By Loren Gjesdal
What is your picture of an ideal family? A “Leave it to Beaver” household of two parents, two kids and a happy resolution to every problem in 30 minutes? Or even more simply, “No muss, no fuss, no drama today, please?” Just what would constitute an ideal family anyway? Is the ideal even possible, and if so, what would we have to do to pursue it?
If we could imagine the first family in a world where Adam and Eve never ate from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… If they were never evicted from the Garden of Eden… If all the consequences of the fall never came into existence… Then we could also imagine what an ideal family might look like from a Biblical perspective. The challenge we face is that we have never seen a world without the effects of the fall. So all our images, examples and preconceptions of family are inherently flawed and obscure the Biblical ideal.
WITHOUT THE BARRIER OF SEPARATION
We could imagine, though, that had Adam and Eve continued in the garden, they would have proceeded to raise children there. Without the barrier of separation that sin caused, father, mother and children would all have enjoyed direct fellowship and interaction with God without any separation, shame or fear. Adam and Eve, we expect, would have introduced their children to God and enjoyed fellowship as a family with God. On a daily basis they would have also worked together to cultivate the garden and to enjoy its fruit for food.
Note that work is not itself a result of sin and the fall. Introducing children to God, His story, His creation and the one rule (don’t eat from THAT tree) could have taken place in the interaction of day-to-day activity. Worship could also have been a family fellowship experience. As each member of the family would know God personally, the family could fellowship with and worship Him corporately. We could imagine the maintenance of the family would have been undertaken as a shared responsibility in loving fellowship. This ideal picture is in fact the exact description of the family, the partnership of husband and wife, and the method of discipleship Moses prescribed to Israel:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up (Deut. 6:5-7).
SIN AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Of course, sin did happen, Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden, and the consequences continue to cloud our picture of family to this day. We find it hard to love God or each other the way we were meant to love. Too often we fail to introduce our children to their Creator in such a way that we worship Him in family fellowship as we were created to do. We find it hard to appreciate our spouses like we should. We struggle just to keep sex or work in their proper contexts. Because we have lost sight of the ideal, Jesus and the New Testament letter writers refer to the creation story. Through the creation story, they try to teach proper relationships: Proper relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, and the ultimate purpose of family to facilitate fellowship with God.
When asked about divorce, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 to affirm that marriage should be between one man and one woman for one lifetime. But He also acknowledges that God provided for divorce because men and women may fail to love as they should (Matthew 19:8). When we refer to “holy matrimony,” we are not just speaking traditional words. We are affirming that marriage was created by God in the state of perfection to accomplish a divine purpose. Consequently, marriage should be treated with high reverence and the marriage bed should be kept pure (Heb 13:4).
Sin and the fall introduced numerous complications to God’s plan for the family. As a result the Bible is full of instructions on how to counter these forces. It gives us keys we can use to pursue the ideal for our family today, including:
The servant leadership of a Christ-like husband,
The voluntary submission of a faithful wife,
The shared priority of teaching children God’s will,
The obligation of children to learn from their parents (Ephesians 5:22-6:4), and
The necessity of laboring to provide for the needs of the family (1 Timothy 5:8).
In all of these relationships and roles, however, husband and wife are to bear the image of God. We are to show a fallen world the character of God, but also the ultimate desire of God’s heart. That desire is for eternal fellowship with us as a family of faith. Now that’s an ideal worth pursuing!
Of course, we all know the ideal is more easily described than attained. But it sure helps to know where we are heading as we travel along, and some instructions wouldn’t hurt either. Artios offers a Family Ministry course. It will help you and the families in your church apply God’s Word to pursuing God’s ideal for your family. Consider enrolling in Family Ministry this term!