“Anansi ndi nkhondo.”
“Relatives are a battle.”
We have all experienced this, in many different ways. If you have followed the Lord’s leading into ministry, you probably attracted some family rebukes. Relatives called you foolish. They muttered that you were wasting your abilities.
Relatives are a battle in that they also fight for our time and attention. When a father seeks to work, sometimes he is drawn away by conflict in the family. When a mother needs a moment of rest, the children plot trouble and chaos. Anansi ndi nkhondo!
But who in Africa would actually suggest that we should avoid family, marriage, and children? These three are intertwined in African culture, and even more so, we expected these blessings from God as a reward for our faithful service to Him. Yet our eyes turn to the words of God in Jeremiah 18.
NO FAMILY for Jeremiah
The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.Jeremiah (16:1-4)
Jeremiah was commanded by God to not have a family. He had no wife to support him and no children to bless him. But when we serve God, sometimes we must break culture.
Consider the consequences are having no children. What happens if you lack a child, an heir? When you die, your family land will pass to another, won’t it? But why would Jeremiah need an heir, if the land was to be destroyed? The children would not inherit; they would die.
Jeremiah lived in a time with God’s judgment looming over rebellious Judah (see the remainder of Jeremiah 16). In a sense, Jeremiah’s life was a picture of Judah’s future – wifeless, childless, destitute. He was a visible sign to the nation of what was to come.
NO EVENTS for Jeremiah
For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink.For thus says the Lordof hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.Jeremiah 16:5-9
Many of us have a family member who acts like they are not in the family.
Someone is dead, but they do not come.
Grief has visited the family, but they will not grieve.
Even when there is joy such as with a birth or a wedding, they never arrive.
It is as if they left the family, ignored society, and disgraced the African way of life.
Jeremiah’s situation was not so different. He would be considered an outcast to avoid funerals and feasts. While others participated in the customs of the day, he was only permitted to care about God and delivering His Word. From another viewpoint, the calling of God can look like a curse.
The life of Jeremiah was on display before the people. Since judgment was coming, he could not participate in life as usual. God had withdrawn His pity from Israel, so how could Jeremiah shed tears at a funeral when God was not grieved?
Recognizing that God instructed Jeremiah to live in a particular way before judgment, how should we live at this time – the time appointed to us?
1. Acknowledge that singleness for God’s service is honorable.
Jeremiah was commanded to be single and celibate. In some cultures, we treat that like a death sentence. But brothers and sisters, the time before final judgment is short for us today. The Lord may return now! Let us hear the words of 1 Corinthians 7:25-31.
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed womanmarries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none,and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.1 Corinthians 7:25-31
The parallels to Jeremiah are shocking. The impending judgment of Judah was close, and so Jeremiah was told to avoid family attachments and the normal events/rhythms of life. Paul uses the same reasoning to Christians in Corinth. Judgment is soon. The present world is passing away – taking its last breath.
If you are unmarried, can you accept those words? It is no sin to marry, but with the little time remaining and the ministry laid before you by God, do have you time for those joys and those troubles? Some like Peter did, but others like Paul and Jesus did not.
2. Choose the obligations and responsibilities that will empower your calling, not inhibit it.
For Jeremiah to fulfill His responsibilities and represent God’s message well, God determined that Jeremiah would be single and culturally inappropriate.
What had God called each of us to in these last days before judgment? The time is short.
Can we carry our calling and be a prominent member of society?
A politician? A husband and a father? A wife and a mother?
We must choose our obligations wisely, and let them not encroach on our calling. Can we only choose responsibilities that will cooperate with and assist our heavenly King’s orders?
We cannot simply get married or do anything because it is the normal thing to do in our culture or family. We are in the service of the Almighty God.
3. God is not obligated to bless you with family, events, or public honor.
What if God called you to be a servant without family or social involvement outside of ministry?
Could you bear it?
How much would you complain?
How much would your family complain?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, listen carefully. Contrary to the many words of blessing you have received and the many promises of a prosperous tomorrow declared over you, God does not owe you anything.
You are not owed a spouse.
You are not owed children.
You are not owed a comfortable church position.
You are not owed a place of honor in your family.
You are not owed social standing.
Our cultures and families teach us what is normal and what we are entitled to.
They train us to expect honor when we are old, and families when we are young.
They teach us the social norms we must follow.
Yet when we have a higher King – the King of Kings – we find that we are not owed anything in this world. Don’t forget the words of Christ in Luke 9:59-60,“To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’” That’s perfectly reasonable, but when we follow the King, Jesus can say, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
God called Jeremiah, and Jeremiah lived like God owed him nothing. He “enjoyed” a forty-year ministry where virtually no one listened to him. But he served God well, even as he missed the joys of family and the events of life. He had success in his ministry.
And in our time, God calls us. God owes us nothing in this world; we owe Him everything.
Dr. Scott MacDonald serves as the Academic Dean and a lecturer with the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia. He enjoys exploring issues pertaining to Biblical Demonology, African Christian Theology, and Byang Kato. He is married to Michal, and they have three children – Malachi, Adelaide, and Isaiah. Visit his website at https://scottdmacdonald.academia.edu/.