I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking about extended family lately, most particularly my nephews. The Bible does not say a “lot” (there is a pun here that adept folk will appreciate) about the relationship between uncles and nephews, but what it does say is challenging to me. In at least four instances in the Old Testament, uncles are portrayed as advisers and/or mentors to their nephews. The first such instance is between Abraham and Lot (and now you know the pun!). It seems that Abraham went out of his way to bless his nephew, even when Lot did not possess the maturity to comprehend the blessing. Abraham took Lot with him when he left Haran for the promised land (Genesis 12:4). Imagine how much wisdom can be imparted (and gained) from such extended travel together. Abraham deferred to Lot rather than create conflict when the success of both men caused trouble (Genesis 13:1-18). Then, when Lot ran into trouble, Abraham came to his defense and rescued him (Genesis 14, especially verses 11-16).
A second uncle/nephew relationship is not as kind and blessed. Laban both mentored his nephew Jacob and took advantage of him. The relationship between Laban and Jacob is complicated, and it teaches us that family relationships can be both complicated and used by God for purposes not seen at the moment. Of course, this relationship became even more complicated when Jacob married two of Laban’s daughters. Laban’s deception toward Jacob serves to teach the nephew more than he ever wanted to know about his own deception.
The third uncle/nephew relationship has enough in it to make us curious about knowing more. Saul had an uncle who was keenly interested in Saul’s comings and goings around the time that Saul was anointed king (see 1 Samuel 10:14-16). There is enough here to see a significant relationship, particularly in family business, but there is also enough to see that Saul was wary of telling his uncle everything he knew.
The fourth uncle/nephew relationship is between King David and his uncle (whose name was Jonathan, not to be confused with David’s friend of the same name). David’s uncle served the court as a counselor, a man of understanding, and as a scribe (see 1 Chronicles 27:32). It seems that David trusted his uncle to give good advice and to take responsibility at court.
One significant New Testament uncle/nephew relationship is that between the Apostle Paul and his unnamed nephew (Acts 23:12-22). The regard that Paul’s nephew had for his uncle and the implicit trust that Paul had in his nephew is evident. Paul’s nephew risked his life for his uncle, and Paul put his own reputation on the line in sending his nephew to the Roman authorities.
I really like my own nephews. One is studying to be a dentist, but more importantly, he and his wife are bold as worshipers of Christ . One just graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, but more importantly, he takes Christ into that arena. One is an accomplished violinist, but more importantly, his eagerness to serve Christ and others is a blessing to all. One is a youth pastor, but more importantly, he is very conscious of “keeping watch over himself” (Acts 20:28) so that he can minister God’s truth to others. One is going this fall to seminary and wants to be a missionary, and he and his wife are the most amazing evangelists who are always ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope they have in Christ. One is very adept at fixing stuff (and at the business of selling stuff he fixes up), but more importantly, he wants humbly to serve Christ with his gifts. One is extremely gifted in many artful ways, whether it is music or writing or drawing, but more importantly he wants to use these gifts to encourage the body of Christ. One is a professional filmmaker and film editor; another is an amazing athlete. I’m excited to see how each of my nephews will use their lives for Christ. Yep, I really like my nephews.
More than what they accomplish, however, I appreciate my nephews for who they are—how God wired them. I want them to know in success or failure, good times or bad, their uncle is in their corner. I will never have to launch out with an army astride camels to rescue one of them, but I do want to be an uncle like Abraham. They may never have to warn me that I’m about to get assassinated by the enemies of our Savior, but I think that they each would act like Paul’s nephew, if I ever got into such troubles.
As I look at the Bible’s view of extended family, the privilege and challenge comes to me to pray for my nephews, to do what I can to model a life of following Jesus Christ, and to mentor them with kindness and encouragement as the Lord gives me the opportunity to do so. May I encourage you to do the same with your extended family? Your influence for Christ extends further than you might imagine.
Someday, I’ll have to tell you about my nieces. :)