This 13 part study on Christian Family Living was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1995. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson (excepting audio for lesson 13).
About one year ago (Jan. 10, 1994), Newsweek published a cover story, “Kids Growing Up Scared.” It reported on the wave of fear engulfing parents and children in our society, on the surface in response to the frightening abduction and murder of Polly Klaas, but more deeply related to the breakdown of the family and the proliferation of violence in our society. The article reported many frightening stories and statistics, such as:
--The average child has watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school.
--One in six youths between the ages of 10 and 17 has seen or knows someone who has been shot.
--Children under 18 are 244% more likely to be killed by guns than they were in 1986.
--An estimated 70% of juvenile offenders come from single-parent families.
--There has been a 200% growth in single-parent households since 1970, from 4 million to 8 million homes.
--The estimated number of child abuse victims increased 40% between 1985 and 1991.
When you throw in the statistics on divorce, sexual promiscuity, the AIDS epidemic, and general breakdown of morality and family values in our culture, we who are Christian parents have a formidable task in seeking to rear Christian families.
Because we live in evil times, we need God’s wisdom for our families.
In Ephesians 5:15-16, just prior to giving instructions to families, the Apostle Paul writes (my translation), “Therefore look carefully how you walk, not as foolish people, but as wise, buying back every opportunity, because the days are evil.” God’s Word, of course, is the only source of wisdom concerning how we live. Today I’d like to apply Paul’s words to offer some ways we can experience God’s wisdom in our family lives in 1995. First, we must recognize,
That’s not news, but unless we recognize the specific ways evil is manifested in our times, we cannot combat and resist it. I fear that the American church is blissfully drifting downstream with many evil currents in our day. As God chided Israel through the prophet Hosea, “Strangers devour his strength, yet he does not know it; gray hairs also are sprinkled on him, yet he does not know it” (Hos. 7:9). There are a number of powerful cultural factors that affect us who live at the end of the twentieth century, and these factors spawn a number of worldly concepts that we must stand against if we want godly families.
Industrialization, urbanization, and modern technology have vastly changed the world we live in. Marla had a grandmother who was born in 1887, just a few years after the invention of the electric light and the telephone, and a few years before the automobile and airplane. By the time she died at 102 in 1990, life on this planet had changed substantially, to say the least. When she was born it took weeks or months to travel to the other side of the world; when she died, you could be there within a day. Global communication took weeks or months, whereas now it is instantaneous. When she was born, it was common for families to live and die for generations in the same small community; when she died, that was seldom the case. Without attempting to be exhaustive, here are a few specific cultural factors that impact the family:
(1) Mobility and anonymity--The 1970 census showed that 50 percent of the population had lived at a different address only five years earlier. It is common for children to go to a different community to attend college, then to move to whatever part of the country they can find work or desire to live in. Geographic proximity to the extended family is seldom a factor. The career and quality of life are the important factors. Often to get the promising jobs requires a move to an urban area, which results in a loss of community and an increase of anonymity. With the increase in anonymity comes a corresponding loss of accountability. In the big city, no one, not even the people at church, need to know how you live in private.
(2) Women in the labor force--In 1948, 18 percent of the nation’s mothers worked outside the home. In 1971, it was 43 percent. Today it is well over 50 percent. For mothers of preschoolers, in 1950, about 12 percent worked; by 1985, over 50 percent did so. Work is an economic necessity for only a small fraction of these mothers. The majority work either because they seek fulfillment through a career or because the couple wants a better lifestyle than they can afford on one income. As of 1977, 62 percent of children whose mothers worked were shipped off to day-care centers or babysitters outside their families (sources: Newsweek, 8/9/92; and, Christianity Today, 5/25/79). It doesn’t take a college degree to see the profound impact this cultural trend has on the family!
(3) Television--It is impossible to over-emphasize the negative impact that TV has had on our families. In the average home, it is on for seven hours a day. Studies show that there is virtually no difference between evangelicals and the population at large, in either the amount of time or the selection of programs watched. The average 18 year-old has chalked up between 15,000 and 22,000 hours in front of the tube and 12,000 hours in school. If he attends Sunday School every week for 15 of his 18 years, he will spend only 780 hours being instructed in the Bible!
Need I say that TV is not helping to instill Christian values or to model Christian relationships! Besides the negative moral impact, TV stifles such wholesome activities as family conversation, Bible study, reading good books, and enjoying art and good music. It fosters a way of life that is worldly and self-centered to the core, promoting the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16).
(4) No-fault divorce--Divorce used to be viewed negatively by our culture. Now, while it’s not desirable, it’s no big deal. The statistics on divorce do not differ significantly between those who claim to be evangelicals and the culture at large. In fact, ministers rank third in divorce occupationally, behind doctors and police. Since the cultural value of personal fulfillment is also the common goal among Christians, if your marriage isn’t bringing you fulfillment, then trade it in for a new model! Fifty percent of the “Baby Busters” or “Generation X,” those born between 1963 and 1977, come from broken homes.
(5) Absent parents--This factor is the cumulative result of all of the above. Studies have confirmed that American children spend less time with their parents than kids in almost every other culture in the world. A study done back in the 1970’s revealed that the average American father spent 37 seconds a day with his young son. Because of illegitimacy and divorce, about a third of U.S. children under 18 (27% of white, 63% of black children) do not live with both of their natural parents. Of the kids with absent fathers, 31 percent never have contact with them. Of course, it’s impossible for an absent parent to communicate Christian values to his or her children.
(6) Feeling-oriented living, or lack of impulse control--“If it feels good, do it” is the mentality promoted by TV, movies, and music, which operate in the realm of emotional impact, not intellectual content, truthfulness, or moral virtue. A popular Christian singer a few years ago crooned, “How can it be wrong when it feels so right?” Psychology has taught us to get in touch with and analyze our feelings. We’re told, even in Christian circles, that “feelings aren’t right or wrong; feelings just are.” In evangelical churches, an emotional experience with God is far more important than evaluating its theological truthfulness. We tend to disparage any emphasis on doctrine; instead, we emphasize unity and love based on an experience with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, although often devoid of any biblical content.
In our culture, when someone commits a horrible crime, we don’t usually hear it condemned as evil; we analyze the reasons why a person would do such a thing. Since we watch people on TV express their angry feelings through abusive speech and violence, we adopt that form of dealing with our frustrations. Some form of violence occurs in 25 percent of all marriages, and reported cases of child abuse almost tripled between 1976 and 1986. At least 40 percent of all abuse cases involve drugs or alcohol (statistics from Newsweek, 12/12/88). Drug and alcohol abuse fit in with our feeling-oriented way of life.
(7) No absolute truth--Our society does not view truth as rational, objective, or universal. If it works for you, then its true. This is coupled with our feeling-oriented approach so that if something seems intuitively to be true or if it makes you feel good, then it must be true. Personal experience becomes the ultimate test of truth. Among the Baby Busters, 81 percent do not believe in absolute truth (Christianity Today, 9/12/94, p. 21). In the culture at large, the figure is 70 percent. A corollary to the lack of belief in absolute truth is the belief in tolerance as the chief virtue. “You can believe whatever you want; if it works for you, that’s fine. Just don’t force it on me!” The only thing we can’t tolerate is someone who says authoritatively, “You’re wrong!”--even if that someone is God. So the only authority for our culture, and even for many Christians, is personal experience or preference.
All of the above factors have a profound impact on us as Christians and on our homes. They filter down into a number of worldly concepts concerning the family that are affecting us:
(1) A worldly concept about love and marriage--Through every form of mass media, our culture promotes the idea that romantic love and sex are the basis for happiness in marriage. In this view, love is a mysterious visitation that comes out of no where and sweeps you off your feet. Based primarily on sexual attraction, such love is an effortless ecstasy that feels wonderful as long as it lasts. But, alas, sometimes it goes away or is transferred to another person who makes the earth move under your feet. At the root of this concept, of course, is the love of self and the notion that the other person is there to make me feel good. Though it sounds silly, it permeates even Christian marriages.
(2) A worldly concept about human nature--Our culture, and even many American Christians, believe in the basic goodness of human nature. As a result, we underestimate the extent of depravity and self-centeredness, and thereby we don’t take radical enough measures to deal the death blow to self and sin. The way this faulty concept of human nature works itself out in marriage is that it absolves us of responsibility. When a couple is having difficulty in their marriage, we say things like, “Their marriage has broken down”; or, “They’re trying to save their marriage, but I don’t think it’s going to work.” As Harry Blamires points out (Recovering the Christian Mind [IVP], pp. 136-137), we view marriage as some sort of thing, like a broken down car that is beyond our ability to deal with. But, as he says,
The effect of pretending that there is this rather unmanageable thing, a ‘marriage’, is to allow us to picture two innocent people feverishly trying to do something to protect and preserve a common possession that is getting out of hand--something perhaps like a pet dog which has turned unruly and started to bite visitors. In this way we mentally shift responsibility from the shoulders of free human beings. Both parties are allowed to wring their hands over a misfortune which has descended upon them through no fault of their own.
David Wells (No Place for Truth [Eerdmans], pp. 178-179) argues that the basic goodness of human nature is the common assumption beneath the self movement and the therapeutic models of salvation being foisted on us by the psychologizing of Christianity. After pointing out that it is no accident that the men behind the self movement are all humanists, he states,
The biblical gospel asserts the very reverse--namely, that the self is twisted, that it is maladjusted in its relationship to both God and others, that it is full of deceit and rationalizations, that it is lawless, that it is in rebellion, and indeed that one must die to self in order to live. It is this that is at the heart of the biblical gospel, this that is at the center of Christian character. There is abundant evidence that people become strong by suppressing what is unworthy within them, not by expressing it (ibid., p. 179).
(3) A worldly concept about relationships--namely, that the purpose for relationships is to bring me happiness and fulfillment. My marriage partner should fulfill my needs. If he or she isn’t doing this, then I need to find someone else who can do the job. This idea is behind the whole co-dependence movement (which has infiltrated the church), that self-love is central; if a marriage partner isn’t helping me reach my full potential, then it’s time to move on.
(4) A worldly concept about roles in marriage--There are two wrong extremes in which the American church has been tainted by the world. One is that of male superiority or dominance--the Archie Bunker syndrome. The man is seen as the king or drill sergeant in the home. He barks the orders and the wife and kids are supposed to obey. He ignores the biblical commands to love his family sacrificially, and wrongly uses the biblical teaching about the headship of the man for his own advantage.
The other extreme, in reaction to the first, is that there should be no distinctions at all on the basis of gender. The clear biblical commands for the wife to submit to her husband are explained away. Supposedly, there is to be “mutual submission.” I contend that the “evangelical feminist” movement is simply bringing the world into the church and will wreak havoc on Christian families.
(5) A worldly concept about success--This view permeates our culture, that success means being rich, powerful, or famous. When was the last time you saw People magazine do a story extolling the success of a common person who has been happily married for 35 years and whose children have grown up and started solid marriages of their own? Instead, you see stories on the rich and famous, pictured in their revealing $500 gowns attending a $1,000-a-plate dinner with all the other famous. So what if they’re on their fourth marriage and their kids are strung out on dope? They’re “successful”! Even though as Christians we reject that view of success, it spills over. Christian magazines feature famous Christians, and we read their stories as if somehow they’re the models we should follow.
I don’t mean to depress you by spending so much time dealing with the evils of our world, but unless we identify these things, we become tainted by them. By emphasizing the magnitude of the problem, I hope to motivate you to come for the rest of the series. But briefly I want to focus on how to counter the evil days in which we live.
There are two parts to Paul’s command as to how to live wisely in such evil times:
The word translated “be careful” means to consider with exactness or precision. It was an accounting term. If an accountant says, “Is that a 10 or a 100? Oh, well, it doesn’t matter!” you wouldn’t want him keeping your books! He needs to be exact. The idea here is that we are walking in a hostile world intended by Satan to destroy us. Land mines, broken glass, barbed wire, and hidden traps are everywhere. You must walk carefully, with precision, if you want to escape harm.
How? Paul amplifies, “not as unwise men, but as wise.” Where do we find wisdom? The Bible is clear that we must deliberately reject the so-called wisdom of this world, which exalts man, and embrace God’s wisdom which opposes the world’s wisdom and centers in the cross of Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Col. 2:8-15). One of my main objections to the psychological approach to the Christian life is that it invariably diminishes the centrality of the cross of Christ and at the same time exalts the self--just the opposite of God’s wisdom which humbles human pride and glories in Christ Jesus and Him crucified. So we must look to Scripture, and to Scripture alone, if we want God’s wisdom for family living. Walk carefully!
The idea here is that pagans are in bondage to their aimless, sensual, feeling-oriented, greedy way of life (4:17-19). But Christians can buy back time that otherwise would be wasted in such selfish living and use it for eternity. The word for “time” focuses on opportune time. As we live daily by growing in God’s wisdom through His Word and rejecting the world’s wisdom that bombards us, there will be those choice moments that we can redeem from futility and capture for God’s eternal purpose. At each phase of family life, those moments differ. A wise couple will seek to grab every opportunity to communicate God’s truth to their children, both by example and by word.
I preached on these verses on December 30, 1979, in a message titled, “Making the Most of the ’80s.” After mentioning the erosion of a number of Christian values during the seventies, I said, “There is a very real danger ... for Christians in the ’80’s to throw out the biblical absolutes regarding morality and other values and to adopt the relativistic values system of our humanistic culture. Frederick Moore Vinson, former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said, ‘Nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes.’ Christians are in danger of buying the view that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes. To make the most of the ’80’s, we must take a vigorous and stand against this erosion of biblical values.” Those words apply just as much as we face 1995. Our times are evil; but God has given us His wisdom for the family. We’ll be looking at it in more detail in the weeks to come. I encourage you, Walk in it!
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Some of you made the mistake of buying your children toys for Christmas that had the ominous words on the box, “Some assembly required.” Of those who did that, a small percentage, probably about one percent, read through the directions completely as instructed before you began to assemble the toy. The rest of you thought, “I can figure this out,” and plunged in. But not many of you got the thing assembled without having to dig out the instruction manual!
Marriage comes with the label, “Much assembly required!” It takes a lifetime of work to put it together the right way. Most of us plunged in without carefully reading the instruction manual, confident that we could figure it out. But we quickly get into trouble and frequently need to read and re-read the manufacturer’s instructions. Most of the problems we get into in marriage can be traced to our neglect of reading and obeying God’s instructions.
Early in Genesis, the book of beginnings, we find God’s design for marriage (Gen. 2:18-25). This text describing the original marriage is the basis for almost everything else the Bible says about marriage. It explains God’s reason for designing marriage and also gives us many principles which, if applied, will enable us to build solid, satisfying marriages which honor God. The text teaches us that:
God designed marriage to meet our need for companionship and to provide an illustration of our relationship with Him.
The name used for God, translated “Lord [Yahweh] God” (2:18, 19, 21, 22) emphasizes His covenant relationship with His people. Genesis 1 refers to God as “Elohim,” emphasizing His power as the Creator. Genesis 2 refers to Him as the Lord God, showing that the powerful Creator is also the personal God who cares for His creatures. This caring, personal God knew that the man He created had a need, and so He took action to meet that need.
When you read Genesis 1 & 2, the words of 2:18 hit abruptly: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Throughout chapter one, God surveys His work and pronounces it good (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This is the first time God says that something in His creation is not good: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
Think about it: Here’s a sinless man, in perfect fellowship with God, in a perfect environment. What more could you want? Isn’t that enough? Not according to God! God’s evaluation was that the man needed a human companion to correspond to him.
Sometimes super-spiritual people say that if you’re lonely, there must be something wrong with your spiritual life. But God acknowledges our need not only for fellowship with Him, but also with a life partner. This is not to say that every person needs to be married. Everyone spends many years of life as a single person. God has called some to remain single (1 Cor. 7:7-9). Nor is it to say that marriage will meet all our needs for companionship. Married people need friends of the same sex. But it is to say that a main reason God designed marriage was to meet the human need for companionship. First, we must affirm:
That means that He knows best how it should operate. His Word gives us the principles we need for satisfying marriages. Since God designed marriage, it takes three to make a good marriage: God, the man, and the woman. For a Christian to marry an unbeliever is not only to disobey God, it is to enter marriage lacking a crucial ingredient. Marriage has been described as a triangle with God at the top: the closer each partner moves to God, the closer they move toward each other. The further each moves from God, the further they move from each other. As soon as Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they experienced alienation from each other and Adam began blaming Eve for his problems (3:7, 12). Broken marriages always involve at least one partner moving away from God. So the starting place in having a marriage according to God’s design is genuine conversion and a daily walk with God.
God says that He will make Adam “a helper suitable for him” (2:18). The Hebrew word is not demeaning. It is often used of God’s help for those in distress and for military assistance. It points to the fact that the husband needs and even depends on his wife’s support and help. But we also need to remember Paul’s words that “man was not created for woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (1 Cor. 11:9). That verse alone destroys the feminist view that there are no distinctions based on gender. The fact that God created the woman as a helper points to her subordinate role to her husband, even before the fall.
But at the same time, there is no basis for the view that men are superior to women. God made the woman to be a helper “suitable for” (lit. = “corresponding to”) the man. The picture is that the woman is the missing part of the man. Just as a jigsaw puzzle is incomplete if half the pieces are missing, so a man is incomplete without his wife. God designed it so that the man needs the woman and the woman needs the man (see 1 Cor. 11:11). Both are equal persons and yet have distinct roles to fulfill.
God made Adam out of the dust (2:7). Why didn’t He make Eve out of the dust? Why did He make her from Adam’s rib (2:21-22)? I believe God did it to show Adam that his wife was a part of him, equal with him, not a lower creation. A man is to cherish his wife as his own flesh (Eph. 5:28-29). As has often been observed, she was not taken from Adam’s head to rule over him, nor from his feet, that he should put her down, but she was taken from his side that he would protect her and keep her close to his heart.
Why didn’t God create Adam and Eve simultaneously? Before God created Eve he put Adam through the exercise of naming the animals (2:19-20). Some critics allege that these verses are out of context. There is no basis for that assertion. But why this strange exercise of naming the animals right here? God had a lesson to teach Adam. By naming all the animals, Adam discovered that for every animal there were both male and female. After a few dozen cases--male and female aardvarks, ... and finally, male and female zebras--Adam got to the end of the list and wondered, “Where’s mine?” The forlorn note reads, “but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him” (2:20).
God first made Adam feel the need for a wife. A dog may be man’s best friend, but it could not satisfy Adam’s need for companionship. Only a woman could. God sometimes makes us endure loneliness so that when the need is met, we appreciate it more. I felt the need to get married at 20. The Lord made me wait until just before my 27th birthday. By then I really felt the need. But I also deeply appreciate my wife. I remember how lonely I felt all those years. God prepares us to receive His gifts and then provides for our needs. We need to thank God for the partner He has given us and express our appreciation to that partner. God designed marriage, including your marriage.
This account of the first marriage also plainly teaches that God designed marriage to include sex. Many Christians have ungodly notions about sex. Some think that sex was the original sin. I read of one pastor and his wife who announced to their congregation that they would be adopting their first son. One dear old lady told the pastor, “That’s how every pastor and his wife should have children.” She thought that abstinence was more spiritual!
I don’t know if you’ve given much thought to what the text describes concerning the creation of Eve, but I would guess that it might surprise you. In the first place, it says that God fashioned a woman from the man’s rib. “Fashioned” is literally, “built.” The verb pictures God as a sculptor, carefully and deliberately shaping the woman into a creature who would meet Adam’s need. Since she was built by God, you could safely say that she was well-built! She was a real beauty. Verse 22 implies that Adam didn’t wake up and find Eve lying beside him. Rather, God brought her to him. Picture Adam waking up and wondering what the funny feeling in his side was. He’s counting his ribs when he hears God say, “Adam, you forgot to name one creature.” Adam looks up to see Eve, not in a wedding dress, but naked! Wow!
We know she was a knockout because of Adam’s response (2:23). These are the first recorded words of the first man. They were not quite as mild as the various translations indicate. A more literal rendering of the original Hebrew is: “YAHOO!” The phrase “this is now” is literally, “Here, now!” or “This one! At last!” Keil and Delitzsch, two German scholars from the last century, translate it, “This time!” and say that it is “expressive of joyous astonishment” (Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans], 1:90). Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, another commentary from Victorian times, say it is emphatic: “Now at last!” Or, “This is the very thing that hits the mark; this reaches what was desired” (A Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical [Eerdmans], 1:46). Remember, Adam had been looking through all the animals for one corresponding to him and had come up empty. When God brought Eve to him, he shouted, “Eureka!”
