“Roll out of bed. Feed the baby. Change her nappy. Load the washing machine. Eat breakfast. Tidy up. Dress two children. Brush their teeth. Brush their hair. Have a shower. Get dressed. Wash the dishes. Hang out the laundry. Feed the baby. Walk to the shops with three kids in tow. Shop. Walk home and unpack the bags. Prepare lunch. Wash children’s faces. Wipe down the table. Read kids some stories. Put them in bed. Feed baby. Change her nappy. Settle baby.”
That’s one mother’s description of her morning – much of her time devoted to her children. With this as an introduction, let’s look at some principles for caring not only for our children, but also for each other, both within the family and within the local church.
Parental Family Care
God’s plan is that all children grow to maturity under the care of their parents. This truth was established in the Garden of Eden when God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and increase in number (Gen. 1:27-28). Genesis 2:23-25 tells us that these parents of the first family were married. As a husband is told to leave his parents and “be united” to his wife, God’s plan is that marriage is a lifetime commitment with a unity (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:6). Healthy marriages are important for the development of children to maturity.
A baby is totally dependent on its mother; she is its life-support system. When Paul mentions a mother “caring for her little children,” he is referring to all a mother does for her baby (1 Th. 2:7). Then he says that this is because she loves and cares for her child to the point of being selfsacrificing by putting the interests of her child ahead of her own. She expends energy day and night for her child and is gentle and protective. Their relationship is very close. They spend lots of time together responding to each other.
Paul also says that a father should be “encouraging, comforting and urging” his children along the journey to maturity (1 Th. 2:11-12). A father is like a personal coach helping them face the challenges and disappointments of life, training them in the way they should go and bringing out the best in them. This is done according to the needs of each child. A father needs to know his children well, in order to know when and how to help each one develop.
Clearly, parents have the most influence on the physical, emotional and spiritual development of their children. On the other hand, the children’s responsibility is to obey their parents in the Lord and respect them: “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 go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1-4 NIV).
Church Family Care
The Bible views the local church as an extended family. It says we are a family of believers and members of God’s household (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 4:17). Our close relationship is indicated by referring to each other as brother and sister (1 Tim. 5:1-2). After all, God is our common Father and we are His spiritual children (Eph. 3:14-15; 1 Jn. 3:1-2). Let’s look at how we can be a healthy church family by caring for each other.
• Gentle Love
As mentioned before, Paul cared for fellow believers in Thessalonica like a mother cared for her children: “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Th. 2:7-8). This kind of care was gentle, protective, loving, personal and self-sacrificing. It was based on an ongoing relationship as he shared his life with other Christian brothers and sisters. We need to spend a considerable amount of time with those in our church family in order to know them well and be able to respond appropriately according to their personalities and needs.
Paul also coached the believers in Thessalonica like a father coaches his children: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (1 Th. 2:11- 12). As discussed above, this kind of care in the local church is needed if we are to encourage and urge each other to grow towards maturity. Personal coaches spend considerable amounts of time with their trainees in order to know them well and be able to motivate them.
God’s plan is for Christians to mature under the care of a local church. Our relationships in the church should be similar to those of a healthy family. When Paul wrote to Timothy, who was probably in his 30s, he said, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). These verses emphasize the importance of our attitude towards each other and the need to treat each other with respect. We should not speak forcefully to those who are older, but instead appeal to them as we would to our father. We should treat our brothers and sisters in the church as if we were in the same family.
Church Family Skills
We have seen that just as families raise children to maturity, churches are to raise believers to maturity. But there are differences between living in a family and living in a church.
Good connections with each other lead to caring relationships. This means making time and finding opportunities in our daily life and in our church life for spurring one another on to develop loving relationships, practice good deeds and encourage each other: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Two ways in which this can be done are by joining small groups and by practicing hospitality.
Small groups enable us to connect with others and develop closer relationships with them. It is not enough to just attend a service for a few hours on Sunday; we need to develop personal relationships. Hospitality is sharing a meal with others and getting to know them better. It involves opening our lives to others so they can open their lives to us. This enables others to learn more about us and in turn they will become more confident to share what life is like for them.
Connecting with others involves spending time together and conversing. James wrote that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Jas. 1:19). Who speaks the most during our conversations? If we do, then we are probably not listening enough. Let’s listen so we can reflect the person’s feelings and summarize what they are telling us. Then listen again to their response and see if we were right. Don’t assume we know what life is like for them. If we haven’t understood properly, they can correct us. Such active listening is a vital skill in caring for each other.
Don’t ask too many questions; a conversation should not be an interrogation. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no, as they limit the conversation. Instead, use open-ended questions like, “What did you do next?” and “How did you feel when that happened?”
Of course, if a Christian brother or sister asks us about our personal life, we should be ready to tell the truth. If we want to care for each other, we should be ready to share with each other. For example, if there are no new prayer needs at a small group meeting, that does not necessarily mean that there are none. It may mean that no one is sharing.
If we connect with others and if we listen attentively when we are with them, then we will come to know what life is like for them. What do we do next? If they are not in a life-threatening situation, avoid the temptation to step in to solve their problems. It’s their life, not ours. It’s better if they learn the life skills needed to solve their own problems. Otherwise, they will always be dependent on others. This is where empathy comes in. Empathy has been likened to walking in someone else’s shoes and seeing life from their perspective: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom. 12:15-16).
Empathy is seen in the lives of both Jesus and the apostle Paul. Both openly shared their lives with those to whom they were ministering. They didn’t want people to have to always rely on their assistance. In the church we need to help people to help themselves. We should act like a coach, not like a repair man. A coach trains and encourages others for the task before them, he doesn’t solve the problem for them. Listen to them, and help them see the steps needed to solve their problem.
