This is the first in a series of articles intended to give some practical and solidly scriptural advice for young families in our modern world. The author does not claim to have himself gotten everything right nor to have a perfect family; however the advice offered is based on both experience and the wisdom of God and should therefore prove to be helpful. There are many people who profess to know how to raise families in the communities in which we live but unless their suggestions mirror the advice from Scripture they are at best not very helpful. This series will try to set a biblical basis for its practical advice because the family is after all God’s idea. We need to bear in mind that each family unit is different and some have special challenges and within the scope of a life lived unto God there is room for diversity both in thought and practice to accommodate these differences. What we need to remember is that the future of our ecclesias rests on our shoulders and we therefore need to carefully show the things of God to the upcoming generation.
That there was a divine family before ever there were people on the earth is clear, for the angels made us and they evidently constitute the greater part of God’s family. The Apostle Paul called God’s family the “whole family in heaven and earth”. Family and family structure was God’s idea long before we came into being. It will be instructive to examine the context of the above passage in Ephesians to gain some lessons from God’s family before we consider our own.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:14–19).
We note the following points about God’s family:
- It has a Father worthy of respect (“I bow my knees unto the Father”)
- The family is named after the Father (“of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named”)
- The Father can strengthen us (“that he would grant you … to be strengthened with might”)
- There is a family quality (“the riches of his glory … the love of Christ”)
- There is an expectation that we all should share God’s character and glory (“ye might be filled with all the fulness of God”).
There is then an onus on brethren as husbands and fathers to set the tone for our families and to provide guidance and support as does God. We will consider these thoughts in detail in a subsequent article (God willing) but it is sufficient to note here that God’s own arrangements are the basis of what ours are to be.
Part of a larger family
We are not left in any doubt either that each one of our families is part of a larger one. Moses warned any “man, or woman, or family, or tribe” to take heed to God (Deut 29:18). The nation in turn was part of all the families of the earth that were to share the promises made to Abraham (Gen 12: 3). All the families of the earth are in turn a part of God’s family in heaven and in earth. The head of the family has the responsibility and privilege of guiding and instructing the family. The guidance from our heavenly Father is His Word which it is our privilege to consider.
There is a sense of progression from an individual, to a family, to an ecclesia, to a nation, to the world, and ultimately to the universe. There are family blessings and responsibilities at every stage. While it is acknowledged that not all share in every stage (eg those without natural families) there are family connections and ideas that are relevant to us all. This is borne out eloquently in the Psalms: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psa 27: 10). Let us not think if we have no immediate family that family considerations are not meaningful for us for there is a broader sense of family and belonging for each one of us.
The purpose of families
A family without structure and purpose will quickly decay into anarchy and bedlam. There needs to be an established ‘chain of command’ and obvious family expectation and purpose. It is so in heaven and there is no reason why it should not be so on earth. A lovely quote from a plaque might suffice to put the matter succinctly: “Our family, where each lives for the other and all live for God.” There is at least in the world about us a tendency to forget this and look for purpose and meaning without God. There is none! Our purpose and reason for living is to contribute to the honour of God’s greater family. Apart from God there is no meaning to family or life. Without God it is all just emptiness, as said the wise man, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh” (Eccl 1:4). Again the wise man said, “If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he” (Eccl 6:3).
God arranged the basis of our family unit back in the beginning and Adam, the first man, understood it for he said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen 2:23–24). The idea of the word “cleave” is similar to the concept of welding in metalwork. The surrounding metal is heated together until it becomes one piece and cannot be separated into the same two parts without causing considerable damage. The newly formed work is then one piece and is not intended to break. A solid marriage is therefore the best basis for any family. My father would say, “the best thing you can ever do for your children is to love their mother”. There is a wealth of wisdom behind that simple saying. (As an aside, that I find myself quoting my own father is itself instructive for fathers.)