Next, Adam promptly finished his work of naming the creatures. He recognized that Eve was a part of him and named her accordingly: “She shall be called Woman [Heb., Ishshah] because she was taken out of Man [Heb., Ish].” God brought her to Adam as His exquisitely crafted gift, perfect for Adam’s deepest need.
These verses teach us something important about God: He is not opposed to our enjoyment of sex within marriage. He designed it and gave it to Adam and Eve. Satan tries to malign the goodness of God by making us think that God is trying to take our fun away by restricting sex to marriage. But God knows that it creates major problems when we violate His design for His gift. We need to regard marriage and sex in marriage as God’s good gift, designed for our pleasure, to meet our deepest needs for human companionship. In the context of marriage, we can thankfully enjoy what God has given.
Verse 24 is Moses speaking, not Adam (who didn’t have a father and mother to leave). It is Moses’ commentary on these events. “For this reason” means, “Because of the way God designed marriage from the start, because the woman is bone of man’s bone and flesh of his flesh, these things hold true.” He shows that to fulfill our need for companionship, marriage must be a primary, permanent, exclusive, and intimate relationship.
(1) Companionship requires that marriage be a primary relationship. God did not create a father and mother for Adam, nor a child, but a wife. A man must leave father and mother in order to cleave to his wife to establish a one flesh relationship. This means that the marriage relationship is primary, not the parent-child relationship. The parent child relationship must be altered before the marriage relationship can be established. The cord must be cut. This doesn’t mean abandoning parents or cutting off contact with them. But it does mean that a person needs enough emotional maturity to break away from dependence upon his parents to enter marriage. And parents need to raise their children with a view to releasing them.
It also means that if a couple builds their marriage around their children, or as more frequently happens, the husband builds his life around his job while the wife builds her life around the children, they are heading for serious problems when it’s time for the nest to empty. It is not helping the children, either. The best way to be a good parent to your children is to be a good husband to their mother or a good wife to their father.
(2) Companionship requires that marriage be a permanent relationship. This follows from it being the primary relationship. Your children are with you in the home a few years; your partner is with you for life. “Cleave” means to cling to, to hold to, as bone to skin. It means to be glued to something--so when you get married, you’re stuck! After Jesus quoted this verse, He added, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).
This means that the marriage relationship must be built primarily on commitment, not on feelings of romantic love. Romantic love is important, but the foundation of marriage is a commitment of the will. It is a covenant before God (Mal. 2:14; Prov. 2:17). Commitment is what will hold a couple together through the difficulties that invariably come. A Christian couple should never use the threat of divorce as leverage in a conflict.
(3) Companionship requires that marriage be an exclusive relationship. The text says, “To his wife,” not “wives.” Monogamy is God’s design: One man, one woman for life. Although God tolerated polygamy in Old Testament times, it was not His original intention. God easily could have created many wives for Adam, but He did not. One man, one woman, for life--that’s God’s design.
This means that when you get married, you give up close friendships with women other than your wife. You give up your freedom to go out with the guys whenever you choose. You have a new relationship with your wife; she is now your first priority in terms of human relationships. If you can’t handle that, you aren’t mature enough for the demands of marriage.
(4) Companionship requires that marriage be an intimate relationship. “And they shall become one flesh.” One flesh emphasizes the sexual union (1 Cor. 6:16). But the sexual union is always more than just physical. There is relational and emotional oneness as well. Most sexual problems in marriage stem from a failure of total person intimacy. Sexual harmony must be built on the foundation of a primary, permanent, exclusive relationship that is growing in trust, openness, and oneness. God made us that way.
If you remove sex from the context of a primary, permanent, exclusive commitment, you will experience a superficial sense of closeness. Paul says that even when a man has sex with a prostitute, he becomes one flesh with her (1 Cor. 6:16). But apart from the lifelong commitment of marriage, sex will never bring the satisfaction God designed it to give.
Sin always hinders intimacy, even in marriage. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they recognized their nakedness and began to hide themselves, not only from God, but also from one another. While as fallen sinners we can never experience what Adam and Eve knew with one another before the fall, to the extent that we deal with our sin before God and one another and grow in holiness, we will grow in personal intimacy. It takes constant work! Good marriages aren’t the result of luck in finding the right partner. They’re the result of couples who work daily at walking openly and humbly before God and with each other.
But God didn’t design marriage just so that we could be happy and have our needs met. He designed marriage to be a testimony for Him. Godly marriages bear witness of what it means to know God.
The Bible says that God created marriage for a purpose bigger than itself: Marriage is a picture of the believer’s relationship with God. After talking about marriage and quoting Genesis 2:24, Paul writes, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is an earthly picture of the spiritual relationship that exists between Christ, the bridegroom, and the church, His bride. The consummation of a marriage is referred to in the Bible as a man knowing his wife; even so, we can know Christ our bridegroom. A husband and wife are one flesh; we are one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17). Just as there must be the shedding of blood in the breaking of the hymen for there to be a joining of husband and wife, so there had to be the shedding of blood for us to be joined to the Lord. Just as the church is to be subject to Christ, so the wife is to be subject to her husband. Just as Christ loves the church, so a husband is to love his wife. Just as the marital union results in children, so the union of the Lord and His church is to result in many offspring, to God’s glory.
Someone has described marriage as God’s doing with one man and one woman that which He is always trying to do within the world as a whole. That’s why it’s so important for you to work at developing a Christ-honoring relationship with your mate. You’re working on a portrait of Christ and the church, and the world is looking over your shoulder. God’s glory is at stake!
If you’re single, and content to remain single, then God’s Word to you is, use your single state to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord and His work (1 Cor. 7:35). If you’re single, but desire to be married, God’s Word to you is, Be growing in godliness and purity and look for a mate who is committed to do the same. Your lifelong relationship must be centered on God, so that it will reflect to the world a picture of Christ and the church. If you’re married, God’s Word to you is, Are you growing deeper in companionship with your mate? Is your marriage relationship growing in the way it reflects Christ and the church to this selfish, pleasure-seeking, lost world? If you can’t honestly answer yes, then it ought to be a warning light on the dashboard to tell you that you are not in line with God’s design for marriage. Take immediate action to get it fixed!
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
A few years ago a Russian newspaper reported a light-hearted poll of 100 Soviet households. In 90 of the homes, the wife described herself as the head of the family--and the husband agreed. In nine families the husband said he was boss, but the wife disagreed. The only husband whose wife named him as head of the family was told by the newspaper that he had won an award. When asked to select his prize, he turned to his wife and asked: “What shall I choose, Maria?”
Over the past 30 years, the women’s movement has changed the way people think about roles in marriage. Everything is up for grabs. Women want to juggle careers and families. They want all gender-based distinctions eliminated, both in the workplace and at home. Everything is to be egalitarian. And such views have invaded even the evangelical church. Many argue that women should be able to do everything in the church that men can do, including pastoring or serving as elders. In the home, there should not be any hierarchy of authority but, rather, mutual submission. Passages which enjoin wives to submit to their husbands are either explained as applying only to that culture or are reinterpreted in light of a few other Scriptures so that they don’t mean what they seem to say.
We cannot study what the New Testament says about Christian marriage without considering what it says about the respective roles of husbands and wives. Since in the context of Ephesians 5, Paul addresses the wives first, that’s the order we will follow. But it means that if a husband is here today, he has to come back next week to hear what the Bible says to him! Men, this is one of the few Sundays that I don’t care if you tune me out and think about football! Seriously, it is significant that the Bible never says, “Husbands, get your wives to submit to you.” That is not your responsibility, men! It never commands the husband to be the head of his household. Rather, it states it as a fact in the course of discussing the wife’s role. What God’s Word says to the wife is her responsibility. As with all biblical commands, she and her family will be blessed if she obeys or disciplined by God if she disobeys.
As Christians, we accept the Bible as authoritative. As Americans, we tend to be opposed to the concept of authority. Our nation was founded on a rebellion, and one of our early flags defiantly proclaims, “Don’t tread on me!” But God doesn’t cater to our rebellious spirit. He gives commandments, not helpful hints. God’s ways are opposed to our human ways (Isa. 55:8). As a general rule, you can figure that if the world is going after something, it is probably opposed to what Scripture commands. God’s Word is strongly against the world’s way of men dominating and suppressing women; but, also, it is against the world’s way of denying any gender-based authority in the church and home. It is abundantly clear that the things Paul commands are not culturally determined. His commands about the roles of husband and wife are based on the relationship between Christ and the church, which does not change.
If we want God’s blessing (and all His commandments are designed for the good of both men and women), then we must deliberately cast off the world’s ways--both of domineering men and of feminist thinking--and seek to understand and obey His clear commandments, however odd they may seem to our culture. So my approach is to seek to explain and apply what Scripture teaches. In our text, Paul says,
God’s command to wives is that they submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ.
First we must understand that ...
The Greek word used is a military term meaning to put oneself in rank under another person. It implies taking on the mind-set of a servant, where instead of expecting others to cater to you and your needs, you look out for and seek to meet their needs. We need to keep several things in mind concerning verse 21:
(1)... that there is no authority in the church or home. Paul himself is included in the command of verse 21, and yet he goes on as an apostle to give explicit commands involving submission to wives, children, and slaves. If you take verse 21 to the ridiculous lengths that the feminists take it, two Christians could never get through a door at the same time. The first would say, “You go first.” The other would say, “No, after you.” “But I must submit to you.” “No, I must submit to you.”
(2)... being a doormat or compromising on matters of truth or biblical principle. The apostle who wrote verse 21 is the same man who publicly confronted none other than the apostle Peter about his hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-14). Being submissive does not mean being a weak, Caspar Milquetoast type person.
(1) ... adopting a servant lifestyle and attitude. Believers are to follow the Lord Jesus who, although He was Lord and Teacher, laid aside His rights, took a towel and basin, and performed the lowly servant’s task of washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). He said, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15). Being submissive as Jesus was does not mean abandoning God-given authority (He still is Lord), but rather getting our focus off ourselves and onto pleasing God and serving others for His sake.
(2) ... being at rest. A submissive person is not “kicking against the goads,” as Paul was before his conversion. A submissive person isn’t fighting for his or her rights, demanding equal treatment. The fight is over when you submit. A submissive person trusts God to meet his or her needs. He or she doesn’t have anything to prove.
(3)... growing in godly character qualities. A submissive person is not cantankerous, assertive, pushy, self-willed, and difficult to get along with. Believers are to be growing in humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love (Eph. 4:2). Our lives are to be under the control of the Holy Spirit, who produces joy and thankfulness (Eph. 5:18-20). Both those in positions of authority (in the church and home) and those under authority are to be marked by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). This puts a check on authoritarian, self-serving, insensitive leadership. But verse 21 does not do away with the biblical concept of authority and leadership. Thus,
With regard to marriage, the submission of the wife is taught also in Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, and 1 Peter 3:1-6. It is behind the requirement that an elder be a good manager of his household (1 Tim. 3:4; the Greek word for manager is literally, “one who stands before”). It is implicit in the order of creation and in the purpose for which woman was created (for the man, not vice versa--1 Cor. 11:9), thus applying even before the fall. The rule of the husband over the wife was specifically mandated in the curse on the woman (Gen. 3:16) because she had rebelled not only against God’s rule, but also against her husband, when she listened to the serpent. Submission is more difficult under the curse than before, because the husband is now a fallen, self-centered sinner by nature. But it is not nullified in Christ.
Paul makes three points about the submission of wives to their husbands in these verses:
God has ordained an order for the church and the home in which male and female are to reflect His image (Gen. 1:28). Part of the image of God involves the voluntary submission of the Son to the Father. Though equal in His deity, the Son yields Himself to the Father’s plan. As Jesus explained, “I can do nothing on My own initiative.... I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). Jesus submitted even to the cross.
Thus God’s plan is that in the home (and also in the church), women, who are equal persons with men before God, are willingly to submit themselves to male leadership for the carrying out of the divine plan. The main reason a wife should submit to her husband’s leadership in the home is to please and obey God. If you challenge or undermine your husband’s leadership, you are resisting the lordship of Christ in your life according to verse 22.
Some feminists go to great lengths to try to argue that the Greek word for “head” means “source” and carries no notion of authority. This is ludicrous. While it is true that Adam was the source of Eve (since God created her from him), in what sense is every other husband the source of his wife? In Ephesians 1:21-23, it is obvious that Paul isn’t talking about Christ’s headship in the sense that He is the source of the church (there is no such idea in the context), but rather that He is the supreme authority over the church (“rule, authority, power, and dominion,” 1:21; “subjection under His feet,” 1:22; “head over all things,” 1:22).
Also, in the analogy of head and body, your head is not the source of your body, but rather the part of your body that controls and directs the rest. If your head commands your arm to move and your arm doesn’t respond, your body isn’t functioning properly. Furthermore, authority is inherent in the command to be subject, which means to put yourself in rank under another. It is nonsensical to say, “Be subject to your source.”
Resisting God’s authority and wanting to put himself on an equal (not higher, but equal) plane with God was Satan’s original sin: “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:15). When God put man and woman in the garden to reflect His image, He put the man over the woman, as implied by the order (1 Cor. 11:9) and purpose (to be a helper for him--helpers aren’t over the ones they help, except in the case of God) of her creation.
It was not by accident or coincidence that Satan tempted the woman rather than the man. Satan’s appeal to her was that she could become like God by eating the fruit. That was a lie! She was most like God when she was subject to her husband, thus reflecting God’s image. When she sinned and then got Adam to sin, the roles were reversed. Man as male and female were no longer reflecting God’s image on earth. But what was lost in the fall is regained by the new man, which is Christ and the church, as we assume our proper roles as male and female under the headship of Christ in the church and home.
Again, the headship of the husband is not commanded, but stated as a fact, because it is the divine arrangement. We as husbands may not be living up to the fact, but we are still held accountable before God as head over our wives. What does it mean? (Husbands need to listen at this point!)
First, headship implies accountability and responsibility. Your head is responsible for what your body does. If a person does something stupid and gets hurt, we don’t blame his body, as if it did something apart from him. We blame him, and we question whether he acted wisely, which is to question his head! If you are the head of a department at work, and the department doesn’t complete its assignment properly, you’re the guy they go after. The head is accountable and responsible for those under his charge.
Spiritually in the family that means that God holds the husband primarily accountable for what happens. This doesn’t mean that a wife should be totally passive if her husband is being irresponsible, but it does mean that come judgment day, men, you can’t blame your wife for the lack of spiritual direction in your home! You’re it! As men, we need to take the initiative in the family to read the Bible, to pray, to be involved in the church and in serving the Lord, and to train our children in the things of God.
Second, headship implies seeking the well-being of the body. In your physical body, your head is not out to hurt or abuse the members of your body so that your head can profit, but to protect and nurture your body. If your body suffers, your head suffers. Concerning Christ’s headship of the church, Paul states, “He Himself being the Savior of the body.” Of course the role of Savior is unique to the One who shed His blood for our remission of sins.
But there is a principle that applies to every position of authority, namely, that God never grants authority so that the one in authority can serve himself at the expense of those under his authority. God gives authority for the protection and well-being of those under that authority. If a man abuses his authority over his family by serving himself rather than by building up his family in the Lord, he will answer to God! Even as Christ the Head gave Himself for the salvation of His bride, the church, so husbands are to give themselves in love for their wives.
Thus Paul says: The submission of wives to their husbands stems from the wife’s submission to Christ (5:22); her submission is because the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church (5:23). Also,
I’ve already touched on this as a part of God’s design for marriage in the original creation. But on a practical level, the sweet spirit of submission which a wife should display toward Christ and toward her husband, and the tender, up-building love which the husband has for his wife, should model to the world the relationship between believers and their loving Lord. The world operates on the principle of self. In a worldly marriage, each partner is in an ongoing struggle of power and manipulation to seek to get his or her way. Sometimes worldly couples succeed in establishing a mutually satisfying relationship where they agree to meet in the middle and the marriage holds together. But often they wound each other in the struggle and end up divorcing because their selfish needs aren’t being met.
But Christian marriages should be radically different from worldly marriages. In a Christian marriage, rather than competing with the husband or trying to manipulate him to get her way, the wife willingly submits to him, seeking to build him in the Lord and to do all she can to please him. The husband--rather than bullying his wife or, as often happens, passively letting her have her way so that he can buy himself some peace--the Christian husband provides loving leadership, sacrificially giving himself to build and nurture his wife in the Lord.
The point is, the world ought to look at the way a Christian couple relates to one another, recognize the unique beauty of this kind of marriage, and say, “I want that for myself.” That’s when we tell them, “The way you get it is by repenting of your selfishness and sin, trusting in Christ as your Savior, and submitting to Him daily as your Lord.”
The issue of authority and submission in marriage should not come up very often. A loving, sensitive husband will not force his wife to do anything against God’s will, and he will not push her into anything distasteful or harmful to her. He will never assert his authority to get his own way. When there are disagreements, they should be worked through calmly in love. In making decisions, a wise husband will solicit and carefully weigh his wife’s insights, so that most decisions will be mutually agreed on. I heard of one husband in ministry who came home and announced to his wife that they were going to move across the country. In my opinion, that was a dumb, insensitive abuse of authority.
Only rarely, and after much communication and prayer, should a husband need to exercise his authority against his wife’s point-of-view. If and when that happens, he needs to do it with fear and trembling before God, recognizing that he will be held accountable by God for his decision. At all times he should have God’s glory and his wife’s spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being as his goal.
Of course, submission is easier, wives, when your husband is loving and gentle, and when you agree with him. It’s not easy when he is not being godly or when you disagree with him. You should never obey your husband if it means disobeying a clear command of God. But even then, you can display a submissive attitude (“a gentle and quiet spirit,” 1 Pet. 3:4) and appeal to him out of love and respect. Your goal should be always to glorify God and to build your husband.
The things I’ve spoken on today run cross-grain not only to the attitudes of our culture, but often to the attitudes of those in the church. If God’s Spirit has convicted you as a husband or wife of sin toward your mate, His remedy is confession, both to Him and to the one you’ve wronged. Thank God, He allows U-turns! Check your attitude: If you’re fighting inside, you’re not submitting. If you’re not submitting, the world can’t see Christ in your marriage.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
If you were to ask most Christian men, “What is your primary responsibility in the family?” they would reply, “To be the head of the home.” If that’s what you think, I say, “You’re wrong!”
“But,” you protest, “I’m the boss, aren’t I?” No, Christ is the boss. Jesus alone is Lord of the family. I’m not minimizing the staggering responsibility given to the husband. Scripture is clear that he is in fact the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church. For reasons I don’t completely understand, American men are especially passive when it comes to leading their families. The erroneous egalitarian view of the feminists has further eroded the responsibility God gives to the man, but not to the wife, to function as head of that relationship. So I do not in any way minimize or disparage the need for godly, Christ-like leadership on the part of Christian husbands.
What I’m getting at is, when the apostle Paul turns to the husband, he does not say, “Husbands, be the head of your wives, even as Christ is the head of the church.” Rather, he says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Thus, a husband’s primary responsibility is not to be the head of his wife, but to love her.
A husband’s primary responsibility toward his wife is to love her as Christ loved the church.
I believe that the main reason the apostle states the fact of the husband’s headship when giving instruction to wives, but when he turns to husbands he commands them with regard to love, is that the primary way a husband exercises his headship is through sacrificial love toward his wife. As I pointed out last week, verse 21 applies to all Christians, that we are to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. This requires developing a humble, servant-attitude toward one another, where we lay aside our rights and selfish interests and seek the good of one another because we fear the Lord and are subject to Him. That principle governs all the specific relationships which Paul goes on to discuss in Ephesians 5:22-6:4: wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters.
But, as I also pointed out, the principle of mutual submission does not negate the principle of authority which Paul goes on to stipulate. Wives express mutual submission by submitting to and reverencing their husbands (5:22-24, 33). Children express mutual submission by obeying their parents (6:1-3). Slaves express mutual submission by obeying their earthly masters (6:5-8). Husbands express mutual submission to their wives in the fear of Christ by loving their wives even as Christ loved the church.
