Search this site
GOD'S ORDER IN FAMILY LIFE (FAMILY ORDER)
by Larry Christenson
"Quench not the Spirit"
No subject is closer to GOD's heart than that which attracts the attention of every sensible, Spirit-filled person in our time: Family priority. When redeemed souls re-establish their relationship with GOD through Christ, it's necessary, according to the Scriptures, to give priority to the study of Biblical teaching about the divine order that should preside over family life. The Bible develops its story with a dual presentation of the health of family relationships. Obviously, the first couple (Adam and Eve) are found living in peace, united and experiencing GOD's perfect will, in which the two were one flesh in their marriage. But another family also appears, when it is presented to GOD, Father of "every family in the heavens and earth" (Eph. 3:14,15), in his role of Creator, sustainer and protector of mankind's destiny. The author of this study has become renowned as author of "The Christian Family", and as a pastor whose ability and teachings help many recover the pristine, divine standard that should govern human relationships in the home and toward GOD, the loving Father of all.
1. GOD created man (male and female) in His own image (Gen. 1:26-28)
These verses contain a phrase that is the cornerstone of the biblical understanding of humanity: image of God. The image of God is presented first and foremost in relation to a unique social or community concept of God. "Then God said (singular), "Let us make (plural) man in our (plural) image". Many specialists interpret the use, such as the singular with the plural, as an allusion to the Trinity: one God in a community of persons.
God then proceeds to create man in his image. In this transcendental moment, Scripture points out a particular aspect of human nature; that is, that which corresponds to the social or community aspect of divine nature: God creates human beings as man and woman, not as a lone individual, but as two persons. However, to continue our reading, we discover that the two are, nevertheless, "one" (see 2:24).
The "community" that reflects God's image is special: the community of a woman and a man. When God chose to create humanity in his image, he created marriage, a family. The community of the family constitutes a reflection of the community of the Divinity. Its identity, life and power come from God.
2. Family identity is in GOD (Eph. 3:14,15)
Speaking in human terms, we bind the identity of a husband, wife and children to their family name. This, however, identifies them superficially. Family identity has a much deeper root.
"Family" is a word that is rooted in GOD: GOD is Father, the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ. GOD is, in himself, a "divine family". (The family expresses itself like GOD relates to people) The Bible reveals this aspect of GOD's nature in a rich and varied usage of family images: GOD is our Father, GOD is the husband to his people, GOD is like a mother raising her children, Christ is the husband to the Church.
When a man and woman are united in matrimony, GOD grants them this name that, in essence, belongs to him: the name of family. The husband, wife and children measure up to the true meaning of this word, when they reflect the nature of the divine family in the human family.
3. Jesus and the Father are a model of the marriage relationship (I Cor. 11:3)
The relationship between GOD as "Head" and Christ as Son, is given to us as a model for the relationship between the husband and the wife. When the Bible reveals how the Father and the Son relate to each other, it also tells us something about the manner that husbands and wives should relate to each other.
The following principles about the relationship between the husband and the woman are illustrated in the light of the relationship between Jesus and the Father: 1) The husband and the wife should share mutual love (John 5:20; 14:31). 2) The husband and wife fulfill different functions in the marriage (John 10:17; 14:28; 17:4). 3) Even when they have different roles, the husband and wife are equal; live in unity (John 10:30; 14:9,11). 4) The husband and wife esteem each other (John 8:49,54). 5) The husbands express love for their wives, and they demonstrate it by reciprocally looking after each other, sharing their life and ministry, and giving mutual attention to each other (John 5:20,22; 8:29; 11:42; 16:15; 17:2). 6) The wives express love for their husbands by sharing their desires and purpose with them; by exercising influence confidently, with humility and meekness, not through a cold-shoulder or competition; in a word, by showing respect, as much in their attitudes as in their conduct (John 4:34; 5:19,30; 8:28; 14:31; 15:10; Phil. 2:5,6,8; see also Gen. 3:16; I Tim. 2:8-15).
4. Christ and the Church as a model of the relationship between the husband and wife (Eph. 5:22,23)
The specific instructions that the Apostle Paul gives to husbands and wives represents a glimmer of the relationship between Christ and his Church: a heavenly model for all earthly marriages.
How should I conduct myself with my wife? Look at Christ, the divine Husband, in his relationship with the Church: he loves it; he sacrifices himself for it, he is attentive to its needs, and he bears it like you do for the parts of your own body.
Sometimes, the wife should ask herself, "How should I behave with my husband? Watch the chosen newly-wed, the Church, in its relationship with Christ; respect him, recognize that he is called to be the "head" of the family, respond positively to his leadership, listen to him, entrust yourself to him, remain united in purpose and desires with him; be a true helper (see Gen. 2:18).
No husband and no wife can do this relying only on his will-power or resolution, but as you are shaped by GOD, (just as your marriage is - Eph. 2:8-10) the LORD will help you achieve it.
