Family is meant to be a source of love, support, and community. But what happens when those closest to you become your biggest detractors? Jesus himself said that following him may divide families and turn family members against each other (Matthew 10:34-36). Though painful, this is a common experience for many Christians seeking to live out their faith.
- Jesus warned his followers that families would turn against them because of their faith. This should not come as a surprise.
- There are several examples in the Bible of family betrayal and opposition, including Joseph, David, and Jesus himself.
- God can redeem painful family situations for good, as seen in the life of Joseph.
- As hard as it is, we are called to continue loving and praying for family members who oppose us.
- Our true family in Christ can provide the support and community we need when biological family relationships break down.
- God promises to be a father to the fatherless and defends the cause of the oppressed. He cares deeply when families fail.
- Suffering rejection from family for the sake of Christ brings eternal reward and blessings.
Betrayal cuts deep, especially when it comes from those who are supposed to love us most. But Scripture offers hope and perspective for Christians experiencing opposition from family members because of their faith. Let’s explore what the Bible has to say about family relationships gone wrong and how to respond in a Christ-like manner.
Family Conflict and Pain in Scripture
Family turmoil because of spiritual differences is a tragic reality that reaches back to the beginning of Scripture. Cain murdered his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy over God preferring Abel’s sacrifice (Genesis 4:8). Jacob deceived his older brother Esau and stole his birthright, setting off decades of family strife (Genesis 27). Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, who then had to live with the guilt of their betrayal (Genesis 37).
Throughout Scripture, the apostles repeatedly encountered resistance from their own family members:
- Jesus told his disciples to be prepared for families to “deliver you up to tribulation” and turn against you (Matthew 10:17-21).
- When Jesus began his public ministry, his family thought he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).
- Jesus’ own brothers did not believe he was the Messiah during his earthly ministry (John 7:3-5).
- After becoming an apostle, Paul was disowned by his family and considered it “rubbish” for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Even Jesus himself, the very Son of God, was betrayed and abandoned by his own disciples and crucified by the people who should have welcomed him as Savior. He understands firsthand the pain of being “despised and rejected” by those closest to you (Isaiah 53:3).
Perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching examples of family opposition is Job being attacked by his own wife while being afflicted:
His wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:9-10, NKJV)
Overcoming Family Betrayal through Faith
While incredibly painful, opposition from family because of our Christian faith does not have to destroy us. Here are some biblical principles for persevering through family strife and betrayal:
1. Remember Jesus’ words of warning – Any disciple who loves mother or father more than Christ is not worthy of him (Matthew 10:34-37). As much as we desire family harmony, allegiance to Jesus takes priority.
2. Seek reconciliation – If possible, live at peace with all people, including family members (Romans 12:18). Continue showing love and pursue relationship reconciliation as far as it depends on you. Forgive others as Christ forgave you.
3. Trust God with the outcome – We cannot control how others treat us. Have faith that God will work all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Ask God to soften hard hearts and wait patiently for him to work.
4. Find support in the church – Blood relatives are not the only family we have. The church provides believers with brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers in Christ to support and strengthen us (Mark 10:28-30). Surround yourself with encouragers who will build you up.
5. Focus on eternal rewards – This world is not our home. Jesus said there are eternal rewards in heaven for those who endure mistreatment for his name (Matthew 5:11-12). God sees your suffering and will redeem it.
6. Pray for and bless persecutors – Follow Jesus’ example and pray for the salvation of those who hurt you, even family members (Luke 23:34). Faithfully bless others by returning good for evil (Romans 12:14).
7. Rest in God’s fatherhood and sovereignty – If earthly fathers abandon you, remember God promises never to leave or forsake his children (Deuteronomy 31:6). No one can snatch us from the Father’s hand (John 10:28-29). Rely on his strength and faithfulness.
