The Christian Family

Hansruedi Graf

Some of us have been brought up in a Christian family, but have we realised this is a great blessing?  Believers who have not had this privilege know something of the difficulties and disadvantages that flow from living in a family that does not follow God’s Word.

Characteristics that should mark a Christian family

Firstly, a Christian family should be a home. Are our families homes for the parents and the children? Do we look forward to going home? Do we like being there? There are some people who never seem to be at home. Is it because it is characterised by trouble and strife and they cannot wait to get away? The Lord said in John 14:1–3: ‘Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe on God, believe also on me. In my Father’s house there are many abodes; were it not so, I had told you: for I go to prepare you a place; and if I go and shall prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to myself, that where I am ye also may be.’ We are strangers and pilgrims in this world — we have no ‘abiding city’ here (Heb. 13:14) — but once we get to heaven we shall be at home. Why? Because the Father and the Lord Jesus are there. That is what will make it home for us. Are you looking forward to that? This shows us what our families should be now: a home. But if the parents are hardly ever there, will it be home to the children? This is a serious matter to consider.

Secondly, a Christian family should be a place of security and shelter from the world. Or are our homes open to let everything in? It is so easy for the world to come right inside, into our living rooms through the TV and the internet. And if we allow our children to do whatever they like with their mobile phones and other devices we should not be surprised if they take the whole world into their rooms. Young people, you know what is out there. That is why your parents are responsible to provide you a place of security and shelter. You are exposed enough to all sorts of things in the world, but when you come home you should be secure and sheltered from it. Satan and his world have no access to the Father’s house — it is eternally secure.

Thirdly, we read in 1 John 3:1: ‘See what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God.’ A Christian family should be a place where unconditional love reigns. Parents, how do you relate to your children? Do you prefer one over the others because he or she always obeys you? Do you love him or her more than the others? Children sense this kind of difference very quickly. Think of the family in Genesis where the father had a special love for one child and the mother favoured the other (25:28). What was the result? Big trouble. Why do you love your children? Because they are well behaved? No, because they are your children. Why does the Father love you and me? Because we are His children. He loved us before the world was — with an everlasting love — not because there was anything lovable in us but because He is love (1 John 4:8). Similarly, unconditional love should reign in the Christian family.

A word for the children

God wants to speak to children personally. So the question is, even for those who are young: ‘Do you realise that God can talk to you directly from His Word, the Bible?’ Start reading it early. But He has only one thing to say to you about the family: ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just [or right]’ (Eph. 6:1). We should obey them in three ways: 1) voluntarily, 2) immediately, and 3) fully. It is always very touching to read the story of Joseph. What an example he is for us. He had a very difficult mission. His father said to him, ‘Do not thy brethren feed the flock at Shechem? Come, that I may send thee to them. And he said to him, Here am I’ (Gen. 37:13). He knew what his brothers were like — they hated him — but he willingly obeyed his father, just as Abraham obeyed God when He asked him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering and he ‘rose early in the morning’ to do this (Gen. 22:3). Joseph obeyed immediately and completely. He could have said, ‘I went to Shechem but my brothers were not there so I came home.’ No, he looked around for them until he found them. He did the whole job, which is what God wants us to do. The best example of all is the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, who became man. Though perfect, He was ‘in subjection to’ his parents, Mary and Joseph, despite their imperfections (Luke 2:51). This is your choice, dear children: you can follow this way of blessing or one that will bring your parents much sorrow.

A word for the parents

In Luke 1:6 we find the wonderful example of Zacharias and Elizabeth: ‘they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.’ They were a united couple. Firstly, they did what was right in the sight of the Lord (and we all should do it now, even when we are young). This is not the righteousness of God believers have in the Lord Jesus in virtue of His work on the cross, which we often speak about, but practical righteousness. Do we do what is right in the sight of the Lord on a daily basis? Learning to do so will lead us to become a good example to our children if God grants them to us. Secondly, Zacharias and Elizabeth walked according to Scripture in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. To do this, we need to know God’s Word as a whole — not just a few favourite verses — and apply it to our lives. We also have to start early in this. We cannot leave it until we have children because they will take up our time then. But as young unmarried people we are likely to have the time now to study it so that we are prepared should we have a family. Thirdly, Zacharias and Elizabeth walked in the fear of the Lord, blameless. That is, they were afraid of doing anything that was displeasing to God. What an example! They did not talk much; they did not have a long sermon prepared for John, their son, to read. No, they walked, which speaks of the life they led, so it is no wonder God selected them to be the parents of the child He had promised so long before. He would have us learn from this so that our children can live and grow up in a home where both parents walk according to the Scriptures, do what is right before Him, and fear the Lord.

