There’s no place like home. I wonder, has the meaning of this cliché changed over the past year? As we’ve had to face strict stay-at-home orders yet again, we’ve been confronted with the reality of life at home. For many of us, this has not meant attaining the mythical work-life balance but, instead, more stress, less contentment, and no bandwidth. Home was once a place of comfort and safety; now it’s a source of blurry boredom and misery.
In response to this, you may have found yourself asking, ‘What will revolutionise my home-life?’ We all know that Jesus’ gospel is a revolution, but in what way is it a revolution at home? What would a home look like if it was shaped around Jesus? I am not talking about devotional rhythms or décor; rather, I am talking about what it would look like to start each day asking, ‘What does Jesus desire for this home today?’
The beginning of Jesus’ answer may surprise you. He says, ‘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’ (Luke 14:26). Jesus calls us to let go of the idea that those I’m most closely tied to are the number one thing in my life.
For many of us family relationships do not reign supreme over our decision making, yet Jesus’ words are no less shocking. Now we could quickly clarify what Jesus means here: he regularly and deliberately shocks us in his teaching (e.g. Luke 18:25); he calls us to love and not hate (Matt 5:43-44; see also 1 John 2:11, 3:15, 4:20); Matthew records this event in terms of who we love, and not hate (Matt 10:36-39). So, Jesus doesn’t really mean what he says.
But it’s worth sitting with the discomfort. Even if we take these things into account, Jesus really is saying that he is more important than the person you share a bed with, or that precious child you’re raising, or those loyal siblings, or even those who raised you. Or in Matthew’s phrasing, Jesus calls us to love him more than we love them (Matt 10:36-39). Blood is thicker than water, but Jesus’ blood is thicker still.
In these (yes, shocking!) words Jesus is unfolding the path of the cross in social terms. Jesus makes this apparent by relating this episode to the first call to discipleship: not only does he include your ‘own life’ in his list, but he goes on to speak about the carrying of our cross (Luke 14:27). In other words, following Jesus not only begins with, but also continues as a daily walk towards crucifixion (9:23-24). Yet Jesus graciously promises that real life is found through this daily death to every worldly attachment.
Listen to how Paul speaks about this personally in Galatians 2:20,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul applies this same logic to all Christians in 2 Corinthians 5,
One has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ And this call is an invitation to the path Jesus walked, when he refused to cling to his heavenly entitlements and attachments and, instead, lowered himself to service in the shape of execution (Phil 2:6-8). This is why his Father exalted him to glory (2:9-11), and this is to be the mindset of every Christian (2:5).
So when it comes to our home life, the first thing Jesus calls us to do is to die by renouncing home and stepping onto this cross-shaped path as a ‘daily’ task (Luke 9:23).
But is this all Jesus calls us to do? In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society we meet a young girl, Kit, with an absentee mother, Elizabeth. As the story unfolds we discover that Elizabeth’s brave stand in the face of Nazi injustice is the reason for her absence. Because of her commitment to love the mistreated, Elizabeth loses the ability to love the person right in front of her and Kit is unfairly deprived of a mother. Is Jesus’ call like this? Forsake our family for a higher goal?
It’s fascinating, then, that when Jesus is faced with a similar tension of priorities he seems, for a time, to abandon the path which he’ll later call us to follow. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ pre-teen temple foray (Luke 2:41-52), we see Jesus pursuing his divine purpose as God’s Son. If anyone had cause to abandon earthly duties for a higher purpose, it was Jesus. Yet the account ends with Jesus going back to Nazareth with his parents, ‘submitting to them’ (Luke 2:51). The heavenly man, the Son of God, submits to his earthly parents.
Isn’t that remarkable? Jesus, the one through whom and for whom Mary and Joseph exist, submits to their parenting. Why? It can’t be because they were particularly experienced as parents. I imagine they were anxious and perhaps just a little over-protective. No, it’s not because of what they could do but because of who they were: they simply were his parents. By this simple act Jesus underlines that how we behave in the home really matters!
A Jesus-shaped home
This may seem like a roundabout way to arrive at something we all take for granted, but the journey has been important. It tells us that the tension between my spiritual life and my family life is only apparent. It also tells us that the way Jesus revolutionises our home life is by revolutionising me! The way my home life will improve is not by focusing more on home, but by focusing more on Jesus. Because, as I privilege Jesus’ voice above all others, I am called and empowered to lay my life down in love for those right in front of me.
Let me suggest that this pattern of daily self-denial is the biblical root for all the ‘household’ behaviour we see in, for example, Ephesians or Colossians. Unless we embrace the path of the cross, our homes will not live up to those codes. Consider Ephesians 5-6. These chapters are part of Paul’s discussion on spirit-filled living (5:15-21), which is itself part of a section about walking in the self-giving love of Christ (5:1-2), which is itself part of living a life worthy of our calling (4:1) by doing the good works prepared for us (2:10).
It’s no surprise, then, that Jesus is the model and motivation for each relationship at church and home: we sing to Jesus (5:19); give thanks in his name (5:20); submit to each other in reverence for Jesus (5:21); wives submit as to Jesus (5:22, 24); husbands are to love and cherish like Jesus (5:25-30), because marriage is all about Jesus (5:23, 31-33); children should obey and fathers instruct in Jesus (6:1, 4); slaves should obey as they would Jesus (6:5) because they’re primarily slaves of Jesus (6:6-7) and should expect a reward from Jesus (6:8); masters are to do (notice) ‘the same’ as the slave, since they also serve Jesus (6:9).
You might have questions about how we apply patterns of behaviour from then and there to us here and now. That’s a different article. I’m interested in how Jesus is the model and motivation for each person. Can you imagine how such a home would be brimming with Jesus’ grace and love? A Jesus-shaped home is one where what shines brightest is not décor, or the renovations, or even the religious habits, but a home where Jesus shines in every interaction.
Jesus has rescued us and calls us to a revolutionary life lived in gratitude to him. It’s a path he’s walked before us and for us. And it’s the path that displays the very love and glory of God. Real home renovation is an inward change that comes as I die to myself daily. And this happens as I let go of every worldly attachment and lay my life down in service for others in the power of the Spirit.
Perhaps the best way to put this into practice — whoever you are in your household, or whoever you’re most closely connected to — is simply to ask, ‘How can I make this a home for you?’ and then to pray, ‘Father help me walk this path of the cross, for their good and your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.’