How blessed in God’s sight is the family! We joyfully sing the paraphrase of the very familiar Psalm 128, where the psalmist celebrates its joys and privileges. God intended that, in most cases, royal children should grow and develop in covenant family life. He said inGenesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone…,” and in Proverbs 18:22, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord.” He created us to need others with whom we can live in an intimate communion of life. Growing up in a believing family is a blessed privilege, one we often take for granted. Psalm 68:6, in speaking of the blessings for which we praise Jehovah, includes the fact that “God sets the solitary in families”; similarly in Psalm 113:9we read, “He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children….”
God is the great defender of the family. While all of the ten commandments address the way we walk in family life, five of them refer even more specifically to our walk there: the second commandment, where we receive by implication a warning regarding failure to instruct our families in the right worship of God, as well as a promised blessing in the way of obedience; the fourth, where we are reminded to teach our children to walk in the rest of the Lord’s Day; the fifth, where God commands children to honor father and mother; the seventh, where the foundation of the family in the relationship between husband and wife is jealously guarded; and the tenth, where God commands, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” God reveals to us His special concern for those whom He has taken out of normal family life when He repeatedly tells us that He is the defender or avenger of the fatherless and widow.
We need our families. Perhaps we sometimes think to ourselves that we would be happier were we not members of the family in which God has placed us. Perhaps we long for peace and quiet, or freedom from interference, or independence of action. Perhaps we even imagine that we could be better Christians were we not required to live with our particular families. In doing this, we set our human wisdom over against the wisdom and goodness of God in placing us in family life or in our particular family, because family life is a powerful means in God’s hand to sanctify us.
God Himself established the family when He brought to our father, Adam, our first mother, Eve, as his help, meet for him. Our particular families are formed when God brings together a man and his wife, and then, in His time and according to His wisdom, gives them children. God also ordained that the family, blessed as it is, be for this present time only, in this earthy creation, as an element of the “natural,” which precedes the “spiritual.” We learn this from Jesus’ teaching when the Sadducees tempted Him with the question about the woman with seven consecutive husbands in Mark 12:25: “For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.”
Why, then, does God place us in family life for this life? He uses the family not only to gather and build His church in our generations, but also to teach us through types and figures many spiritual realities. Marriage serves to help us understand the intimate union between our Savior and the church. In the love between parents and children, we begin to understand in a finite way the deep bond of attraction within God Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Families also serve God’s kingdom, however, by providing a training ground for the life of the church.
While the church invisible, which endures forever, is made of up individual believers as living stones, there is a sense in which families are the building blocks of the church in her visible, instituted form. What God works in our family lives He does for the upbuilding and welfare of His church. Just as the individual believer never views Himself apart from his or her connection to the whole body of Christ, so also, as “building blocks” of the church manifested in the world, we do not view our families as little kingdoms to themselves, but as parts of that “building.”
How does God use our families to serve the church? While the preaching of the Word in the instituted church is the central fountain from which all our spiritual life flows, including the spiritual life of our families, it is also true that our family worship and prayer serves to prepare us to worship and pray together in the life of the church. We see this even on a natural level. Children must first learn to pray and sing at home and to sit quietly and reverently during family devotions or worship, so that they may take their place in the worship of the church. This does not end with mere outward forms, but includes learning to listen with comprehension and to respond according to their measure of faith.
The apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 14:35, directs the women of the church to keep silent in public worship and to learn, not by public questioning, but by asking their husbands “at home.” We often emphasize only the negative part of this admonition, but there is positive instruction here as well. Spiritual learning on the part of the wife is to take place at home. If this is true for wives, it will certainly apply to our children as well. We should encourage them to ask questions about what they hear and learn in church and in catechism class, so that we can build and expand upon this spiritual instruction in our homes. This is why God commands in Deuteronomy 6:7, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house….”
The family plays the central part in the instruction of children for their place in God’s church. While some aspects of this instruction may be delegated or supplemented, it is, as we see from Scripture, in the sphere of the home that this instruction begins and continues. The book of Proverbs is filled with the instruction, “Hear, my son,” or “Hear, ye children.” While these admonitions certainly have a broader application, they demonstrate that it is primarily the responsibility of the husband and father of the family to see that there is time for this instruction and that it occurs. The mother also plays a vital role, as we see from Proverbs 31:1, where the beautiful instruction King Lemuel gives us is “the prophecy that his mother taught him.” The remainder of the chapter is given to us as King Lemuel quoting his mother’s words to him.
