Family – is blood is thicker than water?
“Blood is thicker than water” is often used to coerce victims of abuse to comply with the sinful beliefs and behaviour patterns within a family system. It is used to intimidate and extract loyalty from a member of the family whose conscience is more active and biblically guided than the rest of the family – to get the person to conform to the evil and sin being done by the controlling members of the family.
It is far better be redeemed by the blood of Christ than to have one’s conscience and actions bound and constrained by kinship ties (family bonds) in this fallen world.
To give you an example, I’ll speak personally. None of my family members are genuine Christians. When I was in my twenties I came to saving faith. I know Christ as my personal Saviour and Lord. My family don’t want me to talk about Christ: they are typical western-world unbelievers in that they’re resistant to the gospel. I try to show love and care for all my relatives. I do consider myself committed to their well-being for the rest of our lives. I value and prioritise my relationships with family in a different and more life-long way than I do with friends. That is where ‘blood is thicker than water’ has a grain of truth for me.
I try to show my family members love without condoning their un-Christian habits and beliefs. It’s a tough call; I know I get it wrong often. And I am fortunate: none of my blood relatives are so toxic that I’ve had to go no contact with them.
With my now-ex husbands, I had to go no contact. I’ve been married twice. In each case, when I stated the marriage was O.V.E.R., several of my family members put pressure on me to relent and reconcile or be softer on my husband in some way or other. Several relatives reprimanded me for ‘the way I ended the relationship’ or hinted that there was something wrong with me for getting myself abused. None of them actually said to me “blood is thicker than water” – but that platitude was implicit in what they were saying.
“You can always come home to your family.”
“You can always go home to your family.”
It sounds so comforting. So reassuring. A victim can be lured by the carrot-promise that he or she need not end up homeless and begging on the streets. But if your family has heinously and serially abused you, intermittently showing fake repentance to soften you up again, but demonstrating overall a pattern of serial unrepentance, “You can always go home to your family” is just a manipulative refrain in the evil chorus.
Many people quote “blood is thicker than water” in conjunction with the expectation/demand to blindly overlook family evil, abuse, unrepentant attitudes and behavior. And it’s more twisted and abusive when a family has ‘evangelicalism’ in the mix.
Finding Answers said:
I grew up hearing “blood is thicker than water”. I stopped believing the saying when I saw how it was used to manipulate people into keeping silent.
The “blood is thicker than water” sounded vaguely threatening, rather than loving and / or supportive.
If the family is a loving family, why would the saying be necessary? If a family is Christian, rather than professing ‘c’hristian, I doubt “blood is thicker than water” would be relevant.
As Jeff Crippen wrote in 2013: “The ‘water’ with which genuine Christians have been washed (as symbolized by the water of baptism) is thicker than the blood of all earthly relationships. And where it is not, we have every right to question whether the Lord Jesus is present at all.”
Jesus said emphatically that blood ties with family are less important than following Him
A great number of people went with Jesus, and he turned and said to them, “If a person comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, and moreover his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-26 NMB)
I’ve heard preachers say that the word ‘hate’ in that Luke 14:26 means ‘love less’. I don’t know whether they are right. I did some research to see how much evidence they have for that assertion. The Greek word is μισέω which means to hate, pursue with hatred, detest; in the passive form it means to be hated, detested. The only time it is used in the NT to mean (by extension) to love less is in Luke 14:26.
Matthew 10 conveys a similar idea to Luke 14, without using the word ‘hate’.
Whosoever therefore acknowledges me before men, him will I acknowledge also before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Think not that I have come to send peace into the earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves his father or mother more than me, is not meet for me. And he who loves his son or daughter more than me, is not meet for me. (Matt 10:32-37 NMB)
So we must wrestle with this notion that in following Christ wholeheartedly, a believer may have to ‘hate’ his or her family. Certainly a believer is called upon to love their family less than they love Christ. What does this mean in practice? For me it means that when I am torn between showing my family that I love them in ways they will recogise as love, and showing my family that I love them in ways that they will reject and hate because I’m exhorting them to repent from their sins and follow Christ, I must choose the latter.
I must be wise and brave in how I do this. Wise in not caving in to the ‘family norm’ when to do so would violate my conscience or betray Christ. Wise in not self-servingly or cavalierly saying things to them to prick their conscience. Wise in when I apologise; when I remain silent; when I assert or defend my views. Brave in being willing to face the bristles from my family when I say or do something that pricks their conscience.
The Bible urges us to pray that Christ will return quickly. I have often felt it hard to pray that prayer. I don’t want Christ to return while my daughter is an unbeliever. I don’t want my family members to end up in hell. But I increasingly see the darkness and evil rising and coming out into the open in this fallen world. And I want Christ to come quickly to wind it all up and punish the evildoers.
I’ve realised that I can put these two commandments of God’s together. He tells me to pray for Christ’s quick return. He tells me to hate my family—to love them less than I love Christ. I can pray “Lord, come quickly” more wholeheartedly because I am also commanded to hate my family. Understanding this, I am more wholeheartedly wanting to obey His Word and trusting Him that His timing will be perfect.
Whose blood? The blood tie of family? Or the blood of Christ who died for my sins?
An ACFJ reader emailed me saying:
I think of Jesus’ response to people who came to Him once when He was teaching the crowds, saying that His mother and brothers wanted to speak to Him. He replied that those who do the will of God are His mother, brothers, sisters.
I long for Heaven and to see Jesus personally. One major aspect of our new Home being perfect (sanctified, healed) fellowship, perfect relationships. There will be no hierarchy of any kind – only God Himself.
I imagine “relationships” there will be so different – better, purer, Holy Spirit empowered – that we can’t even conceptualize them. I’ve speculated on the ramifications of the fact that “there is no marriage in heaven; we will be like the angels.” Perhaps that means our earthly marriages and family members coming from/connected to those will be radically different than what we know of here. Perhaps instead of age and experience differences (i.e., grandparents, aunts and uncles, children) we will all be adults and of equal status. No “lonely, single, divorced, widowed or married with kids” status, at all. Just all the redeemed, together/mutually/on an even plain loving and worshipping God.
For Christians, Water Should be Thicker than Blood by Jeff Crippen