And if others help us in this way, we need to be willing to accept their empathy and encouragement. Otherwise, they are denied the opportunity of caring for another believer.
Lessons For Us
Let’s thank God for mothers and their devoted care for their families. Let’s encourage fathers to take up their role of loving their wives and coaching their children towards maturity, and let’s teach the next generation of parents through our good example to develop strong lasting marriages. Do we have a lifetime commitment to our spouse, or is our marital relationship threatened when we have difficulties?
We have two families; our physical one and our spiritual one. Parental family care breaks down when the parents are selfcentered, as this leads to fractured families. Likewise, church family care breaks down when its members are self-centered as this leads to fractured churches. Let’s protect against this by following Paul’s advice and developing gentle love for each other like a mother, encouraging each other like a father and respecting each other as members of an extended family. We can do this by developing strategies and skills for connecting, listening and showing empathy to each other.
Published, June 2011
What can we learn from her life?
About 2,000 years ago, a young teenage girl named Mary lived in Nazareth, Israel, a despised town of which people said, “Can anything good come from there?” (Jn. 1:46 NIV).
Mary lived under her father’s authority and had been trained by her mother to protect her father’s honor. In public, she dressed according to their social standing, behaved according to good manners, and spoke to men only when spoken to. Otherwise she would bring shame to her father.
In her day, a Jewish woman’s words didn’t count – everything had to be supported by male witnesses. Every day, the Jewish man thanked God that he had not been born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Women received little education and were not taught the Law of God. In public, they were veiled; an uncovered head could result in divorce. Their social relationships were confined to other women. They did not eat with male guests, and men were discouraged from talking to women.
Mary’s mother managed the household under her husband’s direction. She managed the budget, prepared the food and saw to the welcoming rituals when her husband entertained. She reared and educated the children, the father taking over the son’s education and discipline at puberty. When she left the house to go shopping, she was usually accompanied by a suitable companion to protect her husband’s name from mistakes she might make.
At puberty, daughters were expected to marry, and suitable husbands were found by the parents. Daughters had no choice in this, otherwise they would bring shame on the family. Marriage age was low – 18-24 years for the man, 13-16 years for the girl. It was a patriarchal society which placed women in the same category as one’s ox, donkey or possessions.
A women’s security in her husband’s family was limited by his legal right to divorce her if she caused an “impediment” to the marriage. A man could divorce his wife without her consent for reasons ranging from unchastity, to burning a meal, or finding a fairer woman. When they went to the synagogue the women sat separate from the men. At social occasions the women were always in the background.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, the contract probably being arranged by their fathers and finalized in a public ceremony in the town square. If the husband-to-be wanted to break the betrothal, he had to get a bill of divorce. Let’s see how Mary responded to the circumstances in her life and what we can learn about that for mothers.
Fear And Confusion
When an angel visited Mary she was afraid and confused. She was “greatly troubled at his words,” but the angel said “Do not be afraid” (Lk. 1:29-30). She knew about angels from the synagogue and an angel had visited Zechariah, the priest in the temple (Lk. 1:11). Angels usually visited men, not women. This was most unusual. What was going on? Why did it visit her, the least important one in the family, and not Joseph or her father? How would she tell Joseph about it; there were no male witnesses? Would he believe her being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35)?
Then there was the fear of rejection. To be pregnant while engaged was scandalous. If suspected of unfaithfulness she could be divorced or even put to death (Dt. 22:23-24). Would she be rejected by Joseph and left to bring up this child alone in a culture hostile to women – and probably remain unmarried for life? If she was also rejected by her father she could be forced into begging or prostitution to survive.
An Illegitimate Child
Although Jesus would have been easy to love, Mary faced many struggles. A child born during engagement was considered illegitimate. There would have been suspicions of adultery. People would have wondered, who was the father? Did the child look like Joseph? Mary would have faced this stigma for years, as the whole community would have known.
A Hated Child
Then she had to face the fact that people hated her child. Joseph and Mary escaped into Egypt when Jesus was a baby because the king wanted to kill Him (Mt. 2:13). Later, the respected religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus. They accused Him of blasphemy – of mocking God by claiming to forgive sins – and of breaking the Law (Lk. 5:21; Mt. 12:2), and planned to kill Him (Mt. 12:14). Mary would have felt this hatred as well, as she identified closely with her special son.
A Missing Child
Then there was the occasion when Jesus was lost for three days at the age of 12. Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched frantically for Him until they found Him among the teachers in the temple courts (Lk. 2:41-51). When His parents saw Him, they were astonished and Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Lk. 2:48). She didn’t know whether her firstborn was dead or alive. Who was He with? Had He been kidnapped? Where did He spend the night? She was very concerned for His safety.
Mary faced two tragedies that are not often thought about. First, Joseph probably died sometime after Jesus was 12 years old, leaving her to raise the children alone. The fact that Joseph is not named in Matthew 13:55 possibly indicates his death. This means that Mary was a single mother and Jesus, the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for his mother, brothers and sisters. This would have been a difficult time for Mary, bringing up her children without the support of a husband.
The second tragedy was when Jesus gave up His carpenter’s occupation and left home. The eldest son was expected to follow his father’s trade and position in society. In people’s eyes, Jesus dishonored His dead father when He left home on His messianic mission. He brought great shame on the family by giving up His responsibility as head of the household. That’s why Mary tried to get Jesus back into the household (Mk. 3:31-32).
A Rejected Child
His family said Jesus was insane; respected Jewish leaders said He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:21, 22). How would a mother cope with that? When she went to talk with Him, a messenger was sent through the crowd, but instead of replying to her concern, Jesus used the incident to teach the people the importance of putting God’s interests above family interests (Mk. 3:31-35). Mary could have felt rejected at this time. On another occasion we read that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). How difficult for Mary, with such disputes between her children.
