God designed the family to be the core relational unit of society—the place where we first experience and learn ‘community.’ But in a fallen world full of fallen people, it isn’t always easy to experience community in our families.
Sometimes, for the sake of peace and sanity—and in extreme situations, safety—cutting ties is the better option.
What does the Bible Say about Cutting Ties with Family?
for a companion of fools suffers harm. ”Proverbs 13:20
Most people who cut ties with family do so because maintaining the relationship is more harmful than beneficial. As Christians, we are called to exhibit the good interpersonal traits of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12), but God does not expect us to needlessly subject ourselves to harm.
Even Jesus invited us to rethink our relational priorities, as we witness in this brief exchange:
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50
As Westerners in an individualistic culture, we might breeze past this conversation too quickly. But in the collectivism of Jesus’ day, his words were utterly shocking.
In a society where people were defined by their family ties, for Jesus to say that his disciples were more of a family to him than his blood relatives was unheard of and scandalous.
Jesus was turning our thinking upside down, but not without reason. It is important to remember that during his lifetime, Jesus’ brothers were not his followers. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection that his brothers became believers. So at the time that Jesus spoke these words, his brothers were actively trying to thwart his ministry.
Is it a Sin to Cut Ties with Family?
Why we choose to cut ties matters. It starts with understanding our priorities as believers. Just as Jesus declared that his ministry—and his ministry partners—were a higher priority than his family, he invites us to reciprocate:
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-62
Jesus wants us to be all-in when we make the decision to follow him. He says this with full recognition that sometimes family members will be so opposed to our decision to follow Jesus that it will naturally result in division.
When Jesus first commissioned his disciples, he warned them to expect hostility. In the midst of that speech, recorded in Matthew 10, he had a few things to say about family:
- Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child (v 21)
- Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. (v 21)
- You will be hated by everyone because of me. (v 22)
- For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, (v 35)
- …a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (v 35)
- A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. (v 36)
- Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (v 37)
He closes by adding, ‘Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it,’ (v 39). In Jesus’ day, cutting ties with family meant cutting ties with life as you know it, and embarking on a new life altogether. It is a radical commitment, but not without precedent.
When God called Abraham, the first patriarch of Israel, he instructed Abraham to leave his homeland. That meant leaving his family, his security, and everything that defined him in order to obey God.
What Does the Bible Say about Cutting Ties with Children?
Of all the relationships in a nuclear family, the greatest responsibility for maintaining and nurturing healthy ties is placed on parents.
- Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire. Proverbs 29:17
- Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death. Proverbs 19:18
When children are young, parents are obligated by God to instill discipline and values in them. But when the children become adults, they will live as adults and direct their own lives:
What does the Bible Say about Disowning Your Parents?
When scripture speaks about leaving your parents and marrying, we should not interpret this as an instruction to sever ties. Rather, it speaks to a change in the relationship, not an end to the relationship.
The fifth commandment; Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you, (Exodus 20:12) is still in full force when a child becomes an adult. But honoring your parents doesn’t mean blindly obeying them. Rather, this is a command to give the relationship the weight that it deserves. Even if there is cause to sever ties with parents, the choice must be justified, and it must be done with respect and honor.
As Jesus’ words remind us, sometimes even parents and children become divided. So when is it right to cut ties?
Cutting Ties with Toxic Family
Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:14, 17-18
On a farm, pairing two animals of unequal size and strength on a single yoke can have disastrous effects on the work being done. The same thing happens in human relationships. As Paul points out here, light and darkness cannot exist in the same place.
When someone close to you, even a family member, becomes an impediment to your health—physical, emotional, or spiritual—and interferes with your ability to follow God’s path, it is appropriate to set boundaries. If the impediment is extreme, it is Biblical to cut a person off completely.
But before you take the extreme and costly step of severing a relationship, it is incumbent on us to first offer a pathway to healing and reconciliation.
How to Deal with Toxic Family Members Biblically
In Matthew 18, Jesus provided us with an instruction manual for repairing relationships. Though the context is for relationships between believers, the steps are applicable in family relationships also, even if one is not a believer:
- If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.
- If they listen to you, you have won them over. (v 15)
- But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (v 16)
- If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church;
- If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (v 17)
Our first duty when we are wronged is to confront the wrongdoer directly (assuming it is safe to do so). As Christians, our objective is to share God’s grace and invite reconciliation, so we must deliver our words with truth and clarity but without condemnation. Restoration is our goal.
If our efforts to repair the relationship or right the wrong are not welcomed, Jesus calls us to take additional steps which, once exhausted, may ultimately lead to severing ties.
When dealing with people, we simply will not win every victory. Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18). But sometimes, peace is beyond our control, and it is okay to walk away.