That’s the governing principle. As with the principle of the wife’s submission to her husband, this principle for husbands runs counter to the world’s wisdom. So we must deliberately reject the world’s portrayal of macho manhood and carefully consider what Paul means and then work at applying it as Christian husbands.
You may protest that this is an impossible command, because no human husband can ever love his wife as Christ loved the church. I agree that it is an ideal that will never be realized in this lifetime. But it is God’s commandment to us as Christian husbands. As with all of God’s commands, it will take a lifetime of effort and there will always be room for growth. But as we are filled with the Spirit (5:18) and diligently work at understanding and obeying the command, we can do it!
The fact that God commands us to love our wives means that this sort of love is not primarily a feeling. The feelings of romantic love are wonderful and should not be lacking from any marriage, even with couples who have been married for 50 years. But the basis of biblical love and of Christian marriage is not feelings of romantic love, but rather a commitment of the will. If a man says, “I just don’t love my wife anymore; I’m in love with another woman,” God’s Word to him is, “If you want My blessing, you will cut it off instantly with any other woman and learn to love your wife.”
As with all Scripture, to understand and apply it properly, you must know something of the historical and cultural situation to which it was written. The Ephesians were not a bunch of Sunday School boys when the gospel came to them. The city was steeped in the occult and in pagan worship of the goddess Diana (or Artemis). Statues of this goddess show a woman with multiple breasts. “Worship” included sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes (see Paul’s instructions in Eph. 5:3-12).
Furthermore, many of these men were married to women whom they did not choose, since marriages were often arranged by the parents. The Greek writer, Demosthenes, describes the common mentality of pagan men in those days: “We keep mistresses for pleasure, concubines for the day-to-day needs of the body, but we have wives in order to produce children legitimately and to have a trustworthy guardian of our homes” (quoted by William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit [Baker], p. 24; he documents the widespread immorality of pagan Rome on pp. 24-27).
Against that pagan backdrop, you can see how utterly radical the Christian perspective was regarding the sanctity of marriage and the responsibility of the husband to be singularly devoted to his wife in lifelong, sacrificial love! It is no less radical in our corrupt culture. But my point is, even in a marriage where the husband has fallen into the sinful ways of the world, where he has been unfaithful to his wife (or her to him), where romantic love has gone cold, it is possible through obedience to God’s Word to turn that marriage relationship around so that it not only honors God, but also is fulfilling to the couple.
Definitions of biblical words are important. We say, “I love pizza!” “I love baseball!” “I love my wife!” Great! But what does that mean? If you operate with a definition of love that you picked up from watching movies or listening to popular songs or reading romance novels, you will have the notion that love is some mysterious feeling that comes over you kind of like the flu, and when it goes away, there’s not much you can do about it. But, you will not obey God by loving your wife as you should. I’ve hammered out the following definition of “agape”:
Love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.
This is what God requires of us in all our relationships, both toward Him and toward others (the two great commandments, Matt. 22:37-39). But it is particularly the primary job description for Christian husbands toward their wives. Let’s explore it:
“Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (5:25). He is both our standard and model. He didn’t sit on His throne in heaven and bark commands to us on earth. He didn’t even come to this earth and sit on a kingly throne and give orders to us. At a personal cost that we can never fully fathom, He laid aside His rights as God, took on human flesh and became obedient to death on the cross, where He actually was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21)! “Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me!” (Charles Wesley). Jesus’ love is seen most graphically in His self-sacrifice for us on the cross.
A husband may say, “I’d die for my wife if it ever came down to it. I’d fight to the death in order to protect her.” That’s marvelous, and I hope you would! But the real question is, “Are you crucifying self on a daily basis on behalf of your wife?” Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). At the heart of Christian living is not using other people to meet your needs, but setting aside your needs and selfish desires in order to meet others’ needs for Jesus’ sake.
I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his excellent exposition of this text (he spends over 100 pages on these verses!), who says, “The real cause of failure, ultimately, in marriage is always self, and the various manifestations of self.” He goes on to say that self is at the root of all problems in this world, not only individually, but on a national and international level: “--all these troubles ultimately come back to self, to ‘my rights’, to ‘what I want’, and to ‘who is he’? or ‘who is she’? Self, with its horrid manifestations, always leads to trouble, because if two ‘selfs’ come into opposition there is bound to be a clash.... Therefore,” he states, “any tendency to assert self at once conflicts with the fundamental conception of marriage.” (Life in the Spirit [Baker], pp. 211, 212.)
Yes, the wife must also practice self-sacrificing love toward her husband, since all Christians must love one another. But, the apostle’s special command to husbands is that we love our wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church. The marriage relationship is supposed to be an earthly portrait of the believer’s relationship with his Lord (which is a major reason why egalitarianism is dead wrong). But many husbands know nothing in daily practice about laying aside their rights, their comfort, their pleasures, their pursuits, their time, for the sake of their wives. If you are using your wife simply to meet your needs, if you don’t regard her needs above your own, if you are demanding your own way in the home, you aren’t loving her sacrificially.
Let me put it in even more concrete terms: If when you come home from work, your attitude is, “I’ve worked hard all day; I deserve some time off. Don’t bug me, family!” you don’t love your wife and children as God calls you to do. Instead, as you drive home, you should be thanking God for the wonderful wife and children He has entrusted to you, and be praying for them and thinking about how God wants you to minister to them. If your wife brings you your slippers and the paper and says, “Enjoy yourself,” that’s fine. But if the kids are going berserk, the phone is ringing, the dishes are piled up in the sink, and the trash needs taking out, you may need to set aside your right to some relaxation and serve your wife out of love.
Paul says that just as a man nourishes and cherishes his own body, so he should treat his wife (5:29), because that’s how Christ treats the church and because the wife in fact is a part of the husband’s body. Again, our relationship with Christ is the great model for Christian marriage. Just as Christ gave Himself to meet our need for salvation, and just as He constantly supplies our every need (Phil. 4:19), so the husband must seek to meet his wife’s needs.
“Nourish” means to feed. Every man feeds his own body (some feed it too much!). Just as we all think about and take action to feed ourselves when we’re hungry, so every husband should think about and take action to feed his wife on every level--physically, through adequate (not excessive) material provision; emotionally, through being sensitive to her feelings; and, spiritually, through his own walk with God and by taking the lead spiritually in the home.
“Cherish” has the nuance of warmth. It is used of a mother tenderly holding her baby close to her body (1 Thess. 2:7). It connotes the utmost in tender loving care. The callous words, “I couldn’t care less” should never cross a husband’s lips. When part of your body gets hurt, you don’t ignore it or cut it off. You tenderly nurse it back to health. Even so, when your wife, who is part of you, is hurt or needy, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, you should tenderly care for her. “Nourish” and “cherish” are the opposite of self-centered indifference.
This is implied in the fact that it can be commanded--it is an act of the will, not just the emotions. It’s also implied in the fact that it involves the definite action of leaving father and mother and permanently cleaving to his wife, so that the two become one flesh. We need to understand several things about this commitment:
(1) It is a realistic commitment. That is, a man should not enter marriage thinking that this perfect person is going to meet all his needs. Just as Christ knew us, including all our imperfections and sin, and yet gave Himself so that we might become His bride, so a husband should realize that his wife is not perfect, but he’s committed to love her anyway. True love is not conditioned on your wife’s always being sweet and kind, or always looking like a magazine model. In fact, the time love is most needed and tested is when your wife isn’t altogether lovely!
(2) It is a growing commitment. That is, you must work at it and nurture it as the years go by. It doesn’t run on auto-pilot. It requires thought and attention. It often must be done when you don’t feel like doing it.
(3) It is a total commitment. You don’t hold anything back. This commitment ends independence and creates a new single one-flesh entity. As Dr. Lloyd-Jones points out (p. 212), a husband will not feel this one-flesh reality instinctively; he must be taught it, and then he must learn to practice it. It means that the husband is no longer to think only of himself. He must include his wife in all his thinking and plans. He doesn’t just come home and announce that he and his buddies are going to do something, without talking it over with her. By being joined with a wife, a husband is committing himself to spend time with her, not because he is obligated to, but because he wants to. It means sharing yourself totally, your thoughts, your dreams, your fears, your struggles, your victories.
Of course, such a total, one-flesh commitment can’t be practiced if a couple never spends time talking, not just about deep things, but also about the little things that make up each day. Someone observed, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” Christian marriage is both the “chain” of permanent commitment, made at the wedding and constantly reaffirmed; and the little threads of much time together over the years. Husbands, if you just do your own thing, and don’t spend time with your wife, you’re not loving her as you should.
By this I mean, love isn’t just an attitude or talk; love takes action. Jesus didn’t just say, “I love you”; He took the basin and towel and showed love by washing the disciples’ dirty feet. And then He went to the cross to demonstrate it. Jesus took the initiative in loving us. He didn’t wait for our response nor did He limit His love because we don’t respond as fully as we should. He proved His love in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us.
Even so, husbands are to be the initiators of love toward their wives. I’m not referring to the physical aspect of love only, but to the total kind of loving I’ve been describing. Even when your wife isn’t acting in a lovely way, take the initiative to act in self-sacrificing love toward her. It will drive her crazy! Seriously, it will cause her to have fewer times like that.
This means that it is not effortless ecstasy. It is deliberate, purposeful, and requires constant effort. Just as Christ’s goal for His bride is to sanctify her, to purify her, to present her without spot or wrinkle, holy and blameless, even so a husband should be committed to helping his wife become all that God wants her to be. Occasionally this kind of love requires loving confrontation. But the overall flavor of it should be upbuilding, encouraging, positive, purifying words and actions.
Seeking your wife’s highest good means that there is no place for verbal or physical abuse in marriage. No verbal abuse means no name-calling, no sarcasm, no jokes that put her down, no angry threats. She is a part of you, and any hurt you inflict on her you are really doing to yourself. Verse 29, by the way, isn’t encouraging self-love, but rather using the fact that we all do love ourselves to say, “That’s how we should love our wives.”
The late, well-known pastor Harry Ironside once had a recently-married young man come to him and say, “I need your help. I’m in an awful state. I’m drifting into idolatry.” “What’s the trouble?” asked Dr. Ironside.
“Well, I’m afraid that I’m putting my wife on too high a plane. I fear that I love her too much, and I’m displeasing the Lord.” “Are you, indeed?” asked Ironside. “Do you love her more than Christ loved the church?” “I don’t think so,” replied the young man.
“Well, that’s the limit,” replied Ironside, “for we read, ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for her.’” (In the Heavenlies [Loizeaux Brothers], p. 281.)
Husbands, your job description, your main responsibility that you ought constantly to be measuring yourself against, is to love your wife just as Christ loved the church. Such love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself by seeking your wife’s highest good. While you’ll never fulfill that command completely, you must exert constant effort to do it, not just so that you and your wife will be happy, but because your marriage has much to do with Christ and the church (5:32). The world needs desperately to see Christ’s sacrificial love for the church through your love for your wife. The head of the home should be the leader in love.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
A little girl was invited for dinner at the home of her first-grade friend. The vegetable was buttered broccoli and the mother asked if she liked it. “Oh, yes,” the child replied politely, “I love it!”
But when the bowl of broccoli was passed, she declined to take any. The hostess said, “I thought you said you loved broccoli.” The girl replied sweetly, “Oh, yes ma’am, I do, but not enough to eat it!”
Do you love your family? “Of course I do!” We all would say that! It’s the only right answer. But what do you mean by love? So often we love our family like that little girl loved broccoli: We love in the abstract, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t want to get too close. In the words of the Apostle John, we love in word, but not in deed and truth (1 John 3:18).
What does biblical love look like? We know that our relationships in the family need to be marked by love. Husbands, especially, are to love their wives. But, wives, too, must love their husbands. Parents and children, brothers and sisters, must love one another. But how do we know what such love looks like in everyday dress?
Paul’s famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, tells us. The Corinthian church was emphasizing a good thing, spiritual gifts, to the neglect of the best. They were using their gifts apart from love. Paul makes the point that the use of their God-given gifts would amount to nothing if the Corinthians did not make love their priority.
Selfless love is the priority for every Christian.
These verses are the most eloquent and profound words ever written on the subject of love. To comment on its parts is a bit like giving a botany lecture on a beautiful flower--if you’re not careful you lose the beauty and impact of it. But we can profit from understanding the parts and applying it to family relationships.
In verses 1-3 he shows the preeminence of love, that love is greater than all spiritual gifts because without love, gifts are empty. In verses 4-7 he shows the practice of love, how love is greater than all spiritual gifts because of its selfless characteristics. In verses 8-13 he shows the permanence of love, that love is greater than all spiritual gifts because it outlasts them. We’re going to focus mainly on verses 4-7, where Paul describes how love acts. While in English most of these words are predicate adjectives, in Greek they are verbs. Love is not talk; it is action.
We’re all prone to apply verses like these to others: “My mate and my kids could sure use a lesson in love. But me? I’m basically a loving person. I’m really easy to get along with.” But I ask each of you to forget about everybody else and ask God to apply these verses to you.
Paul enumerates 15 characteristics of love to show how love acts or what it looks like in everyday life. A New Testament definition of agape is “a caring, self-sacrificing commitment which shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.” Jesus Christ, in His sacrificial death on the cross, is the epitome and embodiment of this kind of love. A whole series of sermons could easily be preached on these qualities of love. But let’s look briefly at each of them.
Ouch! Why did he put that first? This often confronts me with my failure in relating to my family. Patience is an interesting quality in that when I don’t need it, I want it. It’s when things start to irritate or frustrate me that I need patience, but usually at that point I don’t want to be patient!
The Greek word comes from two words meaning, “long-tempered.” If you’re patient, you’re slow to anger, you endure personal wrongs without retaliating. You bear with others’ imperfections, faults, and differences. You give them time to change, room to make mistakes without coming down hard on them. Do you do that, men, with your wife and children?
I read a story of a man who had developed this quality to a far greater extent than I. During the late 1500’s, Dr. Thomas Cooper edited a dictionary with the addition of 33,000 words and many other improvements. He had already been collecting materials for eight years when his wife, a rather difficult woman, went into his study one day while he was gone and burned all of his notes under the pretense of fearing that he would kill himself with study. Eight years of work, a pile of ashes!
Dr. Cooper came home, saw the destruction, and asked who had done it. His wife told him boldly that she had done it. The patient man heaved a deep sigh and said, “Oh Dinah, Dinah, thou hast given a world of trouble!” Then he quietly sat down to another eight years of hard labor, to replace the notes which she had destroyed. (Paul Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations [Assurance Publishers, #2350.) Next time you think you’ve arrived at being patient, that will give you something to aim for!
Kindness is patience in action. The Greek word comes from a word meaning “useful.” A kind person is disposed to be helpful. He seeks out needs and looks for opportunities to meet those needs without repayment. He is tender and forgiving when wronged. The word was used of mellow wine, and suggests a person who is gentle, who has an ability to soothe hurt feelings, to calm an upset person, to help quietly in practical ways.
The kind person shows kindness in response to harsh treatment. Jesus said, “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same thing. . . . But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:33, 35). The kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Kindness motivates others toward positive change.
As with patience, the real proving ground for kindness is the home. Are you kind to your wife and children? Do you do kind, useful things for them? Are you training your children to be kind to one another by the way you treat your wife and them? Love is not macho; love is kind.
The word means to eagerly desire, and it is used both positively and negatively in the Bible. Jealousy in the negative sense is related to greed and selfishness. The jealous person wants what others have, he wants things for himself. He is too selfish to applaud others’ success; he has to have all the attention. In the family, a jealous husband refuses to trust his wife. He doesn’t want to recognize her abilities and contributions. He is jealous of the time she spends with the children or with her friends. He wants it all for himself. James says that jealousy is often the source of quarrels and conflicts (James 4:2).
These ugly twins are related. They both stem from selfishness and are the flip side of jealousy. “Jealousy is wanting what someone else has. Bragging is trying to make others jealous of what we have. Jealousy puts others down; bragging builds us up” (John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 1 Corinthians [Moody Press], p. 341). Bragging is an outward manifestation of pride.
The braggart tries to impress others of his great accomplishments in order to make himself look good: “After all I’ve done for you, and you treat me this way!” But love isn’t trying to build up me; love is trying to build up the other person. Love is humble. The humble, loving person is aware that everything he has is an undeserved gift from God (1 Cor. 4:7). So he doesn’t boast, but thankfully uses what God has given to serve others.
The NIV translates, “It is not rude.” Love does not needlessly offend. Love has good manners. It is courteous, polite, sensitive to the feelings of others and always uses tact. The reason we are not courteous, of course, is that we are thinking only of ourselves and not of others.
I read of a man who was generally lacking in manners. He never opened the car door for his wife. “She doesn’t have two broken arms,” he would say. After many years of marriage, his wife died. At the funeral, as the pallbearers brought her casket out to the hearse, the husband was standing by the car door. The funeral director, who knew the husband by name, called out to him and said, “Open the door for her, will you?” He reached for the car door and then, for one second, froze. He realized that he had never opened the door for her in life; now, in her death, it would be the first, last, and only time. A lifetime of regret came crashing down around him. Love is not rude.
It is not selfish, does not demand its rights. Alan Redpath said, “The secret of every discord in Christian homes, communities and churches is that we seek our own way and our own glory.” R. C. H. Lenski put it, “Cure selfishness, and you plant a Garden of Eden” (The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians [Augsburg], p. 557). Selfishness is the root problem of the human race; it is the antithesis of love, which is self-sacrificing.
Elisabeth Elliot was once speaking on this subject to an audience that included some young children who were sitting right in front of her. As she spoke, she wondered how she could make this plain to them, so that they could apply it. Later, she got a letter from one of those children, a six-year-old boy, who wrote, “I am learning to lay down my life for my little sister. She has to take a nap in the afternoon. I don’t have to take a nap. But she can’t go to sleep unless I come and lay down beside her. So I lay down with my little sister.” That boy is learning to love!
If husbands and wives, as well as children, would apply this verse as that little boy did, our homes would be free of conflict and an honor to Jesus Christ, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t insist on His rights? He would have stayed in heaven and we wouldn’t be saved!
The Greek word means to sharpen, stimulate, rouse to anger. Phillips paraphrases, “It is not touchy.” Love does not have a hair-trigger temper. Some people make everyone around them walk on eggshells. They’re easily offended. One little thing that doesn’t go their way and “KABOOM!” They use their temper to intimidate and to punish. When you confront them, they say, “Sure, I have a bad temper. But I get it all out and it’s over in a few minutes.” So is a bomb. But look at the devastation it leaves behind! When you’re angry, usually you’re not loving.
This is an accounting word, used of numerical calculation. It is used of God not imputing our guilt to us, but instead imputing the righteousness of Christ to our account (Rom. 4:6-8). Love doesn’t keep a tally of wrongs and bear a grudge until every one is paid for. It doesn’t try to gain the upper hand by reminding the other person of past wrongs. Love forgives.
One married man said to his friend, “You know, every time my wife and I get into a conflict, she gets historical.” His friend said, “Historical? Don’t you mean hysterical?” “No, I mean historical. She rehearses everything I’ve ever done wrong in the whole history of our marriage.” That’s keeping score! That’s not love.
These qualities are the flip side of one another. Moffatt puts it, “Love is never glad when others go wrong.” To rejoice in the truth means to be glad about behavior in accordance with the truth of God’s Word. If someone you don’t like falls into sin, you don’t gloat; you grieve, because God is grieved over sin. If they repent, you rejoice.
There is a fine balance to love. Although love is kind and overlooks the faults of others, it does not compromise the truth or take a soft view of sin. To allow another person to go on in sin, whether it is known sin or a blind spot, is not to seek his best; it is not love. Love will sensitively confront and correct precisely because it cares deeply and knows that sin destroys. Love rejoices with the truth. Love gets excited when it hears of spiritual victories. Love encourages by expressing joy over little evidences of growth. John, the apostle of love, wrote, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
The word can mean either to bear up under or to protect by covering. If it has the first meaning, then it would be the same as “endures all things” (end of v. 7). I prefer the second meaning, to protect by covering. Love doesn’t broadcast the problems of others. Love doesn’t run down others with jokes, sarcasm or put-downs. Love defends the character of the other person as much as possible within the limits of truth. Love won’t lie about weaknesses, but neither will it deliberately expose and emphasize them. Love protects.
The NIV translates, “Love always trusts.” This does not mean gullibility; it does mean that love is not suspicious and doubting of the other person’s character and motives without good reason, even if his actions offended you. If trust has been broken, then it needs to be earned again, step by step. But love believes the other person is innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent. If there is a problem, love doesn’t jump immediately to blame the other person.
