Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Joyful children, sons and daughters,
Shall about thy table meet,
Olive plants in strength and beauty,
Full of hope and promise sweet.
—Psalter number 360:3: a versification of Psalm 128:3
We have considered the place of both the father and mother in relation to their children in the home. Father must be with his family as much as possible outside of his secular labors and his labors in the church. He has a calling in the home to lead and instruct his family. Likewise, it is vital for the spiritual welfare of the children that mother is at home with them, from infancy on, nurturing and caring for them.
These are established biblical principles. But there is something more implied in these biblical principles—something that seems to have been lost in many families in the church today. Fathers and mothers can follow these principles formally, making sure the letter of the law is met. But mere formality, mere “going through the motions,” does not make a solid, covenant family. The heart and soul of a healthy covenant family is its home life. Members of every covenant family must find the hub or center of their lives in the home with their family.
This starts already when a husband and wife marry and establish their home. They have been made, through marriage, one flesh. They must create a home in which they live together as one flesh. In this home a husband and wife live together as a unit. Under the Lord’s blessing that unit of the family grows. Children are added to the family. With each additional child that the Lord is pleased to give a man and his wife, the unit of the family continues to grow in strength and beauty. “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them” (Ps. 127:4, 5). It is important that, as the family grows, the husband and his wife (who are now also father and mother) not lose sight of the unit or organism of the family. They must focus their time and effort on seeing to it that their family functions as a harmonious whole. This means that their home and family must become their life! The old adage must be true of covenant parents: “There is no place like home!” This is where they must enjoy making their life and spending their time. That same desire and joy must be passed along to their children as they grow. Parents and children alike must not simply understand the need for life in the home, but they must love their life in the home.
This, after all, is the idea of acovenant home. God’s covenant with His people is His relationship of friendship and fellowship. In that relationship God binds His people in love to Himself. He becomes their Father and they His children. As a Father, He instructs, counsels, and protects His children. In short, God lives and dwells with His people in Christ. Surely, we can understand how this covenant of God not only becomes the example of a covenant home, but becomes the very life of that home. God dwells with us in our homes and families! He lives and communes with us there! And we with Him! We enter into fellowship with our God as husbands and wives and as parents and children together, as a unit. We worship God together in our homes. We read His Word and we pray together as families and talk about that Word. There is a whole life of love and fellowship that must be carried on in the home and family.
At least … there should be. In a covenant home there should be.
Many homes in the church today that may appear squeaky clean on the outside are not truly covenant homes. They take on the appearance of a family unit to those about them in the church. But when it comes to life within the home there is a terrible lack! Parents become too busy with peripheral activities that far too often take them out of their homes. Fathers become preoccupied with their work, their sporting events, spending time with their buddies. Mothers, though they perhaps do not work outside the home, yet busy themselves with going out for coffee, shopping, exercise, or whatever the distraction might be. It is not as if these activities are wrong in themselves. But when they begin to replace the valuable time spent in the home together as husband and wife and children, as a family, the unit of the family is slowly destroyed. When children grow older they no longer want to be home with their parents and siblings. They would rather be out at every opportunity—every night if possible—with their friends. Friends begin to replace family. Then, when this becomes the norm among young people, it even becomes socially unacceptable to be with your family. Parents are weird! Siblings are exasperating!
When homes become so busy that husbands and wives have little time to talk, when parents and children can hardly converse with each other, those homes have become empty shells. When this happens, the beautiful picture drawn for us by the psalmist in Psalm 128:3 is lost, “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table” (Ps. 128:3).
Examine especially the last part of that verse: “thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” One sure indication of a covenant family is the life around their table—not once a week, but, as a general rule (we realize there are exceptions), on a daily basis.
It has always been maintained that family devotions around the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table is a good Dutch tradition. I believe this practice is not simply a tradition. It is something rooted in God’s covenant fellowship with His people. InExodus 24 we read that God commanded Moses, Aaron and his sons (Nadab and Abihu), and the seventy elders of Israel to come into Mount Sinai to worship God together. We read of them inExodus 24:11, “…also they saw God, and did eat and drink.” God in His covenant fellowship with the elders of Israel supped with them; He ate and drank with them.
The same idea is to be found in the symbolism of the table of showbread in the tabernacle and later in the temple. This table was prepared every day, implying that every day God entered into communion with His people there in the temple.