She Saw Her Child Die
Then Mary had to endure watching Jesus being crucified. Although most of the disciples had fled, she didn’t abandon Him (Jn. 19:25). When Jesus was eight days old, Simeon said that Mary would suffer as though she had been stabbed with a sword (Lk. 2:35). What suffering it would be for a mother to see her firstborn wrongfully accused, humiliated and executed.
How did Mary cope with motherhood that brought fear – the shame of an illegitimate child who was hated by the king and who went missing, being a single mother of a son who brought disgrace on the family and was rejected by society and executed before her eyes?
Followed God’s Will
Although she was afraid when the angel visited her, she accepted God’s will. After being told that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, Mary accepted the situation saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). She calls herself a female slave, one who waits on her Master and obeys in complete submission.
She believed that it would be a miraculous conception involving the Holy Spirit and God’s power, because the angel said “nothing is impossible with God.” Unlike Moses, she readily accepted the task. When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses said he was not good enough, and asked God to send someone else (Ex. 4:10, 13).
Mary rejoiced so much in what God was going to do with her life that she wrote a song about it (Lk. 1:46-55). She trusted that God was going to bring much blessing out of her life as mother of the Messiah. She knew that children are a gift from the Lord (Ps. 127:3).
In her song Mary praised God for His salvation (Lk. 1:46-49), for His mighty deeds (50-53), and for His faithfulness to Israel (54-55). Her song is full of Old Testament references. Clearly, Mary trusted God and the Scriptures.
A mother who praises God and knows His word makes a difference in her children and family. For example, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy’s mother and grandmother passed on their Christian faith to him. Because Mary accepted God’s will for her life and praised Him, she was highly favored by God (Lk. 1:28, 30).
Protected Her Children
From the moment Jesus was born His life was in danger. When King Herod threatened His life, Mary and Joseph took Jesus and escaped to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15). Mary also protected Jesus’ identity. Though she knew He was the promised Messiah, she kept this to herself. At His birth she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” and as he grew up she “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:19,51).
Showed LoveAnd Devotion
Mary’s love and devotion for Jesus began before He was born and lasted beyond the cross. She stood near the cross when He was crucified (Jn. 19:25-27) and was present with the believers in the upper room after the Ascension (Acts 1:14). Mary’s was an enduring love and devotion.
Mary was rewarded: she was there when Jesus was raised from the dead; she was among the 120 when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost; she saw her other children accept Jesus as Messiah; and today she’s in heaven.
A Supportive Husband
Although Joseph planned to divorce Mary quietly when he found out she was pregnant, so he “wouldn’t expose her to public disgrace,” he changed his mind after an angel appeared to him (Mt. 1:18-25). Joseph obeyed the angel’s message and married Mary. Mary had a supportive husband for at least 12 years. They were partners in raising Jesus to adulthood.
Husbands should love their wives, “just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Specifically we are to love our wives as our own bodies, helping them grow, and making them feel special (Eph. 5:28-29). This means supporting them by expressing confidence in them rather than controlling them, and praising them rather than criticizing them or taking them for granted.
An Understanding Friend
Mary visited Elizabeth, an older relative who was also expecting a child through miraculous circumstances – she was past the age of childbearing. Her child was John the Baptist. Elizabeth encouraged Mary during a difficult time.
Extended families are important and this should include the local church. Look around and you’ll find someone who needs encouragement. Or maybe you could offer to baby-sit so a husband and wife can have a day or evening to themselves. When her children were not present to support Mary in her grief at the cross, John was asked to care for her (Jn. 19:26-27), an example of the extended family.
A Model Mother
Mary was a special mother who had a special child. She lived in a society that was very different from ours, yet she had to deal with fear and a child that was hated, rejected and abused. She endured tragedy and suffering and she didn’t always understand what her child was saying or doing (Lk. 2:50). Yet the characteristics of the mother God chose to nurture His Son are a model for motherhood: she followed God’s will, knew His Word, praised Him enthusiastically, protected her children from danger, and showed them much love and devotion. She also had the support of her husband and friends in the family of God. Mothers play a most important role in our families. They deserve our honor and support.
Published, May 2003
About 4,000 years ago a man made some choices that had catastrophic effects on his family. His name was Lot and the important events of his life are recorded for you to read in Genesis 13, 14 and 19.
Lot was a nomadic herdsman who lived in the Middle East and moved around the country with his uncle Abraham. They were both successful, each having many animals and employees. This led to conflict between the employees of the two men because they were competing for the use of the same pasture land.
Abraham was wise. He knew there was plenty of land for both families, so he suggested that they separate and move to different parts of the country. Out of kindness, he gave Lot the first choice of where to move and graze his herds.
So Lot had to make a decision. He chose the plain of Jordan because there was plenty of water and pasture land for his animals. He thought this would be the best for his business. He also chose to live near the city of Sodom, which had a reputation of being evil. Maybe he was thinking of pleasure and his social status. In the meantime, Abraham continued to live in the mountains and to worship God.
The Bible records the consequences of Lot’s choice in Genesis 14. In those days there were wars between the leaders of the different cities. In one of the battles, Lot and his family and all their possessions were captured by the enemy and taken away. Fortunately, when Abraham heard about this he came down from the hills and rescued Lot and his household from the enemy.
Some say this was an early warning for Lot to move from the evil city of Sodom. Eventually, a stronger warning was given because as a result of the great evil in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God had decided to destroy them.
In Genesis 19, we are told that God sent two angels as messengers to help Lot and his family escape the coming disaster, although they were not eager to leave. Then there was a volcanic eruption and the cities in the valley were destroyed. Sadly, Lot’s wife disobeyed the warning of the angels not to look back and died in the catastrophe.
