Series: Parenthood Category: Core Seminars, Family, Children, Manhood & Womanhood, Marriage, Parenting
[Teacher Notes: This lecture is the second half of a two-part introduction started in week one. The aim of lecture 2 is to begin press home the practical value of the theology we laid out in week one, especially to an audience well-trained in the importance of the local church and evangelism. We have noticed a wonder, and an awe, that tends to develop as the class starts to see how God builds up His church and spreads His word through the family. Practically: (1) Be sure at the outset to quickly run through the outline for the entire course, showing that you’re laying a foundation for everything to come—including the practical training in parenting itself. (2) In your introduction to Lecture 2, explain again why we start with these broad themes and call the class Parenthood, not Parenting. To that end, consider using D.A. Carson’s blurb for John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage: “This book set marriage within the matrix of the Bible’s fundamental themes. If its God-centered and gospel-centered theology is genuinely absorbed, many of the ‘how to’ questions will be answered.” That is EXACTLY the point of the first two lectures. Don’t be discouraged if some do not immediately see their value, as that may take time. (3) Don’t forget to introduce yourself and name your children and their ages, along with your co-teacher. (4) Be sure to pray in your introduction.]
The Ministry of the Family
We saw last week that God made “be fruitful and multiply” his first command at least in part because children and families are no afterthought to Him; nor are they to be used as tools, worshiped as idols, or viewed as obstacles. They are instead one of God’s primary ways in which God communicates something of who He is, what He is like, how He plans to relate to us, and us to relate to each other.
For the rest of this course, we want to focus on a key implication of this truth—namely, that because the family is a primary way we gain an accurate understanding of God and His purposes in the world, building families is a vital Christian ministry. We will see this in three areas: building families is a vital ministry to the church, it is a vital ministry to the world, and it is a vital ministry to the members of the family themselves. We will cover the first two topics this morning and next week, and the rest of the course will focus on the third topic.
II. An Important Caveat
Before we begin, however, we should consider a word of caution. We want to be careful not to begin to view children or family relationships in one of the ways we discussed last week—as idols. God did not make families primary to His revelation of Himself and His plan of salvation so that we could worship them, but so that we could better worship Him. Families are not ends in themselves (which appears to be how Mormons, for example, tend to conceive of them), but as models of redeemed relationships they are a means of knowing God and His plan of salvation better, and they are a means of blessing to the church and the world.
Remember, for example, that Jesus talked about the importance of leaving family to follow Him (e.g., Matt. 8:21) and said that “[m]y mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:20). Jesus also explained that human marriage is for this age only; there will be no marriage between humans in heaven (Luke 20:35-36). Christian singleness itself proves this point, as Paul considers it a great gift to the church (see I Cor. 7:25-40). Divinely gifted singleness is a powerful reminder that this world is passing away, and that wholehearted devotion to Christ is worth setting aside the joys and responsibilities of marriage (I Cor. 7:31).
[This should be an encouragement to you singles who are here. You can appreciate what God is doing through the family, but also recognize the unique calling He has given you.]
Yet, it is clear that both Jesus and Paul understood human families—while not eternal—as immensely significant for this age. The local church and civil government are not eternal, but they are of course profoundly important—not only for how God blesses us through them today, but because they point to eternal realities (the heavenly congregation and the kingdom of God). The same is true of the family. We know this very clearly, for example, because (as we saw last week) of how frequently both Jesus and Paul rely on the image of the family to help explain the nature of God, the Christian life, and the church today and in heaven. Just because building families is not the only valid Christian ministry, then, does not mean that it is not valid Christian ministry. Indeed, as we will now see, it is vital Christian ministry.
III. The Family Ministers To The Local Church.
First, building families is vital to the church, because the church is fundamentally a spiritual family. 9Marks ministries exists because “[e]very Timothy needs a Paul, and every church needs a model.” And we fervently hope that 9Marks and CHBC itself hold out a good model for other churches. But where do 9Marks and CHBC look for a model? Biblically, one place they should look is to the family. A well-ordered family is a powerful, God-ordained, universal witness to the church of what it ought to be. [Repeat.]
This is a key theme of Paul’s entire first letter to Timothy. “I am writing you these instructions,” Paul told Timothy, “so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15) (emphasis added). Invoking this theme, then, he instructs the young pastor Timothy to use his experience in a family to show him how to treat the members of his congregation: “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” (I Tim. 5:1-2).
And he tells Timothy that he can normally recognize elders in the church family using a similar method—by looking for the good spiritual and earthly father figures. “[An elder] must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect,” Paul wrote, “because [i]f anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (I Tim 3:4-5). As Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood puts it, “Paul in effect presents an argument: good family leadership must be one of the criteria for appointment to the position of overseer because the very same skills and competencies are required for overseeing ‘one’s own house’ and the Christian ‘house’” (Vern Poythress, The Church as Family, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 236). (This of course does not mean that single men cannot be elders—Paul himself was single, and he commends singleness as a blessing to the church.)