Our supreme example in all this is Jesus. He was sinless, yet his own family did not believe in him at times. His own disciples deserted him. Yet he entrusted himself to God and obeyed to the point of death (Philippians 2:8). By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, we too can endure family strife and be overcomers.
Biblical Examples of Family Conflict and Betrayal
Scripture contains many examples of painful family dysfunction. Looking at how biblical figures responded to family betrayal can give us wisdom and perspective for our own situations.
Joseph and His Brothers
One of the most vivid examples is Joseph in the Old Testament. Out of jealousy, his older brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt and then lied to their father about his fate (Genesis 37). After many trials, Joseph rose to become second-in-command over Egypt. When famine hit, his brothers came to Egypt desperate for food, not realizing the powerful man before them was Joseph. Rather than taking revenge, Joseph demonstrated remarkable forgiveness:
But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21, NKJV)
Joseph saw the bigger picture of God’s sovereignty and realized his trials were refining him for greater purpose. He graciously forgave his brothers and even provided for the very ones who betrayed him. God redeemed this family’s dysfunction to save His chosen people from famine and preserve the lineage of the Messiah.
David and King Saul
King David faced opposition from King Saul, who grew intensely jealous and tried multiple times to kill David, his own son-in-law (1 Samuel 18-23). Despite countless chances to retaliate, David spared Saul’s life and continued to honor him as God’s chosen king. Like Joseph, David trusted God to vindicate him in due time. David’s mercy positions him as a type of Christ. Jesus perfectly exemplified returning good for evil amid persecution.
Hosea and His Wife
The prophet Hosea continued to pursue reconciliation with his unfaithful wife Gomer in spite of her repeated betrayal. Hosea’s faithful love symbolized God’s unconditional love for wayward Israel. His example provides a model for persistently loving family members who wound us deeply:
When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, He said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” (Hosea 1:2, NLT)
Loving and forgiving others reflects God’s gracious love toward us. As 1 Peter 4:8 (NLT) says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
After losing his possessions, children, and health, Job was advised to “curse God and die” by his own wife (Job 2:9). Despite these insensitive and hurtful words, Job refused to sin with his lips. He demonstrated remarkable restraint and faith in God’s sovereignty amid his immense grief and pain.
Christ and His Persecutors
Most poignantly, Jesus Christ himself was betrayed by Judas, abandoned by his disciples, falsely accused by religious leaders, denied by Peter, and delivered over to be crucified by the Jews, according to the predetermined plan of God (Acts 2:23). Despite the injustices committed against him, Jesus displayed perfect love: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen demonstrated the same spirit as he was martyred in Acts 7:60, asking God not to hold this sin against his killers. Their examples to bless those who persecute are difficult but necessary for us to follow.
As Hebrews 12:3 (NKJV) encourages, carefully consider Christ who endured such hostility from sinners, lest you become weary and discouraged in your soul. Jesus understands what it is like to be despised and rejected by those closest to you.
Our True Family is the Body of Christ
When blood relatives fail us, God provides His church as our spiritual family. The Bible makes clear believers gain brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers in Christ (Mark 10:28-30). We are adopted into God’s household of faith (Ephesians 2:19). The church should provide the encouragement, accountability, comfort and support we need when biological family relationships are strained.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:1-2 to appeal to older men as fathers and treat younger men as brothers. God designed His body to fill the gaps when earthly families struggle. As Psalm 27:10 (NKJV) says, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.”
Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, God promises to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5-6). As believers, we have an unbreakable spiritual bond as brothers and sisters that supersedes even the closest earthly ties. When your family fails you, remember you are still part of God’s family. You are loved, valued and accepted as His cherished child.
Though painful for a time, opposition from family for the sake of Christ produces greater eternal joy. The fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings binds believers closer together as one family. As Hebrews 10:32-25 (NLT) exhorts:
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
God Cares Deeply About Families
No one hurts more than God when family relationships shatter. Scripture reveals God’s heart as a loving Father who created the family unit and desires protection for those who suffer when it goes wrong.