As a result, Lot was left without a wife, or any possessions. He moved to the hill country and lived in a cave with his two daughters. He had lost nearly everything as a result of his choices.
What a contrast between Abraham and Lot! Even though Lot is described as righteous (2 Pet. 2:7-8), he apparently left God out of the picture when deciding where he and his family would live. Instead, he seemed to be driven by his love of business, pleasure and social status. The result was much trouble for him and his family, and little usefulness for God. Also, his descendants became the enemies of God’s people (Ps. 83:1-8). On the other hand, Abraham, also referred to as righteous, made wise choices, became known as the friend of God and was called the father of many nations (Jas. 2:21-23; Gen. 17:4-5).
This reminds me of the choices we all make during life, and the law of cause and effect. Many of the situations in our life are caused by our decisions. We should recognize that all of our choices have consequences.
We make decisions every day of our lives. These can be visualized as a series of forks or crossroads in the journey of life. For instance, as individuals we need to decide the following: Who will be our friends? What employment will we seek? Whom will we marry? How will we spend our recreation time? What kind of attitudes are we developing? How often will we read the Bible and pray? How often and where will we fellowship with other believers?
Parents need to make decisions such as the following: Where will we live? How many children will we have? What kind of education will our children receive? How much of the information available to us – from such sources as cable television and the global internet – will we allow ourselves and our family to take in, realizing that there is a huge amount of false information out there that can lead us astray?
All of the choices we make have consequences for us, for our family, for our friends and for our community. They result in behavior patterns and habits that lead to various events, situations and outcomes. If we realized ahead of time the consequences of our choices, we would surely be more careful to look to and trust God when making them. If Lot knew beforehand the consequences of his choices, don’t you think he would have re-thought those choices? Each choice we make either moves us towards God or away from Him and His will for us.
The Bible gives two graphic illustrations that are relevant to the subject of choices and consequences. These are a farmer who plants seeds (Gal. 6:7-9), and the builder who constructs a building (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
The first teaches us that we harvest whatever we plant. If we follow selfish desires, we will harvest destruction, but if we follow the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life. The farmer plants the seeds, which then grow. When they are full- grown the crop is harvested.
The crop may be vegetables, cereal grain, or fruit. But what actually grows depends on the seeds sown. If you sow corn seeds you will get corn, not cucumbers. If we sow weeds, we should expect only weeds as our crop.
Imagine you are planting a seed each time you make a choice, and that together these are growing into a crop. The principle is that we harvest what we plant. The question is: What kind of harvest can we expect from the choices we have made?
In the second illustration, our life’s activities are likened to the construction of a building. We are warned to make wise choices and be careful how we build, because whatever we build will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Those whose buildings survive will be rewarded.
In a period of 70 years, the average length of life according to Psalm 90:10, there are 25,567 days. A lifetime can be visualized as a building, such as a house, that is constructed by putting one brick in place each day. The challenge is whether your “building” (or those of your family members) will survive or be destroyed when tested?
Don’t be like Lot who thought, “What is good for my business is good for me and my family as well.” He harvested destruction, and all that he had built collapsed. His family life and business were devastated, although he survived “as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15 NIV).
Seek His Help
What we selfishly think is best may turn out for the worst and result in lots of trouble. How can we avoid such catastrophe? By being less like Lot and more like Abraham who, when faced with a choice, asked for God’s help. He was productive for God. Of course, God knows everything and can guide us through the Bible, through answered prayer, through the counsel of Christian friends and through our consciences. The question is: Are we seeking His help and listening to His advice?
In many ways, we end up harvesting what we plant and living with what we build. Remember, your choices have important consequences. They affect your life both now and later.
Published, November 1997
Tough Love is the name of a self-help program for parents of children with unacceptable behavior. It involves weekly meetings where parents encourage and support each other to set boundaries for behavior in their families and put appropriate consequences in place when these boundaries are breached. The desire is that a change in their behavior will lead to a change in the behavior of their children. Tough Love is characterized by boundaries and consequences.
It is interesting that the God who created us also set boundaries for our behavior, and consequences when those boundaries are breached. The first boundary given to mankind was, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17 NIV). The consequence was death. A boundary and its consequence to test man’s obedience were in place before sin came into the world. When Adam and Eve breached this boundary and sinned, they hid from God (Gen. 3:6-10). After they acknowledged their guilt, God said that the punishment would include death (Gen. 3:19). Paul repeated this message when he wrote that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
The Ten Commandments were also boundaries given to show the Jews their disobedience to God (Ex. 20:1-17; Rom. 7:7). When they persistently broke the most important commandment to love the Creator God and not idols (Mt. 22:36-38), God sent prophets to warn them of the consequence. As they ignored these warnings, God implemented the consequence and they were expelled from their homeland – by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans – and scattered among other nations. God was tough towards their sin. He did this so they would repent of their wicked ways (Hos. 2:7). But the prophets told of future restoration, an example of God’s love for Israel (Hos.1:10-11; 2:14-23).
In Old Testament times, God also provided a way for people to restore their relationship with Him. He told them to sacrifice animals on an altar (Ex. 20:24). These sacrifices paid the penalty for their disobedience, except the death penalty (Num. 15:30-36). In this case the penalty was transferred to a sacrifice which was a substitute for the person (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22).
Sin is the breaching of God’s boundaries. In the New Testament, God promised to forgive our sins if we confess them to Him (1 Jn. 1:9). This forgiveness is based on the death of Christ. It is similar to, but different from the Old Testament sacrifices. The similarity is the removal of sin by the sacrificial death of another living being. The difference is that this being was the perfect Son of God who not only paid the penalty for past sins of individuals, but for all people and for future sins as well. His was one sacrifice that didn’t need to be repeated. He was a substitute who took the consequence for all who believe.