Building on these themes from I Timothy, that same theologian beautifully describes the process by which the church family develops:
Since God is our Father, we really are in a fundamental sense one family. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Family gives us yearnings toward our fellow family members. In the long run, Christians cannot be satisfied with nothing more than a large, anonymous meeting once or twice a week. The ties of love demand more frequent and more intimate relations. . . .
As Christians meet with one another and know one another more intimately, their sense of being one family grows. They begin to treat one another in the way Paul counsels: the older men as fathers, the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, the younger women as sisters (I Tim. 5:10). People are no longer faceless masks, but real people, bound together by family ties. The same logic operative in natural families begins then to play itself out in the church as God’s household. In the intimacy of this spiritual family, people find that they are treating one another in a manner that respects differences of age, sex, and personality.
In all of this, notice the beautiful symbiosis: the family blesses the church and the church blesses the family. “Because of the close relation between family and church, godly family life stimulates appreciation of God as our heavenly Father, and appreciation of God stimulates godly family life. Both are enhanced by the example of mature, fatherly [and motherly] leaders within the church.” And note that the reverse is also true: “[the] disintegration of household order within the church adversely affects both our consciousness of being in God’s family and the quality of love within Christian families” (Poythresss, RBM&W, 245).
Are you beginning to see the importance of the corporate witness of the family to the church, and the church to the family? The family helps teach the church how its members are to relate to one another, how to recognize leaders, and even—to some extent—what God is like, and the church teaches some of these same things to the family. Thus, “[t]he life of the church never overthrows but rather enhances the life of the family based on God’s design from creation” (Poythress, RBM&W, 239).
[So a word to those of you who are single: what is your view of the families in the church? What purpose do you think they serve? Do you pray for them? Or to be really practical -- do you view being exposed to children as an exotic experience? A kind of National Geographic moment? I did! Consider what exposure to children in a family in this church might teach you—or remind you—about being a child of God. Consider what watching parents in the church may teach you about God’s relationship with His children. On the family side, consider the blessing of the families on the block to the church. When was the last time you had a single person over?]
[Parents, especially moms: do you ever feel like you’ve taken a step back from ministry to have children? Don’t! Consider what a role your little family is playing for the church—it’s a model whether you want it to be or not. This is not to add pressure to you, but to encourage you of the immense value of your home. Read quote again: “Because of the close relation between family and church, godly family life stimulates appreciation of God as our heavenly Father, and appreciation of God stimulates godly family life. Both are enhanced by the example of mature, fatherly [and motherly] leaders within the church.”]
[Another application: it can be very valuable to bring children to worship services—to let the church see a glimpse of the family interacting, and to let the children see the church family interacting. We have excellent classes for children here at CHBC, and certainly encourage you to take advantage of them; but keep in mind that there are also great blessings for children in church services. John and Noel Piper have written an excellent pamphlet on this which you can pick up in the racks by the doors of the church.]
And as we will see in our lecture next week, it is a reason that families should worship together in their homes—so they can train for being members of a larger, more diverse spiritual family.
IV. The Family Ministers To The World.
Building families is not only vital to the church, it is vital to the world. God designed the family as a universal model of some of the most precious truths about Himself and his plan of salvation so that everyone is prepared—to some degree—to hear the Gospel.
Have you noticed that the concept of a family is becoming, more and more, distinctly Christian? When we tell people the amazing news of a Father who “so loved” the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that we could become His own adopted children, we’d like to assume they know, on a human level, about these basic types of relationships. But this assumption is becoming increasingly difficult to make. Many of us have come from homes that have made our hearts cool to the thought of a wise, loving father or faithful, tender love from brothers and sisters, or the blessing of living under authority. Satan has always attacked the family—and at no time more than today. He wants to disintegrate and distort the family beyond recognition so that the Gospel is as inaccessible to people as possible.
And by all accounts he’s having great success. Why do you think, for example, that it is so popular today to believe that men and women are interchangeable? It’s because Satan wants to blur the Gospel! As we saw in the marriage Core Seminar, marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. But Christ and the church are not interchangeable. So marriages where the man and woman are interchangeable speak falsely about Christ and the Church. They confuse the Gospel. And Satan rejoices.
In this hot battleground, Christians cannot afford to be neutral or worldly. At the moment I am not suggesting political activism (though that may be called for), but personal faithfulness. We should view building strong vibrant families as a form of ministry, and opening our homes to non-Christian friends as an increasingly valuable evangelistic opportunity. Indeed, because Satan has so successfully attacked the family—and thus distorted the Gospel—Christian homes are a vital base of evangelism. Dawson Trotman, founder of the evangelistic group called the Navigators said: “I believe with all my heart that one of the greatest soul saving stations in the world is the home” (quoted in Carolyn Mahaney, Feminine Appeal, p. 100).
[One reason that may not be obvious is that homes are, literally, in the world. They’re on streets with non-Christians on them. They are outposts. We have children in activities, sometimes schools, playing with friends – opportunities to get to know people. I confess I’ve not taken advantage of this like I should. Think about Proverbs 31 woman using home as a base of operations to care for the poor.]