There are other ways in which life in the family “building block” serves the life of the church. In the home we learn to subject our wills to those in authority over us, whether as wives to husbands, or children to parents. How will we be able to walk in subjection to the officebearers in the church, if we have not learned this at home? It is in the home also that future officebearers must learn to rule wisely, tempering judgment with mercy, being pitiful, patiently teaching their wives and children to obey them for Christ’s sake, yet humbling themselves to the meanest tasks.
Further, as the body of Christ, we are called to walk together in a bond of brotherly love. We read in I Peter 3:18, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing….” How much we need this instruction! How particularly suited the home is for the beginning and continuance of this instruction!
There are at least two reasons for this. First, God puts a natural bond of love in the home, so that in many cases there is some natural affinity or likeness between members of a family. While this can lead to difficulties, as when two members of a family have the same easily irritated or discouraged temperament, it can also be an aid to understanding and empathy. When we have an almost intuitive understanding of one another because of the natural bond between us, it can help us to give spiritual counsel to one another. Secondly, it is in the intimacy of family life that we are most able to “be ourselves.” Again, this has a positive and a negative aspect. At home, you should be able to share your joys and sorrows most freely; but sad to say, it is also at home that we often reveal our horrible sinful natures to one another most readily. When we are with those outside the family, we seldom reveal this part of us. Thus the family becomes the real training ground throughout our whole lives for brotherly and sisterly forbearance and forgiveness.
None of this comes naturally to us, despite the natural ties that bind us. We must learn in family life to confess our faults and sins to one another and ask forgiveness. Family life is the spiritual proving ground. If we cannot live in love and unity in our families, we will never be able to do so in the house of God. Again, the responsibility for the rule of the home, so that our families may be the “building blocks” that God intends them to be, is laid upon the husbands and fathers. The head of the household is called to be “one who ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (I Tim. 3:4, 5).
God calls us in the church to a life of service. It is in the family that we learn to serve one another in love. We serve first as husbands and wives, the husband laboring diligently to provide for his wife, and the wife serving in the home, using well the provision of the husband to care for the needs of the house that there may be an orderly home, clean clothing, and nourishing meals prepared. Later as fathers and mothers we serve our children by caring for their earthly and spiritual needs. The royal children learn at home to serve us, their parents. How we teach our children this service may vary from house to house. There may, for example, be some place for giving, as an incentive, payment for chores done, but it is far more important that our children learn the meaning of the service of love, of, in fact, “requiting their parents” (I Tim. 5:4). We see in I Timothy 5, that, “if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” Thus in this area of service too, we learn to serve one another in the church, as we have learned in the home.
All this makes the lives of our families very important, but important with this end in view, that the instruction is to serve the life of the church. In this connection there are two extremes to be avoided. The first danger is that we neglect our family life because of the general busyness of our lives, even our lives in the church. It sometimes seems that we must be out of the home almost every evening of the week. We participate in many good, edifying activities that serve our spiritual growth and upbuilding, but if parents are never home with their children in the evenings, or if the young people are out every evening with some good activity, there is soon little or no time for the instruction that must take place in our homes. Family devotions are vital and central to the training, but we must also be at home to teach our children their catechism lessons, to help them through their daily trials, to be there to lead them to confess their faults when they sin against each other, to help them with their homework, and to teach them the service of love.
It takes tremendous wisdom to balance all these priorities, but let us be on our guard against neglecting the time needed for our life as a family. Above all, in our busy lives, let us use well the precious time we have together as families, not squandering it in foolish activities and worldly entertainment.
The other danger is that we turn inward too much and forget that the life of the family is there to serve the life of God’s church. While some have a tendency to be too busy with life outside the family, others make the life and love of the family almost an end in itself. We love our families. We should love to be with our families—the families God has given us in His love as the place where we learn to serve Him and one another, but our true family as children of God is ultimately our spiritual family, the household of faith, the place where we are bound together not by mere earthly ties of blood, but bound together in our heavenly Father, with our elder brother, Jesus Christ. God gives our earthly family to serve our welfare and place in this family—the family of God.