CHRISTIAN FAMILY

 

A person’s beliefs about God (and even whether they believe in God or not), are greatly influenced by their family. Those who are brought up in a family where religion is a strong influence, will tend to be  religiously-minded. This can be taken one stage further by saying that those who are brought up in a Christian family (or born in a ‘Christian country’), will most likely be Christians (just as those brought up in a Hindu family or in India, will be Hindus etc.). Those who are not brought up in a family where religion is a strong influence, may adopt the opposite view (i.e. they may atheists). Of course, there are many examples of people who have been raised in one religion, who turn out to reject these beliefs later on. Sometimes people even change from one religion to another, or may turn from atheism to believing in God (called conversion).

The 2001 Scottish census showed that people raised in non-Christian families, tended to remain members of that faith. However, out of 79% of respondents who said they were raised as Christians, only 69% (-10%)claimed to still be members of that faith. Also, 20% of respondents said that they had not been raised in a religious family. However when asked, ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’, 29% (+9%) said they belonged to no religion, or were not religious (Focus on Religion, National Statistic Online).

Our family, the people we grow up with, and even our country will have a major influence on shaping our religious ideas. However, they do not always determine the kind of beliefs a person will have. We are all a lot more complex than that!

Something to think about: How have your family, other people you know and the country you live in, influenced what you believe about God and religion?

Christian Teaching about Raising Children

All Christians believe families are important. Many Christians believe that the family is the best place for having, and raising children. They believe God intended the family to be a place where children can be raised in a loving and supportive environment. They also believe parents should raise their children to learn about, and believe in God. The love that family members show to each other, should show how much God loves everyone. Many Christians believe that parents play an important role in showing their children, and non-family members, how much God loves and cares for them.

What the Roman Catholic Church says about family life:

It is in… the family that parents are “by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children… the home is the first school of Christian life… Here one learns endurance and the joy of work… love… [generosity]… forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life [to God and to other people] (The sacrament of matrimony, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part two, section two, chapter 3, article 7)

What the Church of England (or Anglican Church) says about the importance of marriage:

Marriage provides the proper context for sexual relationships and the bringing up of children… around which other relationships grow [the family’s] home life together is their primary contribution to society… blessings that belong to marriage are… the procreation and nurture of children (Marriage and family issues, The Church of England)

What Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) say about family life:

Parents may try to help their children to become accustomed to silence at home – for instance in a silent ‘grace’ before meals, or a moment of quiet before being tucked up for the night. Parents will also try to give some guidance on what to do in the silent Meeting for Worship – perhaps saying ‘thank you’ to God for something good that has happened, or looking round at each person present and silently asking God to take care of them, or afterwards, talking together about the Meeting…. Parents will not seek to impose their views or beliefs but will encourage their children to discuss, enquire, listen and reflect (Quaker Views: Close Relationships,Quakers in Britain)

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Verses from the Bible which speak about raising children:

For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him(Genesis 18:19)

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates(Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

A wise son [pays attention to] his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke (Proverbs 13:1 [Bracket mine])

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord(Colossians 3:20)

Some Key Words

  • Christening (aka Infant Baptism): A service when a baby is usually named and welcomed into the Christian Church. Christening services will be performed in Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches.
  • Confirmation: A service when a person confirms that they have been brought up as a Christian, and want to remain a member of the Church. Confirmation services will be performed in Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches for young people, at an age when theyunderstand the promises they are making.
  • Believer’s Baptism (aka Adult Baptism): Some Christians do not agree with the idea of Infant Baptism and Confirmation. Instead, they believe people should only be baptised by going fully under the water, when they are old enough to make a personal commitment to God.
  • Communion (aka The Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper, Mass): A service where Christians remember the death of Jesus, by eating bread and wine. In some churches, the first communion a child takes is seen to be a very special occasion.
  • Sacrament: An outward sign of a spiritual truth, or a visible way we can see how much God loves everyone. The sacraments of marriage and baptism can be found practiced in most Christian denominations (or groups). Marriage is usually held to be a sacrament, because it is believed God intended children to be raised in families. A Christian family should show the world what God’s love is like.