God allows us to experience hardship and suffering (2 Cor. 6:4-5; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). These are consequences of living in a sinful world where we experience the results of wrong choices (Rom. 8:22). God doesn’t always rescue us from these. Also, believers are to practice tough love towards other believers who are: divisive, false teachers (Rom. 16:17-19; Ti. 3:10; 2 Jn. 10), sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, slanderous, drunkards, swindlers (1 Cor. 5:11), idle, disruptive (2 Th. 3:6, 14-15), unrepentant (Mt. 18:15-17), or ungodly (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Lessons For Us
God’s love is tough towards sin but loving towards the sinner. Non-Christians need to accept God’s offer of Christ as the substitute who died for their sin, otherwise they face eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46). Christians need to appreciate what He’s done for them and anticipate their eternal inheritance.
Christian parents need to practice tough love. Instead of always rescuing our children, let them experience the consequences of unacceptable behavior and pray that this will cause them to repent and move back within God’s boundaries for them. Most of all, we need to live within the boundaries that God has given us, and be good examples.
Published, October 2007
A Father’s Day message
This Father’s Day, let’s look at three examples of fathers – in the Godhead, the family and the Church.
Father In Heaven
God is everyone’s Father because He created humanity in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). But not all are His children: Jesus told unbelievers that their father was the devil: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (Jn. 8:44 NIV).
Believers have been adopted as sons into God’s family: “God sent His Son … to redeem … that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts … who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’ … Since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Gal. 4:4-7; Rom. 8:15,23; 9:4). Believers are God’s spiritual children. He provides their needs, guides their lives, and offers them a wonderful inheritance. His presence and promises bring strength and security.
Believers are to depend on God like children depend on their parents. That’s why they call Him “Abba, Father.” The English equivalent for “Abba” is “Dad.” It expresses the close personal relationship between believers and their heavenly Father. In New Testament times servants were forbidden to use this word when addressing the head of the household, as it was reserved for family members. Jesus used the same word “Abba” when He prayed to His Father in the garden of Gethsemane (Mk. 14:36).
Believers should respect and revere their heavenly Father and obey His commands (1 Pet. 2:17; 1 Jn. 5:3). He should also be the object of their prayers, praise and thanksgiving (Eph. 5:20; Eph. 3:14-19; 1 Pet. 1:3).
Fathers In The Family
A father is a provider and leader for those in his household. The Bible says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This describes a father’s role in the family – to train, instruct, discipline and correct his children. He is to be their coach, but not treat them in such a way as to cause anger or discouragement (Col. 3:21). The training should be “of the Lord,” which means in accordance with God’s will as it is revealed in the Bible. Earthly fathers should be models of the heavenly Father.
Children should honor and respect their parents and obey them “in the Lord.” This means obeying them in all matters that are in accordance with God’s will (Eph. 6:1-2; 1 Tim. 3:4). This is important because their relationship with their earthly father can influence their relationship with their heavenly Father.
Fathers In The Church
During a missionary journey to the city of Thessalonica, Paul, Silas and Timothy preached, taught, and established a church. After leaving, Paul wrote them a letter that said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (1 Th. 2:10-12). They set an example for leadership in the local church by caring for the congregation as “a father deals with his own children.” This involved encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God. They were coaches and mentors of the congregation.
They also established elders to continue this work after they left (1 Th. 5:12-14). The elders were told to do four things. First, they were to “warn those who are idle.” Some had stopped working and were busy bodies. They needed to be warned to get back to work and stop being lazy and living off charity. Second, they were to “encourage the timid.” Those who were shy, introverted or afraid needed friends to bring them out of their shell. Third, they were also to “help the weak.” Those weak in the faith needed support and reminders of God’s power. Finally, they were to “be patient with everyone.” They were not to get angry or irritated when provoked, but be sympathetic and accept those with different convictions on debatable matters.
Elders should also be models of the heavenly Father in the local church. The congregation should respect them, “hold them in the highest regard in love” and obey them (Heb. 13:17).
Fathers And Children
We are all children, and some of us are fathers. As children of God, in the family and in the church, the Bible says we should respect our fathers and hold them in highest regard, valuing our close relationship with them. They help us grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. Those who are fathers are to be like coaches and mentors in the family and in the church. May we all respect and serve each other faithfully in accordance with these biblical principles.
Dealing with breakdowns in communication
A friend of ours with a nine-month-old daughter said, “Parenting is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most delightful.” Will she still think it’s delightful 15 years from now? Let’s look at how parents can survive during the often turbulent years of adolescence.
Adolescence is a time of great change as children develop from being physically and emotionally dependent on their parents to being independent and self-sufficient. Instead of being under the control of their parents they’re moving towards freedom of choice and autonomy. It’s a time when their personal values are being developed as they separate from their parents in many ways and form a separate identity.
Luke 2:40-52 is all we are told in the Bible about the life of Jesus Christ between boyhood and maturity. First, He grew physically, mentally and spiritually (v. 40). Then we see Him at 12 years among the teachers in the temple “listening to them and asking them questions” (v. 46). At this stage He still lived at home and was obedient to His parents (v. 51). In the next chapter, we see Jesus beginning His ministry at age 30 (Lk. 3:23). Did you notice the only verse about His adolescence? “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:52).
Adolescence is a time of growth and development towards maturity. The areas of growth mentioned are:
- Mental – The mind should increase in wisdom.
- Physical – The body should increase in stature and strength.
- Spiritual – A strong relationship should be developed with God. Jesus put God first, even above the concerns of His parents (Lk. 2:49,51).
- Social – Strong relationships should be developed with other people. Jesus developed strong relationships with the apostles and was followed by large crowds of people (Lk. 5:15; 8:40; 22:14).
