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A busy father was looking for a way to entertain his young daughter. He found a map of the world in a magazine and cut it into pieces. He gave the pieces to his child and suggested she try to piece the map back together.
After a very short time she came back to him and said she had finished. He was very surprised by how quickly she had done it. He asked her how she had managed to do it so fast. She replied, ‘I noticed when you took the page out of the magazine that on the back of the map of the world there was a picture of a man and a woman. I thought that if I could put the man and the woman back together, I could put the world back together.’
Nicky and Sila Lee have invested their lives in strengthening marriages and family life. They run The Marriage Course, The Marriage Preparation Course, The Parenting Course, and other courses for this purpose. They have written The Marriage Book and The Parenting Book. These courses and books have had a profound impact on thousands of people in our own local church and now around the UK and further afield.
Recently, the Chinese government has become interested. A Chinese government official said to Nicky and Sila, ‘A strong society depends on strong families and strong families depend on strong marriages. That’s why we are interested in your work.’
Family life is under attack in our society. Many feel that marriage is an outdated institution. The number of people who get married has fallen steadily over the years. Those who do get married find it increasingly difficult to stay married. Parenting is also becoming increasingly hard.
Families are hugely important. They are part of God’s natural order, and are a vital part of the fabric of society. Pope John Paul II once wrote that the family is the ‘foundation’ of society and ‘nourishes’ society continually.
Of course, things can go badly wrong. Families can break down and be highly dysfunctional. On the other hand, family life can be so good, deeply satisfying and an amazing blessing.
The Bible has a great deal to say about family life. Not only do we have a natural family, but as Christians we are part of the church, which the New Testament sees as ‘the family of God’.
The three passages for today are not directly on the subject of family life but in each of them we see something about family.
1. Children and the next generationPsalm 102:18-28
Every generation has a responsibility to think about the future and plan for the future. We should be concerned not just about what happens in our time but also about the next generation. The psalmist is concerned for the next generation. ‘Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord’ (v.18). Jesus is the key for every generation. Interestingly, the writer to the Hebrews quotes verses 25–27 of this Psalm and applies them to Jesus (Hebrews1:10–12).
‘Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). He laid earth’s foundations a long time ago and hand crafted the very heavens (v.25, MSG).
Jesus will be there forever: ‘Year after year you’re as good as new’ (v.27, MSG).
The Psalm ends with this hope for the next generation: ‘The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you’ (v.28). ‘Your servants’ children will have a good place to live and their children will be at home with you’ (v.28, MSG).
This is a hope, a prayer, and to some extent a promise. Of course, as we will see in the Old Testament passage for today, everybody is responsible for their own lives. However, there is a sense in which God treats people as families. We can hope, pray and believe that our children will live in his presence and be established before him.
Lord, thank you for this hope that we have for our children. I pray for our own family that we will live in your presence. I pray also for all the families in the church. Thank you for the way in which we see their children growing up to know, love and serve you. Thank you for the relationships between all the different families in the church. Thank you for this community of people that support and encourage one another.
May this be true, not only in our own local church, but in the church worldwide: ‘That the children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you’ (v.28).
2. Family and homes1 Corinthians 16:5-24
Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, have a big sign outside the church: ‘Welcome Home’.
Brian and Bobbie Houston, the senior pastors of Hillsong, came to speak at Focus, our church holiday, this year. In an interview Bobbie explained their vision that everyone who came to the church would be welcomed, loved and given the hospitality that we would give to a guest in our own home.
We need to recapture this New Testament vision of church as a home. Of course, the early Christians did not have church buildings. They met in homes (v.19). Paul writes to the Corinthians ‘If Timothy shows up, take good care of him. Make him feel completely at home among you.’ (v.10, MSG)
The church is the family of God. God is our father. Paul sees the whole church as a family. He talks about other Christians as his ‘brothers and sisters’ (v.15).
Paul, who was not married and did not have his own family, loves the Corinthians and sees them as his family. He ends his letter ‘I love all of you’ (v.24, MSG). He expects them to ‘love the Lord’ (v.22) and to love one another. They should express this love by greeting ‘one another with a holy kiss’ (v.20).
This is not just a nice theory, it is very personal. He longs to see them (v.5). He knows that they will ‘help’ him (v.6). He does not want to spend only a short time with them, he wants to spend much longer ‘if the Lord permits’ (v.7).
The only reason he is not coming sooner is that ‘a great door for effective work has opened to [him], and there are many who oppose [him]’ (v.9). (It seems that whenever God opens ‘a huge door of opportunity for good work’ we should expect that there will also be ‘mushrooming opposition’ (v.9, MSG).)
He goes on to talk about Timothy, whom he elsewhere describes as his son in the Lord (4:17). He then speaks about his ‘brother Apollos’ 16:12) and goes on to talk about ‘the family of Stephanas’ (v.15, MSG). It appears from the New Testament that it was quite common for whole families to be converted and baptised together.
We also see in this passage an instance of a married couple having a joint ministry. Aquilla and Priscilla ran a church in their home (v.19). Here, Aquilla is named first. However, more commonly Priscilla is the one whom Paul names first (see Romans 16:3). Whoever was the main leader, it is clear that they ran the church together.
Paul writes to them all, single men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters: ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love’ (1 Corinthians 16:13–14). As Eugene Peterson translates, ‘Keep your eyes open. Hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute and love without stopping’ (vv.13–14, MSG).
Lord, thank you so much for our families. Thank you that the family of the church is made up of single people like Paul and some of the others listed here, and also of married couples like Priscilla and Aquilla, and whole households like those of Stephanas. Thank you that together we make up the family of God. Thank you for the love that you give us for one another. Thank you that whether we still have a natural family or not, we are all part of the family of God.
3. Parents and children2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28
Good parenting is a huge advantage in life. Joash’s father died when he was only seven years old. His mother ensured that he was ‘taught and trained by Johoiada the priest’ (v.2, MSG). He clearly received a good education and ‘did what pleased God throughout Jehoiada’s lifetime’ (v.3, MSG). Joash had a family of his own which included ‘both sons and daughters’ (v.3, MSG).
God had promised his blessing on David and his family. Kingship passed down the family line. However, although God’s love was unconditional, each person was responsible for how they responded to this love. The book of Moses is quoted in support of the fact that ‘Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each of you will die for your own sins’ (25:4). (‘We each pay personally for our sins’, MSG.)
We see this principle worked out in the book of Chronicles. Joash started out well. He ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (24:2). He ‘decided to restore the temple of the Lord’ (v.4). Everyone joined in, ‘All the officials and all the people brought their contributions gladly, dropping them into the chest until it was full’ (v.10). ‘They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design’ (v.13). (It is interesting to note in passing that buildings do matter and can be restored if everyone gets involved.)
Sadly, Joash’s reign did not end well (vv.17–27). It is so important not just to start well but also to finish well.
Likewise, his son Amaziah started well, ‘He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (25:2). However, he did not do so ‘wholeheartedly’ (v.2). Later, like his father, he did not finish well. He became ‘arrogant and proud’ (v.19) and ‘turned away from following the Lord’ (v.27).
Lord, help us to finish well. Help us to be good examples for our children. We pray for family life in our society. That once again it would be the foundation and nourish our society continually. May there be a reversal in the decline in marriages and a restoration of strong families.
2 Chronicles 24:1–25:28
With good advice young children can accomplish great things. We mustn’t underestimate them.
Joash became king at the age of seven. With the help of Jehoiada the priest he started so well. He did extremely well while he had a good adviser. Sadly, when his adviser died, he went off the rails. It is so important to keep helping one another so we can all finish well.