In this four-part series, Pastor Alan Hill considers what the Bible has to say about family life.
Nearly all of us have somewhere that we can call home. We spend more time there than anywhere else. It should be a happy place, but so often it is not. There are problems and difficulties, trials and tribulations.
Why is this? Is a truly happy home possible? How can we change things for the better?
Over the course of four articles, I hope to take a biblical look at the subject of family life, beginning with the question of how to have a happy home.
How important is the home?
The Old Testament provided detailed laws and regulations for the Jewish people. Everything from personal hygiene to what to do if an animal falls into a pit is addressed.
However, tucked away in one part of Old Testament law is a gem of a verse which reveals how important home life is.
It is a verse which tells us that happiness in the home was more important than fighting in a war! Long before our government thought of maternity leave or paternity leave, God stipulated marital leave – relief from military service for one full year: ‘When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and he shall bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken’ (Deuteronomy 24:5).
Can you see what God is implying here? The verse shows that having a happy home is a top priority; it shows that establishing a happy home takes time and effort; and it shows that a happy home requires getting the foundations right from the very beginning.
A happy home is vital. Is your home a happy place? I realise the answer may well be ‘only sometimes’ or even ‘hardly ever’.
But there is hope. However bad the situation may be in our homes, however poor our relationships with others may be, however unhappy marriages may become, and however badly children may behave, change for the better is possible. In fact, radical change is possible.
Why am I so optimistic? Well, consider what is the chief cause behind unhappy homes. Yes, the buildings we inhabit may be in a poor state of repair and the local surroundings may not be as idyllic as we hoped, but the main factor behind an unhappy home is us. We are the problem. The bricks don’t shout abuse. The carpet doesn’t storm out of the room in a huff. We do.
But we can change. With God’s help, we can be changed. I have seen it and experienced it personally.
The God of change
God is all-powerful, loving, and gracious. He is also in the business of changing people.
If we buy a new computer and it doesn’t work, what do we do? We send it back to the manufacturer to be fixed. So also do we need to go back to our Maker to be fixed, and God certainly has the power and the inclination to change us for the better. The God who created the world in an instant can change you and me in an instant.
The first home
What is the root problem of unhappy homes? Why can’t we get on with each other? Why does it so often end in tears? We find the answer by looking at the first home.
The book of Genesis is the book of beginnings, and it tells us about the first two people: Adam and Eve. They were husband and wife and formed the first human family. They lived in paradise and there was harmony between them and all around them.
Married family life is indeed the oldest institution in the world. It is a building block of society the world over and remains so to this day.
However, families – including that first one – had God-given responsibilities. Adam and Eve were to live together in marriage, they were to be companions of one another, they were to work together, and they were to raise children.
Sadly, something went wrong in that first, perfect home.
Adam and Eve had been given one simple rule by God: not to eat of a certain tree in the Garden of Eden. Tragically, our first ancestors were tempted to violate the rule, and they did.
We call this the Fall, and it brought terrible consequences upon the family unit: for women, difficulty and pain in childbirth; for men, difficulty and pain in work; for both husband and wife, conflict in the home; and for all, death.
The taint of sin did not leave Adam and Eve, nor any of their descendants. To this day, people inherit a sinful nature at birth.
We may notice how a child has inherited his dad’s good looks or his mum’s blonde hair. But we also soon notice that our children inherit some of our unpleasant personality traits, such as a quick temper.
Ultimately, there is unhappiness in our lives and homes because we are descendants of Adam and Eve. From them we have all inherited a tendency to sin.
Ignoring the instructions
One way of understanding sin is to think of it as ignoring the maker’s instructions. In the Bible God directs us to live one way, but we choose another. These poor choices extend to our home life.
For example, God says that couples should only be intimate after marriage. Today, most ignore that command, and we only need look around us to see the consequences. Casual relationships and promiscuity are commonplace, which in turn has led to surges in STDs and children being raised with one parent missing.
God’s ‘instruction manual’ also prompts us to love our neighbour as ourself – to be selfless rather than selfish. Yet how many problems in the home arise from the desire to have things our own way? We want to watch the TV programmes that we want to watch; we want the décor that matches our own tastes; we want to arrange evenings out with friends without any reference to our spouse; we want to spend income on our own pleasures and pastimes, irrespective of our partner’s feelings.