In the family, trust shows itself by not grilling the other person about every detail of his story, like an attorney cross-examining a defendant. It means believing in your kids, expressing confidence in them. I’m thankful that my parents trusted me as a teenager; it made me want to live up to that trust. One of my friends had parents who did not trust him, and he lived up to their distrust! Sometimes you will get ripped off when you trust, but love persists in trusting.
It is not pessimistic. It does not expect the one loved to fail, but to succeed. Love refuses to take failure as final. It exudes a godly optimism which says, “I know you can do it, because God in you is able!” It does not ignore reality. It doesn’t close its eyes to problems. But it rests on the promises of God, that He is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. And so love always hopes.
The word “endures” is a military word meaning to sustain the assault of an enemy. It has the idea of holding up under trial, of perseverance in spite of difficulties. It means that love hangs in there. It is not just a passive, stoic attitude. It is a positive, triumphant spirit that sticks it out.
There is an epidemic among Christians of bailing out of tough situations. People don’t like something that happens in a church. They go find another church more to their liking. They run into problems or disagreements in their marriage, grow tired of the effort and bail out. “But,” you say, “isn’t adultery a legitimate grounds for divorce?” Technically, yes. But all too often one partner uses it as an excuse to bail out of a marriage where both partners have wronged one another repeatedly in many ways. I’m not minimizing the seriousness of adultery. It destroys trust and creates all sorts of problems in a marriage. I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to work through. It takes a lot of hard work to rebuild, a brick at a time. But God’s best is to forgive and renew the marriage, not to bail out. Love endures all things.
That’s how love acts. It is selfless, wholly directed to build the other person. Of course nobody can love like that. Only God is love (1 John 4:7). Put “Christ” in verses 4-7 instead of “love” and you have a description of Him. He is patient, kind, not jealous; does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; does not seek His own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. If we want to love one another, we must focus on His love for us and walk in His Spirit who produces His love in us (Gal. 5:22).
Humorist Sam Levenson says, “Love at first sight is easy to understand. It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle” (Reader’s Digest [3/83]). But it’s not really a miracle; it’s the result of yielding to God, repeatedly confronting our selfishness and daily practicing biblical love in our homes.
An old legend says that in his old age the apostle John was so weak that he had to be carried into the church meetings. At the end of the meeting he would be helped to his feet to give a word of exhortation. He would invariably repeat, “Little children, love one another.”
The disciples grew weary of the same words every time. Finally they asked him why he said the same thing over and over. He replied, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and the observation of it alone is sufficient.”
Someone has said that if we discovered that we had only five minutes left to say all we wanted to say, every telephone booth would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they loved them. Selfless love is our priority. “Pursue love” (14:1).
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Two old ladies who shared a home were sitting on their front porch one warm summer evening. One was listening to the sound of the crickets chirping. The other was listening to a choir singing in a church just down the road. The woman listening to the choir said to the other woman, “My, isn’t that heavenly music?” “Yes,” replied the first. “And I understand they do it by rubbing their legs together.”
These ladies had a problem in communication. The words they used were understandable enough. But the meaning behind those words was misunderstood. They approached the words from totally different perspectives, and thus did not communicate.
While the communication breakdown between these two old ladies is humorous, it’s not always so funny when it occurs in marriage. Communication problems are always a major factor in marital breakups.
How can we learn to communicate in our families? In 1 Peter 3:8-12, God offers a prescription for healthy communication. In the context, Peter is dealing with how Christians are to live as pilgrims in an alien, difficult world: how slaves should relate to abusive masters (2:18-25); how wives should live with disobedient husbands (3:1-6); and, how a persecuted church should relate to those wronging them (3:13-22, plus the entire epistle). Peter is especially concerned about how believers can bear witness in this hostile territory. In each setting, Peter shows how our obedience to God and submission to proper authority will mark us as distinct and will provide powerful witness to the rebellious who live for self and personal rights. Peter’s words are not ivory tower platitudes! What he says relates to the difficult relationships we all contend with in this troubled world.
Peter (3:10-11) quotes from Psalm 34 which says that if we want to love life and see good days, then we must do some things with our walk (3:11, which relates to 3:8) and our words (3:10, which relates to 3:9) that result in healthy relationships. Then Scripture promises that God’s blessing will be on us (3:12). If we don’t live like that, the contrary is true: The face of the Lord will be against us.
God’s prescription for healthy communication is that we turn from evil and do good in our walk and in our words.
Verse 11, “Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it” (a quote from Psalm 34) supports verse 8: “To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” It shows the behavior behind healthy relationships: We must turn from evil; and we must pursue seeking peace and doing good.
You may wonder what behavior has to do with communication. But words alone account for only a small part of communication. After a decade of research, Albert Mehrabian suggested that words alone account for only seven percent of the communication process; tone of voice and inflection account for 38 percent; the remaining 55 percent is found in facial expressions, posture, and gestures (cited by David Augsburger, Cherishable: Love and Marriage [Herald Press], p. 53-54). Even if we question his percentages, it’s clear that communication is not just words; it involves our behavior and attitudes.
Peter says that we are to turn away from evil (3:11; the word “evil” is used 5 times in 3:8-12), which includes such sins as anger, violence, sexual immorality, greed, drunkenness, and drug abuse, which all hinder good communication. But evil goes deeper than these things. At the root of all evil is living for self in disregard of God and others, except as they can serve us. Living for self, seeking self-fulfillment, thinking first about ourselves and not about others--all selfish behavior builds barriers to healthy communication which seeks to understand the other person’s point-of-view. Because of the fall, we’re all selfish by nature, as seen by the fact that we’re all sitting here thinking, “I hope my wife and kids are listening, so they will stop being so selfish (so that I can get my way)!” We must turn from evil which means, selfishness. We have to practice denying self on a daily basis.
It’s not enough just to deny self or turn from evil. Also, we must actively do good and pursue peace with others. The Apostle Paul put it, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). And, “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). In other words, peace won’t just happen as we’re indifferent or passive. We’ve got to make an effort to pursue it.
I read about a mother with a scout troop who said to her son, “I will not take any of you to the zoo if you don’t forgive Billy for stealing your candy bar.” “But Billy doesn’t want to be forgiven,” her son complained. He won’t even listen.” “Then make him,” his mother said angrily. Suddenly, her son chased Billy, knocked him to the ground, sat on him, and yelled, “I forgive you for stealing my candy bar, but I’d sure find it easier to forget if you’d wipe the chocolate off your mouth!” (Told by Josephine Ligon, “Your Daffodils Are Pretty,” Christianity Today [3/2/79], p. 18).
We’re not supposed to be that aggressive in pursuing peace! But you get the idea. We can’t be indifferent or passive about it. Jesus said that if you’re worshiping God and suddenly remember that your brother has something against you, leave the worship service, go be reconciled to your brother, and then come back and worship God (see Matt. 5:23-24). We are to take the initiative to do all we can to restore strained relationships.
It’s always time consuming and more of a hassle to do that than it is to let it slide. We’d rather not expend the emotional energy and time involved in getting things straightened out. We figure that time will heal. Besides, it’s always humbling to admit I was wrong! So we don’t actively pursue peace. Of course, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8); we aren’t supposed to confront a person for every minor offense. We should absorb a lot. But if I’ve offended someone or if his offense is such that I can’t relate to him without clearing it up, then I need to attempt to seek peace.
Say to the one you wronged, “God has shown me how wrong I was to [name the offense]. I want to live in a way that pleases Him. I’ve come to ask, ‘Will you forgive me?’” If someone else has wronged you, be careful not to accuse or attack him, but seek to restore him in a spirit of gentleness, remembering that you, too, are a sinner (Gal. 6:1). Thus, we must turn from evil (selfishness) and do good by pursuing peace. If our behavior is oriented toward peace, it provides a foundation for our verbal communication.
What kind of behavior is conducive to peaceful, healthy communication? Verse 8 gives us five character qualities that enhance relationships and communication:
(1) Harmonious--The Greek word means “of the same mind or attitude.” That mind-set is a desire to please God and to grow in obedience to His Word. If two people share that desire, they still may have some serious differences to work through (as with Paul and Barnabas). But it provides a common ground to work toward resolution of conflicts. A harmonious person is not self-willed, demanding his own way, and judging those who don’t go along with him. He accepts people as Christ accepts them. He knows the difference between biblical absolutes, which must not be compromised, and areas where there is room for difference. He gives people time to grow, realizing that it’s a process.
We all have different backgrounds, personalities, and ways of thinking. The only way for a harmonious marriage is for both partners to be committed to please God and obey His Word. That’s one reason why it’s crucial for people entering into marriage never to consider marriage to a person living for self, even if that person professes to be a Christian. If a person is not committed to the daily, lifelong process of dying to self and learning to please God, then he will not be growing in this character quality of being harmonious. You will have constant conflict.
(2) Sympathetic--”affected by like feelings.” Our Savior is one who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and so we are to enter into what others are feeling. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). We are to allow the sufferings of others to touch our emotions. We are to be sensitive to how we would feel if we were in the other person’s place. We should do all we can to make him or her feel accepted and loved. While we are to live by faith and obedience, not by feelings, we should not ignore or deny our feelings. Part of biblical communication is learning to listen not just to words, but to feelings, and to convey that you understand and care.
(3) Brotherly--The Greek word is philadelphoi, brotherly love. It points to the fact that as believers we are members of the same family. Your wife is not just your wife; she is your sister in Christ. Your children are also your brothers and sisters in Christ. Someone has wisely observed that we should treat our family members like we treat guests, and treat our guests like family. The comment is based on the fact that we’re often rude and inconsiderate toward those we live with. The behavior of brotherly love opens the doors for wholesome verbal communication.
(4) Kindhearted--“tenderhearted, compassionate” (see also, Eph. 4:32). The root word means “bowels.” The idea is to have deep, “gut” feelings for the other person. I don’t know if there is any nuance of difference between it and “sympathetic.” But both words have an emotional element; Christian behavior must go beyond cold duty. Others should sense that we genuinely care for them from our hearts. If family members feel our tender concern, it opens the way for healthy verbal communication.
(5) Humble in spirit--(lit., “lowliness of mind”). Jesus described Himself as “humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29, using a cognate word). This quality was not seen as a virtue by pagan writers in Bible times. It was Christians who elevated it as a virtue. In our day, many Christians have reverted to the pagan ways, since almost every book dealing with relationships says that you need proper self-esteem so that you can love others. But the Bible clearly teaches that esteeming ourselves more than we esteem others is at the root of our conflicts. Rather, we must lower our estimate of ourselves if we want harmonious relationships (see Phil. 2:1-5; James 4:1-3; 1 Pet. 5:5). It is regard for self that causes me to react in anger when my way is challenged, to refuse to admit my wrongs, to reject instruction or correction. So the Bible never says, “Work on your self-esteem.” It says, “Work on your humility.”
Thus, God’s prescription for healthy communication is that we turn from evil and do good in our walk. Godly behavior is the basis for healthy communication. But, also,
Do you want a good life? Peter says (3:10b), “Refrain [lit., “stop”] your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile [deception].” Godly words built on a godly walk will yield healthy communication and relationships. Peter shows that we must turn from evil words and pursue good words.
Peter mentions two aspects of turning from evil words:
(1) Turning from evil words means not retaliating when we are verbally abused. “Refrain his tongue from evil” (3:10, from Psalm 34) supports verse 9, that we are not to retaliate when we are insulted, but rather to give a blessing instead. This principle runs counter to the world which says, “If someone abuses you verbally, you don’t have to take it! Stand up for your rights! Assert yourself! Let them know that you have more self-respect than that!” But God says, “If someone insults you, bless them. Say something kind to them in return.” Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). It’s not easy, but it’s what God commands.
We’re not talking here about clarifying misunderstandings or offering correction through proper conversation. There are proper times to state your point-of-view and speak the truth in a calm manner. What’s in view here is when a person is being purposely abusive toward you. He’s trying to pick a fight or bait you. Peter says, “Don’t answer such abuse with more abuse. Don’t top his put down of you with a better put down of him. Don’t counter his name-calling by calling him names. Don’t rebut his sarcasm with more sarcasm. Don’t react to his attack by attacking him. Instead, respond with kind words.”
(2) Turning from evil words means refraining from deception. “Refrain ... his lips from speaking guile” (3:10b). The word was used by Homer to mean “bait” or “snare.” It refers to anything calculated to manipulate, deceive, mislead, or distort the facts. Deception is a barrier to healthy communication, since it is self-seeking and it destroys trust. It may be a deliberate attempt to bend the facts to suit your side of the story. Or perhaps you don’t mention certain facts so that the other person gets a skewed view of what really happened. It may be telling a person one thing to his face, but saying something else behind his back. That way, people side with you against him. It may be exaggeration: “You always ...” “You never ...”
I realize that there are difficult situations where it is hard to be honest. Do you tell a dying relative the truth about his condition? Or, in a not so serious, but just as tough situation, what do you tell your wife when she asks, “Do you like my new hairdo?” You pray for tact and wisdom at such moments. But I argue that speaking the truth in love is always God’s way. Deception hurts healthy relationships and doesn’t please God.
God’s prescription for healthy communication is that we turn from evil words by not retaliating and not deceiving.
It’s not enough to hold your tongue. We are to “give a blessing instead.” We are to speak words which build up, not which tear down: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
If we would apply this in our homes--not trading insults, not deceiving, not clamming up, but speaking words that build up the other person--we would put family counselors out of business. Think about your speech in your family this past week. How much of it was sarcastic, critical, angry, accusatory? And how much was aimed at blessing and building up your family members?
You may protest, “We just kid each other with humorous gibes back and forth!” But I contend that trading put-downs, no matter how much in jest, does not build up the other person. When I was in college, I met each week for dinner and a discipleship time with a group of guys. Much of our time was spent bantering back and forth with funny put-downs. One night a new Christian in the group confronted us by saying, “Hey, guys, this chopping each other down is sin!” We all protested at first, but he stuck to his guns until we realized that he was right. We weren’t blessing and building each other up. We had to repent.
Some might be thinking, “Now wait a minute. You’ve been talking about denying myself, laying down my rights, not retaliating, blessing those who insult me, being harmonious. sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble. But it’s a dog-eat-dog world! If you knew my husband (or wife or boss or roommates), you’d know that if I really did that, I’d get trampled! Who’s going to look out for my rights? Who’s going to protect me if I act like that?”
Verse 12 shows you: God will! His eyes are on the righteous. His ears attend to their prayer. But His face is against those who do evil. Do you want God on your side? Then, please Him by turning from evil and doing good in your walk and your words. Even if you suffer for the sake of righteousness, you’ll be blessed (v. 14).
I know of no Scripture that would do more good for our relationships in our families and in our church than 1 Peter 3:8-12. I ask you to commit it to memory and take whatever steps necessary to apply it to your relationships. To turn from evil behavior and speech and to pursue godly behavior and speech, no matter how you are treated--that’s God’s prescription for healthy communication.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
It happens again and again, all across America. A couple meets. Something “clicks.” A romance begins. They fall in love. As they stand at the front of the church pledging their lives to one another, family and friends look on with beaming smiles. Everyone agrees that they are such a perfect couple.
But at some point after this idyllic scene, problems hit. The couple begins to discover that they are not as compatible as they had thought. The romance fades. Conflicts grow more intense and frequent. They finally conclude that they are no longer in love and go their separate ways, hoping to find someone the next time around who will be more compatible. I read recently of an actress who ended her 40-day marriage, claiming irreconcilable differences!
But the problem is rarely a lack of compatibility--no two people are compatible. The problem is not knowing how to solve conflicts God’s way, or not being willing to go God’s way. Any two people who live together in the closeness of marriage are going to have conflicts--even “spiritual Christians!” A good marriage isn’t one where two compatible people never have conflicts; a good marriage is one where two self-willed people have learned to submit to Christ and to work out their differences in Christian love. You will have a satisfying marriage to the degree that you learn to solve your conflicts God’s way. You don’t need to find a more compatible mate as much as you need to learn how to become a more compatible mate.
In Ephesians 4:17-32, Paul gives some principles for solving conflicts. He says that ...
We can solve conflicts if we put off the behavior of the old man and put on the behavior of the new man.
The main source of conflicts is our old man (old nature). Some Bible teachers insist that believers do not have an old nature, but just a new nature, and that our propensity toward sin comes from the flesh (John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Ephesians [Moody Press], p. 164). I fail to see any biblical distinction between the old nature and the flesh. Whatever you call it, there is, even in the believer, a strong, indwelling disposition to do what we want rather than what God wants: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way ...” (Isa. 53:6). “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1). That old sin nature (old man, flesh--I’m using these terms interchangeably) pits us against one another and results in conflicts.
A number of other factors also, when coupled with our sin nature, lead to conflicts: We come from different backgrounds and experiences (type of family, where we’re from, income levels, etc.); we have different habit patterns; different convictions and values; different perspectives and ways of thinking as men and women; different goals; etc. But with all these factors, the underlying reason for conflicts is our “old man” which is self-seeking, living to gratify its own desires.
But when you came to faith in Jesus Christ, a radical change took place: You became a new person in Christ. Your bent toward sin was not eradicated, but God made you a new person, created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (4:24). The power of the old man has been broken. When you were saved, you took it off like dirty clothes (4:22) and put on the new man like a suit of clean clothes (4:24). And you are involved in the ongoing process of renewing your mind (4:23). That process continues as you count as true in your experience and behavior the reality of the change spiritually that took place at salvation. You must believe what God says--that you are a new person in Christ; and you must act upon that truth in your behavior.
As you learn to believe what God says about you in Christ and to act upon it daily, you will learn to get along with other people, whether your mate or others, because you are daily dying to the old self. So you can solve conflicts by putting on the behavior of the new man, which Paul specifies in verses 25-32:
Paul spells out five behavioral changes of the new man:
Paul is applying this principle to relationships in the church (“members of one another”). But how much more does it apply to married partners, who are one flesh with each other! There must be complete truthfulness if communication is to take place so that conflicts can be resolved.
At first blush, you may think, “That’s not my problem. I don’t lie; I’m honest.” But because we fear confrontation, or because “we don’t want to cause trouble,” or because we’re afraid that if our real feelings were revealed, the relationship might suffer, we often fail to speak the truth. I have counseled with wives who were ready to divorce their husbands. When I’ve asked if they’ve ever talked honestly with him about the problems, they say, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that! He’d explode!” So they’d rather divorce him than speak truthfully to him about their problems!
Paul uses the analogy of the body here. If you get leprosy, your hand when it’s in pain does not communicate truthfully with your brain. You can actually burn your fingers off without knowing it. For healing and correction to take place, there must be truthful communication. You can’t deal with a problem you’re not aware of. To plaster over our feelings or thoughts and put on a happy face when there is a problem does not foster healthy relationships. In reality, that kind of behavior is more destructive than “speaking the truth in love.”
I’m not suggesting that a couple be ruthlessly honest in sharing everything. Some things don’t need to be shared. I can’t give a formula on what not to share (that’s another message in itself!). But I will say this: The motive in speaking the truth must not be selfish--to gain the upper hand, to further one’s own happiness, or “just to get it off my chest.” The motive must be to grow in godliness and help the other person grow by coming more fully under the lordship of Christ. In other words, the motive is biblical love, to seek the highest good of your mate because you care deeply for him or her. With that motive, a couple must learn to lay aside falsehood and speak truth so that conflicts can be resolved.
You would not think that a section dealing with proper relationships would include verse 26. “Are you sure the text is not missing the word ‘not’?” you might ask. But proper anger has a place in dealing with conflict. This verse has elicited a number of explanations. I think that Paul is implying that there is something worse than anger in relationships, namely, indifference. If you care deeply for someone, and he is repeatedly sinning, his sin should make you angry. Indifference shows that you aren’t loving. So Paul cites Psalm 4:4 (LXX) to say, “Allow the sin of the person to stir you up enough to deal with it.”
“But,” he quickly adds, “be careful! When you get angry about someone’s sin, it’s easy to cross the line into sinful, selfish anger. Don’t do that. In your anger, do not sin. And, don’t let it fester for days on end. Deal with it and put it aside, so that you don’t grow bitter. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger or you will give the devil an opportunity to lead you astray, too.” That is the proper sense of verses 26 & 27 as I understand it.