The world has gone mad and has set aside God’s basis both in cohabitation without marriage, and in divorce. The believer is not free to adopt either of these options; in any case they do not work well and present enormous challenges to the goal of integrating our family into the divine. Without spending more time on the importance of sound marriages it might simply be said that it was ordained by Yahweh to promote a godly seed. If another arrangement might produce similar or comparable results then clearly God would have consented to it. When God set down the basis for our lives, let us not imagine He did not consider all of the possibilities for raising children. We may rest assured that what God has chosen is superior to all other alternatives. Malachi simply says in answer to the question “And wherefore one?” – that is, why one wife as distinct from any other relationship? – the answer is provided for us, “That he might seek a godly seed” (Mal 2:15). It is clear that the reason for families is to promote God. It is also clear that in God’s mind the only basis for a family which works well is one husband and his wife as a united spiritual partnership. This is by no means intended to either alienate or condemn those families in less than ideal circumstances, but to serve as a timely reminder to us all, that God’s way is best. In that the concept of family is extended by God beyond what we might call our immediate family, we all have the opportunity and responsibility to practise spiritual family values regardless of whether we have a traditional family unit or are even part of a family at all.
A spiritual union – the best basis for a family
Abraham reminded Eliezer that a suitable wife would come only from his family. Of Abraham God said, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (Gen 18:19). Clearly these values were important to Abraham and he insisted that for his son Isaac only somebody from his family with the same characteristic would suffice. Taking a wife (or husband) who is in Christ is for us the equivalent of taking a bride for Isaac from among Abraham’s family. This for Abraham (and I suggest for us also) is the most important characteristic. This is not to downplay physical attraction; I am not suggesting that we should take wives if we find them unattractive, but rather that physical attraction is of less consequence in a sound marriage than a meeting of spiritual minds. In any case, physical beauty can fade but spiritual beauty grows lovelier with every passing day. The world has gone mad concerning this also. Young women are encouraged to advertise themselves provocatively and to flaunt their physical assets shamelessly. Such girls often wonder why they attract only the kind of men that would make poor husbands. Young men would do well to ignore, better yet to run from such girls as those who display themselves physically and place no value on things which really count. A marriage based on physical things alone has no reasonable prospect of raising “godly seed”, which after all is one of the chief purposes of a family. This does not at all mean that those without their own children cannot and should not contribute to the cause of a godly seed in other ways. Paul had Timothy as a “son in the faith” and John saw the ecclesia as his children and rejoiced to hear that they walked in truth (3 John 4).
God as the foundation of a family
Have you ever wondered why we have families or ecclesias for that matter? It was God’s idea. As God looked down on creation and saw all the things that were good, he identified one thing that was not: the prospect of living alone. Our families and ecclesias teach us patience, humility and service. The co-operation together that is required is the ‘engine room’ for spiritual growth and progression of our own godly character. We are social creatures and God intends for us to have families and communities to interact with, as said the Psalmist, “God setteth the solitary in families” (Psa 68:6).
We need to have God in our lives for successful families; no, better yet, we need to have God direct our lives for successful families. As the Psalmist said, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psa 127:1). The Hebrew word translated “house” does not so much mean building but family as in “the house of David”. The reason why the house has come to mean building is because the building was where the house (family) lived. The Hebrew words for build (banah) and son (ben) are connected as are the words for house (beth) and daughter (bath). So when the Psalm says “build the house”, we may take it that the whole family is envisaged. We notice that the psalmist does not say that God agrees to the building or that He helps or contracts the building out – God does the building. That is because it is His house. Our families are part of God’s and if we labour alongside Him He will build our families living stone by living stone. In that sense each of our houses then is “the house of the Lord” that we are blessed to dwell in (cp Psa 23:6: 84:4). How important then that we make our homes places where “holiness becometh thine house” (Psa 93:5) and endeavour to “walk within my house with a perfect heart” (Psa 101:2).
So then the basis of a family is God. Families exist because of God and work together for God’s sake, anticipating the time when the whole family of God in heaven and in earth shall be united.