Family Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Family

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Family and family life are among God's greatest gifts, but they can easily become idols when they replace our primary identity in God's kingdom. We are all enmeshed in families; all of us are husbands or wives, brothers or sisters, parents or children. This evokes in us some level of mixed feelings.

In Scripture

In the primeval story of Creation and Fall, God created family by presiding over the "marriage" of Adam and Eve. Their "one flesh" union is meant to result in children ("be fruitful and multiply"), and thus family becomes a cornerstone of human society. Immediately after the Fall, we see how sin introduces brokenness into the family, as Adam and Eve feel shame before God and each other, accuse one another, and their son, Cain, murders his brother Abel.

Despite its inherent brokenness, God graciously uses family for redemptive purpose. God calls Abraham, promising descendants as many as the sand and the stars, telling Abraham that they will be a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1-5). This promise is then signified in the covenant of circumcision. So, while we continue to see evidences of the family's brokenness in Abraham and his descendants, it is also being redeemed by its place in the purposes of God.

As God builds relationship with the covenant people Israel, we see how family continues to play a prominent role. Israel is divided into clan and family units. Parents are enjoined to imprint their covenant obligations on their children at every opportunity in ordinary family life (Deut. 6:6-8).

Throughout the Old Testament there are many examples of families that fulfill this role and many that fail utterly to do so. Large portions of the biblical Wisdom literature are devoted to teaching proper relationships in family life so that children might learn to "fear the Lord."

With the coming of Christ we begin to see a subtle but profound change in the ways in which families are understood within God's purposes. Jesus himself, of course, grew up in what we may assume was a loving family. Yet at several points in his ministry he pointedly relativizes his family, and he taught his followers to do the same. When his mother and brothers come to take him home, thinking him disturbed or crazy, Jesus looks out at his crowd of followers and says, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:34, 35). Elsewhere he says, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37). The family of God clearly takes precedence over our biological families.

Redeeming Purpose Still, marriage and family continue to have a place in God's redeeming purpose. Once the church is established, families are still seen as a primary means by which faith is passed on. Peter declares on Pentecost, "The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39). God calls his people through the family, as well as one by one in the church's mission. The practice of household baptism (Acts 10:23-48, 16:33) also points to the place of family in the kingdom of God.

In their letters, the apostles have a great deal to say about how Christian families should operate, with advice for wives and husbands, parents and children. But the precedence of the kingdom over family is clearly maintained. Jesus displaces the relative position of the family within the coming kingdom of God when he declares that "When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25).

Points to Ponder

Rich Blessing Families are to be received thankfully as a rich blessing from the Creator, and when they function according to God's will, they serve to pass the faith on from generation to generation. In the end, however, families serve an interim purpose, and will fade away when the kingdom arrives in all its joy and fullness, replaced by the redeemed people of God as the bride of Christ.

Blessed and Hurt Most people have been both blessed and hurt in their family connections. Most families have some level of dysfunction or brokenness. Yet they also can give us a profound sense of identity, worth, and confidence as we enter the larger world. Ultimately, like everything else, families need redemption and renewal, and finally they must give way to our new identity as children of God and citizens of God's kingdom.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.