In other words, anger that flares up because I did not get my way or because someone has offended me, is sinful. Anger that blows up is never proper because it is not under control. We are to be slow to anger (James 1:19) because God is slow to anger (Exod. 34:6). Anger that clams up and does not confront a problem, but just goes into a slow burn, often with hateful or vengeful thoughts, is sinful because it’s acting on the basis of self, not for the purpose of seeking truth and reconciliation. Proper anger is motivated by the knowledge that sin destroys people. Its motive is restoration of the sinner and reconciliation of the relationship out of the desire for God to be glorified. Thus it attacks the problem, not the person.
Thus we have to be careful with anger in relationships. It’s easy to cross the line from righteous anger to selfish anger and thus to sin. It’s easy to justify selfish anger as righteous, when it’s not. But it’s also easy to back off from anger and become indifferent: “If he wants to destroy himself, that’s his problem! I couldn’t care less!” That’s also sin, because it’s motivated by selfishness. Self-sacrificing love becomes angry, angry enough to confront difficult problems, angry enough to take the initiative for reconciliation; but it’s careful not to sin.
In 4:28, Paul is not talking primarily about marriage, of course. He’s talking about the need for Christians to be honest, hard-working people who are oriented toward giving, not taking. But there is a principle here that applies to resolving conflicts in any relationship. The old man is motivated by selfishness, out to get what he can for himself, preferably without any effort. He looks out for his own needs and isn’t concerned about others’ needs, except to exploit them for his own benefit. But you can never resolve conflicts if both parties are trying to exploit or to enrich themselves at the other’s expense.
The new man, however, is not lazy or self-centered. He works hard in order to give to the other person. He looks out for the needs of his mate and tries to meet those needs, even if it means hard work for himself. He is not in the relationship for what he can take, but for what he can give. Instead of complaining, “My mate isn’t meeting my needs,” he asks, “Am I meeting my mate’s needs?”
A main reason that many couples can’t resolve their differences is that they are thieves in their marriage. They rob their partners of love and respect. They don’t give them their time or, worst of all, they don’t give themselves. Replacing selfishness with giving is a key to resolving conflicts. With both partners looking out for the needs of the other, they can arrive at mutually agreeable solutions.
We saw this principle last week in 1 Peter 3:8-12. Destructive speech that tears down the other person will not resolve conflicts. Proverbs 12:18 states, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” In other words, your tongue can be a sword to wound and kill, or it can be a scalpel to deal carefully with the problem and bring healing.
“Rotten speech” includes: Name-calling, sarcasm, ridicule, mockery, gossip, slander, blaming, destructive criticism, angry words of threat or revenge, griping, complaining, lying, profanity, and filthy talk or dirty jokes. Words whose purpose is to wound, not heal, must be put away.
We are not just to hold our tongue, however. We are to replace destructive words with constructive words that build up the other person at his point of need; and not because he deserves it, but because our God is gracious, and thus we are to be gracious in our speech. (Grace is undeserved favor.) There is a proper place for criticism or confrontation, but it should be with the goal of helping, not hurting. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s painful for you to criticize, you’re probably safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, hold your tongue. The motive should be to help the other person on to maturity in Christ. Correction should always be done in gentleness (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). Our goal should never be to win. We want God to win by being glorified as we both submit to Him.
There are six behaviors of the old man we must put off: Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. All these terms describe the same selfish, sinful behavior, but from slightly different angles. Bitterness results from anger or hurt feelings which are not dealt with. It results from blaming or keeping score. It is long-term hostility. Wrath means outbursts of anger (from a word meaning “to boil”). Anger refers to a settled disposition or attitude, often with the purpose of revenge. Clamor means fighting with loud words, yelling, screaming or crying. Sometimes angry people try to intimidate by yelling; at other times, they try to manipulate with emotional outbursts. In either case, it’s selfish behavior aimed at getting one’s own way.
Slander means speaking against someone to another, trying to damage the person’s reputation so that you look good. Malice is a general term for any kind of ill-will toward a person. It means “having it in” for someone, where you want to see him brought down. It is the opposite of self-sacrificing love, which seeks to build up the other person.
All these actions of the old man hinder resolving conflicts. They are motivated by self and thus opposed to love. Thus they must be put off like dirty clothes. In their place, we can resolve conflicts if we put on the behaviors of the new man that we have become in Christ:
Kindness was used of mellow wine that is not harsh, that doesn’t bite. The word has the nuance of being useful. A kind person thinks of the other person’s needs and takes action to meet those needs. A kind husband allows his wife and children room to make mistakes without crawling all over them. He gives them time to grow and change. To be tender-hearted (we saw this word in 1 Pet. 3:8) means to feel deeply for one another. Love cares and shows it.
Forgiving one another. The Greek word points to undeserved favor. How God in Christ forgave you is the standard. He didn’t forgive you because you deserved it. As Jesus taught in His parable in Matthew 18:21-35, God has forgiven us an enormous debt, so that anything we forgive one another is small by way of comparison. Forgiveness is costly and difficult; but not forgiving is not an option for Christians (Matt. 6:14-15). Family members need to keep short accounts with one another. If you’re wrong, ask for forgiveness; if you were wronged, forgive in your heart even before the other person repents, and grant it the instant they ask you to forgive them.
Ogden Nash has a wise bit of verse: “To keep your marriage brimming with love in the loving cup, when you’re wrong admit it, when you’re right, shut up.”
To resolve conflicts, put off the selfish behaviors of the old man and put on the loving behaviors of the new man. This opens the door for helpful communication and problem solving. But I skipped a verse. It is undoubtedly the key to solving conflicts in the family or with other Christians:
It’s significant that right in the middle of a passage dealing with relationships, Paul mentions grieving the Holy Spirit! Specifically, rotten speech (4:29) grieves the Holy Spirit. This implies several things. First, our motive in having harmonious relationships is not so that we can live happily. Our motive should be not to grieve God or, to put it positively, to please God. The Holy Spirit is a person who can be grieved, not an impersonal force. At salvation, He sealed us for the day of redemption. The Spirit Himself is the seal, God’s personal mark of ownership on us. If we don’t have the Spirit indwelling us, we do not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). The reason we must seek to put off the behaviors of the old man and put on the behaviors of the new in our relationships is that we want to please the indwelling Spirit.
Also, we can’t separate our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. John says that if we say we love God, but we do not love our brother, we’re deceived (1 John 4:20). If a man claims to be a Christian, but he’s living for self, shredding relationships with his family and in the church, he’d better examine his relationship with God. At best, he’s grieving the Holy Spirit; at worst, he may not be saved.
To be solving conflicts in your marriage, you need to be cultivating your relationship with God through His Word. As you examine your life by the Word, you’ll learn what pleases the Lord and you’ll grow more sensitive to what grieves Him. Things like dishonesty, indifference, selfishness, abusive speech, and anger will prick your conscience as you realize how they grieve the Lord. So you’ll replace them with truthfulness, caring confrontation, giving, words that build up, and kindness.
If there’s frequent conflict in your home, I’d ask you to examine yourself. Are you putting off the selfish behavior of the old man and putting on the loving behavior of the new man out of a desire to please the Lord who gave Himself so that you could be forgiven? The bad news is: Yes, you, your spouse and children are incompatible! The good news is: In Christ, there can be true harmony and the resolving of conflicts if we learn to put off the old way of life and put on the new life He has graciously provided for us.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
A story is told of a woman approaching 35 without a husband. Late one afternoon she went into the woods to pray for a husband. She didn’t notice the hour growing late as she continued to pray. An owl in a nearby tree awoke and in a low voice said, “Who-oo!” Startled by the sound, the woman looked up and said, “Just anybody, Lord!”
A lot of us know how she felt. But, if God wants you to be married, He doesn’t want you married to just anybody. We all know that the bottom line is that Christians must only marry Christians. But beyond that, how do you know whom God wants you to marry? How do you know if God wants you to marry at all? Maybe His will is for you to remain single. What should be your motives if you’re seeking a mate? How can you know God’s will on this important decision?
I’d like to offer some practical advice to those who are single, based on Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7. He was writing to a church in a pagan, sex-saturated society. Many in that culture thought that satisfaction in life comes through gratifying sensual lusts. There were problems with immorality even among the members of the Corinthian church. Apparently, in reaction to the sensuality of the culture, some in the church were saying that all sex is wrong. The celibate life is the truly spiritual life. Perhaps they even pointed to the Apostle Paul as their hero. Even some who were married concluded that it was more spiritual to abstain from sexual relations in marriage. So Paul addresses these and some other problems in this chapter. We can’t deal with the entire chapter in detail. But, his word to singles is:
Singles should pursue a course that leads to the greatest devotion to Christ and His cause.
This advice applies to every Christian, single or married, of course. But it is Paul’s word especially to singles. Since the singles among us have had to listen to me talk about the family for the past couple of months, I thought we owed them a message that addresses many of their more direct concerns. I want to develop three thoughts:
While marriage is God’s normal design for most people, He has gifted some to remain single so that they can serve Him without the encumbrances that necessarily go along with marriage. When Paul says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (7:1), he is using the word “touch” as a figure of speech that refers to the physical relationship in marriage as representing marriage as a whole. Thus, he means, “It is good to remain single.” He restates the same idea in 7:7-9, and discusses it at length in 7:25-40. He is not commanding being single, since he recognizes the single state as a gift which God only gives to some (7:7-9); but he is strongly commending it, since it was a gift he himself had, and since it provides a number of advantages for serving the Lord that being married precludes.
This is perhaps a word that needs to be spoken more often in our day. Many Christians put pressure on singles, especially those getting along in years, to get married. Sometimes we communicate an unbiblical attitude: “I wonder what’s wrong with him (or her) that he’s never married? He seems like a nice person.” But Paul teaches that being single is good if a person is gifted for it, since it opens some opportunities for serving Christ that are closed to married people. To say this is not to deprecate marriage, which both Paul and other biblical writers esteem as God’s good gift (1 Tim. 4:3; Heb. 13:4). It’s just a matter of how God has gifted a person.
Paul mentions at least two advantages for the person who is gifted to remain single.
(1) Singles have more freedom in difficult times (7:26). Paul is quick to add that a person who marries at such a time has not sinned (7:28). But the married person will have more trouble (the Greek word means “pressure”), and Paul is trying to spare him. Interpreters differ, and so I can’t be dogmatic, but I think that Paul sensed an impending time of persecution against the church. In such a time, it’s easier to be single than married. It’s one thing to be martyred for your faith as a single person. But it’s much more difficult to be imprisoned or face martyrdom if you’re married, both for you and for your family.
If you sense God’s call to be a missionary to a part of the world where you may likely suffer persecution or severe hardship for the sake of the gospel, you should consider remaining single. Or, if you have a ministry that requires long periods of travel, it might create such a strain on your family that it would be better not to get married. Some countries are not conducive to raising a family because of the political, economic, or educational situations. Many missionaries send their young children away to boarding schools. But I believe that if God is calling me to be a missionary and a father, then my children should stay with me on the mission field. If that isn’t possible, my first responsibility is to raise my children. So being single means that you will have more freedom in difficult situations than a man or woman with a family will have.
(2) Singles have more freedom to devote themselves fully to God and His service. In 7:32-35, Paul points out that the married person, of necessity, cannot be as devoted to the Lord as the single person. Marriage carries with it certain responsibilities and obligations that take time and effort which otherwise could have been given to the Lord. Of course, many single people are not as devoted to the Lord as many married people are. But Paul’s point is that if a single person gives himself fully to the Lord and His service, and a married person does the same, the single person will be more devoted since he does not have the family obligations that the married person has.
In one of his books, Peter Wagner mentions that John Stott, the well-known British pastor and author, is single. Wagner says that while he spends time with his family, Stott is writing another book or planning another conference or traveling to another country. There’s no way for a married person to match the output of a devoted single person. Perhaps you’re thinking, “If staying single has all these advantages, then why shouldn’t we all stay single? Why get married?”
The main reason Paul gives is that being celibate is a gift from God, and while he wishes that everyone had that gift, he recognizes that this is not so (7:7-9). You ask, “How can I know if I have the gift of being celibate?” There are three tests you can apply:
(1) Can you control sexual desires? Paul is quite practical and human at this point: “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn” (7:9). If you are single and find that fighting sexual temptation is a daily, constant battle, then you need to pursue marriage. Paul is not saying that it is impossible for a single person to resist temptation, because he later says that in every temptation, God provides the way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). Every Christian can be pure in thought and deed. But if all your energy is directed toward fighting the battle of purity every day, the best solution is not more self-discipline, but a spouse. Of course you still need self-control even as a married person. But God has given marriage as a legitimate safeguard against immorality (7:2).
(2) Are you constantly lonely in spite of close relationships with the Lord and with other believers? I am going back to Genesis for this point, where we find Adam in a perfect environment, in unbroken fellowship with his Creator, and yet God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). To be lonely when you’re single is not necessarily a sign of a spiritual problem. If as a single you can reasonably control your loneliness through Christian fellowship, then you may be able to remain single. But when I was single, in spite of some good friends, I often felt very lonely. I also like kids and wanted my own children long before I got married. So I often used Genesis 2 in my prayers to the Lord!
(3) To what ministry has God called you? As mentioned already, if God is calling you to a place where it’s unsafe or unwise to take a family, then you should remain single. I’ve read the biographies of C. T. Studd and other missionary greats, who left their families to take the gospel to difficult places. As I recall, Studd and his wife, who was too ill to go to Africa, were together only a couple of weeks during her last 11 years. David Livingstone left his wife and children for years in order to pioneer in the interior of Africa. While God accomplished much good through these dedicated men, their families suffered great harm. I believe their witness was marred by neglecting their families.
Let me make it plain: If you do marry, it should not be for the purpose of self-centered fulfillment and personal happiness. While marriage and children are good gifts of God that bring great joy, you should marry because you can better serve Christ in line with your spiritual gifts as a married person. The idea of getting married and settling down in suburbia with your nice home, two cars, good job, weekend recreational hobbies, and, of course, a church for the weekends when you’re in town, is completely worldly. All Christians are to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. If you seek first your own happiness, you will come up empty (Matt. 6:33; 16:25).
When I was single, Paul’s words in verse 9 often frustrated me. He makes it sound so simple and matter of fact: “Let them marry.” Okay, so how do I go about doing that? There’s a lot of living packed into those three words! I don’t have specific chapter and verse for everything I’m about to say, but along with the apostle Paul, I give my opinion as one who, by the mercy of the Lord, is trustworthy (7:25; of course, Paul was inspired in saying this; I’m not!). Five suggestions:
You can use your time as a single person to sit around feeling depressed and lonely. You can waste a lot of time in a frantic search for a companion, where you fill all your spare time with being around people. Or, you can use it to seek the Lord in His Word and in prayer. If you use your time to read and study God’s Word, to read good Christian books, to pray, and to serve the Lord in some capacity, when God introduces you to your life partner, you will be mature enough for the responsibilities of Christian marriage. If you want a godly mate, you’ve got to become the kind of person the kind of person you want to marry would want to marry, namely, a godly person!
When I was single and on active duty in the Coast Guard in the Bay Area of Northern California, I was very lonely. I spent many evenings sitting in a coffee shop or going to the University of California library, reading the Bible and Christian books. On my way back to the base, I would pull off alongside the harbor and spend time praying. It was a lonely time in my life, but I was much better off than if I had wasted that time in other ways.
Burn it into your thinking: It is never God’s will for a Christian to become unequally yoked with a non-Christian in marriage (7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). For some reason, it is usually Christian women who get tangled up with nice (they’re always nice!) unbelieving men, rather than the other way around. I don’t care how nice he is to you, if he is not committed to Jesus Christ and if he is not denying self daily to follow Christ, then he’s living for self. You’re going to be miserable married to such a person. Your children will suffer. Your devotion to Christ will be hindered. Don’t do it!
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee immorality.” Your body belongs to God, whose Spirit dwells in you. Therefore, you are to glorify God in your body (6:19-20). Paul says that even if a man gets involved with a harlot, he becomes one flesh with her (6:16). This is more than merely a physical union. Physical intimacy, even in a so-called “one night stand,” creates the illusion of personal intimacy. But it clouds and confuses the real issues that need to be the foundation of a Christian marriage. It creates guilt. It carries the risk of venereal disease. It defiles you and your brother or sister in Christ. As Paul states (7:1-5), the sexual relationship is proper for marriage, but only in marriage.
If you’re going to guard your moral purity in our sex-saturated society, you’ve got to plan for it. If you visit the Grand Canyon and don’t want to fall over the edge, don’t go near the cliff. If you want to guard your moral purity, plan not to get yourself into tempting situations. As Garrison Keillor has the pastor in Lake Wobegon say in his talk on sexual purity, “If you didn’t want to go to Minneapolis, why did you get on the train?”
I would encourage you to challenge the American dating system. If you just go along with the system, you’re flirting with danger. The dating system is designed to foster romance and to see how far you can go physically. As Christians, you should be concerned about getting to know the person in the context of moral purity. If I may speak man to man, even if you don’t intend to go all the way, any scheming, men, on how you can get a date into a romantic setting to see if you can “make out,” is sin. Your purpose should be to build up your sister in Christ and to get to know her, not to indulge your lust. Plan for purity!
If you’re going to shop for a new car, you’d probably do some research. And yet many Christian singles never give any thought to what qualities they should be looking for in a godly mate! I’ve seen girls end up married to abusive men because their role models were movie stars or athletes, not men of God. If a man doesn’t show you respect, gentleness, self-sacrificing love, and other godly traits, don’t marry him. You’re not going to transform him! Men, burn Proverbs 31:30 into your thinking: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Know what you’re looking for (based upon Scripture) and pray fervently to that end!
By this I mean, God expects you to pray and wait on Him, but He also expects you to use appropriate means for finding a mate. Sometimes we get super-spiritual, thinking that God is going to rain down manna from heaven, when He expects us to plow our field and sow some seeds! There’s nothing wrong with putting yourself in situations where you may meet a godly mate. That can include involvement with campus ministry groups, attending conferences for Christian singles, getting a job at a seminary or other Christian organization, etc.
Also, even though godly character should take precedence, there’s nothing unspiritual about being physically attracted to someone. Read the Song of Solomon and you will discover that the couple isn’t extolling the finer points of each other’s personalities! In its proper place, there’s nothing wrong with physical attraction.
Also, don’t be so super-spiritual that you overlook liking the person. You’re looking for a companion, and a lot of companionship involves enjoying the person’s personality. You should have some common interests and be able to enjoy just being together without having to do things. You should be able to accept the person as he or she is, without major remodeling. Also, seek the counsel of those who know you well, especially your parents. Any strong opposition from parents should be weighed very carefully.
Marriage is a gracious, good gift from God. As Proverbs 31:10-12 exclaims, “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” Amen!
But at the same time, if God is not at the center of your life and your mate’s life, marriage creates more problems than it solves. Without the Lord at the center, marriage just brings together two self-centered people seeking self-fulfillment from one another. It doesn’t work. Put God at the center of your life. Pray that He will bring you a mate with the same commitment. Then joyfully serve Him together.
Psychologist William Marston once asked 300 people, “What do you have to live for?” Nine out of ten were simply waiting for something to happen--a better job, a new house, a trip, etc. They were putting in time while they waited for an uncertain tomorrow.
But as Christians, our mentality should be that of 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, that the time is short and eternity is just ahead. Our focus should be on the Lord and His kingdom. If He graciously gives you the blessings of a Christian home, enjoy it thankfully. But don’t put your hopes for happiness in a family. Hope in the Lord! Whether you’re single or married, your purpose should never be to seek self-fulfillment and personal happiness. Rather, your purpose should be to pursue a course that leads to the greatest devotion to Christ and His cause in these days that remain before His coming.
1. Do Christians put too much emphasis on marriage as a key to fulfillment and happiness?
2. How can we avoid allowing a good thing (marriage) to take the place of the best thing (devotion to Christ)?
3. In what ways is the American dating system anti-Christian? Should Christians use it cautiously or scrap it totally?
4. How important should physical attraction be in deciding on a marriage partner?
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Marla and I used to enjoy the TV series, “Little House on the Prairie.” One of my favorite episodes was when Charles and Carolyn (the father and mother) left their little farm to travel to Milwaukee for a 25-year high school class reunion. They discovered that most of their old friends had become wealthy and sophisticated. The simple Charles and Carolyn just didn’t fit in with the high-society, well-to-do crowd. But while their friends had it made financially and appeared successful, it also was apparent that they had unhappy marriages and empty lives. At the end of the program, Charles and Carolyn got off the stage coach back in front of their humble little farm house. As their children bounded out of the house, delighted to welcome them home with hugs, Charles remarked to Carolyn, “Now if that’s not success, I don’t know what is!”