If we’re honest, though, we must admit that “home” in many circles is a dirty word. Though many of its goals have been laudable, feminism particularly has wreaked havoc on the concept of home. (And as we learned in the marriage class, feminism was essentially a reaction against male abdication of Godly servant leadership!)
But home in Scripture is a place of blessing. We see this in Proverbs 31, as the “wife of noble character” focused her amazing industriousness on her home—for the good of her husband and children. And we see it in Jesus’s most tender moment with his disciples. When He was about to die and they were most fearful of what was to come, he assured them with a promise that one day they would be with Him, where?—at home. “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” He told them; “if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (Jn. 14:2-4) (emphasis added). How sad that even within many evangelical churches “stay at home mom” has become a pejorative term, when God has made so clear that preparing a home is a job for women of “noble character” and the Son of God Himself!
Rejecting this negative view, Carolyn Mahaney in her excellent little book Feminine Appeal encourages women to build homes that “rival” this description by Peter Marshall, former Senate chaplain:
I was privileged, in the spring, to visit a home that was to me—and I am sure to the occupants—a little bit of Heaven. There was a beauty there. … It seem to me a kind of Paradise that had wandered down, an enchanted oasis—home.
Mahaney, Feminine Appeal, 100. “[A]n atmosphere in which it was impossible to keep from thinking about God.” And notice he didn’t even mention the family! Add a faithful father, a godly mother, obedient children, and perhaps even a holy grandparent or two and you surely do have a small picture of heaven.
[Does this seem farfetched? What drew [names] to the home of Jayna Heath, one of our members, every afternoon at 4 p.m.? What draws [teenager’s names] to Matt and Eli’s home, when they could be at the mall? [Expand on the relationships cultivated through these homes.] And note that none of these children has yet been to church! But they have seen the Gospel in action in homes.]
[Another example that comes to mind is that of Dave and Beth Penney. They are CHBC missionaries in a Muslim country that I can’t name, and they have several daughters. Dave has said that the greatest tool of evangelism they have is their home. Their Muslim friends are amazed to see the love and respect Dave has for his wife and daughters, and they love to spend time in their home. Robert and Ronna Cline have said the same thing.]
Whether you’re in a Muslim country or in secular America, Christians should have an expansive view of the home as an evangelistic base of operations.
[This is something that you singles can get in on – as you develop relationships with families, you might expose your non-Christian friends to those families in appropriate ways. It might hugely surprise them to see a family that is much different than theirs was.]
Even simply having children can be evangelistic. Today, having children too early, having too many, or having them for the wrong reasons, is silently—or not so silently—looked down upon. A woman writing in Christianity Today noted last year that because she had six children she had been labeled by her friends a “breeder.” But as Dr. Al Mohler says, humans don’t “breed,” they procreate. And in light of God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply,” His statement that the man is blessed whose home is full of children, and his warning that childbearing and rearing is God’s ordained place of safety for the married woman, surely that is the wrong attitude for Christians.
We must remember that, as we learned last week, that God intends to show the world something of His relationship with His Son; His relationship with His people; His sanctification of His people; and His people’s relationship with each other—all through parent-child relationships. Having children provides an opportunity to show off all of these things through the home. It also shows that we have kingdom priorities, rather than living for ourselves.
And it provides an opportunity to evangelize future generations. Please don’t miss this point. Have you ever noticed that God repeatedly promises to bless generations of families? In the Ten Commandments, God says he shows love to a “thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The Psalmist says “from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear Him, and his righteousness to children’s children” (Ps. 103:17; Deut. 7:9).
Beware, brothers and sisters, the temptation to view evangelism “horizontally”—only seeing what God is going across the world in this generation. We don’t know what He will do with His word, planted like a seed in our children’s hearts, generations upon generations from now! Consider how He may multiply it in future generations, and pray for this!
[When I pray for my children at night, after they’ve gone to sleep, I ask that God would save not only them, but all the generations after them until Christ returns.]
We see great examples of this in Scripture—think of Timothy, who learned the Gospel from his mother and his grandmother. God loves to bless families. A tremendous example of this is Jonathan Edward’s family. In Marriage To A Difficult Man, Elizabeth Dodds tells of the 400 to 500 descendants of Edwards, who became one of the greatest families in American history. Mary Edwards Whiting, a living grandchild of the Edwards who could not make the reunion wrote “She wishes to bear her testimony at that meeting to God’s covenant faithfulness and to his covenant mercies to her and hers.”
Let’s thank God for all the children with which He has blessed this church, and pray our grandchildren, and grandchildren’s grandchildren, will bear their testimony to God’s covenant faithfulness.
We have seen today that building families is one vital Christian ministry. It is vital to the church, which is our spiritual family; and it is vital to the world, which sees in the family a picture of a redeemed community. Next week we will move on, somewhat, from the ministry of the family to ministering to the family through family worship.