In this article we will look at the roles and relationships which make the family what it is. As is our focus we will consider them biblically with a practical emphasis.

The father as Christ

For the father of a godly family there are some significant responsibilities. The father represents both Christ and God and in that sense has some very large shoes to fill. It is the job of the man to both be a husband to his wife (and so to act as Christ) and to be a father to his family (and so to act as God). In regard to the first of these we will consider just two Scriptures. Firstly 1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” Here the Apostle Peter reminds us men that our wives are different to us. They require special handling and understanding. Men do not natively and instinctively know how to live with their wives. So, brethren, you need to take time and effort to make your partnership work. Remember she is different and treat her as special. There is a danger in this that you might become irritable, none of your male friends require so much understanding and care and it can seem just too onerous at times. The wise man therefore encourages us to “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun”(Eccl 9:9). In this I take Solomon to mean that it can at times be all too easy to not be joyful even with a wife that we love. Happiness is a state of mind and is independent of the circumstances upon which we may have thought it to be based. Brethren, we can choose to be happy with our wives and our circumstances, and the proverb recommends it. Finally we must do more to make our wife happy. This is our responsibility. Does she feel loved, cared for and appreciated? If not why not? It is our duty to see that our wives are cherished as per the example of Christ.

The father as God

Concerning our obligations after the example of God we need to be a provider in a physical and spiritual sense. We might preface these remarks with the caution of the Apostle Paul to Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (esv 1 Tim 5:8). In practical and in spiritual matters we have an obligation to take the lead and ensure that our children are provided for. In this sense are we to be the head of the house. The man who believes that his position entitles him to be an autocrat is mistaken. He is to be the chief servant of the household. It is somewhat of a paradox but the message is that the father is himself served by serving. The greatest happiness that a father can experience comes from placing his family first and himself last. This certainly cuts across conventional ‘wisdom’ but like all of God’s recommendations it works.

It falls to the father to set the tone for discipline and behaviour. This he must do by example. If the father is overbearing and unreasonable then the children may be stirred into anger and this the apostle warns against this in Ephesians 6:4. The child has no right to question the father and the father has no requirement to explain himself to the children; however it will often be appropriate to provide sound and/or biblical support for our decisions. In this way the child learns why. Sometimes an explanation is not able to be grasped and we need to strike a balance. We have a humourous saying on the wall of our kitchen entitled “Because I said”. It reads “at this point in time you are incapable of understanding why I make decisions; explanations therefore are superfluous to your happiness”. As much as I vowed that would not be my position sometimes it just is. The father reserves the right to make decisions for his family and does not always need to explain himself.

Key responsibilities as a father

The world around us has a popular notion of ‘quality time’. This is just a convenient way of excusing ourselves from spending quantity time with our children. Fathers, make sure you spend time (lots of it) with your children. Play with them, read with them, walk with them, talk with them and learn about God together with them.

The real onus for making the marriage work falls on the husband as he represents Christ, and the onus for making the family strong is again his because he represents God. We cannot, brethren, leave either job to our wives, which we try to do all too often. The responsibilities are ours and we must shoulder them. When things do not go well the lion’s share of the blame therefore rests with us. These last two statements may not sit well with us but they are the stark facts. Brothers, we all need to lift our game if we are to even in a small way represent those of whom our relationships are but a type.

The mother as a wife

Just as the father has a dual role to follow so does the mother. She is first a wife and then a mother. A husband will perform at his best when he feels he has your respect and support. The Apostles Paul and Peter both emphasised this, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (esv Eph 5:22) and “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands” (esv 1 Pet 3:1). If your husband does not feel supported and respected then he will wither and his service will suffer. This is not at all to suggest that wives should be as doormats to be walked over, or to submit that only the husbands’ views ought to be considered. Rather it should remind you, dear sister, that nothing will undermine your husband’s resolve faster than an unsupportive wife. As a wife you need to realise what works and what does not. Men can be quite imperceptive and even ‘thick’ at times and you might despair of the message ever getting through. Gentle perseverance may work but nagging will not. The Proverbs warn against this on four separate occasions (19:13; 21:9; 25:24; 27:15). Few things will discourage a man faster than criticism. If he has helped with, say, the washing, praise him, even if his help was less than satisfactory and show him (nicely) how to do it even better next time and watch him help you again. Nag him for doing it poorly and you might find that he is too busy with almost anything else to help next time.