Is it really any different in the church today? When the church of Jesus Christ gathers about the communion table to partake of the Lord’s Supper, the same symbolism implies fellowship with God through the shed blood and broken body of our Savior. We sup with God around His table. We eat and drink with Him. There is more to this symbolism too. Jesus speaks of the blessed truth (Luke 22:29, 30) that one day when we reach heaven we will eat and drink with God there. We will gather about the table set for us in God’s house of many mansions and we will eat and drink with God. We will fellowship with Him there about His table.
Fellowship and communion take place around the table. A husband and wife ought to establish that practice immediately after marriage. In our busy world the tendency is to let this practice slip. Other activities are now pushing aside eating together as a family. The number one spiritual priority in life, that of reading and praying together as a family every day, is no longer viewed as a necessity. Entering into fellowship with God together as a family is being lost! This is a threat not only to the family, but also to the church! Sporting events, television, going places with friends, work, and many other activities—all these seem not only to destroy the family altar around the table, but also are oftentimes allowed to ruin life in the home altogether.
I remember my father loudly complaining when they moved the evening worship service on Sunday from seven to six, “That interrupts my family altar!” The point is: life in the family must not become a relic of the past, as if this is some outdated institution! Family worship, eating and drinking together with each other and with the Lord, may not be pushed aside as unnecessary! These are vital to a covenant home!
This reminds me of the sad example of the young man of the church who was dating a young woman and told her he did not even know how to pray. The reason for this, he said, was that his family rarely sat down together to eat. They rarely prayed together as a family. The result is, he had never learned how to pray. All this was true of a family that gave every appearance of being an exemplary family in the church.
Neither ought life in the church and with friends replace life in the home. This is not to say, of course, that godly friendships within the realm of the church may not be established. These friendships among the saints are vital to the life of the church. We cannot go through life without friends. Families visiting with each other and enjoying themselves with each other is definitely a part of the organic life of the church. Marriages among the young people of the church are most often formed out of such friendships. But when life in the church begins to remove us from the home the majority of those nights or days that we could otherwise be home, or when friends begin to take up more time than family, our spiritual lives will suffer.
How does one begin to convey the joy and blessedness of a family that centers its life in the home? “Behold, that thus [in the way of a wife and children in the home—W.B.] shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord” (Ps. 128:4). A family that enjoys one another’s company and actually enjoys doing things and going places together with each other is a happy home. A covenant home exudes a sense of joy, comfort, and security. It is a haven to which all can flee to escape the pressures of life. A husband can flee there to escape the pressures of work. When overwhelmed by life a husband can go to his wife, and a wife to her husband, and pour out everything that is in their heart. Even if they cannot always solve the problem, just having them listen and sympathize is often all that is needed.
Children and young people can hide in the home to be safe from the hurtful remarks and scorn of peers. They can get away from the pressure that is placed on them. They can act themselves without putting on a false front for others. In the home we can relax and just be ourselves, not having to meet anyone else’s expectations. As a young person I am able to go to my parents and talk anything over with them. What better place to go for advice? Do I honestly think that friends, who are my peers, having no more experience in life than I, can give me better advice than my parents? Again, I am not saying that our struggles may not be shared with friends. They certainly may! But if the atmosphere in a home and family is right, as it should be in a covenant home, children and young people will not hesitate to spend time just talking with mom and/or dad.
This kind of attitude in our children is something that must be nurtured already when children are very young. If dad and mom are too busy to listen to their little children’s stories, to sing songs with their children, or to take an interest in what they are doing, then dad and mom ought not to think that these children will simply grow up to converse freely with them. If parents do not take an active interest in their children’s life, especially as they grow older, or if all that parents do is criticize their children, we cannot expect our children to come to us for advice when they reach the years of discretion.
All of this takes a solid, spiritual, lively life within the family unit. If the family is not the center of our lives as married couples or as children, we are truly missing out on something! This is where happiness is found! What wonderful times are to be had sitting around the table joking and laughing with each other, discussing and arguing issues of life, throwing napkins at each other, and just plain enjoying the fellowship—the good wholesome fellowship of a covenant family. What memories of singing together and crying together. There is no better camaraderie, even after one is grown, than to get together with brothers and sisters with whom one remembers sharing his or her life as a sibling in the home. When a father and mother look back and see their children and children’s children sharing the same joys with their families as they have shared in their own home, then they truly see the joy of a covenant home and family. And then they can say from the heart too: “There is no place like home!”