I spent several years as a pastor and ten years in Korea as a missionary, and finally woke up to the fact that God's work begins with my family. I thought for years that the "Lord's work," that is, pastoral and missionary endeavors, must have top priority. So, as missionaries, we complied and sent our children off to boarding school when the youngest was only nine. But things didn't work out very well and my wife had to go herself to take care of our children. Now I was left all alone to do the "Lord's Work." Believe me, I began to have second thoughts about certain Bible verses related to the ministry and the family. I belatedly realized from Scripture that my first priority is to bring up my own family in the fear and admonition of the Lord. If I put my family before my career, then and only then will I know how to do the Lord's work rightly.
Families and Homes Are Breaking Up
The unity of the family in our society is being lost. Evil forces in our land are deliberately trying to destroy families. "Family" is being redefined as being two people who live together, regardless of their sex. The concept of free love with no commitment to a lifetime relationship between a man and a woman, is being promoted. And we must send our children to schools where they are taught all about this until it comes out their ears, and at very tender ages.
What is happening? Since the sex act is the very heart of marriage, it is meant by the Creator for married people, and married people only. When sex is overemphasized and is participated in loosely and our young people are encouraged to try each other out, these libertine humanists succeed in destroying the family -- the heart of our church, and the basis of our society. If we continue on this road, America will collapse.
Some Christian people these days resign themselves to this situation as the new status quo. The family has been destroyed, especially in our cities, and they say we must adapt to it and adjust our church programs and society to this new status quo. I do not believe that. IT IS NOT TRUE. God's WORD is truth! We must follow IT and change the status quo! We can never accept the situation the way it is now.
Another factor is that Americans are a people proud of being rugged individuals. We have had this philosophy for a long time, and may be unaware that throughout the Orient and Mideast where the Bible was written, the family is the basic unit in society, not the individual. We became very aware of this during our ten years in Korea. It is not a perfect situation -- ancestors are worshipped, among other things -- but it is the norm.
TWO PROGRAMS FOR CONTROLLING MANKIND
A basic principle -- that our family is the very heart of God's plan -- has been largely lost in most churches today. A serious problem in all this is that churches often do not organize their programs with the unity of the family in mind. Many churches have lost sight of the family or are not aware that the family is at the heart of God's plan. This is not to say that single people are of less importance to the church -- they are also part of families -- only, that families need help to become stronger from all the activities of their church. Since many churches are not trying enough to help families, families are discouraged and are just staying away. They buy a camper and go off for the weekend trying their best to pull their little family together. Some churches do realize this and focus on the family.
Business and professional men often make the same mistake I did. Putting their careers first, their little family suffers. Women, too, sometimes let a career displace the needs of their family. Some women are successful in having a career while raising a family, but not many. For most, that is not God's will. God's will is to put the family at the center of our lives and learn to trust God for our needs and live on what He supplies.
Even worse is the false desire to always be "happy." Some adopt the attitude that if they cannot be happy in their marriage and home, they don't have to "continue putting up with it." They think single life or a different partner will make them happy. So they abandon God's plan for their family and go all out to find self-centered "happiness." IT DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY! Families once formed are meant to stay together!
The Family in the Ancient Near East
Two programs were going on at the same time in the ancient Near East -- Expanded City-State and Expanded Family. These are two opposite ways to govern. In early times, the religio-political system developed in cities was expanded and used in Empires. The system which was used to govern the enormous Roman (or Babylonian) Empire was simply the system that was used to rule the City of Rome (or Babylon). Although it is no longer in evidence today, it was in use during the entire composition of the Bible so is extremely important to understand for interpreting the Bible. On the other hand, the method of rule that is used in a family can also be expanded, provided that no one else gets between the family and God, and that each family is subject to God himself.
Expanded City-State with Satan, the adversary. There are cities with Divine Kings, and Empires with Divine Kings. The city is not inherently evil. But a city ruled by a counterfeit god is evil. Under the divine kingship system there was a constant breakup of families. They split families by grabbing the daughters for the king's harem or they would serve in the temple as temple prostitutes, and the same for the young men. The most capable went to serve in the temple-palace. Ordinary citizens were little more than slaves to the kings, courtiers, and priests.
Expanded Family is that sanctified by Jehovah. Adam and Noah were both fathers who followed the Lord. But we do not see the family expanding until Abraham. He was a father in a physical way and a spiritual father of believers. (Galatians 3). Abraham produced two kinds of families: Israel (the physical) and the Church (spiritual). Those who believed in Jesus as Messiah will all come together again in Him and with Him enter into the Holy City-New Jerusalem. The Bible teaches us that the ultimate end of mankind is to enter into a city -- the City of God, over which He is the Benevolent Ruler.