A good Christian family is one which lines up with biblical principles and one in which each member understands and fulfills his or her God-given role. The family is not an institution designed by man. It was created by God, and man has been given the responsibility of stewardship over it. The basic biblical family unit is comprised of one man, one woman—his spouse—and their offspring or adopted children. The extended family can include relatives by blood or marriage such as grandparents, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles. One of the primary principles of the family unit is that it involves a commitment ordained by God for the lifetime of the members. The husband and wife are responsible for holding it together, the current attitude of our culture notwithstanding. Although divorce is sought and granted much too easily in our society, the Bible tells us that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).

provide the guidelines for husbands and wives in a good Christian family. The husband is required to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and a wife should respect her husband and willingly submit to his leadership in the family. The husband’s leadership role should start with spiritual matters and then flow to instructing and teaching both his wife and their offspring scriptural values, leading the family into biblical truth. Of course, the first requirement for the members of a good Christian family is that they all be Christians, having a true relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Fathers are instructed to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). A father is also to provide for his family. If he does not, he “denies the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). So a man who makes no effort to provide for his family cannot rightly call himself a Christian. This does not mean that the wife cannot assist in supporting the family—Proverbs 31demonstrates that a godly wife may surely do so—but providing for the family is not primarily her responsibility; it is her husband’s.

Woman was given to man for the purpose of being her husband’s helper (Genesis 2:18-20) and to bear children. Husband and wife are to remain faithful to one another for a lifetime. This eliminates the cultural view that divorce, living together without being married, and same-sex marriage are acceptable in God’s eyes. Sexuality expressed according to biblical standards is a beautiful expression of love and commitment. Outside of marriage, it is sin. God declares equality of worth in that all people, men and women, are created in God’s image and likeness, and are therefore equally valuable in His eyes. This does not mean, however, that men and women have identical roles in life. Women are more adept at nurturing and caring for the young, while men are better equipped to provide for and protect the family. Thus, they are equal in status, but each has a different role to play.

Children are given two primary responsibilities in the family: to obey their parents and to honor them (Ephesians 6:1-3). Obeying parents is the duty of children until they reach adulthood, but we are to honor our parents for a lifetime. God promises His blessings on those who honor their parents

When a husband, wife and children all fulfill their God-appointed roles in the family, when they have all committed their lives to Christ and to His service, then peace and harmony will reign in the home. But if we try to have a good Christian family without Christ as Head, or without adhering to the biblical principles the Lord has lovingly provided for us, we will fail.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT FAMILY

 

The concept of family is extremely important in the Bible, both in a physical sense and in a theological sense. The concept of family was introduced in the very beginning, as we see in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” God’s plan for creation was for men and women to marry and have children. A man and a woman would form a “one-flesh” union through marriage (Genesis 2:24), and they with their children become a family, the essential building block of human society.

We also see early on that family members were to look after and care for one another. When God asks Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain’s response is the flippant “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implication is that, yes, Cain was expected to be Abel’s keeper and vice versa. Not only was Cain’s murder of his brother an offense against humanity in general, but it was especially egregious because it was the first recorded case of fratricide (murder of one’s sibling).

The Bible has a more communal sense of people and family than is generally held in Western cultures today, where citizens are more individualized than people in the Middle East and definitely more so than the people of the ancient near East. When God saved Noah from the flood, it wasn’t an individual case salvation, but a salvation for him, his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives. In other words, his family was saved (Genesis 6:18). When God called Abraham out of Haran, He called him and his family (Genesis 12:4-5). The sign of the Abrahamic covenant (circumcision) was to be applied to all males within one’s household, whether they were born into the family or are part of the household servant staff (Genesis 17:12-13). In other words, God’s covenant with Abraham was familial, not individual.

The importance of family can be seen in the provisions of the Mosaic covenant. For example, two of the Ten Commandments deal with maintaining the cohesiveness of the family. The fifth commandment regarding honoring parents is meant to preserve the authority of parents in family matters, and the seventh commandment prohibiting adultery protects the sanctity of marriage. From these two commandments flow all of the various other stipulations in the Mosaic Law which seek to protect marriage and the family. The health of the family was so important to God that it was codified in the national covenant of Israel.

This is not solely an Old Testament phenomenon. The New Testament makes many of the same commands and prohibitions. Jesus speaks on the sanctity of marriage and against frivolous divorce in Matthew 19. The Apostle Paul talks about what Christian homes should look like when he gives the twin commands of “children, obey your parents” and “parents, don’t provoke your children” in Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20-21. Furthermore, we see similar New Testament concepts regarding the importance of family in the process of salvation in the book of Acts when on two separate occasions during Paul’s second missionary journey, entire households were baptized at the conversion of one individual (Acts 16:11-15, 16:31-33). This is not to condone infant baptism or baptismal regeneration (i.e., that baptism confers salvation), but it is interesting to note that just as the Old Testament sign of the covenant (circumcision) was applied to whole families, so also the New Testament sign of the covenant (baptism) was applied to entire households. We can make an argument that when God saves an individual, His desire (from a moral/revealed-will perspective) is for the family to be saved. Clearly, God’s desire isn’t just to save isolated individuals, but entire households. In 1 Corinthians 7, the unbelieving spouse is sanctified through the believing spouse, meaning, among other things, that the unbelieving spouse is in a position to be saved through the witness of the believing spouse.

