In Ephesians 6:4, fathers are instructed to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” What does that mean? How do we go about making sure that our families are developing spiritually? While the Bible doesn’t have a list of things we can check off to be certain our families develop properly, there are important values taught and exemplified in God’s people throughout history which will help us to better serve him in our familial relationships.
Among the most important is the role of husbands and fathers in leading their families to serve God. While this is certainly mandated by God (Eph. 5:25-33, 6:4; Col. 3:21; 1 Pet. 3:7), it is also taught in the examples of men like Abraham, Joshua and Cornelius. Abraham led his family to a new land because God directed him to do so. At least a portion of God’s blessings on Abraham were due to his ability to lead his family to do right (Gen. 18:19). Joshua, at the end of his life, continued to exert a strong moral influence on his family, vowing as he discussed idols with the people of Israel, “. . . as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). And Cornelius, who is first described for us as “. . . a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household“ (Acts 10:2, emphasis added), when he gets the opportunity to hear the gospel, gathers his entire family to hear what Peter has to say (Acts 10:33). Leadership like this is essential in building strong spiritual families. Nothing impacts wives and children more positively than husbands and fathers who desire to serve God.
Wives and mothers too, play an important role in developing godly families. One of the most important lessons for all Christians is learning to submit to God. When we let God lead us, we are closer to being what He would have us be. Nowhere is this lesson more easily learned than when children see their mothers submitting to their fathers. This is no knock on women, indeed truly strong women are the ones who are able to carry out this commandment of God (Eph. 5:22-24). In addition, there is the important teaching role which mothers play (see the example of Timothy’s mother, Eunice in 2 Tim. 1:5). Mothers who live godly lives and pass that living on to their children deserve the honor of all (Prov. 31:28-31).
Children have a role in completing the spiritual family. Once they are old enough to understand their own need to serve God, they complete the godly family by continuing (out of love) to “Obey . . . parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). Rebellious children have often been a source of destruction to what were once great spiritual families. A love for God (coupled with respect for parents) will prevent children from such dishonor.
So what do spiritual families do? What is it that sets them apart? And how do they continue to grow?
Spiritual families talk about God’s word. Among the first things God commanded to the Israelites was that the parents discuss His word with their children (Deut. 11:18-19). Children need to know why it is that Dad doesn’t hang out in bars and s. They need to understand why Mom doesn’t lust after Ricky Martin (or whoever the latest sex symbol may be). They need to hear from Mom and Dad why drugs and alcohol and premarital sex are wrong, and why striving to be Christlike is so important. Spiritual values have to be passed on each generation.
Spiritual families pray, individually and together. Paul told the Thessalonian brethren, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Nowhere is prayer more needed than in families. Husbands and wives should pray for their relationship to be strengthened. Mothers and fathers should pray for their children to be kept safe, both physically and spiritually. We should pray together for the continued spiritual growth of our families, and our children should see and hear us in prayer for the less fortunate, for the church of our God, and for the souls of those who are lost. Prayer is important, and it is the greatest avenue we have to seek God’s help in building up our families.
Spiritual families are important to God because they produce spiritual individuals. We owe it to our families to bring God into their lives.