Growth and development in teens can be erratic and unbalanced. Teens may be more advanced in one area than another, and their behavior can fluctuate between childish and mature. Conflict between parents and teens occurs when they misunderstand the stages along the path to maturity. Teens often seek more freedom for themselves, while parents may restrict them, still treating them as younger children. Teens claim their rights, while parents often look for teens to act more responsibly. Teens can be opinionated, rebellious and moody. No wonder adolescence is such a difficult time for teens and their parents!
If the teen years are too smooth and peaceful, the teenager is probably suppressing something. This may lead to prolonged adolescence where the teen remains strongly attached to parents rather than progressing toward adulthood. Some tension and conflict between teens and their parents is normal. Let’s see what we can learn from an example.
After a very difficult period in her family, a mother wrote this message to her teens: “I have come to realize with much sadness that I have failed you as a mother. I have nurtured two children – who now think they are adults – into very selfish beings. Instead of teaching you that we all need to help each other, I’ve smothered you with help and taught you only that ‘Mom will do it!’ Instead of teaching you the true meaning of ‘give and take,’ I’ve taught you only that I’m here to give and you’re here to take.
“You’ve grown up to think that once you reach 18 you’re free to do whatever you like. I’ve failed to help you see how this can impact other people. I’ve failed to show you that along with privileges come responsibilities, especially in relation to the household and family.
“I’ve failed to show you that living together is caring for each other. Instead, I’ve taught you that I will always pick up, clean up and do whatever else is necessary to keep this household running smoothly.
“I thought it was more important to love you and give to you, and have missed the message you were getting. I see now that I failed to teach you to put aside your own needs to care for others. I thought I was showing that by my actions. I was wrong. I have only taught you to take. I have not taught you responsibility towards other people – to look for ways to serve them. Instead of teaching you what Jesus taught by example, to serve others, I have obviously taught you to put yourselves first.
“I do not know how to change this. I am paying the price of raising two selfish children who want their rights, but are unwilling to accept their responsibilities or the consequences of their actions. I love you both with all my heart, but I have failed, so I quit!”
“Get off my back!”
The son replied: “I’m 18, not 2! I’m old enough to be able to live my life without added pressures from parents about school, church, friends and girlfriends. And whether you like it or not you have to let go. I’m old enough to choose my friends, and what I’m going to do with my life. Could you get off my back? I know I’ve disappointed you in your high expectations for me, but could you try accepting the way I am and love me like that?”
Soon after this confrontation, a friend wrote to the mother: “It’s tough being a parent. Most parents try to do their best for their children. Some don’t do well because they don’t know any better. Others do a good job but can’t see it themselves. There is no instruction manual for parenthood. You have to make choices daily to address all sorts of problems. From what I see, you are making right choices.
“I’m no expert, but I’ve learned that all people go through stages as they mature. From birth, we are dependent on our parents; we watch them and copy what they do. In the next stage, we go against almost everything our parents say and do. This is the hard stage, but necessary, because we find out more about who we are. We know what parents are, but until we pull against them we never really know who we are. The next stage can also be hard, but good, because we become independent, learning to stand on our own two feet, even though we may be knocked down by bad choices and lack of experience. But these stages are important; unless we go through them we never reach the stage of interdependence, where we learn to work and live together in harmony.
“Although what’s happening isn’t pleasant, it doesn’t have to be a bad time. In setting boundaries, you are doing your children a great service in helping them become responsible and more considerate of others. Without strong boundaries this lesson is much harder to learn. Not having boundaries often leads to a life of selfishness and unhappiness.
“I learned from my mom that there were a lot of years as her children grew up where she was taken for granted. It’s a time of tears and pain. Be patient, continue to set boundaries and confront them, and your children will one day show their appreciation. Never doubt their love. It’s just hard for them to express when they’re so busy focusing on themselves.”
An Example: Eli And His Sons
Parents of teens should not be weak and indulgent towards them as Eli was. This High Priest of Israel let his sons grow into “wicked men” with “no regard for the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:12 niv). He “failed to restrain them” and didn’t rebuke them until he was very old (1 Sam. 2:22-25; 3:13). He honored his sons more than God (1 Sam. 2:29). He let them do what they liked, and they grew into adult priests who were out of control. Don’t let your teenagers do whatever they like. Instead, confront them with appropriate boundaries, and consequences if they cross those boundaries: “If you do this, then this will happen.”
Christians are not guaranteed success in parenting. Eli was a high priest in Israel, but he didn’t discipline his sons and we read of the sad results. One qualification for leaders in the local church is good management of their own children, resulting in respect and obedience (1 Tim. 3:4,12).
We should treat our adolescent children as God treats us – after all, we are His children (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 8:16; 1 Jn. 3:1). God loves and cares for us regardless of our attitudes and behavior. He sets boundaries for us and lets us know the consequences for obedience and disobedience. He lets us make our own decisions and learn how to live for Him through our experiences. We should do likewise as parents, giving our teenagers more responsibility each year so they learn to make decisions and become mature adults. Remember, parents can be likened to birds that are preparing their young to fly – but we can’t do it for them.
Don’t exasperate your teenage children with unreasonable demands, undue harshness or constant nagging (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Instead, be firm but reasonable, treat them with dignity and respect, and have empathy by trying to see life from their perspective. Identify the important issues and confront them, letting the others go. Begin treating them as young adults, as their childish days are behind them – they are no longer infants (1 Cor. 13:11; Heb. 5:12-14).
The task of training children is ending, and they are now old enough to take more responsibility for themselves. If we teach our pre-teens to choose the right path in life, then they are more likely to remain on it when they are older (Prov. 22:6).
Encourage your teenager’s self-esteem by showing affection, praising positive behavior, and recognizing efforts and achievements. We all need encouragement (Heb. 10:25).