From a covenant perspective, membership in the covenant community is more communal than individualistic. In the case of Lydia and the Philippian jailer, their families/households were baptized and made part of the church community. Since we know that baptism doesn’t confer salvation, which is only by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), we can assume that not all were saved, but all were included into the community of believers. Lydia’s and the jailer’s salvation didn’t break up their families. We know that salvation can be a strain on a family, but God’s intent isn’t to break up families over the issue of salvation. Lydia and the jailer weren’t commanded to come out and be separate from their unbelieving families; rather, the sign of the covenant (baptism) was applied to all members in the household. The families were sanctified (set apart) and called into the community of believers.

Let’s now turn our attention to the theological concept of family. During His three-year ministry, Jesus shattered some prevailing notions of what it meant to be part of a family: “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50). Now we must clear up some misconceptions with this passage. Jesus is not saying that biological family isn’t important; He is not dismissing His mother and brothers. What He is doing is making the clear theological point that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the most important family connection is spiritual, not physical. This is a truth made explicitly clear in John’s Gospel, when the evangelist says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).

The parallels are quite clear. When we are born physically, we’re born into a physical family, but when we are “born again,” we are born into a spiritual family. To use Pauline language, we are adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15). When we are adopted into God’s spiritual family, the Church, God becomes our Father and Jesus our Brother. This spiritual family is not bound by ethnicity, gender or social standing. As Paul says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

So what does the Bible say about family? The physical family is the most important building block to human society, and as such, it should be nurtured and protected. But more important than that is the new creation that God is making in Christ, which is comprised of a spiritual family, the Church, made up of all people who call upon the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. This is a family drawn “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9), and the defining characteristic of this spiritual family is love for one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

HUSBAND AND WIFE ROLL 

Although males and females are equal in relationship to Christ, the Scriptures give specific roles to each in marriage. The husband is to assume leadership in the home (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23). This leadership should not be dictatorial, condescending, or patronizing to the wife, but should be in accordance with the example of Christ leading the church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). Christ loved the church (His people) with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, respect, and selflessness. In this same way husbands are to love their wives.

Wives are to submit to the authority of their husbands. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24). Although women should submit to their husbands, the Bible also tells men several times how they are supposed to treat their wives. The husband is not to take on the role of the dictator, but should show respect for his wife and her opinions. In fact, Ephesians 5:28-29 exhorts men to love their wives in the same way that they love their own bodies, feeding and caring for them. A man’s love for his wife should be the same as Christ’s love for His body, the church.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:18-19). “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). From these verses we see that love and respect characterize the roles of both husbands and wives. If these are present, then authority, headship, love, and submission will be no problem for either partner.

In regard to the division of responsibilities in the home, the Bible instructs husbands to provide for their families. This means he works and makes enough money to sufficiently provide all the necessities of life for his wife and children. To fail to do so has definite spiritual consequences. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). So, a man who makes no effort to provide for his family cannot rightly call himself a Christian. This does not mean that the wife cannot assist in supporting the family—Proverbs 31 demonstrates that a godly wife may surely do so—but providing for the family is not primarily her responsibility; it is her husband’s. While a husband should help with the children and with household chores (thereby fulfilling his duty to love his wife),Proverbs 31 also makes it clear that the home is to be the woman’s primary area of influence and responsibility. Even if she must stay up late and rise up early, her family is well cared for. This is not an easy lifestyle for many women—especially in affluent Western nations. However, far too many women are stressed out and stretched to the breaking point. To prevent such stress, both husband and wife should prayerfully reorder their priorities and follow the Bible’s instructions on their roles.

Conflicts regarding the division of labor in a marriage are bound to occur, but if both partners are submitted to Christ, these conflicts will be minimal. If a couple finds arguments over this issue are frequent and vehement, or if arguments seem to characterize the marriage, the problem is a spiritual one. In such an instance, the partners should recommit themselves to prayer and submission to Christ first, then to one another in an attitude of love and respect.

