A family consists of one man, one woman and their children. When Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost he proclaimed the promise of God, that the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit was a promise ‘for you and your children…’ (Acts 2:39). We remember the promise that God made to Abraham, that in him all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 12:3). Family is part of God’s creation and throughout Scripture, we see how families are shaped by faithfulness and unfaithfulness to each other and before God.
The structure of a family
The family has a structure, those in the family have roles, responsibilities and obligations. By attempting to defend the biblical structure of family we run the risk of appearing to attack many modern definitions and one must ask why this is the case. It seems that the best approach might be, to begin with, an apologetic of sorts. Those who are unaware of God’s design for the family may find that their positions and beliefs are challenged by what the Word of God teaches. They receive this as an attack on their position rather than hear it as a defence of what God has created. Any move away from the structure God has provided is a move that welcomes a negative impact, in turn, this impact is then felt in society as a whole. Since the basic structure of society begins with the family, therefore any changes in the family will lead to societal change. To substitute God’s structure for family life, for our own, will lead to the family breaking down and as a consequence society. If we desire to address societies ills then we must begin with the family.
Since society is a product of the family, the modern way of life seems to offer no way of easing the many tensions that families are put under. Those who make such decisions at the level of government and business come from families and may have families of their own. The objective is not to address all of societies issues at the level of society for that would be like trying to put the eggs into the cake mix when the cake is already in the oven. The objective is to demonstrate that the family is created by God and we will know how to live as a family if we pay attention to God’s design for family and the given roles and responsibilities for each of its members.
Biblically the official decent of a family is traced through the father’s line. Genesis chapter five begins with how Adam was made in the likeness of God but his son Seth is in the likeness of Adam. This draws our attention again to the fall of mankind into sin. Adam, our representative before God, sinned and took every one of us with him. This sin will cause the husband and wife to act in ways contrary to God’s design. The man will rule his wife but no longer in a way where he recognises her as a gift from God, a suitable helper, one who has strengths that he does not possess. His rule over her because of sin will not be a demonstration of power resulting from his position that God has given him as head of his wife and children, but one of force. The wife will desire her husband but not in the way her husband desires. Her desire will seek to get the better of her husband, opposing his leadership. The role and responsibilities which they have to each other will now be practiced within an ongoing struggle.
Generational faithfulness is seen in those who seek to live faithfully and promote that faithfulness to God in the following generations. The father is the representative of his family before God, he must model faithfulness in order for it to be imitated by his wife and children. He is responsible for his children’s sin against God and this is not to say, that they are not, but rather the father must understand that his children’s sin is that which he must bring before God and confess, like Job and Nehemiah (Job chapter 1 and Nehemiah chapter 1), More on this will also follow. In the Passover, we see that it was a family meal, where they would remember the grace and power of God in bringing His people out of Egypt and in continuing with this meal it became a means by which the next generation would be taught about God. When Joshua says “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord” he is demonstrating why he should be imitated. In the same way Elders in the New Covenant church must be able to lead their families. We recognise that we are not listening to a speech of an individual but rather the witness of a whole family under a faithful representative. Joshua is one that we can be taught by, yet so often and perhaps too often families take their guidance in the form of methods from individuals whose family life is in a sphere where it cannot be observed. The Pastor and his family cannot hide from being observed and the people will determine whether they should listen and follow him or not based on what they witness, if indeed they hold to biblical qualifications. The role and responsibilities given to wives and mothers complement that given to the husband and father, they work together to promote faithfulness in their children to the Lord God, not leaving it to them to decide for themselves.
The beautiful truth concerning obligations
As a person, we must recognise that we are part of a family and therefore we live with obligations that we did not choose. These obligations instead of being restrictive give meaning to relationship and in doing so shape our decisions and commitments to our family. Those who believe that personal desires and then personal choices are what determine personal obligations are the cause of unnecessary pressure and the fracturing of family life. Long before a husband and father walks away from the home he has already walked away from his responsibility. Those who grew up in homes where there was no opportunity to experience or imitate covenant faithfulness and who are now parents themselves, will recognise that the obligation to do what is right and faithful is the grace of God moving throughout their thinking and parenting.
God is able to change the pattern of family life, from what one experienced to what one can experience by following His commands. The pattern of family life for one generation if faithful becomes the pattern for the next, whereas those who didn’t experience this kind of faithfulness can begin anew with their own family. Parents who seek to understand God’s pattern for family life will be able to give their children something they didn’t receive themselves. When parents see that if most of their parenting is formed by the time of day, what day it is and what it is committed to, they will also see that their family life may not consist of anything more than the movement of parts according to the times set forth each day and that their parenting is nothing more than simply trying to manage those transitions as smoothly as possible.
when we understand the responsibilities that are to be fulfilled by each member of the family we will then see how these obligations will structure the lives of each member and the family as a whole. When each member of the family fulfills their duty before God, husbands loving wives as Christ loved the church, fathers, nurturing and disciplining their children, wives who submit to their own husbands as to the Lord, mothers who teach her children wisdom, children who obey their parents in the Lord. When this happens it will communicate blessing to all in the same way water quenches thirst.