Family, I have come to understand, is God’s way of blessing us. It was never His intention for people to be alone. From the onset He thought “It is not good that man should be alone”. He always intended that we have company, that we operate in families and communities. So He decided, “I will make him a helper comparable to him” Genesis 2:18. And that introduced the phenomenon called marriage from which the family emerges. Everything else took off from there. That is why He says that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord” Proverbs 18:22. His intention was to bless mankind. He designed the family as the basic unit of all society. Strong families build strong communities which grow into strong cities and even strong nations. Strong nations grow into entire civilisations.
However, we find that marriage appears to have become the ‘curse’. When we see the statistics on marriage, it seems to point to the fact that it spells trouble. So many young people are afraid to be married, as attractive as it looks. Even young believing and active Christians approach it with fear and so much doubt. It is no wonder that they end up in divorce courts. At the slightest sign of trouble, people quit.
The numbers say a lot about Christian families. Statistics show that 1 in 2 Christian marriages end up in divorce. However it has also been proven that couples who are active in their faith are less likely to end up in divorce. According to Shaunti Feldhahn, Harvard trained social researcher, and bestselling author of For Women Only, 53% of very happy couples agree with the statement that God is at the centre of our marriage while 30% disagree with the statement. This just goes to say that if we work with the manufacturer we are less likely to have problems with the product. Marriage is God’s idea. We can only work it when we work with Him.
Strong marriages and hence families are built with God’s help. We cannot have strong families when God is on the back burner. I have heard of compatibility between spouses. That is good. However when the chips are down, compatibility cannot hold it together. We need God directly involved-His person and His word. He shows us how to do it through His word. Once people know what to do then they get better at it.
So what does a strong family really looks like? Since every family is unique, there’s no magic, one-size-fits-all plan that guarantees success. Also, people are fallen beings with all their failings and imperfections, there can be no such thing as a perfect family. So when we say strong family we are not thinking perfection, we are simply saying they remain together despite the imperfections, failings and mistakes and that takes a whole lot from all parties. One can describe a strong family as one where every member, despite these imperfections, can grow spiritually, emotionally, and relationally, where every member can grow into the best version of themselves.
Talking about the American family, Newsweek magazine recently devoted a special issue to “The 21st Century Family.” Their writers make the bold statement that . . .
“The American family does not exist. Rather, we are creating many American families, of diverse styles and shapes. In unprecedented numbers our families are unalike: we have fathers working while mothers keep house; fathers and mothers both working away from home; single parents; second marriages bringing children together from unrelated backgrounds; childless couples; unmarried couples with and without children; gay and lesbian parents. We are living through a period of historic change in American family life.”
Indeed times have changed. The world moves further away from God’s original intention for the family and that just manifests itself in the quality of our families. We need to consciously and intentionally go back to the original plan and principles of God to enjoy our families.
A family becomes strong when it lines up with biblical principles and every member understands and fulfils his or her God-given role. The family, according to the original plan, is comprised of one man, one woman—his wife—and their children. In our part of the world, the extended family cannot be ignored from the equation. It includes relatives by blood or marriage such as grandparents, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, and uncles.
One major requirement for a strong family is that husband and wife are both committed and intentional about doing it for a lifetime. That commitment is what helps them hold it all together. Although divorce is rampant and even permissible, “God hates divorce” Malachi 2:16. Not just because the relationship fails but it leaves all manner of evil in its wake.
Another requirement is that family members have a personal relationship with God. Nominal Christianity and commitment is not enough. They must have a true relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to live out the plans of God in the family. Their relationship with Jesus provides the guidelines for husbands and wives in a Christian family. They enable them to play their roles effectively.
God declares equality of worth in that men and women are created in God’s image and are therefore equally valuable in His eyes. That is why the discussion for family in Ephesians starts with “Submitting to one another in the fear of God” Ephesians 5:21. Husbands and wives do not have identical roles in the family, but they are equal in status before God, hence the need to be in submission to one another.
With that as the foundation, He turns to the wives. “Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the Church; and he is the savior of the body. Therefore just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything”. Ephesians 5:22–24. That is a loaded instruction. It simply requires that a wife should respect her husband and willingly submit to his leadership.
Then he turns to the husbands and gives an even more loaded instruction. “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but that she should be holy and without blemish”. Ephesians 5:25-27. This is a huge responsibility and involves a whole lot. He is expected to love her into fulfilling her destiny.
Beyond the husband and wife, God desires that we multiply and the family unit is the appropriate channel. So children will come. He also has a word for them. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for that is right. Honour your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth”. Ephesians 6:1-3. Obeying parents is the duty of children until they become adults who take responsibility for their lives. Honouring parents, on the other hand is a life-long thing. God promises His blessings on those who honour their parents.
As you can see, each member’s role is clearly defined with God. There is no room for ambiguity. How these scriptures play out in each family may differ but to make the family strong, everyone must be actively engaged with their individual roles. Is it always easy? Not really. However, people grow into the image of Christ as they continue to engage with their roles. When a husband, wife, and children all fulfil their God-appointed roles, then peace and harmony will reign in the home. They will all come to the place of fulfilling destiny. The family becomes strong.
In such a family, the members find great companionship in each other. They are never alone. They feel a sense of completeness because they complement one another- husband and wife as well as the children. They feel safe with each other. The children feel protected by their parents and the wife feels protected by the husband. The husband protects his family from harm to the best of his ability. They enjoy each other, husband and wife in the marriage bed and the children through the companionship. The marriage relationship is the most enjoyed of all relationships. Marriage is not seen as a duty, but a thrill, and it never gets dull when based upon God’s pattern!
At the end of the day, the marriage experiences fruitfulness on all sides, children, ministry, careers, businesses, relationships, etc. They grow in every sense of the word-spiritually and emotionally. The natural results of a strong marriage is growth, influence, impact, prosperity and blessings. Marriage produces fruit in each partner and also in the children.
The strong Christian marriage relationship is to present a living picture of the loving relationship between Jesus Christ and believers “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak of concerning Christ and the Church” Ephesians 5:31-32. That is the original plan- that we represent Christ and His Church. As far as God is concerned, marriage is not an experiment! Marriage is not a fairy tale. It is only in fairy tales that they summarize marriage as living happily ever after. In real life, that phrase means a lot of hard work, sacrifice, loving, forgiving, selflessness and new learning curves. Marriage is a covenant, that means total commitment from both parties.
One thing is clear, we cannot do marriage without the One who created it-God Himself. We need Jesus actively in the equation if we want to do it right. If you don’t have Him, all you have to do is ask Him in. Tell Him how much you need Him and ask Him in to be your Lord and saviour and he will come and help you.
I love marriage. I honestly feel that after Jesus, the next best gift God can give you is a good marriage, a strong family. It is the one entity through which we can become our best selves and directly impact our society. Let us take the bull by the horns and work it. It can be sweet. It can be great. Ck