5. The attitudes toward GOD determine the attitudes toward the mate (I Pet. 3:1-7)
Our attitudes toward our mate are determined by our attitudes toward GOD. A husband may fall short of his wife's expectations and GOD's ideal for a husband. Nevertheless, the wife seeks in every possible way to be a good wife, using Christ as an example, who obeyed his Father and trusted in Him, even when his own people rejected him (John 1:11). Or, a wife can frustrate her husband, be unaware of his authority or even disrespect him. In spite of that, the husband honors her, cares for her and prays for her, following the example of the conduct of the Father, who "knows our condition" (Psa. 103:14).
6. Husbands and wives are called to act according to divine arrangement (Col. 3:18,19,23,24)
The Christian offers himself in service to others as a way of serving the LORD. In these verses, that truth is specifically applied to the relationship between a husband and a wife. The role that GOD assigns to the husband is to care for and protect his wife. Likewise, from a different position, she should serve her spouse.
The roles aren't chosen by the mates, nor assigned to them by the culture in which they live, but determined by GOD as a means through which Christ's life is manifested on earth. It's in this context that the word submission acquires its full biblical significance in family life: the husband and wife, both as equals, are submitting to GOD, by fulfilling the functions that he has assigned to them. In the service that they offer to each other, the husband and wife serve and honor Christ. The word "submit yourselves" (Greek, hupotasso) is formed from hupo ("underneath, below") and tasso ("to arrange in an orderly way"). In this context, it describes a person who accepts his place under GOD's established order. It also reminds us that GOD's assignment to submit ourselves isn't directed solely to wives. In James 4:7 and Ephesians 5:21, we see that the directive also applies to every believer, in his relationship with others, and with GOD.
7. Forgiveness can salvage and transform a marriage (Hos. 2:16,17,19,20)
Through the tragic history of Hosea and Gomer, GOD reveals so much about the depth as well as the power 1) of his love for Israel; and 2) of the marital tie. GOD describes the pain and humiliation he suffers due to Israel's infidelity. In obedience to GOD, Hosea suffers the same pain and humiliation because of his wife's infidelity. But GOD shows how the marriage can be saved: through the suffering and forgiveness.
This is one of the most profound revelations about marriage that we can encounter in any place in the Scriptures. Marital success isn't a matter of perfect people, who live perfectly, behaving perfectly. Marriage is, rather, a state in which very imperfect people are hurt and humiliated sometimes, but find the grace to forgive each other, and thus allow GOD's redemptive power to transform their marriage.
8. Three aspects of sex: unity, symbolic of love, saved for marriage (I Cor. 7:3,4)
The sexual act is an intimate expression of affection between the husband and wife. The apostle underlines the importance of marriage by declaring that the sexual act is, to tell the truth, a duty; the husband should be available to his wife when she asks him, and likewise, the wife when he asks her.
It's more than an act of biblical mating. The Bible calls it a "mystery", a privilege through which two people, a man and a woman, come to be only one (Eph. 5:32; see Gen. 2:24). The privilege is abused when a man and a woman aren't married and have sexual contact (see I Cor. 5:1; 6:16); then, something that, according to GOD should bring blessings, becomes a trial (see Eph. 5:5).
Marriage is the only place which GOD has provided for sexual union to occur. In this framework, the sexual act becomes a powerful symbol of the love between Christ and the Church, and pure and delightful sharing between both mates, a true gift received from GOD's hand. Outside of these limits, it becomes virtually destructive.
9. The husband: protector and provider (Is. 54:4)
GOD is revealed through the title of husband to show how profoundly he loves his people and how he effectively cares for them. By doing this, he uncovers an important dimension of family life, especially in respect to husbands: a husband should love and care for his wife and children. GOD is protector and provider. Husbands who submit themselves to divine direction will encounter so much inspiration, like the power to achieve those objectives, since those divine attributes will flow through and fill their lives.
10. GOD backs up the marriage covenant (Mal. 2:13,14,16)
When two people marry, GOD is present as a witness to that ceremony, sealing it with the strongest word: covenant. A "covenant" speaks to us of fidelity and a lasting promise. It's as if GOD becomes a sentry of the marriage, for blessing or judgment.
Divorce is described here as an act of violence. Initiating a divorce violates the divine intentions for matrimony and the mate with whom he has united you.
But, when a wife and her husband live according to the marriage vows, all the power of the divine guardian of the covenant sustains them in their married life. What confidence we have, to know that GOD helps our marriage! His power and authority confront every enemy who can threaten the marriage, from within or from outside.
11. Divorce is a consequence of a heart hardened to GOD (Matt. 19:1-9)
In this text, Jesus openly tackles a fundamental subject: the cause of divorce is hardness of heart. Behind each broken marriage there is a heart hardened against GOD, and later hardened against the conjugal companion. From the beginning, GOD's intention concerning marriage was that it be for life. Taking this into account, believers should take care in choosing their lifetime companion (see II Cor. 6:14). Unfortunately, no marriage is completely free of the differences and difficulties that might lead to divorce, if the husband and wife were disappointed by their unregenerate character.