In Psalm 68:4-6, God promises:
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (NIV)
Those who have faced family rejection for righteousness’ sake can rest assured God sees their plight. He will fill the void as a surrogate parent and bring joy where there is mourning. As Psalm 27:10 assures, even if mother and father abandon us, the Lord gathers up the lonely into his secure arms.
God also commands husbands and wives not to deprive one another in marriage. Married couples need intimate friendship with each other as a guard against sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 7:5). Parents are instructed not to exasperate their children but raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Fathers should not provoke children to anger. These ideals reveal God’s heart for healthy families.
In numerous places, Scripture denounces mistreatment of the fatherless, widows and foreigners – those without the normal protections of family. God promises to be their defender and provider. Exodus 22:22-24 even pronounces serious judgment on those who afflict widows and orphans. Why does God seem to have such special care for the orphaned and the oppressed?
Psalm 82:3-4 explains:
Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (NIV)
When families fail and the vulnerable suffer harm, it touches God’s heart deeply. He desires his people to provide refuge. The church must surround those experiencing family opposition with loving spiritual support. Additionally, Isaiah 1:17 (NLT) says true worship requires us to “seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”
Persevering Brings Eternal Reward
Suffering family mistreatment for the sake of obeying Christ results in eternal blessings. At the end of Mark 10, Jesus explains that believers who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, or children for his sake and the gospel’s will receive 100 times more in this life – along with persecutions (Mark 10:29-30). They will also gain eternal life in the coming age. Similarly, Matthew 5:11-12 pronounces great reward in heaven for those persecuted on account of righteousness.
Hardship now cultivates endurance and Christlike character that brings hope (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4). Any earthly trials we face are “light and momentary” compared with the eternal glory to come (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Times of adversity give us testimony to comfort others in their suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
Remarkably, Scripture even says followers of Jesus can rejoice when they share in his sufferings! 1 Peter 4:13-14 declares:
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Our temporary hurts are allowing us to join in Christ’s sufferings on earth. Through the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, we identify further with Jesus and will be exalted in due time (Philippians 3:10-11). This eternal perspective helps us endure present grief as we fix our eyes on the joy to come.
What About Serious Abuse?
Scripture’s commands to honor our father and mother (Ephesians 6:2), and be peacemakers assume reasonably healthy family relationships. When destructive patterns of physical, emotional or substance abuse are present, efforts at family reconciliation may only enable harm to continue.
Protecting vulnerable family members should take priority over quick reconciliation with unrepentant abusers. In these heartbreaking cases, creating safe boundaries or even severing ties may be warranted for a time. As Proverbs 22:3 says, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” If you face this painful possibility, seek wise counsel on how to honor God in your responses.
Above all, cling tightly to these promises from God’s Word:
- “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
- “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
- “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
No matter what family strife you may face, God promises to be your rock and refuge if you trust in him. He will work all things for eventual good in the lives of those who love him.
Family relationships fraught with conflict bring intense anguish. But we are never forsaken or forgotten by God. He will redeem our pain to produce Christlike character and greater eternal reward. If earthly families fail us, we are still part of God’s forever family through faith.
The body of Christ can provide the comfort and support we need when flesh and blood relatives do not. And one day we will be gathered into our eternal home to live in perfect love and harmony with God and all believers. The sufferings of this world cannot compare to the glory that awaits (Romans 8:18).
Though difficult, keep loving and praying for family members who turn against you. Their hearts may yet soften like Joseph’s brothers. React with grace and bless those who hurt you. Whatever family strife you face, you are not alone. God promises to strengthen and uphold you. He will tenderly care for you like a loving Father if earthly fathers abandon you. His plans for your life are good, and nothing can snatch you from his hand.
Finally, remember persecution for following Jesus with integrity allows us to share in his sufferings. This brings a deeper fellowship with Christ and results in eternal reward. May his example give us courage to continue loving others faithfully, with hope fixed on heaven.