The mother as a nurturer

As a mother the influence you exert on young minds is considerable. In the record of the kings of Judah we often read “and his mother’s name was …” reminding us of the power for good or ill that is wielded by mothers. The direction of a child is largely set before they turn five and it is the mother who sets it. How blessed we are to have lovely godly mothers to raise us. Brother Harry Tennant once said, “Wives have the threads of immortality in their hands and must seek to weave them into the minds of husband and children alike”. The husband might have the responsibility for setting the tone of the family but in practice it is almost always the wife who carries out the work.

The world around us has diminished the role of at-home-mums to insignificance and uselessness. This is a terrible tragedy. There is nothing more important and lovelier than a mother raising her children and teaching them to fear God. How do we encourage our sisters to be a “joyful mother of children” (Psa 113:9) when the whole world it seems is belittling motherhood? We need to resist with all that we are able the tendency for mothers of young children to leave the home for work. Economic imperatives (while important) need to be considered alongside spiritual ones in our family decisions. Consider very carefully whether it is either wise or necessary before sending mum to work outside of the home. The sound advice of the Apostle Paul to Titus was that women should be “keepers at home” (Tit 2:5) and this is hard to practise if they are out at work.

We would all accept (children especially) that there are some things that mothers are just better at. When you need comfort you run to mum and you expect to be fussed over. Isaiah did not say, “As one whom his father comforteth” (Isa 66:13). Any man will feel blessed to have a lovely mother care for his children, and such children will grow up to love and respect their mother.

Grandparents

When the proverb said “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children”(Prov 13:22), it was not talking about land and possessions. Grandparents by their influence on the parents and by their involvement in the grandchild’s life can have a profound effect. What spiritual inheritance are we leaving for our grandchildren? The man who orders his family well, will enjoy grandfatherhood, as recorded the psalmist, “Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord … Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel” (Psa 128:4,6). To such grandparents, grandchildren are the icing on top of the cake or to use the language of the proverbs “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged” (esv Prov 17:6) Grandparents have a responsibility to their descendants to continue to act with spiritual leadership. We read a warning in Deuteronomy 4:25–26 of grandparents who set a poor example and so caused ruin on their family. “When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.” The record of 2 Kings 17:41 sadly chronicled that it happened exactly as Moses had warned. So grandparents have tremendous privileges yet still bear great responsibility.

Children

“Children are an heritage of the Lord”, wrote the Psalmist (127:3), but we do not always see them as such. We need to be reminded not just that our children come from God but that they are a sacred trust from God. It is folly to provide for our children’s material and physical well being at the expense of their spiritual needs. We need to trust that God Who gave us our children will also provide us with what we need to raise them properly. Do not feel that children need a lot of stuff. As a child Jesus did not, and we would hesitate to question the rationale of his Father. Most young children will play just as cheerfully (if not more so!) with the box a large toy came in than the toy itself. We got very good mileage from washing machine and freezer boxes over the years.

Remember that children are born with an instinctive trust of their parents: take care to nurture and not destroy that. Children however are not born with many other virtues, as Job lamented, “man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). We do not think when our children are born, ‘here is another rotten sinner’, yet that is exactly the case. It is our job to make it otherwise. A child must learn about God and we must teach them. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deut 6:6–9). This means an active program of spiritual instruction on a continual basis. I am not suggesting spiritual drudgery, or the absence of fun but a careful entwining of the divine into the ordinary things of life.

Children to some parents are status symbols, or annoyances. We must never view them in this way. Our children must be an integral part of the family, a blessing from God that we might continue the faith to another generation.