“Amen!” In America, we wrongly view success in terms of money, fame, or career success. But God views success in terms of godly, loving family relationships. I want to talk about how to raise godly grandchildren. I say grandchildren, rather than just children because the real test of child rearing is the third generation, not just the second. Of course God wants us to raise godly children. But the true test of the process is whether or not our children raise godly children. If the parents are spiritually lukewarm, the children often will be stone cold. The grandchildren will be completely pagan.
So how can we, as Christian parents, raise up godly generations? Deuteronomy 6 has some answers (6:2, “grandsons”). Moses preached this to Israel as they prepared to enter the land of Canaan. They would face many temptations in the land. They would be surrounded by pagans. He says that ...
To raise up godly grandchildren you must love God fervently, teach your children diligently, and live in the world carefully.
The result is that it will be well with you (6:3) under God’s blessing.
The most important requirement for raising godly children and grandchildren is for you to have personal reality with God. You communicate what you are. You cannot pass on to your children what you do not possess. And, you will note, at the heart of personal reality with God is solid theology. Verse 4 is called the “Shema” (from the Hebrew, “Hear”). The call to hear implies that the following words have extreme significance and that we must grapple with applying them personally. What we are to hear is, “Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one.” It can also be rendered, “Yahweh is our God; Yahweh alone.” It means that Yahweh and only Yahweh is the true and living God, and He alone is to be the object of our worship. As the Lord proclaims through Isaiah, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5). He is one God, not three gods, although He exists in three persons, as revealed several places in the Old Testament, and made explicit in the New.
The only way we come to know this only true God is by His revelation to us of Himself through His Word. In other words, the living and true God is not a composite of the speculations of the great religious thinkers down through the ages. Rather, He is! He has existed from eternity, unchangeable in His attributes, perfect in all His ways. He has been gracious to reveal Himself to us. This very chapter reveals a number of things about God: His unity and exclusivity (6:4, 13-14); His personality (we can have a love relationship with Him, 6:5); His grace to His chosen people, as seen in keeping His covenant (6:10-11); the reverence and worship due to Him (6:13); His jealousy and anger (6:15); His sovereignty over trials (6:16); His absolute authority (He commands us how to live, 6:17); His redemption of His people, as seen in the exodus (6:20-23); and, His goodness (6:10-11, 24).
What I’m getting at is that to rear godly offspring, we must love God fervently. But to love God is more than having wonderful feelings about some vague being who is partly the projection of our imagination. One well-known TV preacher says that he follows Jesus because Jesus is such a positive person. That’s not the Jesus of the Bible! That’s a “Jesus” of that man’s imagination! To love God, we must know Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word. Thus at the root of raising godly generations is being people who are theologically grounded because we love God’s Word and are steeped in it.
I’m seeking to counter the strong anti-doctrinal bias that permeates current American Christianity. We cannot raise up godly children unless we know God ourselves. We are deceived to think that we know God if we just sit around singing songs that make us feel good about God as we conceive Him to be, but if we aren’t grounded in Scripture. Our kids need to see in our daily lives a love for God’s Word which reveals God to us.
Coupled with and built upon solid theology is a fervent, heart love for the Lord. The idea of “heart, soul, and might” (Jesus adds “mind”--Matt. 22:37) is a total-person love for God. Every area of our being must be consumed with and subservient to this great quest of loving God. The love of God is not some ethereal, mystical thing. Nor is it just having warm feelings about God. As Jesus and the apostle John make clear, if you love God, you keep His commandments (John 14:21, 23; 15:10, 14; 1 John 5:3). And so the great goal of knowing God through His Word is a life of obedience motivated by God’s great love for us as seen in His plan of redemption at the cross.
As soon as you mention obedience, many modern Christians think “legalism.” Obedience can become legalistic when people do it outwardly to look good before others, but their hearts are far from devotion to God. Some of the Jews, for example, obeyed verses 8 and 9 quite literally. They wore these verses in little boxes strapped to their hands and foreheads, and they put them in a little box by their doors and on their gateposts. But they missed the sense of the passage, which is that the Word of God is to permeate every area of life. The results were ultimately disastrous, because it was the religious Pharisees, who outwardly kept the law to the letter, who rejected the Messiah who preached the need for inward reality.
There are Pharisees in the church today, who lay down rules that are not in the Bible in an attempt to get their kids to look like good Christians to the rest of the church. But they themselves are judgmental of those who don’t meet their manmade standards, they gossip, they’re proud. That’s not biblical obedience. Biblical obedience goes down to the heart level, where God’s Word judges our sinful thoughts, motives, and attitudes. The obedience of faith means that out of love for the God who showed me mercy at the cross, I seek to be conformed to Christ in the inner man.
My spiritual heroes are men who blend solid theology with a fervent love for the Lord and who also preach holiness. John Calvin, known as a theologian, loved God. Read him and he will feed your soul! Jonathan Edwards is known as one of the most profound thinkers and theologians ever born in America, and yet he loved God fervently. He tells of a time when he was walking in the woods, meditating on God, when he became so caught up with the excellencies of God that for about an hour, as far as he could judge, he was in a flood of tears, weeping aloud, filled with an ardency of soul that he describes as “emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love Him with a holy and pure love; to trust in Him; to live upon Him; to serve and follow Him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity” (Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], p. 100).
Another such man was Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose expositions of Scripture are theological meat. But he was no stuffy, academic scholar. In reaction to those who say that scholarship means that we must be calm and without passion, he exclaims, “Out with the suggestion! That is quenching the Spirit! The Apostle Paul breaks some of the rules of grammar; he interrupts his own argument. It is because of the fire! We are so decorous, we are so controlled, we do everything with such decency and order that there is no life, there is no warmth, there is no power! But that is not New Testament Christianity; ...” (The Christian Warfare [Baker], p. 273).
Good teachers always love their subject. When you sit under a good teacher, you get infected with his love of what he’s teaching, even if it’s a subject that at first bored you. If you want to teach your children to follow God, you’ve got to love God fervently. His Word must be on your heart. One reason many Christian parents see their kids grow up and not follow God is that the parents are lukewarm. They’ve lost their first love for God. Your kids can smell phoniness or hypocrisy, and it will not attract them to the Savior. But if they see you walking with God daily, loving His Word, applying it to your life, and growing in holiness as you learn to obey Him, your love for God will be infectious. That’s the foundation for Christian parents.
The word “teach diligently” in Hebrew means literally to sharpen or whet. It may have the idea of repetition. Your teaching should penetrate your child deeply so that it has an effect on him (the NIV translates it “impress”). You come at it from every angle, at all times, and in every situation (6:7). As mentioned, the Hebrews came to take verses 8 and 9 literally. But the idea rather is that God’s commandments are central in your life so that you’re thinking about them every time you turn around. As we’ve seen, this is an overflow of your own walk with God. If God’s Word is on your heart continually, then you’ll be talking about it constantly with your kids.
Verse 7 assumes that you do, in fact, take the time to sit down in your house to talk with your family (with the TV off, I might add!). If you’re so busy as a family that you don’t all sit down to at least one meal a day on a regular basis, you need to change your schedules. At that time, you should read a portion of the Bible and spend a brief time in prayer. You may also want to sing. We also read the Global Prayer Digest and pray for the unreached people group mentioned. When your children are young, keep it short and stick to the story parts of the Bible. As they get older, you can venture into more didactic portions, like Romans. Even though we’ve done this for years, it still takes diligence to keep at it. The phone invariably rings when we’re reading the Bible. Tell them to call back later! You’ve got to make it a priority and persevere in it.
Men, as the spiritual head of the family, it is your responsibility to make sure that this happens! Many Christian fathers wrongly think that child rearing is the wife’s task. But most of the biblical commands are aimed at the father. This also means that if you’re counting on the Sunday School to train your children, you’re failing as a father. Sunday School is fine, but it’s no substitute for family times in God’s Word and prayer.
“When you walk by the way” implies teaching your kids when you go places together. Maybe it’s just to the grocery store. Or maybe it’s a family outing or a hike together. Those are choice opportunities to talk about the way other people act and why, and how Christians are to act, and to point out God’s beauty through His creation. “When you lie down” points to bed time as a great opportunity to talk with your children and pray with them. “When you rise up” implies that mornings are another opportunity to teach your children. Teach them how to start the day off right with the Lord. Again, your example teaches a lot. If your kids are always grumpy in the morning, show them and tell them how to start off with a cheerful heart.
Binding God’s commands on your hand means that you should teach your children God’s ways by your actions. Putting them on your forehead means that your thoughts and attitudes should communicate God’s truth. Putting them on the doorposts points to the home life as a setting for teaching God’s truths. The gate points to civic or social life as another chance to talk about God. Discuss national and world events with your kids from God’s perspective. Moses is saying that everything you think and do, from the bedroom to the business world, should be permeated with the Word of God. And you should teach your children how God’s Word applies to every area of their lives as you live in a godly manner before them.
You need to answer your children’s questions about God and the Christian life (6:20-25). When your son asks about spiritual things, you are not to say, “Go ask your mother!” The fathers were to explain the great deliverance which God brought about for His people. The exodus in the Old Testament is parallel to God’s redemption at the cross in the New Testament. Dads, you should explain the great truths of salvation to your kids. The dad shouldn’t respond to his children’s questions by saying, “That’s just the way we believe,” or, “Because I said so!” Your child needs to understand the “why” behind things as he grows older. Notice, too, how the dad is to explain that God’s commands are for our good (6:24). God gives many negative commands, but not because He is a heavenly killjoy. He cares for us and wants to bless us; obedience is the way to experience His blessing. So the godly father presents God’s truth in this wholesome, helpful, explanatory way.
The Bible is not some pious book to display on the coffee table and dust off for births, weddings, and funerals. It’s a book that applies to every aspect of life. It tells us what to think and how to act, from the most private to the most public details of our lives. We need to teach that to our kids and have the kind of open communication where we can talk about all these areas. If you want to raise up godly grandchildren, you must love God fervently and you must teach your children diligently. Finally,
Moses warns Israel of the spiritual dangers that they will face when they settle into Canaan. It’s easy to drift into the ways of the world. I point out two safeguards from these verses:
(1) Continually examine yourself. “Watch yourself” (6:12)! There’s a progression that sets in when times are good: Satisfaction (6:11); forget the Lord (6:12); follow other gods (6:14). There is a sense in which it’s easier to trust the Lord when times are hard. If it was not legal to gather as a church, every one with the courage to come here would be actively trusting in the Lord. But since we have it pretty easy and live comfortably, you don’t have to trust God to be here. Probably some of you are coasting spiritually. You’ve gotten lulled into the lifestyle of this world and are even worshiping some of its gods.
You say, “What? We’re Christians! We don’t worship false gods!” Really? What about the god of affluence? Are you giving generously to further God’s work? What about the god of pleasure? Often this god comes in a 21-inch box that many of the Lord’s people sit before for several hours a night while it spews filth into their homes. Their commitment to worship this god prevents them from studying their Bibles or praying or teaching their kids God’s ways or serving the Lord. It’s easy to forget the Lord and the great salvation He provided (6:13).
Or what about the god of personal peace? This is the god we follow for the benefits he gives. As things go well, you worship him. But when trials hit or hard problems come along, you abandon this god. Israel treated the living God this way at Massah (6:16; see Exod. 17:1-7). They grumbled because there wasn’t any water and wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt rather than endure this trial. How you handle trials teaches your kids a lot about God! You need to examine yourself continually.
(2) Constantly focus on pleasing God. “You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord” (6:18). Every aspect of life--my thoughts, attitudes, words, deeds, schedule, possessions--must be lived with a view toward pleasing the Lord. Your goal is to teach your kids to please God in all of their lives. They have to answer to God, and if you only teach them to obey you, it won’t work when you’re not around. If you continually examine yourself and constantly focus on pleasing God in light of His Word, you won’t live like the Canaanites. You won’t be seeking the things they spend their lives going after. You will be growing in godliness. When you sin against your family, you confess it and seek their forgiveness. Your kids will see the reality of your love for God. They will want to follow Him too.
Do solidly Christian homes make a difference? In 1677 an immoral man named Max Jukes married a licentious woman. Over 1,200 descendants of that marriage were studied. Of these, over 400 were physically wrecked by lives of debauchery; 310 were professional vagrants; 130 were sent to the penitentiary for an average of 13 years each, including 60 thieves and 7 murderers; 190 were public prostitutes; 100 were alcoholics. Of the 20 who learned a trade, 10 learned it in prison.
Another family studied was that of the godly Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, the great New England revival preacher and president of Princeton University. Over 300 of his descendants became ministers, missionaries, and theological professors. Over 100 were college presidents and professors. More than 100 were lawyers and judges. More than 60 were physicians. More than 60 were authors or editors of books and journals. Eighty-six were state senators, three were U.S. Congressmen, and one became Vice President of the United States (although he, Aaron Burr, Jr., did not follow the Lord). No reference was made of anyone spending time in jail or being on welfare.
Remember, no one ever got to be 65 and said, “I wish I’d spent more time on my business.” But many lament that they neglected their families. True success is raising up godly children and grandchildren. To do it, you must love God fervently, teach your children diligently, and live in the world carefully. How is your walk with the Lord today? Is it vital and growing, or lukewarm? Are you diligently involved in teaching your children and grandchildren the things of God? Are you being careful to maintain a distinctive lifestyle and not get sucked into the world system? If you’ve been negligent, the Lord is rich in mercy if you will turn back to Him today.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Paul Harvey told of a five-year-old who was in the back yard brushing her dog’s teeth. When her father asked her what she was doing, she replied, “Don’t worry, Daddy, I’ll put your tooth brush back--like I always have!” Ah, the joys of being a parent!
I’m speaking to you today as one who has enjoyed the delights of rearing children for almost 18 years. I’m still in the trenches: our oldest daughter will be 18 in May; our middle daughter will be 16 and, our son will be 13 next month. So for the next two years we will have three teenagers. Someone has defined teenagers as children old enough to dress by themselves if they could just remember where they last saw their clothes. As one dad said of his teenage daughter’s room, “It’s such a mess, I wouldn’t go in there without a tetanus shot.” Another father of five teenagers says that in his house it’s been six years since he picked up a telephone that wasn’t warm. You begin to realize the generation gap when your teenager comes into your room in the morning and says, “Today is ‘Nerd Day’ at school, Dad; can I borrow some of your clothes?”
I want to give you some key biblical principles for raising your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). I realize that the focus of this message is somewhat narrow, since many of you do not have children or your children are already grown. But I believe the subject is of enough importance to warrant our attention. Our children are the future of our church and nation. So even if you’re not currently rearing children, how others do it will affect you. Parents need God’s wisdom on how to do the job effectively. If you do not have children at home, perhaps you can be used of God to share these principles with those who do.
I want to begin by stating a presupposition that I’m bringing to this topic. Almost all of you will agree with this presupposition in theory, but I would venture to say that most of you violate it in practice. It is this: Scripture alone is sufficient to equip us as good parents. Paul says that Scripture is adequate to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Surely that includes the work of rearing our children properly. You may think that the Bible is somewhat lacking in specific techniques concerning this vital topic. But if this is so, it’s because technique is not the key to raising children. True godliness and the wisdom found in God’s Word is the key. The Bible was written to teach us how to relate properly to God and to one another.
So I want to encourage you to reject decisively the so-called “wisdom” that has flooded into the church in recent years through psychology. Parents now look to Christian psychologists as the experts in how to raise their children. These “experts” are dispensing anti-biblical advice, such as, “building your child’s self-esteem,” as if it were compatible with Scripture. The Bible clearly teaches that your child’s esteem for himself is the problem, not the goal! So challenge everything (including my words today) by comparing it with the Bible.
The principles I’m sharing come from a number of passages. I want to give you a single sentence that I believe governs all child-rearing; and then discuss some goals and methods to achieve those goals as parents. The sentence is:
As God relates to us as His children, so we must relate to our children.
We are to be imitators of God, our Heavenly Father, as beloved children (Eph. 5:1). God has a goal in mind for His children, to conform them to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). His Word contains the two great commandments that move us toward that goal.
If you aim at nothing, you’ll probably hit it! As parents, we need to keep our objective in front of us: To see our kids grow up to love God with all their hearts, and to love others as they live daily by submitting their thoughts, words, and deeds to the Lord Jesus Christ. There are several components of this goal:
This is foundational to all else. Christian parents need to understand that making a decision to “invite Jesus into their hearts” may or may not constitute genuine conversion to Christ. I believe we’re sometimes too quick as parents to say, “He made a decision for Christ, and ‘once saved, always saved.’” Sometimes our theology of regeneration is superficial. For example, the well-known British Baptist preacher of the last century, Charles Spurgeon, went through five years of deep conviction of sin, between ages 10 and 15, before he came to saving faith in Christ. Even though his father was a godly pastor and outwardly Charles was a good boy, God had to do a deeper work in his heart. Look for signs of conversion in your child: a hunger for God, a sensitive conscience toward sin, etc.
This is a lifelong process, of course. But your goal is to get your kids to have a God-ward focus in their lives. They are accountable primarily to God, not to you. They must learn that their disobedience and sin displeases Him. They need to learn to please God with every thought, word, and deed. As soon as they’re old enough, you’ll want to help them establish a quiet time. Help them evaluate various activities by the question, “Does it please God?”
Part of growing in godliness is developing godly character qualities. Hebrews 12:10 says that God disciplines (trains) us so that we may share His holiness. You must train your children to share God’s holiness. Teach them about moral purity, the fruit of the Spirit, how to deal with trials with the right attitude of joy and thanksgiving, about having a servant-attitude instead of a selfish outlook. Attitudes are important, not just outward behavior, since God is concerned about our attitudes.
Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” I’ll say more on physical punishment in a moment. But please note that as Christians, we should take the doctrine of the fall seriously. This means that children, by nature, are self-centered and proud. They do not need help developing more self-esteem! They need encouragement to grow in humility and servanthood. Since as sinners, we’re all rebellious at heart, kids need to learn submission to proper authority as a part of godliness.
Practicing the second great commandment, loving our neighbor as we do in fact love ourselves, begins in the home. Our kids need to learn what biblical love (as opposed to worldly love) means (1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 John 3:16-18; 4:7-21). They need to learn how to resolve conflicts God’s way, as opposed to the world’s way (Eph. 4:25-32; 1 Pet. 3:8-12). They need to learn how to speak in a manner that builds up rather than tears down others (Eph. 4:29). They need to learn how to be discerning in choosing friends who will not drag them into the world (1 Cor. 15:33; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). They need to learn how to minister to other kids, both through evangelizing and discipling them.
Kids need certain skills to be able to function as adults. These include domestic duties, such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, basic sewing, and shopping. They need to learn proper hygiene and care of the body through nutrition, rest, exercise, etc. They should learn how to drive a car and basic car maintenance. (I’m not saying that every kid needs to learn how to change the oil, but they do need to learn that the oil needs changing!)
They should learn to take care of and respect the possessions and property God has given to them, and to respect the property of others. They should learn a biblical perspective on being managers of the finances God entrusts to them. This includes earning money (how to get a job and be good workers), spending, giving, and budgeting. Before they move out of the home they need to learn about checking accounts, investing, and the dangers of debt and greed. They should have developed a biblical outlook on how to be resourceful and live simply. They also need to learn how to manage their time so as to be responsible in completing their duties at school, their chores, etc. They need to learn how to balance work and leisure time.
So, these are our goals, under the overall goal of helping our kids grow in love for God and others as they grow in submission to the lordship of Christ. Kind of overwhelming, isn’t it? How do we do it? I can’t say it all, of course. But let me give you a few biblical methods.
I believe this statement sums up every aspect of raising children. Does God love us in spite of our many shortcomings and sins? Then we should love our children and not withdraw our love as a means of punishment. Does God patiently correct us for our good, so that we may share His holiness? Then we should do the same for our children. But I want to emphasize a few things. First, some good news and some bad news. The good news is:
The bad news is, “Your example is the primary means for training your children.” Your kids will learn far more from your life than from your lectures, especially if your lectures don’t back up your life. God, of course, is our example (Eph. 5:1), especially the Lord Jesus Christ. As I said last week, if your kids see you loving God with all your heart and having His Word on your heart continually, they are more likely to catch the same love (Deut. 6:4-9).