The blame game
In terms of failings in the home, how quickly we can think of other people’s situations and shake our heads at other families’ problems! But what about us?
Blindness to our own problems while having a sharp eye for the faults of others is another symptom of our sinful nature. This goes right back to the events of the Fall, where Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the Serpent who first tempted her to sin.
We like to shift blame because we ourselves can feel inwardly naked and vulnerable as we struggle to cope with the consequences of sin. Like Adam and Eve, we may try to cover up our shame with some ‘fig leaf’ of an excuse, perhaps pretending that nothing is wrong. Like Adam and Eve, we may feel far from God and afraid of him, fearing his anger against the sin we have committed. And like Adam and Eve, we can feel the pain and struggle of children and work, wishing for a better way.
Thankfully, there is a better way!
The best home
We have considered the first home, but what about the best home there has ever been?
There has never been a perfect home, but there has been one in which a perfect Person has lived.
This home involves the most famous family in the world. Even though it existed 2,000 years ago, you will have heard of it. The members were Joseph, Mary, and her Son Jesus Christ.
We remind ourselves just who Jesus Christ is – the Lord of glory, the God who became man, and the only perfect human to have ever lived.
What a joy it must have been to raise the child Jesus. The Bible only makes slight references to Christ’s youth, but his submissiveness to his parents and his growth in favour and stature with men and God are highlighted (Luke 2:51-52).
Poor but happy
Jesus’ family was not without its problems. They had to flee to Egypt when Jesus was very young to escape persecution, and ended up settling in a northern village (Nazareth) many miles from their hometown of Bethlehem.
The family was not wealthy; in fact they were poor. Joseph was a carpenter, a profession which did not pay well. When they went to Jerusalem to worship God, they could only afford two turtledoves rather than a lamb.
Yet it was a happy home – the best home there has ever been, in fact. Why? Because Jesus was there.
Divine, holy, and perfectly loving, Jesus could bring peace where there was conflict, reconciliation where there was dispute, and forgiveness where there was sin.
Jesus is love personified. Think of his compassion for people. He was known as the friend of sinners. He spoke to the prostitutes, the beggars, the blind. He comforted the bereaved and healed the sick. He eventually gave his life on the cross so that we could have our sins forgiven.
Where is Jesus now? He has gone back to heaven to prepare a perfect home for those who love him. Truly, the home where Jesus is found is the best home to be in.
How can your home be a happy place? Here are three principles that we can learn from the first home and the best home:
1) Have Christ as head of your home
This is the key to happiness in your home and in your life itself.
We need help in order to be changed and see transformation in our family life. We need changed hearts and changed attitudes to others. We need to rid ourselves of selfishness and greed.
Who can change us? Neither we nor our parents can, but only God. And Jesus is the God-man who came into the world precisely to change people.
As sinners, we must go to the Lord Jesus and confess our mistakes, confess that we have sinned, and confess the unhappiness we’ve brought to our home.
We need to ask the Lord to be our head. We need to stop rebelling and accept King Jesus’s rule.
2) Have the Word of God as the rule of your life
Adam and Eve failed to obey God’s word and their home became unhappy. Joseph and Mary sought to obey God’s word and were blessed.
The lesson is clear: live by the maker’s instructions in order to be happy. But how is this possible? Only in the Lord and with the Lord’s help.
In Ephesians 4–6, Paul explains how to live as a Christian whether we are married or single, a child or an adult. In summary, he says that we must walk in unity, light, and wisdom. We must be kind to one another, forgiving one another even as Christ forgave us. Above all, he speaks of one guiding principle which we now consider: love.
3) Have love at the core of your home
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:2 that we should walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given himself for us.
If there is one characteristic that would have bonded Joseph’s family together, it would have been love: love for God, love for his Word, love for others.
The whole of God’s law was summed up by Jesus himself. He said it was simply to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
Applied to families, we should love our relations as much as we do ourselves. Think of what you do when you have just a small splinter in your finger. You stop everything to deal with it! What love for your little finger! That is how we should love each other. Nothing is too small to do for the one we love.
More songs, poems, and words have been written about love than any other subject. Why? Because God is love and we were made in his image. Love should indeed be at the heart of family life, and Scripture gives us its own poetic tribute to the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is often read at weddings and is familiar to many, but I invite you to read it afresh, and with the Lord’s help apply it today to the life of your home.