Honor your father and mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)
This Fourth Commandment reminds us that God’ s plan places the family unit at the foundation of all human relationships. In the Genesis story of creation, God established the home before there was ever a temple, a synagogue, or a church. (Genesis 2:21-25) The family unit existed before any organized religious activity or civil government.
This fact was made real to me recently when Veronica and I visited the San Antonio Museum of Art. While viewing the Egyptian section we came across a statue of a Pharaoh who ruled Egypt around 2500 BC. The inscription at the base read, “a pharaoh and his wife.” Then later I read in the Archeology Magazine about the excavation of a mass grave in Denmark. It was noted by the archeologists that the deceased including apparent father, mother and children were grouped together in this 6000-year-old grave. These historical encounters revealed that the family unit as we know it has existed from earliest antiquity and has been an integral part of human society.
However, when Christian couples ask if the Bible can help them apply their faith to the everyday issues of life, they will not necessarily always find easy solutions.
However, in spite of the ancient history, or maybe because of it, the Bible does have much to say to today’s families. Indeed, the Bible has no simple outline nor systematic presentation of marriage and parenting guidelines. However, woven throughout the Biblical revelation are principles of living and models of relationships which can guide couples through the complexities of family life. Threaded throughout are truths about the nature of man–adult and child–and about the ultimate purpose of the family and how it successfully works. When these Biblical models and principles are viewed as a whole, the message is clear, practical and relevant. Among these key foundational principles are:
- God as the model parent is a central Biblical theme guiding parents. As the loving, responsible father who is the source of all life, God not only creates but sustains through love.
- The human family is a reflection and extension of the divine ideal. God ordained the family to serve as the place where a human’s most basic needs for love and affirmation are met. It is the cocoon in which children are conceived, born and nurtured. The family that loves and grows together provides a glimpse of God’s love to those around it. Jesus often used family words (father, mother, bride, groom, child), attesting to the importance of the family in his scheme of life.
- The Bible challenges parents to discipline their children. In the Biblical sense, discipline is not something parents “do to their children” but something they “do for them.” “If you refuse to discipline your son it proves you do not love him.” (Proverbs 13:24) The Bible teaches that discipline is the other side of the coin of love. Parents discipline because they love and in providing firm, fair and balanced limits parents help their children grow into happier, healthier adults.
- The Bible teaches that all individuals, adults and children, are of eternal value and worth in that they are created in the image of God. From this grows a mutual respect between parents and children which is summed up by Paul: “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’– which is the first commandment with a promise– ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6: 1-4) In the Biblical perspective both parents and children are of value and have responsibilities to each other.
It is true that parents cannot claim superhuman power or wisdom. They will make mistakes. All too aware of their imperfection’s parents are easily overshadowed with guilt. But the Christian parents have the ultimate resource of the Gospel which is the Good News of forgiveness and strength to become more than they are. In the presence of Grace, each of us is the product of our past but we are a prisoner of that past.