Parents have another very important task. We find a picture of this in Hebrews 11:23: ‘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.’ Like Moses’ parents, we should make it as difficult as possible for the world to get hold of our children. They realised that if Pharaoh knew about Moses’ birth, he would be killed. What did they do? They hid him, but this was not enough. They also had to care for him or he would have started to cry, and this would have been heard. It is one thing to hide our children from the world, but we should also care for them and feed them by bringing them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.

There are some parents who cannot wait to get their children out of the home and into the nursery — long before they have to go to school. But this is to expose them to things in this world that are not necessary, and may even be dangerous, for them. However, a day came when Moses’ parents could no longer keep him at home, and this is the same for us: our children eventually have to go into the world of education or work. Moses’ parents prepared a basket and put him in it, which is a type of the Lord Jesus to whom we can commit our children. He is able to keep them, but do not give them voluntarily to the world. There are many who have done this to their great regret.

A word for the fathers

‘And ye fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:4). God our Father is our perfect example: ‘And if ye invoke as Father him who, without regard of persons, judges according to the work of each, pass your time of sojourn in fear’ (1 Pet. 1:17). Fathers should be characterised by two things. Firstly, they should obtain rather than demand the respect of their families. If we tell our children how they should behave but fail to do this ourselves, we will lose their respect. They will say, ‘You do not practise what you preach.’ But this verse also speaks of invoking or calling on the name of the Father, which is to do with the second aspect of the relationship fathers should have with their children. We should maintain an atmosphere of trust and confidence so that they know they can come to us if they have a problem and talk about it. There are fathers who are very rigid so that their children are almost afraid of them — if they make a mistake they know that they are going to be in big trouble. If this is the atmosphere we maintain, they will never come to us because they will be afraid of our reaction. So, on the one hand there should be respect but on the other there should be trust and confidence.

Ephesians 6:4 also says that we should ‘not provoke’ our children ‘to anger’. There are three things that can contribute to this. Firstly, a selfish attitude. If we constantly demand things from our children by saying, ‘Do this quickly’ or ‘Bring me that now’, we virtually treat them as slaves. Such selfish behaviour can provoke and discourage them, as well as lead them to give up trying to please us. Secondly, an uncontrolled temper. If, after a hard day at work when everything seems to have gone wrong, our little boy does something silly at home and we explode, he does not know what has hit him. Why? Because he senses when he should be punished but in this case he asks himself, ‘What did I do wrong?’ He cannot understand why we reacted in this way. We should be mature enough to control our tempers. Thirdly, unreasonable expectations. We cannot expect a two-year-old to do what is normal for a five-year-old. She may try to do it but without success, which will lead her to become frustrated and provoke her to anger. In 1 John 2:12–28 we find three stages of spiritual growth among the children of God: fathers, young men and little children. John addresses them in different ways according to their maturity and experience so let us be wise and bring up our children according to their age and ability.

Ephesians 6:4 also tells us that it is the responsibility of fathers to bring up their children in the ‘discipline and admonition’ of the Lord. Some fathers leave the whole burden of this to their wives, but this is not according to Scripture. We have read the words ‘ye fathers’, so the challenge is: be a father and take responsibility for bringing up your children. There are two elements to this. Firstly, discipline,[1] which means to recognise a child’s wrongdoing and stop it. There are cases where fathers see their children doing something wrong and do nothing about it (an example of which we have in 1 Kings 1:6). Of course, different children have different personalities and we need to adjust our methods to take account of this, using the wisdom the Lord gives us. Secondly, admonition or exhortation, a completely different matter, which means showing our children the right and good way to act and helping them follow it. We need a balanced approach: some fathers emphasise discipline and forget admonition, while others only admonish and never act. But we also read that these things should be done in ‘the Lord’. He is our help, so we need to be dependent on Him.