Today, heavily influencing our culture is the man-made religion of secular and religious humanism, doing everything possible to destroy family life. Even without divine kings, man is still being deified and a system has been developed which is bent on trying to put man in place of God.
Our country was established with freedom in religion, and many of our nation's founders were Christians. They could not have given us a better system. Let's fight to keep it this way!
God's Plan for the Family in All Ages
Elton Trueblood once wrote,
Every family is potentially a holy family. A mother, a father, and little children conduct together an amazing experiment often in marked contrast to the ways of the world. . . A family is a unit of such manageable size that we can do in it what we cannot do elsewhere. In the individual home it is possible to establish our own standards, determine the nature of the major influences, and make a separate area of cooperation in the midst of the world's competitive struggle. Each home, imperfect though it may be, is our closest approximation to the Kingdom of God.
How did God start with all mankind? He began with a simple, wonderful family. In the beginning He made a man and a woman and He told them to have children and to fill up the earth. God started with the family -- not with the church, not with Israel, not with some other institution. They had at least two sons, then Cain killed his brother Abel.
But God gave Adam and Eve another son named Seth, and Seth and his children "began to call upon the name of the Lord" (Genesis 4:26). They began to worship the Lord Jehovah, or Yahweh (YHVH), and passed on their faith in Him to their sons. In Genesis 5, we find the first genealogy. Most of the time we just skip genealogies and go on reading. Perhaps the Lord is trying to show us something very important through genealogies. And that is that the family is at the heart of His plan. THAT may be the basic reason why the Bible is so full of genealogies. God considers the family to be so important that He had the Holy Spirit, through men of God, record family connections over and over again. So from now on, whenever you read a genealogy, let it remind you that the family is at the heart of God's plan.
In Genesis 5 we have the story of the faithful - how a father passed on the faith to his son, and the son passed on the faith to his son. This is what has preserved Judaism. Fathers passing on the faith to their sons. We see this symbolized in a bar mitzvah service for a Jewish son who has reached the age of maturity. In this beautiful ceremony, the father hands the scroll of God's law to his son, figuratively passing on the law from father to son.
Also in the 5th chapter of Genesis, we see that believers in Jehovah were separated from the ungodly, and they walked with the Lord. But the ungodly grew in number and influence and pressed in upon the followers of Jehovah until, finally, after hundreds of years, there was only one man remaining on the earth who still worshipped the Lord. That was Noah. And God, by His mercy, saved this one man and his family -- his wife, his three sons, and their three wives. Noah's family was saved because of Noah's faith!
The rest of humanity perished because they had forsaken the Lord. Then God restarted mankind with Noah and his family. In Genesis 9:1 God told Noah after the flood almost exactly the same thing He had told Adam. He said, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth."
Noah's children began to fill the earth. As their numbers increased; most of Noah's descendants were wicked, but a few served the Lord. However, the numbers of the wicked increased enormously, just as they had before the flood, and they served false gods represented by idols. Sex acts were misused in the most perverse manner, even becoming a part of their religion. People fought with each other, and violence filled the earth again, even as it had before the flood.
When we come to the time of Abraham, at the end of the 11th chapter of Genesis and the beginning of the 12th chapter, God said to Abraham, (a paraphrase):
Now, Abraham, you leave this wicked society and come out and worship Me and serve Me with your family, and I will make you a great nation and I will bless all nations through your children through your family.
God took Abraham and his sons out of the wicked culture of Ur, the capital of ancient Sumer in Abraham's time, and promised to Abraham, to his son, and to his grandson -- the Biblical concept of the family -- that He would bless all the families on the earth through them.
But, for this to happen, Abraham had to avoid the wicked cities around him. We have learned from archaeology of the advanced culture of those societies. They possessed many wonderful things. But in Hebrews, chapter 11, we read that Abraham lived in tents as a nomad with Isaac and Jacob, his grandson. He forsook all that Sumer had to offer and went out to live in the countryside with his sons -- that for their sakes and for God's sake, free of all those filthy, man-made religions, he might raise a family which would bring glory and honor to God. It also says that Abraham looked for a city whose builder and maker was God -- New Jerusalem. He had his eyes on the Lord while living out in the countryside with his family.
