Homes and Families in Scripture

Simon Attwood

Most of us are familiar with the verse of Christian wall art that says: ‘Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.’ We appreciate the sentiment, but it is not strictly accurate from a Scriptural point of view. Really, in the case of a household comprising father, mother and children, and perhaps other dependants, the man is the head of the home. We read: ‘Christ is the head of every man, but woman’s head is the man’ (1 Cor. 11:3) and: ‘Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord’ (Col. 3:20). This is a sobering matter for every Christian man with a household: whatever the world says, God holds him responsible for what he allows in his home.[1]

Bringing the Lord Jesus into our homes

And yet it is an immense privilege to lead a Christian home and a wonderful blessing to be part of a family whose parents love and seek to follow the Lord. What an advantage we have that we know the one who designed the family unit and can help us put it into practice. Even the best-provided homes in the world around us fall to pieces like Jairus’ when something goes wrong. When the Lord Jesus arrived there to raise his daughter from the dead, He ‘saw the flute-players and the crowd making a tumult’ (Matt. 9:23). No doubt this was customary in those days, but it was a scene of pandemonium. So many people, things and influences have invaded families today that are alien to what God intends. Certainly, those in Jairus’ home derided the Lord for what He said but the ruler of the synagogue was desperate enough to follow His instructions. When the crowd was put out and the Lord went in and took his daughter’s hand, she rose up and ‘the fame of it went out into all that land’ (v. 26). This is what God wants our homes to be: beacons of light and peace in a dark and troubled world. For this to be so we must bring Him in and obey Him as Jairus did.

The atmosphere was altogether different in Simon and Andrew’s home. When the Lord Jesus arrived from the synagogue to find Simon’s mother-in-law lying in a fever, straightway they spoke to Him about her ‘And he went up to her and raised her up, having taken her by the hand, and straightway the fever left her, and she served them’ (Mark 1:30–31). There was urgency but not desperation because the occupants of the home knew the Lord already and confided in Him. Their speaking to Him is a picture of prayer. How natural it should be to turn to Him for the help and guidance we need in our families and indeed every aspect of our lives.

Many scenes in Luke’s gospel are set in homes. The first belongs to Zacharias and Elizabeth and teaches us that a home does not consist in the number of its rooms or the quality of its furnishings but the character of the persons who live there. This couple ‘were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless’ (Luke 1:6). This meant it was fit to receive the most illustrious guest to ever cross its threshold — before He was born (vs. 39–43). We should note two things in particular. First, Zacharias and Elizabeth shared the qualities the Holy Spirit enunciates in verse 6 — they were united in their faith in God and their desire to please Him in their lives. Second, ‘they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years’ (v. 7). They had lived with this natural disappointment for a long time and yet their home was still one God could use. May this encourage readers who have not been blessed with children of their own.

Later in the gospel we read that Simon the Pharisee begged the Lord Jesus ‘that he would eat with him’ (7:36). The Lord read his thoughts in connection with the woman of the city who ventured inside and stood at His feet. He said to Him, ‘Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house; thou gavest me not water on my feet, but she has washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me not a kiss, but she from the time I came in has not ceased kissing my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint, but she has anointed my feet with myrrh’ (vs. 44–47). He knew Zacchæus’ thoughts too before He looked up and saw him in the sycamore tree but how different the words He spoke to him: ‘make haste and come down, for to-day I must remain in thy house’. Zacchæus’ welcome was different too: ‘he made haste and came down, and received him with joy’ (19:5–6). Here was a seeking sinner, and that made all the difference: Simon’s home was still a cold and critical place when the Lord departed; Zacchæus’ was filled with warmth and joy by His abiding presence. There is no mention of Zacchæus having a family; he might have had a wife and children, but Scripture does not say so. This means his story can be read as an encouragement to those of us who are single.[2]

Think of other cases in this gospel when people brought the Lord into their homes. ‘Levi made a great entertainment for him in his house, and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and others who were at table with them’ (Luke 5:29). This reminds us of the joy that should mark our homes. ‘Martha … received him into her house’ (10:38). What blessing this let in for herself, Mary and Lazarus — and the Lord when He was in Bethany. Cleopas and his companion — perhaps his wife — ‘constrained him, saying, Stay with us’ (24:29). What a sight they got of the risen Lord at their dinner table in Emmaus! They went back to Jerusalem that evening to share it with the other disciples. Changed people, changed homes.