Not only must you model loving God, but also loving others (which is often more difficult than loving God!). Especially important is that you show consistent, faithful love and respect for your children’s mother (who ought to also be your wife!). If you are divorced from your kids’ mother, you still should show respect for her, even if you must carefully speak out against her way of life. Your kids need to see you living the Christian life every day. This doesn’t imply perfection, but it does imply reality with God and the humility of confessing your sins and seeking forgiveness when you’re wrong.
How is God described in the Bible? When He revealed Himself to Moses (Exod. 34:6-7), He proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” There is a fine balance to God. He is loving and gracious, but He also punishes sin, sometimes severely! But toward His children, God’s main mode of action is His tender love and abundant goodness: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13).
On the negative side, this means that there is never any place for any abuse on the part of a father toward his children: No verbal abuse (put-downs, name calling, cursing, threats, etc.); no physical abuse (any hitting or inflicting pain on your children just to vent your anger is sin); and never, never any sexual abuse!
On the positive side, your actively demonstrated love for your kids is the necessary foundation for any discipline you must administer. “Whom the Lord loves, He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:12). Delighting in your kids means that you like them and treat them that way. You show delight in your kids with your eyes, with kind and loving words, by listening, by welcoming them into your presence, and by proper physical affection. They aren’t a bother or interruption to your schedule. If you’ve not taken the time to play with your children, to read to them, to listen to and talk with them, to give them proper affection through words and appropriate touch, then you have no basis for correcting them.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). Proper respect for God is at the heart of a relationship to Him. Likewise, God has given parents authority over their children, and the children must learn to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1-3). Respect comes through loving discipline: “We had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them” (Heb. 12:9). You’ve got to teach your children to obey, and the sooner you start, the better. When they’re very young, you deal with behavior, since that’s all they understand; later, deal with attitudes as well (since God demands that we have the proper attitude).
Parents need to understand and practice several things with regard to proper discipline. First, your child’s good, not your selfishness or anger, must be the basis for your correction. If you’re just venting your anger by yelling or hitting your child, you’re sinning. You must discipline as God does, “for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). In other words, biblical love is the only basis for discipline; not your embarrassment or frustration or need to control your child. Don’t take their disobedience personally. They’re sinners, disobeying God by disobeying their parents. God has put you in the middle to train them to obey Him. But you’ll mess up the process if you take their disobedience personally. They need calm correction.
Second, we’re exhorted to discipline our children diligently (Prov. 13:24). We tend to get lazy or it’s a hassle to give correction and discipline, so we don’t do it consistently. As a result, our kids don’t know whether they’re going to get away with murder one day or get nailed for some minor offense the next. Never threaten anything that is out of proportion to the offense. And never threaten anything you can’t or don’t plan to carry out. You shouldn’t yell, unless it’s for their safety or the only way to get their attention. But you do need to be firm and consistent. God carries out His word (Gal. 6:7); so should we.
Third, distinguish between immaturity and defiance. If a three year old is acting three, you may have to train or correct, but you should treat him differently than if he is defying your authority. If a child is being defiant, you first warn him and talk to him about it. If he persists, you need to apply the paddle (“rod” in Proverbs) to his behind. But, you need to be careful to do it in the proper manner, never if you are not in control of your anger. Many people take the “spare the rod and spoil the child” passages (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13, 14; 29:15) as the primary method for disciplining children. A popular Christian pamphlet encourages parents to apply the rod, even to older children, for the slightest disobedience or even if the child hesitates before obeying. If God dealt with us like that, life would be a perpetual spanking! Love is the primary method!
With a toddler or young child, saying no and spanking his hand or bottom if he does not obey can be the most effective means of communicating that you mean business. As a child grows in ability to reason, you talk with him. You give him time to make the right decision to follow the Lord, just as God gives you time to grow. In Proverbs (10:13; 19:29; 26:3), the rod is for the back of fools, those who persist in rebellion or disregard for God. So with an older child, physical punishment should only be a last resort, for those who persist in disobedience or rebellion. If you properly train a child to respect and obey you when he is young, generally you won’t have a rebel later.
Your children are not yours, primarily; they belong to God who has uniquely made them for His purposes (Ps. 139). You have the assignment of training and releasing them into His service. They’re described in Psalm 127:4 as arrows. Arrows are designed to shoot at the enemy, not to hold on to. So many Christian parents try to force their children to excel, so that the kids will make the parents look good, or they’ll make a lot of money, or so that the parents can boast in their children. Of course we should encourage our children to work heartily as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23). But they are not you! They are unique human beings, created and gifted by God who will direct them in His perfect paths. If your child grows up to become a godly garbage truck driver, that’s better than for him to grow up to become a worldly doctor or corporation president.
So your task is to train your children to be godly and to follow wherever the Lord directs them. As they grow older, you feed them more responsibility and gradually release them unto Him. Since each child is different, you must not treat them all the same. Some are ready for responsibility sooner than others.
Don’t get hung up with petty, legalistic issues and miss the heart of things. The key thing is to get your child to live daily under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Some well-meaning Christian parents get hung up about external things. If your son wants to wear an earring, so what? Is he walking with Jesus? If he is, the Lord Jesus will deal with his earring if it’s a problem. If he’s running with the wrong crowd, that should be a concern. Or if a daughter is dressing in a sensual manner, that needs to be dealt with. But be careful to major on the majors, so that you don’t drive your child from the Lord over petty issues.
None of us are perfect parents. Thank God for His abundant grace that covers all our sin! If you’ve badly blown it as a parent, I encourage you to return to the Lord, who will abundantly pardon (Isa. 55:6-7). Plead with Him in prayer for your children, even if they’re adults. His mercy is great! If you’re still in the process, remember the key proposition: As God relates to us, so we must relate to our children. You say, “That’s impossible!” True, we’ll never do it perfectly. But that’s our goal. Solomon wrote, “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; he will also give delight to your soul” (Prov. 29:17). Sir John Bowring said, “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” I encourage you to live by God’s Word in your home life. He will bless you beyond what you can ask or even think.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Behind every great man is his mother. Someone imagined the mothers of these well-known sons making the following comments:
Mrs. Morse: “Sam, stop tapping your fingers on the table--it’s driving me crazy!”
Mrs. Lindbergh: “Charles, can’t you do anything by yourself?”
Mrs. Washington: “George never did have a head for money.”
Mrs. Armstrong: “Neil has no more business taking flying lessons than the man on the moon.” (Reader’s Digest [3/88], p. 78.)
Mothers do influence their sons and daughters! One of life’s greatest blessings is to have a godly mother. And, thus, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to be a godly mother.
But, sadly, the influence of the feminist movement has caused the status of motherhood to decline. Women are encouraged to find fulfillment in a career, not in raising children. If kids come along, they are dropped off at the day care center, sometimes even as infants. In 1950, only 12 percent of women with preschool children worked outside the home. “Leave it to Beaver” was not an untypical home situation! By 1985, over 50 percent of mothers with children five and under were working. Young mothers also return to work sooner after the birth of their babies than ever before. In 1976, 31 percent of mothers were back on the job before their child’s first birthday. By 1987, that figure had jumped to over 50 percent.
Even many Christians have adopted the cultural trend. While I realize that there are legitimate cases of economic hardship where the mother’s job is a necessity (as with single moms), there are also many situations where the family could make it on just the husband’s job, but they choose to have the mother work so they can “have a better lifestyle.” But I question whether trading a mother at home for increased income really provides a better lifestyle. Most kids would vote for less junk and a mom at home.
I’d like to elevate the role of godly mothers by looking at the influence a godly mother and grandmother had on a well-known young man named Timothy. In 2 Timothy 1:5 we learn that his faith came to him through his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. The Apostle Paul’s preaching may have been used by God to bring Timothy to actual conversion, but behind his preaching were years of godly influence by Timothy’s grandmother and mother. In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, we also learn that the sincere faith of these women was combined with instructing Timothy from his earliest days from the Scriptures. Their example and the results in Timothy’s life show us that ...
Through faith in God and by honoring His Word, godly mothers have great influence as they train their children.
As Paul thought fondly of Timothy and his sincere faith, he was reminded that such faith also dwelt first in Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and in his mother, Eunice. We don’t know when these women had come to faith in Christ. Even though they had Greek names, at least Eunice was a Jewish believer (Acts 16:1). Perhaps Lois had been converted in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and had come home to tell her daughter. Or, perhaps both women were devout Jews who responded to Paul’s preaching when he visited Lystra, their city. But the implication is that their faith pre-dated that of Timothy.
Timothy’s father was apparently a Greek unbeliever (Acts 16:1). We have no clue as to why a godly woman of faith like Eunice would marry a pagan man. The Old Testament is very clear that Jews should not marry outside the faith. Perhaps Eunice, though raised by Lois in a faithful Jewish home, went through a time of rebellion, during which she got married, but later came to faith in Jesus as Savior and Messiah. We can only speculate.
We do know that the Bible clearly forbids a believer from marrying an unbeliever. But Eunice’s story is in the Bible to give hope to women in mixed marriages. If her son, Timothy, could grow up to follow the Lord as he did, then God can do the same for your children, even if your husband is not a believer. While God intends for the father to take the lead in the spiritual training of the children, the mother can have a great influence even in situations where the father is passive or hostile to God.
One prime quality which such a woman needs is sincere faith. The word “sincere” means, literally, “not hypocritical.” It is possible to have a hypocritical, not genuine form of faith. Phony faith is the mask that is put on in front of church members or out in public, but it’s set aside in the home. The parents may be fighting as they drive to church, but when they drive in the parking lot, they act as if everything is just great. Kids smell that kind of phoniness a mile away.
One pastor had been preaching on the importance of daily Bible reading. When the pastor and his wife were invited to a parishioner’s home, the pastor’s wife noticed that the woman of the house had written on the kitchen calendar for that date, “Pastor/Mrs. for dinner--Dust all Bibles.” Another pastor, after having tea with a parishioner, said, “I’m glad to see the way you’re living.” “Oh, pastor,” replied the man, “if you want to know how we really live, you must come when you’re not here.”
Having a sincere faith doesn’t imply perfection. But it does imply reality with God. Such faith dwelt in these women; it was at home in them, a comfortable, everyday sort of thing. Sincere faith means that you have sincerely believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. It means that you walk in reality with Christ each day, spending time in His Word and in prayer. It means that you confront yourself with Scripture and judge your sin on the thought level. It means that when you do sin against a family member, you ask their forgiveness and seek to work on your weak areas. It means that you develop godly character qualities and attitudes of submission, thankfulness, and joy in the Lord. Your kids will realize that, while mom isn’t perfect, she does walk with God.
Not only are godly mothers women of sincere faith, but also they seek to hand off that faith to their children. Hypocritical faith can’t be handed off. If you’re a phony, your kids won’t want anything to do with your version of Christianity. But genuine faith is contagious. Timothy’s faith could be traced back through his mother to his grandmother. He could see the Lord in them, and it attracted him to the Lord.
How do you hand off your faith to your kids? One of the main ways is by training them in God’s Word:
In the most reliable manuscripts of verse 14, “whom” is plural, pointing to Lois and Eunice, as well as to the Apostle Paul. The phrase, “knowing from whom you have learned them” points to the reality of God’s Word in these people who had influenced Timothy. He could look at their lives and see that the Bible is a reliable Book. By the way, while the parents should be the primary agents for teaching their children God’s Word, pray for godly mentors for your children, such as Paul was to Timothy. Don’t be so jealous as to think that you’re the only one who can influence your children. Pray for godly Sunday School teachers, youth workers, elders, pastors, or other men and women of God to influence your children for righteousness.
The main way your children will grow up to love and serve God is through His Word. God’s Word of truth is powerful to save (James 1:18) and to sanctify (John 17:17) His people. The best thing you can do for your kids is to instill in them from an early age the importance of reading, studying, memorizing, and obeying God’s Word. How do you do it?
You cannot impart what you do not possess. If your kids seldom see you seeking God through His Word, they won’t catch it for themselves. If they don’t see you changing through your growing understanding of and obedience to the Word, they won’t be motivated to be in the Word for themselves. If the TV is on every night, but the Bible is seldom read as a family, guess what the kids will assume is the most important? Your kids should be able to see evidence of your love for God’s Word.
I strongly encourage you to begin reading the Bible to your children even when they’re very young. Stick to the story portions until they’re old enough to listen to the likes of Romans. You can buy Bible story books that have simple text and a lot of pictures. As they grow older, you can read things like the “Muffin Family” stories that have a Bible story which is then applied by a story about the Muffin family. But even when they’re toddlers, they can absorb more of just straight Bible reading than you would guess.
Once when Joy was just a young toddler, we were driving down the mountain where we lived in California on a day with beautiful clouds. She pointed to the sky and said, “Look, Jesus!” I couldn’t figure out why she was saying that until it dawned on me that a day or two before around the dinner table we had read Matthew 26:64, where Jesus says that we will see Him “coming on the clouds of heaven.” Even though she wasn’t more than two years old, Joy made the connection between clouds and Jesus! You never know how God is using the seed of His Word.
“... from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15). Salvation is built on the knowledge of the truth revealed in Scripture. Children need to know more than “Jesus wants to be your friend, so you need to invite Him into your heart.” They need to know what God’s Word reveals about the condition of their hearts, that they are rebellious and disobedient toward God. They need to know not only that God is loving, but also that He is holy and just, and that He will bring terrible, everlasting punishment on those who do not turn from their sins and trust in Christ. They need to know what Christ did on the cross, dying as our substitute. They need to understand that God forgives our sin because of His kindness, apart from our good works. They need to know what saving faith is, as opposed to empty profession that does not result in salvation.
As you read the Bible to your kids, they will learn about people who turned from their sin to God and were saved. They will hear of others who made wrong choices, who loved their sin more than God, whose lives were ruined. They will hear stories of children whose parents were godly, but the children did not follow God, and of others whose parents were ungodly, but the children chose to follow the Lord. They will learn that each person is accountable before God. As you read the Bible to them, pray that God will use it to convict them of their sin, to show them their desperate need for salvation, and cause them to trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. If you use simple illustrations, even young children can understand the basics and genuinely be converted to Christ.
You need to be careful not to assume that just because your five-year-old “asked Jesus into his heart” that he is truly saved. He may be, but he may not be. Look for evidence of genuine conversion: Is he sorry about his sin and sensitive to it? Does he show a growing love for God and His Word? Does he want to talk about the things of God? Does he want to please God with his life? It seems to me that “easy believism,” especially with children, is a major danger of the modern evangelical church.
If you want to read a chapter that shows the stark contrast between the former days and our day, I commend to you chapter 6, “Through Much Tribulation,” in volume one of C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography (Banner of Truth). For over 20 pages, he goes on and on, describing the mountain of guilt he was under from age ten until he was converted at 15. He is so graphic and consumed with his own sinfulness that I’m sure, had he lived today, we would take him to a Christian psychologist!
He says, “For five years, as a child, there was nothing before my eyes but my guilt, and though I do not hesitate to say that those who observed my life would not have seen any extraordinary sin [he was a minister’s son in Victorian England!], yet as I looked upon myself, there was not a day in which I did not commit such gross, such outrageous sins against God, that often and often have I wished I had never been born” (p. 58). After many more pages describing his guilt for disobeying God’s law and his fear of being condemned, he says, “Then I was brought down to see my corruption, my wickedness, my filthiness, for God always humbles the sinner whom He means to save” (p. 72).
In an earlier chapter, Spurgeon tells how every Sunday evening, his mother would stay home with the children, read and explain the Scriptures to them, and plead with them to think about the state of their souls and to seek the Lord. He remembers one time her praying, “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.” He says, “That thought of a mother’s bearing swift witness against me, pierced my conscience, and stirred my heart” (p. 44).
Spurgeon’s father was often away from home preaching. Once, as he was on his way to a service, he feared that he was neglecting his own family while caring for the souls of others. So he turned back and went home. When he came in the house, everything was quiet, except for the voice of his wife behind the bedroom door. He listened and heard her pleading earnestly in prayer for the salvation of all her children, and especially for her strong-willed first-born, Charles. His father thought that with his wife caring so well for the spiritual interests of his children, he could go on about the Lord’s business, so he left again for his preaching engagement without disturbing her (from pp. 44-45).
So a crucial task for godly mothers is to pray for and use the Scriptures to lead each of her children to faith in Christ.
God’s Word is mighty to save, but also is sufficient for all of life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3, 4). It is profitable for teaching us the ways of God, how God wants us to live (2 Tim. 3:16). It reveals the very thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Heb. 4:12). It reproves us, which means, it convinces us of our wrongs. It corrects us by showing us how to get right with God and others. It trains us in righteousness, showing us how to keep on the path of obedience and blessing. Scripture is not given to satisfy our curiosity or to give us interesting stories. It is given to be profitable for how we live, to correct us and keep us on God’s path of holiness. Your kids should see you applying Scripture and you should teach them how to apply it to the things they face as they grow to maturity. If you use God’s Word to lead your children to saving faith and to train them in God’s ways, it follows that ...
Who knows what lifelong influence Lois and Eunice had on young Timothy? Sure, he was strengthened greatly through his relationship with Paul. But the foundation was laid by his godly mother and grandmother. It is not too much to argue that world history is shaped in the home through godly mothers.
Spurgeon says, “Never could it be possible for any man to estimate what he owes to a godly mother. Certainly I have not the powers of speech with which to set forth my valuation of the choice blessing which the Lord bestowed on me in making me the son of one who prayed for me, and prayed with me. How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape from the wrath to come?... How can I ever forget when she bowed her knee, and with her arms about my neck, prayed, ‘Oh, that my son might live before Thee!’” (p. 44, emphasis his).
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “When all is said, it is the mother, and the mother only, who is a better citizen than the soldier who fights for his country. The successful mother, the mother who does her part in rearing and training aright the boys and girls who are to be the men and women of the next generation, is of greater use to the community, and occupies, if she only would realize it, a more honorable as well as more important position than any man in it. The mother is the one supreme asset of the national life. She is more important, by far, than the successful statesman, or businessman, or artist, or scientist” (in Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, by Paul Tan [Assurance Publishers], p. 845). That is not to disparage the crucial role godly fathers must play. But it is to encourage you in the crucial role godly mothers play.
Maybe you feel like a failure as a mother. Where do you start? God always honors repentance. Turn back to Him. Confess your failures. Begin to obey Him where you’re at. As a Christian couple, you may have to consider having the wife quit work to be home with the children. Even if your children are grown, God will honor your repentance. Go to them and ask their forgiveness for failing to be an example of godliness or for failing to train them in God’s ways. God can use you as He used Lois, a grandmother, in Timothy’s life. Walk with God in sincere faith. Use His Word to lead your children and grandchildren to the same sincere faith and to train them in God’s ways. You will be mighty in influencing our nation and even world history for Jesus’ sake.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
We live in a day of rampant children’s rights. In Sweden, a model for the movement, it is illegal to spank your children or even to administer such discipline as sending them to bed or depriving them of TV. The laws are enforced by social workers, special courts, and the police. In our country, children now can divorce their parents and move on to a new set who will not be so demanding. Years ago the Duke of Windsor observed, “The thing that impresses me about America is the way parents obey their children.”
This widespread disregard for parental authority over their children, coupled with the influence of psychology, which has advised us not to do anything to stifle a child’s emotions or to damage his self-esteem, has led to a disregard, even in Christian circles, of keeping the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and mother.” The apostle Paul puts it, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:3). Having just studied Ham, who as an adult dishonored his father Noah, resulting in a curse on Ham’s descendants through Canaan, I thought it would be fitting on this Mother’s Day to take a look at the neglected Fifth Commandment.
As you know, the Ten Commandments may be divided into two sections, each reinforcing the two greatest commandments. The first four commands spell out what it means to love the Lord our God: Not to have any other gods before Him; not to make or serve any idols; not to take His name in vain; and, to keep the sabbath day holy. The last six commands teach us how to love our neighbor as we do, in fact, love ourselves: To honor our fathers and mothers; not to murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet anything belonging to our neighbor.