The devil will exaggerate the failings and inadequacies of the marriage partner, and will sow suspicion and jealousy, provoke self-pity, and insist that you deserve something better, and will make the deceptive promise that things would be better with some other person. But listen to Jesus' words and remember: GOD can change hearts and take away all their hardness if only we allow him to.
12. Divine will unites people into families (Psa. 68:5,6)
Sometimes we refer to the difficult circumstances in which people are born as "an accident". But seen from the divine perspective, that we can be part of a human family, isn't by chance: it's a divine decision". "GOD unites individuals into families". In fact, the protection and care that one receives within the family is so essential to human life, that GOD promised to personally intervene in favor of widows and orphans who lose the usual protection of a father and a husband. When we feel tempted to complain about our family, or think that we would have been better off being born somewhere else, we need to recover this divine perspective. That's not to say we should be passive and fatalistic about our situation; nor does it imply that it will free us from pain and suffering. It reminds us, however, that the well-being of our human families rests on the promise and care of our heavenly Father, and that his loving and sovereign purpose will intervene to our benefit.
13. GOD's loving heart will flow through the parents to the children (Hos. 11:1,3,4)
GOD is revealed as a loving Father, near to his children and sensitive to their needs, therefore he teaches them, encourages them, helps and heals them. Growth isn't something that GOD leaves to chance; the LORD consciously nourishes his children. GOD's feeling toward his children is represented by the hidden meaning of the name, Hosea: "Liberator" or "he who helps". The Hebrew root yasha indicates that freedom is offered openly and graciously and will, in time, offer a secure refuge for each son of GOD. This is the biblical model for parents; GOD entrusts children to their parents and allows his teachings to flow through the parents to them.
14. Caring for and loving children honors GOD (Psa. 127:3-5)
GOD's covenant with Adam and Eve contained two independent provisions: descendants and dominion. Two people can't dominate the world alone; this requires descendants.
For believers, having children is a response to a commandment: "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth, and subjugate it..." (Gen. 1:28). Children are called "inheritance of Jehovah" in this psalm. It means that children belong to GOD; they are "ours" only as secondary parents. GOD gives progeny to couples as a person would entrust a fortune to his heirs. Jesus didn't want us to despise any of those "little ones" and spoke of their faith in GOD as an example to adults (Matt. 18:1-5,10).
When a couple marries, they promise to love, serve and sacrifice for the next generation. Loving and caring for children is one of the principal ways to honor GOD and share the task of building his kingdom.
15. Parents are responsible for raising their children (Eph. 6:4)
GOD has given the responsibility of raising children to the parents; it's not the responsibility of grandparents, schools, the state, youth groups or companions and friends. Even if each one of these groups could exert influence on children as a last resort, the debt and responsibility rest on the parents, and particularly, upon the father, whom GOD has designated "head" of the family, in order to direct it. Two things are needed to appropriately teach children: a proper attitude and a proper foundation. An atmosphere permeated with destructive criticism, condemnations, false expectations, sarcasm, intimidation and fear, will "provoke the child to wrath". In that kind of atmosphere, you can't offer any sound teaching.
The positive alternative would be an atmosphere rich in tenderness, enthusiasm, affection and love. In an atmosphere like this, parents can build their children's lives upon the precious foundation of the knowledge of GOD. (see also Deut. 6:6,7; Prov. 22:6)
16. Corrective discipline for rebelliousness (Prov. 13:24)
Discipline is the flipside of teaching. Even children with a learning spirit need detailed explanations, much patience, opportunities to learn and experiment, as well as the right to learn through their mistakes. But a spoiled (Prov. 29:15), rebellious (I Sam. 15:23) or stubborn (Prov. 22:15) child causes problems that disrupt and shatter family harmony. The divine response is firm and loving discipline.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between discipline and physical abuse. Discipline can be painful, but not harmful. We must never damage a child, although, occasionally, pain may be part of effective discipline. GOD himself is described as a strict supporter of discipline. Although he always disciplines us lovingly and for our benefit, being corrected can cause us pain (Heb. 12:5-11). Likewise, GOD requires that parents correctively discipline their children. The eternal destiny of the child may depend on the discipline of his parents (Prov. 23:14).
17. Mutual acceptance is the road that leads to unity (Rom. 15:5-7)
It's been said that the best teaching about the family is, simply, an application of what it means to live as a Christian. These verses in Romans are directed to the Christian community in general; however, they are frequently used as a biblical passage to be read in the marriage ceremony.
The key word is "receive" (Greek proslambano), which means "to take for oneself". Its root indicates that a strong initiative is directed toward us that in Christ, GOD came to us and took possession of us "being yet sinners" (5:8). Through this act of acceptance, He put the grace of GOD and the power of redemption at our disposal.
When this power is allowed to work in a family, it transforms the lives of two imperfect people into only one life, which will be for the praise of GOD's glory. For his part, the LORD places this word like an emblem over all marriages, from the first day until the last. "Receive each other as Christ also received us, for the glory of GOD.