We cannot close this part of our meditation without emphasising the importance of the Word of God in all this. The Lord Himself said of the Scriptures: ‘they it is which bear witness concerning me’ (John 5:39). When He drew near to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, He ‘interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Luke 24:27). It should be second nature in our homes to read and speak about them on a daily basis. As we do this we get spiritual ‘light in [our] dwellings’ as was the case with Israel, physically speaking, in Egypt (see Ex. 10:23). To use the Lord’s words again, we put it ‘upon the lamp-stand’ so that ‘it shines for all who are in the house’ (Matt. 5:15).

Our children

The psalmist declares, ‘Lo, children are an inheritance from Jehovah’ (Ps. 127:3). Naturally we love and care for their physical, mental and personal development, but what of their spiritual welfare? Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice evidently encouraged him to make the Scriptures his own (see 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). This was especially important in his case if, as it seems, his father was an unbeliever. Generally, mothers and fathers have different though complementary roles in bringing up their children. Paul alludes to this in 1 Thessalonians 2: he writes of himself, Silas and Timothy as being ‘gentle in the midst of you, as a nurse would cherish her own children. Thus, yearning over you, we had found our delight in having imparted to you not only the glad tidings of God, but our own lives also, because ye had become beloved of us’ (vs. 7–8). This is the character of the mother’s part in bringing up children. Then he writes, ‘as a father his own children, we used to exhort each one of you, and comfort and testify, that ye should walk worthy of God’ (vs. 11–12). This is the man’s responsibility. Comparing Hebrews 11:23 and Acts 7:20, we find that parents should support each other in their respective roles: ‘By faith Moses, being born, was hid three months by his parents, because they saw the child beautiful; and they did not fear the injunction of the king’ and he ‘was nourished three months in the house of his father’. Let us not fear the king of gender neutrality as he seeks to overturn God’s creation order in western countries but rather celebrate the different attributes He has given men and women to enable them to fulfil their roles in creation for His glory and the blessing of our children. And let us never undermine each other in the roles God has given us.

Of course, we must acknowledge there are children who prove very difficult to bring up for all sorts of reasons — some psychological, some physical and some a combination of both. These and the financial problems that confront parents who find it a constant challenge to make ends meet demand our prayers and care. The world has changed, and this has affected children and circumstances so that often family life is hardly recognisable from what it was a few decades ago. We need to look out for families with young children among the Lord’s people, and if necessary be ready and willing to help them in ways that do not condemn them but rather promote their welfare, dignity and spiritual blessing (the need for such practical help may account for the number of references to nurses and maidservants in the Bible). It may be that we can also give advice but let us be sure that it is from the Lord and that we have the necessary information and practical insight to do so, especially when it comes to helping with the relational problems that some families suffer. This surely demands prayer first. May the Lord Jesus give us grace for such service.[3]

Devoted households

How good it is when our children turn to the Lord Jesus as their Saviour and follow Him as their Lord. We gladly attribute it to God’s grace and yet we as parents have a responsibility to teach them the terms of the gospel. Noah is an example to every believing father today: ‘moved with fear’ he ‘prepared an ark for the saving of his house’ (Heb. 11:7). His family not only learned the truth he preached but saw him practise it, and this had a profound effect on them. When no one else in the world took his warnings of judgment seriously, his wife, his sons and their wives accompanied him into the ark and were saved. In Acts we read that ‘Crispus the ruler of the synagogue’ in Corinth ‘believed in the Lord with all his house’ (18:8). God loves to save families, as we find several times in Acts (see 16:31). But it is especially encouraging to read the references to households of believers who treasured the things of the Lord and devoted themselves to the interests of His people. Take ‘those of the house of Chloe’ (1 Cor. 1:11) who were so grieved at the divisions in Corinth they informed the Apostle Paul as the only one they knew who could help resolve the situation. That took some courage because he had to name them in his letter. Then there is ‘the house of Stephanas … the first-fruits of Achaia’ who ‘devoted themselves to the saints for service’. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be ‘subject to such’ (1 Cor. 16:15–16). Why? Because they were addicted to the welfare of an even more wonderful family of whom we are all part: God’s family. In 2 Timothy 1:16–17 the apostle seeks mercy for ‘the house of Onesiphorus’. How many times had this family spared its head so he could stay in Rome to refresh Paul? One too many because it seems he was now in trouble for not being ‘ashamed of [Paul’s] chain’ and seeking him out ‘very diligently’. Onesiphorus’ family had been doing this kind of thing for years because, reading on, we discover he had rendered much service in the past, in Ephesus (v. 18). Now it looked as if they were going to make the supreme sacrifice.

