The home is where everything originates and is centred. Our children grow up within it and we live most of our lives there. The family home is the hub of our mortal existence. It matters not whether the family home is a shanty or a mansion, what happens within its’ walls will shape the generation to come and have a deep and lasting effect on what happens outside of its’ walls. The responsibility for setting the tone of the family rests with the father. He must, as Joshua did so many years ago, decide whether he and his house will serve the Lord or not. Practically, families serve God by serving each other and their neighbours. The godly family is not intended to spend each and every day in Bible study and meditation, but rather, having learned of God, to practically serve each other as we would Christ.

Family rules

The rules for the family need to be set by the parents and adhered to by the parents. It matters not how other families might do things, we must each decide for ourselves how things should be. That is not at all to suggest that we have the right to vary scriptural advice to suit ourselves or to neglect the wealth of wise counsel in the Bible. Rather that we need to have firm (biblical) ideas of how it should be done and set rules accordingly. The family needs rules. Despite what children might think, or what the psychobabble of the world might suggest, rules keep children safe, and make them feel safe. “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.”(Prov 14:260

These rules do not need to be written down but they need to be understood, reinforced and upheld. The reason for such rules needs to be explained in ways that young minds can receive and appreciate. The golden rule “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a good example. We can explain to a young child that if they would not like somebody spoiling their things then it follows that they should not spoil another’s things. This simple family value of respect for others and their property is generated at home and then taken wherever a child might go.

That the responsibility for setting the tone of the family rules lies with the father is clear for God said of Abraham “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). It is evident for most families that the bulk of the work is done by the mother. The father might set the rules and give the orders but it is usually the mother (who ideally is at home more) who ensures that things run as they should. In this there is co-operation. It will not do for either father or mother to undermine each other by either relaxing the standards and so creating confusion or failing to live by them and thereby creating anarchy. The proverb says “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”(Prov 11:29)

The family table

If the home is the centre of family life then the centre of the home is the table. The Psalmist paints a picture (Psa 128:3) of children as olive plants about the table. Resist with all your being the notion that the table need not be the centre of your home. The world no longer eats together and talks together. The dinner table is an excellent place for a daily family conference to review the day and plan for the next. Families were always intended to eat together and talk together and providing some manners are in evidence these things can be done at the same time. Mealtimes ideally are followed by washing of the dishes and everybody helps. While they are helping they are a captive audience for discussion. Labour saving devices such as microwave ovens and dishwashers have bitten into the traditional working of the family. Children need to be reminded that everyone that eats, helps. Get children helping with mealtime chores as early as possible. They will be no help at all to start with, but the training is important. Young children are often happy to help particularly if we make them feel grown up by virtue of helping. Children can and should be involved with meal preparation, table setting and cleaning up. The family table then is the place where service is taught and communication is had. The wise man said “wisdom hath builded her house” (Prov 9:1), and then goes on to describe what we might think are the menial tasks of housework centred around the table, meal preparation and table setting. I think we are being told that it is wisdom to perform these tasks with the spiritual health of the family in mind. Neglect the table at your peril.

The God of everyday life

The home is where all the ordinary things of life take place. We need to make sure that our children see God in the ordinary things. We know these words from Deuteronomy well, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 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 6:4–9). Notice that the teaching of children was in the ordinary things, the everyday events of life; sitting, walking, going to bed and getting up. We need to make sure that our children know that God is there and see Him in all that they do. Notice also that the instruction was to teach children diligently, that is to maximise opportunities and to repeat and repeat and repeat the message. From dawn till dusk children need to be reminded of God in the ordinary things of life. Our children are taught more by inserting God into all of the mundane things of life than by what they learn during the dedicated time to read Scripture.

Psalm 128 paints an idyllic picture of family life where the whole family enjoys meals together and the grandchildren and grandparents share happiness together. It is not always possible but together is how God intends families to be. From the youngest child to the oldest grandparent we are to be together. Resist the tendency to fragment families and preserve combined family gatherings with vigour.

We have God’s assurance that our houses will be blessed and flourish if we follow Him.(Prov 3:33, 14:11) That does not mean material prosperity will necessarily attend us but that the reason for houses (families) will be blessed. Moses pronounced (among others) this blessing “Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out” (Deut 28:6), and we can see that it is the ordinary things of family life, meals and basic activities, which constitute the blessings.

Giving God to our children

It goes without saying that we need to have some overtly spiritual times with our family, to set aside time together for contemplation of God. The things of God need to be broken down so that the right food is offered to each child. Simple family Bible colouring exercises are good and can be done by virtually everybody. We made a practice of having a chocolate at the end of the family readings and discussion for all those who contributed (and made sure that was everybody) and this especially for the younger ones added an air of excitement and expectation to the experience.

When Jesus invited with the words of encouragement “let the little children come unto me” and they came and sat on his knee, he was showing us to lovingly provide scriptural learning for our little ones. We need to commence their tuition about God and His love the moment they are born. While we are not told in so many words it is inconceivable that Jesus’ Father waited until he was four or five before introducing Scripture and godly thoughts. We read “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him”(Luke 2:40). It is impossible to be certain but I favour that they apply to all of the time between age 6 weeks and 12 years. That is to say that his Father took special spiritual interest in him from a very early age.

Children are never too young for God. In any case there can be special delight in the expression of infantile understanding as they try to grapple with the infinite. One of our young nephews asked “Aunty Karen does God send the caterpillars?” “Yes” came the instant reply. The lad said “well he will have to send down some more because I just trodded on one” and looked to the heavens as if he anticipated it to rain caterpillars shortly. We need not fear to share God with young minds who cannot quite (or perhaps at all) grasp the concepts of the divine purpose. God would say “let the little children come unto me”.

Before they can read we must include them in the Bible readings. At first they might only repeat a word at a time and only a few at that, but at length they will learn to recite phrases and even sentences. When they participate, praise and reward them. There will never be a better gift we can give them than an early exposure to the word of God. It is not the job of Sunday School, or the role of the ecclesia; the place for children to learn about God is the home – and we as parents must teach them.