Family First, Church Second: True or False?

According to Peter (and Jesus), the closest family and friends that we need to primarily consider fellowshipping with are our blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ

Josh Bondoc on December 2, 2023

Guest post by Josh Bondoc

Over the last three Sundays, the sermons from 1 Peter have touched on the revolutionary fact that the believer’s true family is his/her spiritual family as opposed to his/her physical family. Peter has told us that believers have been truly born again by the eternal word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23) as opposed to all flesh and its fleeting nature (1 Peter 1:24-25), and are being built up into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). One of these recent sermons expanded on what Peter does not say about this reality:

And just in case it needs to be said, Peter is not telling us that now that we have a forever [or true] family, we don’t need to love our physical family any more. In fact, Peter’s argument makes sense because we love our physical families. If you love these people with whom you’re bound together by blood for several decades here on earth, then should you not love these people with whom you’re bound together by the eternal word of God for trillions and billions of years without end? So I hope we don’t hear Peter saying things he’s not actually saying. I hope we know that there is a very important space in between worshipping our families as if they were everything, and ignoring our families as if they were nothing.

Born Again Love, Part 2

Here’s the point: If you are a believer (1 Peter 1:21), then your true family consists of the blood-bought members of God’s family (1 Peter 1:18-19) rather than the blood-bound members of your family (1 Peter 1:23-24). However, this does not mean that your physical family is nothing—but it is not everything, either.

If the above statements are true, how then do you find the balance between your physical and spiritual family? In fact, someone asked a specific, practical question regarding this tension at our last small group Bible study: “How do I decide whether to attend a church gathering (like a potluck) or a family gathering that’s scheduled at the same time, especially in busy seasons like Christmas?”

Jesus and Family

I’d like to propose a way to navigate this tension based on Luke 2:41-51 and how Jesus deals with his physical and spiritual family. In this passage, Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents brought him to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast when he turned 12. However, after the feast was over and everyone was going back home, Jesus stayed behind without his parents’ permission to teach at the temple. When his parents finally found him after three days (three days!), they asked Jesus why he would treat them in such an apparently disrespectful way. The twelve year-old Jesus gives his parents an astounding response: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).

It is quite ironic that Luke has just said, two verses prior, that all who heard him were impressed at his answers (Luke 2:47), because I certainly wouldn’t have been impressed by this answer if I were this twelve year old’s dad!

Now, we need to remember that Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), so we cannot assume that Jesus disobeyed his parents by staying behind in Jerusalem without their permission, nor that he dishonoured them with this response. Rather, Jesus recognized the greater priority in submitting to the authority of his true Father (Luke 2:49) over the authority of his temporary father (Luke 2:48).

Yet, it is also important to note that obeying God means obeying the human authorities that He has put in place (Romans 13:1). Thus, Jesus did not neglect to submit to the God-appointed authority of his physical father (Ephesians 6:1-4), which is clearly evidenced by his act of obedience to his parents after his seemingly rude response to them: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

Clearly, Jesus submitted to the authority of his temporary father, but only after submitting to the authority of his true Father. Both fathers were essential, though not necessarily equal. We see this in the way that Jesus prioritized the agenda of his heavenly Father, which was to stay behind at his Father’s house in Jerusalem, over the agenda of his earthly father, which was to go back home to Nazareth. However, Jesus did so without neglecting his earthly father’s agenda. In other words, Jesus prioritized his spiritual family over his physical family, without neglecting the latter. 

Prioritizing Without Neglecting

So how do we decide whether to attend a church gathering or your family gathering that’s scheduled at the same time? I hope you can see that there’s no specific “yes” or “no” answer to this. But based on Luke 2 and the conclusions above, I am prepared to suggest that prioritizing our true family’s agenda over our temporary family’s agenda—without neglecting the latter—is a biblically appropriate balance to maintain in this tension.

Now, I am not necessarily writing to those who are, or are aspiring to be, in vocational ministry and might be prone to neglect their physical families for the sake of “ministry.” Though we could all use a reminder that ministry must include your physical family, since God has specifically entrusted you with them. Even in writing this article, I’ve had to assess whether I was neglecting my physical family in taking extra time this week to do this for my church family. (So you can ask my wife about that to hold me accountable!)

But what I am challenging here is the opposite side of the spectrum and the imbalance that most, if not all, of us tend to have—which is to over-prioritize our physical family at the risk of neglecting our spiritual family. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands Christians to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 

Consider Not Neglecting One Another

Not neglecting to meet together starts with considering how to stir up one another to love and good works, which suggests proactive action ahead of time. This means that considering how to fellowship with other Christians—especially with our local, visible church that we’ve committed to be the church together with—shouldn’t always take a back seat to our family plans that we schedule ahead of time. 

Could it be that we’re neglecting to put Sunday mornings/evenings or weeknight Bible studies as a high priority on our personal calendars because our primary schedules outside of work mainly consider spending time with close family and friends? According to Peter and Jesus, the closest family and friends that we need to primarily consider fellowshipping with are our blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ.

Maybe you can consider how to proactively ask your boss to let you have most, if not all, Sunday mornings off so you can regularly meet together with your church family. If you’re present on Sunday mornings, maybe consider an earlier arrival or a later lunch for the sake of fellowship. Maybe consider how many Sunday evening church gatherings you can schedule into your calendar as opposed to absorbing the idea that Sunday nights are only and exclusively “family nights.” Maybe consider joining a small group or scheduling a free evening to fellowship with other Christians, especially those in your local church family.

Would this risk offending your physical family? 100 percent. Even when he was 12 years old, Jesus had his priorities straight and risked offending his family in the process. And as an adult, Jesus maintained these priorities: “While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50).

Yet, we also have Scriptural proof that Jesus made sure to not neglect his widowed mother and brothers as an adult (see John 19:26-27). So yes, don’t neglect your physical family, but consider prioritizing your church family. As Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Whether it’s the author of Hebrews, the apostle Paul, Peter, or Jesus himself, the greater priority of the spiritual household is emphasized.

I’ll end with this story: Last Christmas, a couple in our church invited Emily, Luca and I to have supper in their home—and one of the proposed dates was Christmas Eve. That’s right, Christmas Eve! You could probably guess what my gut reaction was: Wouldn’t we be intruding in their Christmas family gatherings with relatives from out of town? Yet, the idea was that we could join them for their family supper. What a beautiful balance between their true and temporary family!

This is counter-cultural thinking, and I speak as someone who comes from a tight-knit family and a culture that idolizes family. Still, we can’t miss that God’s idea of a family tree has deeper roots than just blood-bound relatives: the blood-bought and Bible-bound believers in God through Christ. 

So, brothers and sisters, let us consider how to prioritize and not neglect one another.

Picture of Josh Bondoc
Josh Bondoc is our Director of Young Adults Ministries, and also provides leadership to our music ministries. His other roles in life include husband, father, and seminary student. You can reach him at .

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