The saints also used their houses for the Lord to great effect. Acts 9:43 tells us that Peter ‘remained many days in Joppa with a certain Simon, a tanner’. Given his host’s business it may not have been the most desirable place to stay but it gave the apostle plenty of opportunity to pray while he enjoyed his brother’s hospitality. It was there God sent him the vision of the vessel from heaven filled with creatures of every kind, challenging him to slay and eat. This prepared him for his mission to Cornelius and the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (see Acts 10). Later, when he was in prison in Jerusalem awaiting execution, ‘many’ were ‘gathered together and praying’ for him in ‘the house of Mary, the mother of John who was surnamed Mark’ (12:12). That was dangerous work especially when the angel had set him free (see v. 19). No wonder, when he got to the house where they were praying he made ‘a sign to them with his hand to be silent’ (v. 17). The last time Paul travelled to Jerusalem, he stayed in ‘the house of Philip’. This was hospitality again, but the fact Philip is called ‘the evangelist’ here may indicate he was using his house as a base for continuing gospel work. Certainly, the Word of God was valued there because he ‘had four virgin daughters who prophesied’ (Acts 21:8–10).[4]

Our thoughts also turn to Priscilla and Aquila who made their home in Corinth and then in Rome available to the local assembly for its regular meetings (1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:3–5).[5] Others did the same (Col. 4:15; Philem. 1–2), and surely all these homes were filled with the odour of the incense of worship as the house in Bethany had been ‘filled with the odour of [Mary’s] ointment’ when she ‘anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair’ (John 12:3). Of course, we do not have to lend our homes to the brethren for meetings for this to happen — it can be the case when the family joins together in praise, thanks and worship to the Father and the Son (Eph. 5:18–21).

Closing thoughts

Abram had his tent and altar throughout his life. He was a pilgrim and a worshipper, but homes have to be ordered according to God for this to be the case. God could say of him, ‘I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Jehovah, to do righteousness and justice’ (Gen. 18:19). What a contrast to Lot in Sodom who had no moral authority over his daughters and sons-in-law. As we consider the histories of those two households we cannot avoid the conclusion that to arm our children with Scripture and to ‘bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:4) are both essential if they are to be faithful to God in their lives, especially at school, college and work. Paul writes of one who aspires to look over the spiritual welfare of his brethren, ‘if one does not know how to conduct his own house, how shall he take care of the assembly of God?’ (1 Tim. 3:5). Such faithfulness may bring its own brand of difficulty to our homes as it did to Jason’s in Thessalonica and no doubt Justus’ in Corinth (Acts 17:5; 18:7). But homes built on the rock will not fall even if the rain descends, the floods come and the winds blow (see Matthew 7:24). Whatever their circumstances, Christian families can happily count on the ‘the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement’ (2 Cor. 1:3) whose house is ready, prepared for each and every one of His children by His Son, our Saviour (John 14:1–4).

 

 

[1] This was true under the law: see Numbers 30:2–15.

[2] See also in this connection the case of John to whom the Lord Jesus committed the care of His mother (John 19:25–27).

[3] We should add that the thoughts in this paragraph also apply in cases of difficulty that arise from the care of older relatives (see 1 Tim. 5:3–8).

[4] Gaius is another example of a saint who used his home to offer hospitality to the Lord’s people and help on the work of the gospel (3 John 5–7). However, we should also note the apostle lays responsibility on the lady in 2 John 10–11 not to receive a false teacher ‘into the house’ or greet him ‘for he who greets him partakes in his wicked works’.

[5] It also seems that when they lived in Ephesus and Apollos arrived there they became like parents to him, and in the warmth of their household circumstances ‘unfolded to him the way of God more exactly’ (Acts 18:26). Note the scripture refers to Aquila first, indicating he took the lead in this and Priscilla supported him without teaching herself (see 1 Tim. 2:12).