The Bible and family


Family stands at the core of our social existence. In an ideal world, a family includes a man, a woman, and children. The ideal is lifted up even though we face the reality that some families break apart or never exist as a committed whole.

The Bible talks about some very dysfunctional families. Cain killed his brother, Abel. Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister instead of his wife. Jacob and his mother connived to cheat Esau out of his inheritance. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. David committed adultery and ordered the murder of the offended husband. Solomon had way too many wives. Martha complained to Jesus about her sister Mary hanging out with the guys and not sticking to the kitchen.

Family dysfunction is very real, but we keep on pushing forward seeking to do the best we can to make families work well. The Bible says some basic things about how families are supposed to work.

The first chapter of the Bible says the purpose of "marriage" is to produce a fruitful family.

God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it. . . ." (Genesis 1:28a, NRSV)

Fruitfulness produces relationships. Scripture says God created woman because "it is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18, NRSV). In other words, people do not need to be completely alone; they need others in their lives. Adam received a wife and then children; they all had each other.

The Psalmist spoke of this blessing of family in this way:

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;" (Psalm 127:3-5a, NKJV).

Parents receive this blessing of children today in different ways. Some give birth naturally, while others adopt or provide for children as foster parents.

Family brings blessing, but it also involves responsibility – for parents and children. Parents are to teach, to discipline without provoking, and to be an example for their children.

  • Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NRSV)
  • And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, NRSV)
  • Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. ... He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. (2 Chronicles 26:3-4, NRSV)

And children are to honor, to obey, to receive instruction from parents, and to care for parents with needs.

  • Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, NRSV)
  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1, NRSV)
  • Hear, my child, your father's instruction, and do not reject your mother's teaching; (Proverbs 1:8, NRSV)
  • If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God's sight. (1 Timothy 5:4, NRSV)

And then there is a broader responsibility to family and relatives.

And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8, NRSV)

The instruction from Scripture is so practical and so straightforward. The words guide Christians even as they are difficult to consistently follow.

We struggle on with our wills bent toward pursuing God's good purposes for our lives and for our families.

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