Later, as his family grew, and they were called the "Children of Israel," they in turn became a huge family. In this great tribe of Israel -- this great nation which grew out of Abraham's loins -- the fathers of each home were to be the priests (Genesis 18: 17-19; Exodus 19:5,6; I Peter 2:9). They were to bring their families before the Lord. Jeremiah 31:1 says, "I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people." Israel, as it grew in size, lived as a large family.
If you were to go to the land of Israel today and live among the Jews, you would discover that the nation of Israel today with its almost six million Jewish people is simply a great big family. They have a parliament but not a constitution. They make laws when they need them just as families do. Israel is a great big family, and each father is responsible for the religious life of his family (at least among the practicing Jews).
The Ten Commandments: Rules for the Family
God gave the ten commandments to Israel when wandering around in the desert. I used to think the ten commandments were given to individuals to obey, or maybe to this nation of Israel. But I later realized that the ten commandments were given basically to regulate family life.
Think of it this way. The commandment is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan, and the Canaanites lived with household shrines. Each home had its own worship center or shrine (as many false religions have today) with a little brass or silver or sometimes a clay god, a small idol, of the goddess Ashtoreth or the god Ba'al which the family worshipped. God said to Israel, "You shall (not 'should') have no other gods before Me" [in other words, do not have any household gods. Worship Me in your homes.] There were temples too, of course, but the strength of the Canaanite religion lay in its grip on the family. In fact, they sometimes sacrificed their children and buried them under the doorstep as a dedication to their gods. Like some who sacrifice their children today to preserve their "freedom" and "happiness."
He gave them the Sabbath commandment saying, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." And what were they supposed to do on the Sabbath? They were supposed to stay home and not work. Why? So they could worship the Lord on the Sabbath. Stay home. Fellowship with other families in the neighborhood and worship the Lord. Do not let your boys go out hot-rodding on camels, racing across the desert, but spend one day of the week worshiping the Lord.
Another commandment is, "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother." This obviously ties the family together! How much more of a family commandment could you get than that? The promise is that children who will honor, respect, and obey their father and mother are going to have a long life.
Go through ALL ten commandments. What do they say? "You shall not commit adultery." You should not carry on any kind of sex perversion. Why? Because these tear families apart.
"You shall not murder." I have asked policemen where most murders are committed. There answer is always, "In homes." 80% of murders are committed by family members, relatives, or friends.
It is not difficult to see that all ten commandments have to do with the family. God is concerned with your little family. Father, mother, you have a great responsibility. God has given you these children and He wants you to bring them before Him and serve Him in your home.
In Psalm 78 it says:
How much more plainly can it be said that parents are to pass on the Word of God onto their own children first? And note that grandparents are included as those responsible for the family, in case the parents fail! Or maybe an aunt or uncle can step in. In my own case, my great aunt had more influence on me spiritually than my own parents did. My Dad claimed it was his godly grandfather who had the most influence in his life, making him get down on his knees each night to pray with him.
Dads, it's basically our responsibility. We can't leave it all up to Mom! She can help, but the responsibility belongs to Dad. Maybe you have failed until now. If so, pick up the ball at this point and start running with it. Confess your failure to God and to your family. I have failed; we have all failed; but let's find out what God's Word says, straighten out the situation, and start over again. Perhaps your marriage has been permanently ruined for one reason or another, and you cannot repair your marriage. Even so, keep in mind that the family is STILL at the heart of God's plan for mankind. Single people, grandparents, aunts and uncles, let's all help families in their struggle to stay together and live victoriously.
The Family in the Church of the New Testament
Where did God have the church meet in the NT? Can we conclude that He wanted to emphasize the importance of the home by having the church be born in one? In the first chapter of Acts the church was founded in the upper room of a dwelling. 120 disciples were in a large room praying when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The church was born, the Holy Spirit was poured out, in someone's private home.
As the early church grew, it met in homes. At the end of the 2nd and 5th chapter of Acts, we find that they met together in the temple - yes - but then they broke bread from house to house, that is, in people's private homes. Throughout the book of Acts we read that they met in homes. When Paul wrote to Colosse, to Rome and to Corinth, he said, "Greet so-and-so and the church in their home, or greet so-and-so and the brethren who are meeting in their home." The church met in family dwellings; there were no church buildings for over 150 years. In other words, the church practically won the Roman empire to Christ before they ever put up a church building! In fact, their troubles increased when they finally put up special buildings for the church. I don't mean to imply that we should not have buildings for the church to meet in. They serve a wonderful purpose as long as family life-support is at the forefront.
