The family is a hugely important theme in the whole Bible. In Proverbs we learn quite a bit about being part of godly, wise families. As we all know, extended families are often a bit messy, a bit broken, and yet, still, family! We’ll think that through a little and then think about what that means for us, as Christians, as one Family with one Father.
We need to begin in the right frame of mind though. You might be thinking that this stuff won’t apply to you because you’re single, or because your children are all grown up and moved away. But there are (at least) two significant reasons to ponder families – even if you’re literally a childless orphan with no immediate family!
First and foremost, if you’re a Christian, you’re in a family. It’s wholly inaccurate to say that a church is “like a family.” If you’re a Christian, then God is your Father – he has adopted you. He chose you. You can pray and call him Father. We all can. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…”
We are family. Not just like family. We are family. So thinking about what the Bible has to say about family has a direct bearing on you, me, us, together.
The second reason for thinking about family is its place in the 10 Commandments. The first four commandments are very much about your relationship to God (though the 4th is wider still). The 5th commandment is “Honour your father and mother.” That’s in Deuteronomy 5. The detailed laws of Deuteronomy 12-25 are broadly laid out in the order of the 10 Commandments. The application of “Honour your father and mother” is worked out in a respect for wider authority structures in society (see Deuteronomy 17-19).
The bonds of family and community are the building-blocks of good society. As we look into what Proverbs says makes for healthy families you will certainly see things that are missing in our wider society today – and you may wonder about what is happening in our culture’s families. Helping families is good for those families and good for our community and wider society. Praying for them is the same.
So let’s take a look:
Families are relationships
Proverbs has lots of things to say about the relationship between parents and children and husbands and wives. All of it is helpful; some of it can be abused and misused.
Parents / Children
It’s an absolutely foundational notion in the Bible that loving parents will discipline their children. If you fail to discipline them then you’re setting them up for all kinds of trouble. Letting them loose isn’t loving them. But discipline doesn’t necessarily mean punishment. Discipline is more usually correction and training in the right paths. If parents understood “disciplining” to be “teaching discipline” then much good would be done.
Why do you need discipline? (Does that need asking??) Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him (NIV). We’re all foolish (godless and rebellious) by nature. No-one needs to teach a child to rebel!
How do we discipline a child?
- The NLT translates the second part of Proverbs 22:15 as physical discipline will drive it [foolishness] far away.
- The ESV has it the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
- But is that the “rod of discipline” or the “discipline of the rod”? Discipline is the rod – correction and training is what is required more than punishment (though there will be a time and a place for some form of punishment, no doubt).
Of course the New Testament echoes these important relationships: Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Both parents and children know the buttons to press to wind each other up. But we are not to stir up anger.
In fact, the Bible gives us some firm foundations on which to base our families. For example:
- Forgiveness. Just as God our Father has forgiven us and disciplines us for our good, so parents must be ready to forgive too.
- Even more, whereas God is a perfect Father, I’m not. Parents need to model humility too, and sometimes seek the forgiveness of their children. This is also training them – by example.
- Conversation. Jesus modelled prayer for us. He was in a constant prayerful state of mind, praying to his Father. You are told to pray to your heavenly Father.
- Likewise, families and relationships thrive on conversation, and wither in silence. We need to spend more time looking at each other and less time looking at screens (phone, computer, TV).
- Family meals. So, so many key moments in the Bible revolve around meals. The first covenant was sealed by a feast on Mt Sinai, and the most joyous of offerings in Leviticus was the peace offering – a meal near God.
The new covenant was also sealed by a meal which we remember in the Lord’s Table.
That meal points forward to a wedding feast yet to come!
When the church at Laodicea are told to repent, Christ says he’ll come in and eat with them.
- Meals are key times of family bonding and fellowship. Cherish them. Sit at a table. Take time.
Within families there is also the relationship of husband and wife. When reading Proverbs you always need to keep in mind that they are wise sayings from a father to a son. So there are lots of warnings about wives, but not so much about husbands. But, precisely because they are wise sayings, women can (and should) flip them and read them the other way round.