What should be the order of priorities in our family?

The Bible does not lay out a step-by-step order for family relationship priorities. However, we can still look to the Scriptures and find general principles for prioritizing our family relationships. God obviously comes first: Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” All of one’s heart, soul, and strength is to be committed to loving God, making Him the first priority.

If you are married, your spouse comes next. A married man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Christ’s first priority—after obeying and glorifying the Father—was the church. Here is an example a husband should follow: God first, then his wife. In the same way, wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). The principle is that a woman’s husband is second only to God in her priorities.

If husbands and wives are second only to God in our priorities, and since a husband and wife are one flesh (Ephesians 5:31), it stands to reason that the result of the marriage relationship—children—should be the next priority. Parents are to raise godly children who will be the next generation of those who love the Lord with all their hearts (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4), showing once again that God comes first. All other family relationships should reflect that.

Deuteronomy 5:16 tells us to honor our parents so that we may live long and so things will go well with us. No age limit is specified, which leads us to believe that as long as our parents are alive, we should honor them. Of course, once a child reaches adulthood, he is no longer obligated to obey them (“Children, obey your parents…”), but there is no age limit to honoring them. We can conclude from this that parents are next in the list of priorities after God, our spouses, and our children. After parents comes the rest of one’s family (1 Timothy 5:8).

Following one’s extended family in the list of priorities are fellow believers. Romans 14tells us not to judge or look down upon our brothers (v. 10) or do anything to cause a fellow Christian to “stumble” or fall spiritually. Much of the book of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s instructions on how the church should live together in harmony, loving one another. Other exhortations referring to our brothers and sisters in Christ are “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13); “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32); “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11); and “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). Finally comes the rest of the world (Matthew 28:19), to whom we should bring the gospel, making disciples of Christ.

In conclusion, the scriptural order of priorities is God, spouse, children, parents, extended family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and then the rest of the world. While sometimes decisions must be made to focus on one person over another, the goal is to not be neglecting any of our relationships. The biblical balance is allowing God to empower us to meet all of our relationship priorities, inside and outside our families.

FAMILY LIFE PROBLEM AND SOLUTION?

Family problems are nothing new. In a fallen world, those we should love the most—our families—often become the ones we fight with the most. The Bible doesn’t gloss over sin, and it records a number of family problems, starting with Adam’s blame-shifting, with his wife as the target (Genesis 3:12). Sibling rivalry crops up in the stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. Jealousy among wives—one of the negative consequences of polygamy—is found in the stories of Hannah, and Leah and Rachel. Eli and Samuel dealt with wayward children. Jonathan was almost murdered by his father, Saul. David was brokenhearted by his son Absalom’s rebellion. Hosea experienced marital difficulties. In each of these cases, relationships were damaged by sin.

The Bible has a lot to say about relationships, including family dynamics. The first institution God established for human interaction was a family (Genesis 2:22–24). He created a wife for Adam and joined them in marriage. Citing this event, Jesus later said, “What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). God’s plan was for one man and one woman to remain married until one of them dies. He desires to bless that union with children who are to be raised “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4; see also Psalm 127:3). Most family problems emerge when we rebel against God’s design—polygamy, adultery, and divorce all cause problems because they deviate from God’s original plan.

The Bible gives clear instructions about how family members are to treat each other. God’s plan is that husbands love their wives in the same way that Christ loves His church (Ephesians 5:25, 33). Wives are to respect their husbands and submit to their leadership (Ephesians 5:22–24, 33; 1 Peter 3:1). Children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1–4; Exodus 20:12). How many family problems would be solved if husbands, wives, and children simply followed those basic rules?

First Timothy 5:8 says that families are to take care of their own. Jesus had harsh words for those who evaded their financial responsibilities to their aging parents by claiming they gave all their money to the temple (Matthew 15:5–6).

The key to harmony in families is not one we naturally want to apply. Ephesians 5:21 says to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Submission is in direct opposition to our flesh’s desire to rule and have its way. We defend our rights, champion our causes, defend our opinions, and assert our own agendas whenever possible. God’s way is to crucify our flesh (Galatians 5:24; Romans 6:11) and submit to the needs and wishes of others whenever we can. Jesus is our model for that kind of submission to God’s will.First Peter 2:23 says, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Most family problems could be lessened if we all followed the instructions found inPhilippians 2:3–4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” When we adopt the spirit of humility and treat others as Jesus would treat them, we can resolve many of our family and relationship problems.

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