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Many who read this piece have been reared in Christian homes. Others of you did not grow up in the church and still have close relatives who are not believers in Christ. In such cases, your family is one of your mission fields, but it is one of the hardest mission fields of all. To help you, here are eight principles of witness for those who have unconverted family members, though they can assist those who were raised in a Christian environment as well.

honor christ first

The lordship of Christ precedes parental respect. He bought you by His blood. Your life belongs to Him. Nothing should compromise your primary allegiance to your King. The prophet Elisha was permitted fond farewells (1 Kings 19:20). The call of Jesus precludes rivals or delays. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Shun false religion, banish evil traditions, avoid family sins, and regularize church attendance. Such quiet, wise, obedience can collide with family concerns. A Christian has little choice but to exercise deference to Christ. Yet, know that godliness often aligns with the wishes of unconverted parents.

love your parents

Next to loving God comes giving way to Dad. The general principle taught by the fifth commandment is to obey lawful government (Ex. 20:12). The specific application is that children honor parents. Children must please parents in everything (Col. 3:20), with careful qualification (Eph. 6:1–3). Positively, you should elevate and esteem your parents. Negatively, you should avoid any course that demeans or damages them. Your manner is all-important: not a sluggish sigh but glad compliance pleases God.

bring smiles

At home in Nazareth, the parents of Jesus were revered (Luke 2:51). At His baptism and transfiguration, His Father was well pleased (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). God grants grace to help friends of His Son, who submitted fully to Him. Newly converted disciples will seek parental joy. Some parents will be glad that the gospel has tamed a “wild child.” Others will be cheered by a once-selfish teen who now puts parents before self. When formerly obnoxious angst morphs into obedient acts, worried moms and dads are less wrinkled and more relaxed. Even pagan parents can grasp the value of proverbs that applaud a godly child (Prov. 10:1; 17:25).

God's right, wise, best path may lead you into pain or to your parents’ being saved—so leave it in His hands.
prepare for trials

Even in churchgoing families, salvation may be disdained. If your reputation suffers, as the man born blind’s did (John 9:22), you might be rejected. If you are reared in a religion that brands you an apostate for converting to Christ, you could face danger or death. Most believers who come from non-Christian families meet low-grade, long-term opposition at some point. Like John Bunyan’s pilgrim Christian, you’ll cross paths with dissuasion, difficulty, and discouragement. Parents may resist, ridicule, or resent you. Be prepared for false accusation or deliberate misunderstanding. Kind responses have a sweetening effect: consciences are often pricked and hearts magnetized to the cross of Christ by mild reactions to tricky tests. To handle this right, you require discernment.

be wise

Avoid flashpoints with forethought and tact. Daniel 1:8–17 reminds those who live in hostile homes that prayerful common sense can avert standoffs. Stand in their shoes—try to grasp their shame and hurt. Don’t let fears of rift expand to long-term drift. Try to defuse tension when you dare resist their wishes. Warm, respectful tones assure them that you love them. Letters, cards, and gifts convey that you mean no harm. If you skip events, bolster family bonds. Host a get-together. Present thoughtful gifts. Apologize for mistakes. Get divine aid.

pray much

Hard-hearted parents rarely melt apart from bent knees. Don’t assume you will be left finally “home alone”: often, sons or daughters are the first people saved in a household and serve as a tool of God to lead their family home (one by one or all at once). Certainly, unbelievers are hostile to the gospel (Rom. 8:7). Christ told His disciples that among them He swings a sword (Matt. 10:34). Yet, in this age, Satan is chained (Rev. 20:2). Prayer may move parents to accept more than you expect. Paul did say that all the godly suffer grief (2 Tim. 3:12), yet persecutors are not ordinarily parents. Salvation tends to fix what sin lost at the fall (of which family units are part). Ask God to help Dad cut you some slack, to draw Mom to the light, and to make room for you to lovingly speak sound words to both of them. Christ rules over all for the sake of saints (Eph. 1:21–22). Prayer bends wills, shifts attitudes, clears paths, reveals options, gives understanding, convicts sinners, and gives grace.

seek souls

Doing what parents ask and avoiding compromise put gospel power in domestic flesh and blood. Jesus-like submission proves the truth is right and good. Gentle respect lends credibility to spoken words. Never hector or lecture. Don’t embarrass or attack. Address parents humbly, gently, and kindly with respect (1 Peter 3:14–17). Private is better than public unless they say, “Speak up.” Don’t force the issue. Give God time to act. Be attentive in crisis, grief, or sickness. When you part your lips, ask Christ to open hearts. This demands faith and patience on your part.

trust god

Since God attaches a promise, children who obey their parents can expect long, blessed lives. Remember that God is sovereign. He chose you before time. He made your mom and dad. He knows how families work. The command of Christ to children is a road map for their peace. His right, wise, best path may lead you into pain or to your parents’ being saved—so leave it in His hands. When sorely pressed, keep trusting in His Word. Like Joseph in the pit, be ready to submit, and trust Christ to exalt. For the Chief Shepherd loves His lambs (1 Peter 5:5–7).

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