“Daughter have pity on my grey head—have pity on me your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favored you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life. Do not abandon me to the reproach of men, think of your brothers, think of your mother and your aunt, think of your child, who will not be able to live while you are gone. Give up your pride! You will destroy all of us! None of us will ever be able to speak freely again if anything happens to you.”
Those were the words of Perpetua’s biological father as he pleaded with his daughter to recant her newly received faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Forced with the gut-wrenching decision of choosing between her biological family and God, she boldly chose God. The result of her decision, or what she saw as her reward, was martyrdom in the year 202 at the hands of the Roman Empire. The emperor, Septimius Severus, had passed down a verdict that outlawed conversion to Christianity. Insurrection to this law was punishable by death.The Plea of The Heavenly Father
Perpetua, having embraced the faith and life of a Christian, despite her natural father’s appeal for her life, chose God’s family over her natural family. I think it would be fair to say that it was not that her family did not matter to her or that she did not want to honor her father. Rather, it meant that her spiritual family and her heavenly Father mattered more.
“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.” (Lk 14:26)
Perpetua died bravely for Christ in the Roman coliseum. She was first attacked by a ferocious cow. In the process of being hit and thrown by the wild beast, Perpetua’s hair came down. She asked if she could retie it, for loose hair was a sign of mourning and for her the day was a day of rejoicing—for Christ’s sake. Bloodied and broken, she bid farewell with a kiss of peace and died by the sword.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you . . . . Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)
Perpetua, by sacrificial life example, prioritized her spiritual family over her natural family. She honored her heavenly Father and Jesus as preeminent over the priorities in this world—even the concept of “family first.” Her actions revealed that she understood and submitted fully to the teachings of Jesus. Put in simpler terms, she got it! For Jesus taught that family does matter,[i] but God’s family matters most.“‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:31-35)
Who matters more to you, your natural family or God’s family?Endnote: Examples of Jesus Upholding the Value of the Natural Family
- His honoring the family by honoring the God’s the Father’s law (Ex 20:12; Lk 2:51)
-His teaching/upholding the law about honoring parents (Mk 7:9-13)- His teaching about the value of marriage (Mark 10:6)
- His love and care for children (Mark 9:36-37)
- His care for His mother (Jn 19:26-27)
- His post resurrection visit with his brother (1 Cor 15:7)
- Final Note: like Perpetua, the brothers of Jesus got it. Both James and Jude open their letters to the church by referring to themselves as slaves to Jesus their Lord (Jas 1:1; Jude 1). It’s not that their natural family connection did not matter (half brothers of Jesus); it’s that their spiritual family mattered more (Jesus is their God)—thus the latter is all they referenced.
God loves our families more than we ever could. Let’s love our families best by loving Him first and then doing family His way—the way that matters most!
* Perpetua was 22 when she was martyed. She left behind an infant son.