The apostles and disciples used family terms to refer to each other: "brother," "sister," etc. Paul considered himself a "father" in some situations, a "nursemaid" in others. The term "elders" was a word describing the "fathers" of a clan (Hebrew - zaqenim, ).
Many of the requirements for church elders and deacons had to do with their responsibilities as husbands and fathers and was related to the success they had had in raising obedient children and having submissive (respectful) wives (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9; I Peter 5:1-6; etc.).
If you want to REALLY see the importance of the home and see whether it is central in God's plan, recall the Christmas story when God, our Creator, the One who made the heavens and the earth, the One who planned us from the beginning of time became a Man and entered the scene of human history. He did not come floating down as a full-grown man and suddenly appear in our presence. He did not come riding into Jerusalem on a great white stallion as a Roman emperor would have. God, the Creator, came as a baby into a humble home. He lived with humble parents. He was submissive to his father and mother. Isn't that amazing? The God who created the universe became submissive as a child should be, and obeyed His parents! He did what they told Him to do, and He lived with them, in fact, until He was 30 years old, and shared in His father's business. He even remembered His mother while He was on the cross in the agony of His death to make sure she was cared for. Could a more striking example of the centrality of the family in God's plan be found that this?
How To Have a Great Spiritual Awakening
Our families, our little families, are right at the heart of God's plan for the whole universe. A Christian leader (J. Gresham Machen in Christianity and Liberalism, p. 154) wrote these words in 1927 (!),
The most important social institution according to Christian teaching is the family. [There are other social institutions; there is the church, the school, the government, and so on, but the most important is the family.] And that institution is being pushed more and more into the background. It is being pushed into the background by undue encroachments of the community and of the state. Modern life is tending more and more toward the contraction of the sphere of parental control and parental influence. The choice of schools is being placed under the power of the state. The community is seizing hold of recreation and of social activities. [This was in 1927. What is it today?!] It may be a question how far these community activities are responsible for the modern breakdown in the home. Very possibly they are only trying to fill a void which even apart from them had already appeared. But the result at any rate is plain. The lives of children are no longer surrounded by the loving atmosphere of the Christian home but by the utilitarianism of the state.
Stop and think. How many hours a day do you have your children in your home where you are having an influence on them? Very few, if it is like most homes. They are under the influence of other people most of the day unless you are home schooling. Machen goes on to say,
A revival of the Christian religion would unquestionably bring a reversal of the process. The family as over against all other social institutions would come to its rights again.
I want to suggest that the reverse is also possible. We can actually bring about a revival by building up godly homes. A major factor hindering revival today is that so many families have problems in their homes: mothers and fathers are fighting with each other, they are fighting with their children, they are fighting with the relatives. There is bitterness and quarreling and envy and hatred in homes, even in Christian homes. Many fathers are derelict in their duty as head of their homes. They are not bringing their children to God every day in the Word and in prayer, living an example before them that is in compliance with the Word of God.
If until now you have not done so, put your family in God's place, that is, give them top priority as you dedicate them to Him. Seek God's Word for the way your family should be living. Reorder your family life where ever necessary according to the principles laid out in God's Word.
THEN we will have a revival!
The great English pastor, Richard Baxter, prayed for months that God would send an awakening in his church . After some time the Lord showed him from His Word that if he would help the families in his church get their lives straightened out, and restore family altars -- revival would come! Obeying the Lord, he worked with one family after another, counseling them with their problems, helping them with their children, showing them how to have family worship, and teaching them how to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. As he did this month after month, more and more families began to experience blessings of God, giving Him the praise and honor that were due Him. Finally the Holy Spirit moved in an unusual way and revival came to Richard Baxter's church. His church members carried it into the community and to other churches, and other families got their lives right with God. The revival moved out across the countryside, and a great awakening took place throughout that area of England.
There may be other ways to bring renewal to our land, but there is no better place to begin.
Dear brothers and sisters, our family is at the heart of God's plan. It is the most precious thing in our life. If our family life is not being lived to the glory of God, we are losing out. What can we do? To begin with, let's not settle for the status quo! Here are a few suggestions:
To sum this all up, remember what Joshua said at the end of his life -- a very astounding, striking thing: "All the rest of you people can go to hell, if that is what you want. [That's what he meant.] You can serve the gods of the Amorites where you live or the gods of the Mesopotamians or the gods of the Egyptians, but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah." (Joshua 24:14,15)