Don’t give up on your adolescent children. Be patient like the Lord, and like the father of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32; 2 Pet. 3:9). You must be prepared to let them go their own way and make choices that you may not like. Most importantly, pray that your teenagers would seek the Lord’s will for them and follow it, make wise decisions and be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
Those of us who are not parents of teenagers should be good examples and mentors for them. Teens need recognition and affirmation. Their parents need encouragement and support.
Published, December 2005 (together with Jean Hawke)
From The New Zealand Landscape
We enjoyed a family holiday in New Zealand last year. Most of our time was spent as tourists travelling around the countryside and admiring the scenery. While I took photographs and did some hiking, my wife made teddy bears and visited craft shops, and our teenage children socialized and did some in-line rollerskating whenever possible. We also renewed friendships with our relatives and other Christians.
In many areas of New Zealand white wooden crosses along the roadside mark the site of fatal accidents. These are memorials to those who have died, but they can also remind drivers of the dangers they face. For example, upon seeing a cross, drivers may check their speed and drive more carefully. Of course, vehicular accidents happen despite road safety campaigns and warning signs. Similarly, couples and families have accidents in life despite warnings in the Scriptures.
The landscape of New Zealand is characterized by mountains, lakes and sheep. These three features remind me of three things that healthy marriages and families need: enduring partnerships, power for each day, and Christian fellowship. We can also view these three needs as commitments – to our spouse, to God and to a local church.
New Zealand’s Southern Alps feature snow-capped peaks and glaciers. At Mount Cook National Park climbers prepared to scale the alpine peaks. Some advertised for climbing partners as the terrain was too dangerous to explore alone. Those climbing alpine mountains require reliable team mates and proper equipment. Connected by ropes for hours each day, this is not a place for weak commitment. In such situations, if you stopped and did your own thing you would be endangering yourself and others. In this way, climbing reminds me of marriage.
Paul referred to Titus as his “partner and fellow worker” (2 Cor. 8:23), which is an ideal description of the relationship between husband and wife. At times those who are married will need to depend on the endurance, strength and patience of the other partner. But if both are committed to Christ, then He is part of the team and promises to help through difficult circumstances (Mt. 11:28-30).
God invented marriage (Gen. 2:24-25), and Jesus endorsed the importance of marriage between one man and one woman when He said that no one should separate a couple that God has joined together (Mt. 19:4-8). Christians are commanded to always be faithful to their marriage partners (Heb. 13:4). This means that marriage is a lifelong commitment, which is consistent with God’s command that the love between a husband and wife be like that between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-23). Therefore it is wise to count the cost beforehand rather than to leap into such a commitment too quickly. Do not be deceived. The idea of a marriage only lasting as long as it “works” or until one finds a more attractive partner comes from Satan not from the Scriptures. Similarly, the idea of living together as a couple outside of marriage shows a lack of commitment to each other and lack of obedience to the Scriptures.
Two other great dangers that can destroy a marriage are sexual immorality and selfish ambition (Gal. 5:19-20). It is good to have ambitions as long as these are shared and agreed upon. But when little regard is held for the views and/or the welfare of the spouse, then the marriage is in danger of breakdown. Likewise sexual immorality or unfaithfulness always hurts the marriage relationship. One reason for this is that unfaithfulness to one’s spouse indicates unfaithfulness to God. Building a lasting, faithful partnership with your spouse improves your relationship with God as well as with each other.
Power For Each Day
New Zealand has many lakes that have formed as a result of volcanic and glacial activity. Much of the water in these lakes is harnessed to generate hydro-electric power. Because electricity cannot be stored, the power generated must, on a moment-by-moment basis, exactly match the power demanded.
Similarly, God’s power and strength for the believer cannot be stored; it needs to be available for use on a day-by-day basis. This power comes from the Holy Spirit as we participate in the divine nature (Acts 1:8; Eph. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). It relies on God-given faith, the truth of the Scriptures and prayer (Eph. 6:10-18).
In a Christian marriage the order of priority should be God first, spouse second and children third. Do not neglect your relationship with God as you need His divine power in your marriage and your family. Those who pray together are more likely to stay together. When both partners are committed to God, they have a solid foundation for their marriage. It also shows children what is really important in life.
According to the Old Testament, parents should remind their children daily about God’s promises and how He is working in their lives (Dt. 6:6-7). This can help children realize that God cares for them.
Our top priority should be to build a strong, lasting relationship with the Lord. Communicate with Him daily. Read and apply the Bible to your life. Ask God for guidance by praying about the needs in your marriage and family. Share the vision God has given you and help others in your family to develop their gifts. If God has put you together, then you should complement each other. He wants you to work together as a team in your mission for Him. Know what you are to do day by day and God will provide the power for you to do it.
New Zealand has lots of sheep. They are kept in flocks and follow one another as they move around the countryside. One day we spent about five minutes attempting to drive through a flock of sheep that was travelling on a road. This reminded me that God sees us as His sheep (Jn. 10:11; Heb. 13:20). He puts us in local churches (or flocks) because we need ongoing relationships with other believers. Just as children are to grow up within families, believers are to grow up within local churches.
The local church is where we are to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Th. 5:11). We are to talk regularly with local believers and not be isolated from them (Mal. 3:16). God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Likewise, neither couples nor families are meant to be isolated. Instead we should “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24-25). Unfortunately, some give up the habit of meeting collectively with other believers, which leads to a lack of mutual encouragement, and increases the likelihood of being deceived by sin and hardened against God (Rom. 1:12; Heb. 3:13).
Marriages fail when communication ceases and people who once worked together as partners begin to lead separate lives. Some believers also give up on Christian fellowship and choose to isolate themselves from other Christians. For various reasons they may drop out of the local church, not realizing the importance of ongoing fellowship for their spiritual health. Did you know that statistics show that married people are physically more healthy than unmarried people of similar circumstances? This research not only promotes marriage, but it also indicates the benefits of companionship and fellowship.