So Proverbs 27:15 A quarrelsome [or nagging] wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day. Likewise, of course, is a fault-finding husband. Such proverbs are to help you either avoid marrying such a person – or to avoid being one. What is it like being married to you? Could you make it better than it is?
Even worse is, of course, adultery. Proverbs is scathing. Proverbs 6:27-29
27 Can a man scoop a flame into his lap
and not have his clothes catch on fire?
28 Can he walk on hot coals
and not blister his feet?
29 So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.
He who embraces her will not go unpunished.
Adultery leads to death; don’t go there. And as we saw a few weeks ago the answer to such things is to whole-heartedly, thoroughly, completely enjoy your spouse. Proverbs 5: 18-19
18 Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you.
Rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 She is a loving deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts satisfy you always.
May you always be captivated by her love.
Again, wives, enjoy your husbands.
But there is particular, unique delight that comes to parents whose children turn to God. Read Proverbs 23:22-25 (our main reading again). Notice v24 in particular: The father of godly children has cause for joy.
Literally, “the father of the righteous will rejoice hugely with huge rejoicing” – it brings a lot of pleasure! Some of us have been blessed to see our own children become Christians, get baptised, and go on through life with the Lord – the joy is enormous. It brings greater happiness than any amount of education, or career advancement, or anything that most people revere in life.
What’s more it’s clear from this reading (and elsewhere in Proverbs) that spiritual training for children is the responsibility of both mother and father. You both must do your part.
Sadly, Proverbs also has many wise sayings about the grief that wayward children bring their parents. Godliness isn’t inherited, and ultimately it’s not even taught. All we can do is put our children on good paths and pray the Lord would save them.
No “average” family
But we need to recognise that families are all different. The average household in the UK has 2.4 people in it (ONS data).
- Some families have one parent, through divorce, death, abandonment, etc.
- Many families are complicated by divorce followed by one or both parents remarrying – leading to adoptions, step-parents, etc.
- Some families are built around same-sex couples. While the Bible doesn’t recognise such a couple as “married” (which, as Proverbs makes clear, is between one man and one woman), to those in that relationship and all associated children, it’s family.
- These situations might not fit an ideal model, but they are nonetheless “family”.
In fact, realising that families that don’t fit some kind of perfect “model” is actually really helpful when you come back to thinking about the local church as a family.
- Brought together by the will on one Father.
- Bonds of love and togetherness that go beyond what the eye can see.
- An openness and honesty; some falling out; learning to forgive again and again.
- None of it perfect; no two churches any more alike than two families are alike. And yet, we’re family.
Church is family
Briefly then, we’ll close with some high thoughts of church as family. The most important place is simply this: Read Romans 8:16-17. If you know anyone who has adopted a child, you’ll know that the love of a step-parent and child can run deep. The love is not “as if” family. They are family.
God your Father loves you. He gave his only begotten Son to adopt you. And you are to be like that Son. You are to be like your Father, as revealed to you in the Son. Read Ephesians 5:1-2 and Ephesians 5:8.
The language of children living in light continues in Philippians 2:15.
Because although you’re “only” adopted by God, you are nonetheless indwelt by him. By the Spirit of Adoption, you are in Christ and Christ is in you. The benefits of daily family life are multiplied over and over in Christ. Forgiveness, help, love, security, conversation, meals.
And so it’s no surprise that your daily family life must mirror your relationship with God. 1 Timothy 3:4 highlights the need for church leaders to lead their own homes well. 1 Timothy 5:14 is about help for widows, and shows how being a good parent is a fair barometer of godly character.
You might think you can fool people in church about how godly you are, but the family you live with know better, don’t they?
Families are messy. Relationships fracture and have to be mended. We are family. Wonky and messy as they all are. We’re a family brought together by God’s grace. We need to be a family who lives out grace to one another, and who seek to delight our heavenly Father every day.
And it starts in your home.