a different persons take on that Bible verse check this video out (for the record for those that don’t know me, I completely disagree with the thoughts in the video)
      [youtube 1WPVxndUcHQ youtube]
      So, some would take “provide” quite a bit differently then I would. I think he’s completely wrong, but that’s me.

      1. Whoah! That video scared the bejesus out of me! “Mars Hill? Rob Bell’s church? Is that guy even Rob Bell?” OK, after some frantic five minutes searching the web, I see there are two Mars Hills. Two very different animals, it seems to me. Whew. Sorry, I had to let this out of my chest.

        To Mark Driscoll and his wife, I have to confess: I am not a man. I am a half-man. I work part-time only; the other half I spend volunteering, doing household chores, and taking care of our youngest. Yeah, what a sissy. I have even very recently turned down extra paid work, in order to maintain the (pink?) lifestyle we now have. Whereas my wife is a man (?) herself: she works 35 hours a week. She does see her work as ministry though, so since you don’t agree with women in ministry maybe she doesn’t work at all.

    2. My take on 1 Timothy 5.8:

      On 1 Tim 5.3–16, Paul is instructing Timothy on financial support to a vulnerable group within the church, and in the day’s society in general: widows. Women did not work for money (that was _then_, OK Pr. Driscoll?), and thus widows had no source of income. There was no kind of Welfare either. So, the church quickly applied the Old Testament mandate to care for the widow (I’ll avoid biblical cross-references, but surely some passages come to your mind).

      We see that the church kept a formal list of widows (v 9). Apparently younger women could do some form of work, because one of the reasons why young widows should not get material support form the church is that they would become lazy and big-mouthed (v 10). Having a dead husband is not enough to make it to the widows list: they need to show good character, plus “real need” (v 3)—that is, need that cannot be met by the widow’s family. Children and grandchildren are expected to provide for the widow (v 4). Verses 5–6 speak of the God-fearing attitude that is expected of a Christian widow in need. And so, v 7–8 say, “Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

      For me it’s clear that in “providing for one’s relatives”, “providing” refers to basic subsistence, not hoarding up to give your kid a college degree or a brand new car or a huge wedding celebration; and the “relatives” are specifically those who will be thrown into poverty if you don’t do the Christian thing.

      Sure, provide first for the family. Provide in the sense above: just because the church has a program to keep their members from falling into poverty, don’t think this is a way of avoiding sharing with the very poor in your family. If you don’t see to the need in your own family, then you won’t see to any need anywhere else. You’re not “putting your religion into practice” (v 4); you’re worse than an unbeliever.

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