The Father’s Freedom

A Father’s Day Sermon

Every Father’s Day, I think about how grateful I am for my own father. Our relationship hasn’t always been perfect, but he has impacted my life in powerful ways, and I have always been confident of his love and care for me and his desire to see me succeed. I am grateful for the gift of my father.

Then it’s funny to consider today’s Gospel passage in light of Father’s Day, because it seems that Jesus is speaking against fathers and family relationships.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 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 10:34-37

Is Jesus really affirming the breakdown of family? I want to suggest right away that no, Jesus is not advocating the destruction of the family or telling us to disobey God’s commandment to honor our father and mother. I believe that what he is doing is affirming that, in this sinful and fallen world, sometimes our loyalty and devotion to God will set us at odds with the members of our family.

Jesus issued two great commandments: 1. Love the Lord, and 2. Love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39), and it’s important to remember that Jesus put these in order of importance. Love of God must come first, and switching the priority of these commandments will always go wrong. Our allegiance must always be to God first.

The Apostle Paul addresses this idea in Romans 6:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:1-4

He addresses the question about why we should stop sinning, if our sin only causes God’s grace to multiply to us. Doesn’t God want to be recognized as showing more grace? Paul says no, if we truly love God, we will want to please him by stopping sin. Our allegiance has changed from our sin and selves to putting God first. When we accepted Jesus and united with him in baptism, we turned away from our old ways of sin. So why would we want to go back to sin, when that goes against what we have now declared our allegiance to?

It’s like my high school swim coach, who was an excellent coach, and he got a very good job offer to go coach for our rival school across town. Once he switched jobs, he switched teams, switched allegiances. He was no longer rooting for my team to win – he was rooting and working for our rival! In the same way, when we choose to align ourselves with Christ, we no longer work for his enemy. We have changed teams, switched sides, given our allegiance to the other side. It would be ridiculous for us to keep working for sin once we have switched over to Christ’s side, and that is exactly what Paul is saying.

In fact, the truth about sin goes even further than this, because the Bible says that we are not just changing sides when we follow Christ, but we are being freed from slavery to sin. Paul puts it this way:

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Romans 6:6-7

So in sending his Son, what God did was redeem slaves and make them his children. So when we are baptized into Christ, we are liberated from the tyrannical forces of evil and corrupt powers of sin in this world, and adopted into the eternal family of God. How much then does he deserve our allegiance?

Unfortunately, just like the Israelites in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt, we also tend to want to go back into slavery. Back into the bondage of sin, under the authority of the evil one.

This is what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel passage. People respond to the call of the kingdom of God and say they want to follow Jesus, but then the forces of evil will put the pressure on. Fear is a powerful controlling force in our lives, and we will feel shame and intimidation about following Christ, from even those people we care about most.

We have to decide to stand up and speak out for the gospel of Jesus Christ, not matter how people speak against us, or WHO speaks against us. We no longer have to be motivated by fear. Yes, we do fear God, but what he wants us to focus on more is the overwhelming love that the Father has for us. He knows us intimately, and we can be absolutely secure in his loving care. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

We must hold on to this truth, even when the people we care about do not want to give their allegiance to God. They want to remain under tyranny. The pressure will be on, and we have to choose to whom our loyalty belongs, no matter what.

Returning to the theme of family and fatherhood, I think that many of the problems in our society today are caused by the breakdown of the family, which is fundamentally caused by the breakdown of the father. I am definitely not trying to criticize or tear down men – we have enough of that in our world. But the renewal of the family begins with the renewal of fatherhood. So many studies point to this. What the world desperately needs is the renewal of godly fathers – men who are brave and courageous because they know to whom their allegiance is given.

So I have two practical steps for fathers to take if they want to be strong and godly fathers who protect their families:

  1. Make the love of Jesus Christ your first and primary allegiance. Fear God more than you fear anything else. Love God more than you love anything else. Courage comes from finding your security in the love that God the Father has for you.
  2. As fathers, create differentiated leadership. Because of your primary allegiance to the Lord, that will set you apart as a leader so that you will stand when no one else is standing. You will speak when no one else is speaking. You will go toe to toe with evil and fight for your marriage, your family, and your community.

This is the call of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is looking for men who will truly be men, standing in the gap to be leaders in their homes and communities, whose hearts truly and fully belong to him.