A word for the mothers

1 Timothy 5:10 lists some of the qualities of a Christian widow: ‘borne witness to in good works, if she have brought up children, if she have exercised hospitality, if she have washed saints’ feet, if she have imparted relief to the distressed, if she have diligently followed every good work’. What a list! Some women feel they have nothing to do at home — they would rather go out to work — but this list shows how much can be done from home. In the case of a widow who had to bring up her children without the help of her husband and their father, she might do the other things listed as well. No woman should think that she is worthless if she stays at home with her children. Her service for the Lord can be very wide-ranging and a rich blessing for her family as well as the saints.

If we do not see things this way, perhaps we should consider Paul’s words to Titus when he tells him to encourage ‘the elder women’ to ‘admonish the young women to be attached to their husbands, to be attached to their children, discreet, chaste, diligent in home work, good, subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be evil spoken of’ (Titus 2:3–5). Having gone through life and brought up a family, older women have a lot of experience. Do those of us who are older take our responsibility seriously to talk over matters with the younger generation? Perhaps younger sisters might not want older sisters to speak to them in this way, but why repeat the mistakes that others have made in the past? Would it not be wiser to listen to the advice that older women can give us in a godly way?

Notice it says of love that the older women should teach the younger ones to be attached to their husbands first. This order is important because it is never good for the children to occupy such an important place in our affections that they come between wife and husband. No, it is love to the husband that should come first, and then love to the children — it is the same, of course, for the husbands in respect of loving their wives and their children. But then this scripture says that the younger women should be ‘diligent in home work’. Many women say, ‘This does not satisfy me. Why should I stay at home? My career is out there. Why should I give up all the things the world offers me?’ This is the spirit of those amongst whom we live. Is the woman’s responsibility in the home an old-fashioned thing that only applied in the past or a principle of God that still applies today? Genesis, the book of beginnings, gives us an example in chapter 18:6 where we read of Abraham’s three visitors. We find him outside the tent when they visit, but Sarah is inside because that was her place. And in Proverbs 31:27, the virtuous woman ‘surveyeth the ways of her household’. How can wives and mothers do this if most of the time they are away from the home?

Looking after our children at home involves four things. Firstly, using our eyes to see what is going on. Why, for example, do the children come home at 6pm when school ends at 4pm? If we are not at home ourselves, we may not even know that this is happening. And who are they bringing home with them? What type of friends do they have? If we are at home, we will see these things. Secondly, using our ears. If we are at home we can hear the language they use and, if necessary, say, ‘That kind of language stays outside. You may hear it all day at school or on the street, but we are not going to tolerate it in our home.’ And have we ever been in our son or daughter’s bedrooms and listened to the music they play there? Is that their own business? No, we are responsible for what goes on in our homes. Do we know what music they are downloading? They put on their headphones and we cannot hear a thing. They say, ‘I can’t do my homework without music’, but it would be good to listen to what they are playing and be able to say, if necessary, ‘You should not be listening to that kind of music.’ Thirdly, our own conduct is very important. It speaks much louder than all our words. The youngest child follows us everywhere with their eyes and sees what we are doing. This means mothers are a tremendous influence on them for good or bad. Fourthly, by prayer. What do we do if our children come home in tears because they have had a bad day at school? As we listen to them, we can say, ‘Well, let us pray about it together.’ In doing this we teach them in a very practical way that they can bring everything to the Lord by prayer and supplication. We show them by our own behaviour how they can resolve life’s problems. And as we pray with them they will discover what a difference it makes to the problem. But if mothers are never at home, they cannot do any of these things. Someone else might do it, or not do it. So, looking after the home is not an old-fashioned thing but something God has told us to do for the blessing of our children.

It is not easy to bring up children in a godly way. When those of us who are older parents look back on our lives, we often feel that we have been too hard or too soft with our children. We know that we all make many mistakes, which is why we encourage our younger brethren to learn these principles now rather than leave it to later when they encounter the difficulties we have described but have children already and maybe many other responsibilities to manage. Let us remember that a Christian family should be a home, and a place of security and shelter where unconditional love reigns. As such it is a bulwark against Satan and the world. May the Lord, who is our helper (Heb. 13:6), bless us and our families.

[1] The King James Version translates the original Greek word as ‘nurture’.