Some couples and families stop attending a local church when they move to another city. Since one of the purposes of marriage is to raise children to become believers (Mal. 2:15), if the family does not attend a local church, the children will miss out on Christian fellowship. It is clear from Scripture that parents should endeavor to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. For example Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers (2 Tim. 1:5) who passed on their “sincere faith” to him in such a way that it was evident to Paul. To hear that their children are “walking in the truth” should give parents great joy (2 Tim 2:2; 3 Jn. 4).
Communication of the Christian faith should begin in the home and be supported by the local church. Is your home used for Christian fellowship such as Bible study and prayer? When Peter was in prison “many people had gathered and were praying” in Mary’s house (Acts 12:12). This kind of home fellowship is a great witness to your children and to the community.
Couples and families should build lasting relationships in a local church. This means sharing your lives with your Christian brothers and sisters (Mt. 12:49-50; Jas. 2:15) and praying collectively about your situations and needs. Stay where you can experience spiritual growth; where there are those you can learn from and follow and those you can help and encourage. How can you expect to have a lasting relationship with God if you cannot have a lasting relationship with other Christians (1 Jn. 4:20-21)?
Healthy Marriages And Families
Hopefully, New Zealand’s mountains, lakes and sheep have reminded us of the foundations of strong marriages and families. The health of your marriage and family depends on the strength of your commitments to God, your spouse and believers in the local church. These are important in a day when it seems difficult for many to make and keep commitments.
Keeping your marriage together affects your spouse, children, co-workers, friends, neighbors, fellow Christians – your whole life!
We began this article by mentioning the white wooden crosses that mark the sites of auto accidents in New Zealand. You may drive carefully to survive, but do you live to survive? Don’t back out of your commitments. God doesn’t want you and yours to become another marriage/family accident statistic along life’s highway.
“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” Genesis 2:24 NLT
As marriage was God’s idea from the beginning (Gen. 2:24), it’s appropriate to see what else He says about it in His Word, the Bible. We’ll look specifically at three aspects of Christian marriage – a new home, sacrificial love and mutual respect. It’s important to be aware of these topics whether you are married or about to be married.
A new home
The Bible says that a marriage occurs when a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. This definition – taught by Moses, Jesus Christ, and the apostle Paul (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5-6; Eph. 5:31) – has applied since the time of Adam and Eve. By inference, the woman also leaves her parents and is joined to her husband, to be united into one. They are no longer two individuals, but one new entity. A husband and wife become linked together and interdependent in a way that requires cooperation and unity.
A wedding is a celebration of a new relationship, a new allegiance, a new identity, a new home and a new family unit. The old relationship with their parents is now superseded by their new marital relationship. They should no longer be physically or emotionally dependent on their parents. Next to God, their top loyalty is to be to their spouse. This means shared goals, shared budgets, shared experiences in life and shared plans for the future. If one rejoices, the other rejoices. If one is hurt, the other is hurt.
First Corinthians 13 is a chapter about how Christians are to love each other in the local church. This kind of love (Greek: agape) is referred to by Paul six times in Ephesians 5:22-33, and is the same love essential to a Christian marriage.
What is agape love like? According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it is patient, kind, truthful, protecting, trusting, hopeful, enduring, and everlasting. It is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, evil-minded, or unjust. Such love is an ongoing commitment and an act of the will, not just a feeling or an emotion. It is a giving love, not a getting love – an unselfish love that is ready to serve. Elsewhere, we learn that it comes from God who demonstrated it when He sent Jesus to be our Savior: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Also, this love is an aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is available to all believers (Gal. 5:22).
How does the Bible describe what agape love is like in a Christian marriage? First, “you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the Church. He gave up His life for her” (Eph. 5:25). Husbands, do you love your wife enough to die for her? Is it reflected in how you spend money? In how much time you spend with her? In how you talk to her? In your prayers for her? Jesus is the example for a husband’s love for his wife.
Second, “Husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). You are to care for your wife and put her needs before yours. It’s like your wife is a part of you. It’s the closest relationship you can have with another person. Husbands, when you show this agape love in your marriage, it provides the emotional security that your wife needs and it creates a happy atmosphere in the home.
Leadership and Respect
In Ephesians 5:22-33 the husband and wife are given complementary roles. The husband is the leader in their relationship, just as Christ is the leader of His Church (Eph. 5:23). He is to love his wife with the same love that Christ showed His Church (Eph. 5:25). As all believers are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), “wives will submit to your husbands as you do the lord” (Eph. 5:22). Also “the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33).
What kind of leadership is this? It’s a cooperative relationship (Jn. 5:17-23; 1 Cor. 11:3), one that consults and listens to the viewpoints and desires of the wife and meets her needs. A benevolent leader acts in the interests of his wife and children, and delegates responsibilities when and where this is appropriate. He is a wise, prayerful and caring leader in physical and spiritual matters. Husbands, it’s your responsibility to show this kind of leadership in your marriage and family. Don’t shirk your responsibility or seek to dominate, dictate or control your wife.
What kind of respect and submission is this? As Christians commit their lives to the Lord, wives are to commit their lives to their husbands. They submit to Christ’s authority through their husbands. Wives, adapt yourselves to your husband; be loyal and respect your husband’s leadership; be a helper and companion like Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:18,20). Encourage your husband to take responsibility and lead the family. Showing respect and submission in your marriage provides what your husband needs.
Marriage is about commitment – giving ourselves to our spouses. It is about teamwork – husband and wife working together. Marriage is a journey – husband and wife travelling together. May godly leadership and mutual love and respect flourish in our homes as we follow God’s plan for marriage.
Published, March 2011