Bob Pierce had a wonderful opportunity. He was going to found one of the largest Christian relief organizations in history. We know it today as World Vision. But Bob realized he would never be able to meet the demands of his international ministry and fulfill his duty to his wife and children at home.
So he neglected his family. He left them for up to ten months at a time while doing "the Lord's work" around the globe.
In her book Days of Glory Seasons of Night, written lovingly but honestly by Pierce's daughter, Marilee Pierce Dunker, we see a man's life ruined by opportunities in conflict with basic obligations. No doubt about it, Bob Pierce loved his Lord. His decision was sincere. "Doesn't Luke 14:26 say we must hate mother and father, wife and children to be Christ's disciple?" he would ask. "Well, that's what I'm doing." In response to questions about his long absences from home he would reply, "I've made an agreement with God that I'll take care of His helpless little lambs overseas if He'll take care of mine at home."
At first glance this might look like heroic dedication. But God didn't accept the "agreement." One of Pierce's three daughters committed suicide. His marriage ended in separation. He himself died alone.
"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (I Tim. 5:8). Bob Pierce had no problem paying the bills, but providing for one's family involves more than just material goods. Love and emotional support are part of the obligation.
Mr. Pierce, like many men today, allowed opportunities to distract him from his obligations.
Obliged, I'm Sure
God never relieves us of our obligations to one another. Instead, He relieves us of our obligations toward Himself. In a sense, He sets us free from our duty to serve Him so that we can fulfill whatever moral or legal vows we have made. That is what it means to be "the Lord's freedman" in I Corinthians 7:22. "For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave."
God will not allow people to serve as "Christ's slave" by shirking their other obligations.
On one occasion, Paul sent a very helpful brother in Christ named Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, with a letter requesting the runaway slave's freedom. We do not know what the answer was, but if Philemon waived his rights to this slave, Onesimus became Philemon's freedman, and therefore free to serve God with Paul as Christ's slave. If Philemon refused to waive his rights, God deferred to Philemon and waived His claim on Onesimus' time. The young slave, no matter how talented or helpful in the Lord's work, was then required to be the Lord's freedman. God would not allow him to run away from his obligation to his earthly master.
Is it any wonder that Paul consoled his readers who were in bondage, "Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let it trouble you." In other words, God understands -- there is no condemnation. Paul also advises, "If you have opportunity to become free, do so." And he adamantly warns others, "You were bought with a price. Do not become the slaves of men." God wants us to avoid entanglements, but if we have made a vow or a contract, He wants us to keep our word.
God is Family Friendly
"But," you say, "we are talking about family life, not slavery." Paul applies the same principle to all moral and legal obligations, and specifically marriage.
The obligations of marriage demand time and attention. Paul is clear on this. "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs -- how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world -- how he can please his wife -- and his interests are divided" (I Cor. 7:26-28).
There we have it -- marriage is a moral and legal obligation. God understands that marriage and family will divide our interests. It is acceptable to God for us to take some time away from "world missions" to be a good husband and father. There is no condemnation in keeping your marriage vows.
Bob Pierce was wrong.
Husbands, Wives, and Children First
Not only is it okay to be a good spouse and parent, God will not let a runaway spouse serve him any more than he will let a runaway slave.
Though we are called to "hate" all human relationships in comparison to our love for Christ, we may not neglect our marriage obligations after our salvation, even if our spouse is an unbeliever (see I Cor. 7:12-14). As He did for Onesimus, God gives married Christians the liberty needed to fulfill their obligations without condemnation.
To some extent, married people are the Lord's freedmen. We are excused from all aspects of service that are incompatible with our family responsibilities. We need not feel too bad about this. After all, the normal status of an elder in the church is "married with children." Not many adults have the special ability to remain single without falling into immorality. God is not surprised or disappointed with this. His plan reserves a special place for faithful husbands and fathers, a place that is perfectly compatible with our family obligations.
Waiting for the Right Season of Life
Was founding World Vision a mistake? Not entirely. The opportunity was wonderful and the need obvious. Bob Pierce was clearly the man for the job. It was the timing of Bob Pierce's endeavor that caused the disaster in his family. He was a runaway married husband and father. If he had waited just a few years, perhaps until his wife and children could be part of his team, the casualties would probably have been far fewer.
If Pierce had fulfilled his obligations, his wonderful opportunity would probably have still been there. To be sure, some degree of personal sacrifice would still have been required, for there is no crown of glory without a cross of suffering, but the severe casualties in Bob Pierce's family need not have happened.
It is sometimes said of Christian homeschooling parents that we are self-centered because we don't give as much time to "the Lord's work" as we did before we started to home school. It has even been suggested by a pastor or two that we have made an idol of our families and forsaken our callings to serve Christ.
I don't believe that's true in most cases. Most of us are merely fulfilling our obligations in this very special season of our lives. We are avoiding Bob Pierce's mistake.
Someday we will no longer be mommies and daddies. Our children will be older. We will have more time and more freedom. Our experience in managing our households will have prepared us in ways mere academic training could never do. And we will be able to embrace wonderful opportunities to serve our Lord with no casualties and no regrets.