Standing at the head of this second section, the commandment to honor our parents is foundational to keeping all that follow. If we truly honor our parents, we will not disgrace their name by becoming a murderer, by being unfaithful to our marriage vows, by stealing, by lying, or by the greed and discontent underlying covetousness. The keeping of the Fifth Commandment also works back toward the first four. If we are rebellious and disrespectful toward our parents who gave us life and sustenance, we will also probably be rebellious and disrespectful toward the Lord God, our creator and sustainer. Disrespect toward parents and God will also carry over into disrespect for all authority, and thus will result in a breakdown of law and order, leading to a disintegration of the very basis for civilized society. Thus the keeping of the Fifth Commandment is not some outmoded, quaint idea to be set aside without consequence. It is vital to the survival of our nation.
Before we look at what it means to keep this command, I want to point out that if you keep it, you and your family will stand out as distinct from our culture, especially when your children are teenagers. I reject the culturally accepted idea, brought to us by those wonderful folks in developmental psychology, that a period of rebellion and defiance is the norm for teenagers. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even in Christian homes, where parents lamely shrug their shoulders at their kids’ rebellion and excuse it with, “Well, it’s just a phase they have to go through.” Nonsense! Christian teenagers can and must honor, obey, and respect their parents out of submission to the Lord. When they do this, it will open the door for witness in a world where rebellion and disrespect for parents is the norm. As we examine this commandment, I want to make two main points:
As children, we should honor our parents; as parents, we should live worthily of our children’s honor.
Then I want to discuss under a third heading what children should do when their parents are not deserving of their honor.
First, we need to understand what the command means; then, we will look at some ways we can demonstrate our obedience to it.
The word translated “honor” is a Hebrew word with a root meaning of “weight” or “heaviness.” It is the same word often translated “glory” in reference to the Lord. To glorify the Lord is to attach the utmost weight or significance to who He is and what He does. It means to assign Him the highest place because He is worthy of it. The opposite of glorifying God is to treat Him lightly, to shrug off Him and His commands as insignificant. Coupled with the idea of weight is that of value, which is the root meaning of the Greek word for honor. Gold and silver are heavy, valuable metals. We say of a valuable man, “He’s worth his weight in gold.”
Applied to parents, to honor them is to have an attitude of respect for them that stems from the fact that we greatly value them and the contribution they’ve made to our lives. To honor our parents is to assign a high place of value to them. This attitude of respect and high esteem will result in loving actions toward them. The motivation for doing this should be to please and glorify the Lord Jesus who set the example of obedience to His earthly parents in order to please His Heavenly Father.
(1) When you’re young, you honor your parents by obeying their instruction and submitting to their correction. This is clear in Paul’s linking, “Children obey your parents” with the command to honor them (Eph. 6:1-3). When Paul states, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord,” he does not mean, “Obey your parents only if they are in the Lord” (that is, Christians). Nor does he mean, “Obey your parents when you think their decisions are in line with what you think the Lord wants.” He means, it is your duty in the Lord to obey your parents. The Book of Proverbs, after a brief introduction, begins, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head, and ornaments about your neck” (Prov. 1:8-9).
The only exception to obeying your parents would be if they commanded you to do something that is a clear violation of Scripture. But even then, you must demonstrate to your parents a submissive spirit that seeks to please them. You should respectfully appeal to them and explain your reasons why you cannot obey them in this instance. You should show that it grieves you to have to disobey them. And, you should submit to any punishment they impose without complaint or rebellion, but with a heart of joy in the Lord, that you are counted worthy to suffer for His name. But such times when you must disobey your parents out of obedience to God will probably be rare.
(2) As you grow older, you honor your parents by respecting them, treating them with kindness, and holding their counsel in high regard. It is never right to despise or ridicule your parents, even if they have done something deserving of such treatment. We saw this with Ham, who flippantly looked on his father’s drunkenness and nakedness, rather than respectfully covering him as his two brothers did (Gen. 9:21-24).
There comes a point, of course, where you move out from under your parents’ authority and are no longer obligated to obey them. Wise parents let the reins go gradually, so that a young person assumes more and more responsibility for his own life, until he is on his own. When is that? It is not necessarily at some arbitrary age, such as 18 or even 21. But a general rule of thumb is, if you are chafing under your parents’ authority, you are probably not ready to be out from under it. Your obedience to your parents shows that you are mature enough to live apart from their direct authority, and that you are under the lordship of Christ.
But even when you’re out from under your parents’ authority, you always remain under their counsel. As an adult, you answer directly to God, but it would be foolish to shrug off your parents’ counsel without careful consideration. There are times as a Christian young person when you must follow God’s leading, for example, to go to the mission field, even though your parents (who may even be believers) don’t want you to go. In order to obey God by going to seminary, and later moving to Europe to serve God, Francis Schaeffer had to say to his parents, “I love you, and I’m sorry to make you unhappy, but I am convinced that this is what God wants me to do, and I am going to do it.” His resolute obedience to God was in the end the means of bringing first his father and later his mother to faith in Jesus Christ (told by Edith Schaeffer, Lifelines [Crossway Books], pp. 115-116). But even in going against his parents’ wishes, Schaeffer showed them respect and kindness.
(3) As your parents grow older, you honor them by caring for them and providing for their needs as you are able. Paul directs children and grandchildren to make some return to their aged parents by caring for them and providing for their needs, and adds, “for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” He goes on to say that if we do not provide for our own families (he means both our immediate families and our aged parents), we have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:4, 8). The best arrangement may or may not be to have an aged parent live in our own homes. Each family has the freedom to determine the specific arrangements under the Lord. But it is not right as Christians to abandon our elderly parents to a nursing home so that we can ignore them. One way we show honor is by giving a person our time. This certainly applies to elderly parents. Our responsibility to honor our parents goes all through life.
There’s a second side to the Fifth Commandment. I can only touch on it briefly:
When Paul gives the command to children to honor and obey their parents, he immediately balances it by commanding the parents (especially, fathers) not to provoke their children to anger, but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). As I’ll mention in a moment, children must honor their parents whether the parents deserve it or not. But, even so, as parents we must not neglect God’s commands to us to rear our children in His ways. This involves two main things:
(1) As parents, we should be examples of godliness in our homes. Children listen to our lives much more than to our lectures. If we preach Christianity but practice hypocrisy, they will not be inclined to honor either us or the Lord Jesus Christ. Being an example of godliness does not imply perfection, because even godly parents are sinners. But it does mean that we walk in the Spirit, growing in the expression of the fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Gal. 5:22-23). This includes controlling anger, toward both our mates and children. Being an example of godliness means that when we sin in word or deed toward our family members, we humbly confess that sin and seek forgiveness, both from God and from the ones we wronged. It means that we walk in daily, moment-by-moment submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
(2) As parents, we should train our children in the ways of the Lord. This includes leading our children to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them the commands and principles of Scripture. It includes commitment to a local church, set times for family Bible reading and prayer, and teaching God’s ways in spur of the moment opportunities. This kind of instruction is not a nice thing to do if you’re so inclined; it is a God-given duty for Christian parents, especially for fathers. We shirk our responsibility as Christian fathers if we are spiritually passive and if we pawn off this duty to our wives or to the church. In some church traditions, the fathers are responsible to catechize their children. I think this is something we Baptists need to consider, where we teach the great doctrines of the faith to our children in the home.
Much more could be said, but I want to devote a few minutes to the question, Should children honor parents who are clearly not worthy of it? And, if so, how?
The Fifth Commandment does not say, “Honor your parents if they deserve it.” While it is far easier to honor godly parents, we are still obligated to honor our parents, even if they do not deserve it. I realize that some have had parents who have abused them emotionally, physically, and sexually. Some have had drunken or drug-addicted parents who have selfishly neglected their children. Some have been hated and rejected by their parents. But the command still applies, “Honor your father and mother.” Jesus says to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), which may include your parents. So even if it is difficult, you must work at it. Briefly, here are three biblical principles that apply:
(1) Deal with any bitterness and forgive your parents from your heart. Forgiving those who have sinned against us is not optional. Jesus said that if we do not forgive our fellow men, our heavenly Father will not forgive us (Matt. 6:15). I have trouble fitting that into my theology, but there’s no mistaking the fact that Jesus considered forgiveness a major, mandatory requirement of the Christian life. Granting forgiveness in our hearts does not mean naively restoring trust in the relationship. If your father molested you sexually, forgiving him does not mean trusting your kids to be alone with him. But it does mean rooting out any bitterness toward God, who sovereignly allowed this sin against you, and toward your father who committed it. It also means granting him forgiveness verbally apart from his deserving it the minute he repents (Eph. 4:32). Also, you may have to ask forgiveness for any rebellion or other sins you have committed against your parents, even if they provoked it.
(2) Demonstrate a godly attitude toward your parents. Often when young people from a troubled home get saved, they go back home, often with a well-intended zeal in the Lord, but by their attitude they communicate ingratitude and disrespect for their parents and the way they’ve raised them. They often come across with a spiritual pride that conveys to the parents, “You’ve been terrible, sinful, worldly people who did not raise me properly. But now I’ve found the truth, and I’ve come to set you straight and ask you to repent.” When the parents don’t respond enthusiastically to this message, the young person sniffles about being persecuted for the sake of righteousness or, even worse, is openly defiant or demeaning toward the parents.
The main way a Christian young person should bear witness to his parents is by a godly attitude of honor and submission, even when your parents do things to mistreat or provoke you. If they ask about the changes they see in your behavior, of course you give the glory to Jesus Christ through sensitive verbal witness. But your main witness should be through your godly attitude.
(3) Practice deeds of love and kindness toward your parents, even when they mistreat you, with a view to leading them to Christ. Even if your parents are selfish pagans who treat you like dirt, you are God’s main link to them with the gospel. Even if they never respond or respond with meanness, you can be kind and caring toward them. If you live in another city, you can write to them, send them cards or gifts on special occasions, or call and let them know that you’re thinking of them and that you care. You certainly should pray often for their salvation, since that is their primary need.
This does not mean that it’s necessary to cater to your parents’ every demand or give up a life of your own to make them happy. Some parents are very controlling and would not be happy no matter how much you do for them. But still we must not abandon them and we should seek the Lord for ways we can show them His love and kindness.
A Grimm’s fairy tale tells about an old man who lived with his son and daughter-in-law because he had no where else to go. The old man’s hands trembled. When he ate, he clattered the silverware, often missed his mouth with the spoon, and dribbled some of his food on the tablecloth. The daughter-in-law hated having him there because he interfered with her right to happiness. So she and her husband took the old man gently but firmly and led him to a corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner, blinking at the table with wistful eyes.
One day his hands trembled more than usual and he dropped the bowl, which broke. “If you are a pig,” said the daughter-in-law, “you must eat out of a trough.” So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his meals in that.
This couple had a four-year-old son they were quite fond of. One night the father noticed the boy playing intently with some bits of wood and he asked what he was doing. “I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling for approval, “to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big.”
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and didn’t say anything. Then they cried a little. Then they went to the corner and took the old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and fed him his dinner on a plate. From then on nobody scolded him when he clattered or spilled or broke things. (Told by Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain.)
If we dishonor our parents, we will reap dishonor ourselves. More than that, we will undermine the foundations of society. Wherever you’re at in life, I ask, “Are you keeping the Fifth Commandment?” If you are, it will go well with you and you will be blessed by God. It is the first commandment with a promise.
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Have you ever had a job where you did not have a clear job description? You knew that you would be answering to the boss, but you weren’t sure exactly what you would be answering for? That can create a lot of anxiety!
I find that many men have a nagging anxiety about the matter of leading their families. They know that they are supposed to lead their families spiritually, but they’re not sure what that means or how to go about it. They know that they will answer to the Lord for this important task, but they feel very uncertain and uncomfortable about doing it.
The task could be summed up under the phrase, “Shepherding your family.”
Your job is to be the family shepherd, under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
If you wonder how to go about your job, look at how the Chief Shepherd does His job and imitate Him. He tells us about His role as the Good Shepherd in John 10:1-18.
The context of this discourse is Jesus’ controversy with the Jewish religious leaders over the matter of His healing on the Sabbath the man born blind (John 9). These Jewish leaders should have been faithfully shepherding God’s people, but instead they were simply exercising their authority with no concern for the sheep. They would put out of the synagogue people like this man born blind or anyone else who confessed Jesus to be the Christ (9:22). But they were thieves and robbers who were using the flock for their own advantage rather than sacrificing themselves for the advantage of the sheep. Jesus stands in stark contrast to them as the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep (10:11). By studying Jesus’ words, we can learn seven principles for shepherding our families. I can only touch on each one and leave you to explore on your own in more depth.
True heart conversion to Jesus Christ, not just church attendance or outward religion, is the prerequisite of leading your family spiritually. The Pharisees claimed to be spiritual leaders, but they had not been born again (John 3, Nicodemus). They had not entered through Jesus Christ into the personal experience of eternal life. Thus they were hypocrites. Nothing will turn your children away from the faith more effectively than hypocrisy on your part. You must really know Christ as your Savior through personal faith. You must be growing in personal reality with Him.
Then, you must seek to lead your children through the same door of salvation that you’ve entered. Salvation is not just a decision to “pray and ask Jesus into your heart.” Salvation means that God has brought conviction of sin, a sense of need for the Savior, and turning from sin and embracing Christ by faith. When God saves a person, he has a new heart. If your children are truly born again, there will be evidence of spiritual life in them. They will desire to feed on God’s Word and grow in their relationship with Jesus. They will be sensitive to their own sin, and willing to turn from it and grow in holiness. Pray together with your wife for the genuine conversion of your children, and teach them the necessity of it.
You’re probably thinking, “I know all my kids: Christa, Joy, and Daniel. What’s next?” But knowing a person is a much more in depth process than just knowing their names. When the Hebrews talked about a person’s name, they were referring to the whole person: their personalities, likes, and dislikes, etc. Each child is different. Each one can only be known individually, not on a group basis. By the way, 1 Peter 3:7 exhorts husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge” (lit.). This means taking the time to listen and getting to know your wife well.
This implies spending quantity time, not just quality time, with your family. When the children are young, you must be there to play with them and read to them. Include them in your tasks, like shopping or chores. Influence always comes through relationship. You cannot properly discipline your kids if your relationship is distant or strained because of anger or misunderstandings.
Note that the sheep know the sound of the Shepherd’s voice, and they follow Him on this account (10:4). What does your voice sound like at home? Is it cheerful, pleasant, and inviting? Or is it harsh, angry, and repelling? The general tone of our voices should be that of love, tenderness, and warmth. It should say to your children, “Come to me, because I love you and care about you.”
The good shepherd goes before his flock, and they follow him. He doesn’t get behind them and drive them with a whip. He goes before them, showing them the way. You cannot lead your family where you yourself are not walking. If you want your children to be overcoming their sins, you must be overcoming your sins, beginning on the thought level. If you want your children to speak kindly to one another, you must speak kindly to your wife and to them. If you want your children to be quick to forgive, you must be quick to forgive. If you want them to be cheerful helpers around the home, you must be a cheerful helper around the home. Simple, huh? Simple to understand, hard to practice!
Note where the shepherd leads his flock: to abundant pastures where they will be well-fed (10:9, 10). This means that you must lead your family into God’s Word. When they’re young, limit the time and focus on the stories, not on Romans. As they get older, they can handle more solid food. Consistency is more important than anything else. Pick a time and try to do it as often as you can. For us, it is right after dinner. But it never has been automatic. You’ve got to keep at it. You want to communicate by example that God’s Word and prayer are vital. Also, we have read “The Global Prayer Digest” to try to communicate that taking the gospel to those who have yet to hear is important.
The clear message is that it sometimes costs the shepherd dearly to carry out this task, but he does it because he cares about the sheep. The hireling only cares about himself and is not concerned about the sheep.
It’s getting late at night and there is a knock at your door. You open it a crack and see a sinister guy who looks like he hangs out at the local porno shop. He says, “I’d like to come in and teach your kids about how much fun it is to have sex with different partners, including men with men and women with women. I’d like to show them how to make funny comments that put down others. I’d like to teach them how to disrespect their parents and view them as stupid and out-of-touch with reality. May I come in?” You’d rightfully slam the door in his face before he even finished speaking!
And yet many parents invite him in and give him free rein. His name is TV, and he also goes now by the nicknames, Video games and Internet. You’ve got to guard your children from these evil influences and teach them about spiritual truth and error. Again, you can only do it if you are guarding yourself from the same evil influences. If you are secretly indulging in pornography or even lusting after the women who parade around on the commercials or TV shows, you cannot lead your children into God’s holy ways.
Jesus was referring to His own sacrificial death on the cross, and we can never imitate Him in this. And yet His laying down His life for us is an example. He calls us daily to take up our cross and follow Him, promising that if we lose our lives for His sake, we will find them, but if we seek to preserve them for ourselves, we will lose them. By serving your family, I do not mean doing for your kids what they need to learn to do for themselves and for the sake of the family. Rather, I mean putting their best interests above your own selfish pursuits. It may take shape in little things, like putting down the newspaper to listen to your child or help him with his homework. It may mean sacrificing what you wanted to do on your Saturday in order to do something with the whole family.
The emphasis here is on Jesus’ willingly laying down His life for us. Sometimes we sacrifice for our families, but we make sure that they know what a great sacrifice it was! We should sacrifice ourselves cheerfully out of love. The well-being of the sheep was Jesus’ concern, even above saving His own life. I’ve seen dads who use their authority to make the family serve them. That is a sure way of raising selfish children, because you are modeling selfishness. Your kids should see you willingly sacrificing yourself, not just for the family, but also for the Lord’s purpose in the world. Model for your kids the joy of serving Jesus Christ.
The hireling sees the flock in trouble and takes off. He doesn’t care about the flock, but only about himself. The Good Shepherd stays with them through the difficulties and helps bring them through to a place of safety and security again.
It’s fairly easy to shepherd your family when your wife is being sweet and your kids say, “Sure, Dad, we’d be glad to clean up our rooms!” But the rest of the time (which may be most of the time), we still must care for them as the Good Shepherd cares for us. Of course His care often involves correction, but it is never harsh or demeaning correction. He always corrects us for our good. The goal is to see our wives and children without spiritual blemish, holy and blameless, growing in personal and spiritual maturity (Eph. 5:27; 6:4). The only way that I know of to love my family when they aren’t being especially lovable is to focus on my responsibility, to love them as Christ loves His church. Ask yourself, “How can I best love my wife or children in this situation?”
I once heard the late Joe Bayly speak on the subject of “Enjoying Your Children.” He was a Christian leader and writer from the Chicago area. He lost three of his children in death, and compassion and tenderness oozed out of him. He told about a time, back in the rebellious early 1970’s, when one of his sons rebelled against his conservative evangelical upbringing. He grew his hair long and grew a beard. He was living in a run-down flop house, where kids would drop in and crash for a time before moving on.
Late one night, Bayly got a call where the caller identified himself as a police office and said that they had his son in custody. Bayly got dressed and went down to the station, but they had not heard of his son. He made the rounds to several other police precinct stations, but no one had any knowledge of his son being in custody. He finally concluded that it must have been a prank.
Before heading home, he stopped by the flop house where his son was living. He stepped over several who were strewn out in their sleeping bags on the floor, and quietly opened the door of his son’s room. He was there, sleeping. Before he left, Bayly leaned over and gently kissed his son on the cheek.
Bayly said, “My son is a pastor now. He told me not long ago, ‘Dad, do you know what turned me around?’” Bayly said, “No, son, what?” “It was that night when you came into my room and kissed me in the middle of the night. You didn’t think that I was awake, but I was. I thought, ‘If my dad loves me that much, I’d better get my life together with the Lord.’” That’s the kind of love that we need to show to our kids, even when they aren’t being especially lovable.
Our goal is that each of our family members live to the glory of God. That’s a very different goal than using Christ to make us happy. God will be glorified as the nations hear and respond to the gospel. Thus we should view our children as arrows (Ps. 127:4) to be aimed at the enemy. Instill in your kids a heart for world missions, and then release them to that great task.
Where do you start? That depends on where you’re at now. If you don’t have a consistent quiet time with the Lord, begin there. Joining a Forum of Four might help you to be accountable. If you’ve never read the Bible and prayed together as a family, ask your wife and kids to hold you accountable to do that at least four nights each week. Also, begin the habit of praying with your family at other times of need.
Finally, don’t neglect to have fun together as a family. But, you’re already doing that, or you wouldn’t be here! Keep it up!
Copyright 2001, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation