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God’s Purpose For The Family As Revealed In The Bible

David L. Parrish
InRich Ministries 2006

The following is a short overview of “family” as seen in the Scriptures. These passages and summaries function as a beginning point for a theology of family life.

There are multitudes of references to “family” in the Bible: blood relatives, the family of Israel, the church as a family, etc. In the unfolding of God’s revelation, much attention is given to the “biological” family. We would like to investigate the divine purposes for the family’s existence. What does the Scripture reveal, either in direct statement or by implication, about God’s purpose for this institution?

When God created mankind, He created them as male and female, bringing man and woman together with specific purposes. Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and rule the earth (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7-8,15; 21-25). Adam’s rule began with cultivating the garden that God planted. Beyond these stated purposes are two significant reasons for their existence. First, they were to meet each other’s needs for companionship. God did not create man to live alone -- He created them male and female, and it was not good for man to be without his counterpart. Second, they were created to have fellowship with God and to walk with Him. Therefore, we can summarize the primary purpose for family in the following manner: to glorify God by ruling over God’s creation, while enjoying intimacy with one another and with God Himself. This dominion would take place as the couple reproduced a godly heritage and literally filled the earth. This purpose would be fulfilled as a family.

Because of the fall into sin, intimacy between God and man, as well as between the man and woman, would be marred and difficult because of the sinful nature. Man failed to rule God’s creation in the sense of caring for and administrating it faithfully and wisely. Sons were born after man’s image (Gen. 5:3) and a godly heritage was not produced. As God’s plan of redemption unfolds, one sees His new plans for mankind. What are these “revised purposes” for the family? Even though mankind has strayed from God’s original plan for creation, it can be shown that His purposes for the family (from the sinful fall until the new heavens and new earth) continue to relate to that original plan in Genesis 2. These purposes will be grouped under four major headings.

First, the family exists in order to provide for basic human needs. God designed the family to be the primary context in which the basic human need of companionship could be met. Man was created with a need for human relationships (Gen. 2:18), and he was told to cleave to his wife (2:24). Parents provide for physical needs of children (Prov. 31:15, 27; 1 Thes. 2:7). The closeness of the family is seen throughout Scripture, from the story of the patriarchs through the record of the early church. One example is the nation of Israel camping and traveling together as families (Num. 2:2; 3:4). Although the family unit must not become self-focused by neglecting “strangers,” widows, orphans, and others in the community who do not have a family (Lev. 19:10, 33-34; Prov. 31:20; Mat. 25:35-40; James 1:27), a main purpose for the existence of the family unit is to provide for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of its members. (Care for extended family members is expressed in passages like Lev. 25:25; Gen. 29:14; Deut. 25:5-10.)

The importance of caring for one’s own family is seen in the qualifications for church leadership: elders and deacons had to be good managers of their homes, raising their children well (1 Tim. 2:4,5,12; Titus 1:6). This importance is also seen in the emphasis given to the woman’s commitment to the home (1 Tim. 2:15; 5:14,16; Titus 2:4-5). In the 1 Timothy 5:16 passage, Paul says the family has the primary responsibility for caring for “dependent widows” -- the church ministers to widows without families. Spiritual care and training are implied in the texts relating to the woman’s role (Prov. 31; 1 Tim. 5:14), and the man’s role (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 1 Thes. 2:11), but this spiritual training deserves special attention.

The second major purpose for family relates to the spiritual dimension. The husband-wife and parent-child relationship are designed to provide a place where spiritual life is nurtured, tested, and lived for the glory of God. God preserved Noah’s family as a godly remnant, and after the flood the family received God’s commission to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth; then they built an altar and worshipped God (Gen. 8:16--9:1). Joshua and his family chose to serve Jehovah (Jos. 24:15). Festivals and feasts were to be celebrated together within the family (Ex. 12:3-14) and these events were to serve as visual reminders and “teaching tools” for future generations (vv.26-27). The commandments and laws were to be taught by the parents to the children -- in the home and within the day-to-day activities of normal family life -- and these instructions were also to be clear reminders of God’s redemptive power and purpose (Deut. 6). Since God determined that the primary location for this instruction to take place would be within the family context, one finds multiple instructions in Proverbs regarding the parent-child relationship. Before discussing this spiritual education of children in more detail, it is necessary to reflect on God’s purpose for the marriage relationship.

It brings honor to God for a man and his wife to cleave to each other, to enjoy the one flesh relationship without shame (Gen. 2:24; Prov. 5:15-19, Heb. 13:4), and to not be separated by divorce (Mark 10:9). The commitment to the marriage is underscored by the seventh commandment, forbidding adultery, and the tenth commandment, forbidding coveting of one’s neighbor’s wife. In the marriage relationship the man and woman meet each other’s physical needs (1 Cor. 7:1-7), as well as emotional and spiritual needs (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). The Ephesians passage shows something else about the purpose of marriage, although stated indirectly: since the relationship between man and wife pictures Christ and the Church, somehow this institution, when characterized by love and submission, exemplifies Christ’s love for and relationship to the Church. (This unconditional, sacrificial love of God was also illustrated by Hosea’s taking, and remaining faithful to, an unfaithful wife.) There is also an additional purpose implied in the marriage relationship. Since God created man in His image, male and female, there exists the possibility of man and woman knowing God better through the intimate communion and communication between them: as they discover new things about their mate, they get to know a little more about their Creator.

In this environment of love and faithfulness, the parents can accomplish God’s will in the home (Col. 3:18-21). It is clear from Psalm 127-128 that having children is a blessing from God. As stated earlier, parents have primary responsibility for the physical care and moral development of their children. Children are repeatedly commanded to honor their parents (Ex. 20:12, Eph. 6:2). Jesus himself set an example in His home life by being subjected to His parents (Luke 2:51). Parents are commanded to train the children with God’s values, while maintaining a good balance in loving discipline in order to prevent the child from developing a negative disposition (Eph. 6:3). There are many poor examples of parents who failed to raise their children in the “discipline and admonition of the Lord,” such as Eli, Samuel, and David. These examples indicate that the family is crucial -- the failure of the fathers is clearly noted by the Scriptures. The man’s leadership in the home may also be in view as whole households sometimes came to faith (Acts 18:8).

The third reason for the family’s existence is to meet the needs of others. We have already mentioned the necessity of not becoming internally focused. Hospitality is an important theme in the Scriptures. It is so significant that church leaders had to be hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2), and we are told to show hospitality to strangers (1 Tim. 5:10; Heb. 13:2) and to one another (Rom. 12:13) -- and to do so without complaining (1 Pet. 4:9)! The Lord and His disciples were dependent on people opening their homes to them (Mat. 10:11-14), and some homes, such as Mary and Martha’s, were continually opened to the Lord (Luke 10:38). The early church also met in homes (Acts 2:46; 20:20; 1 Cor. 16:15,19; Rom. 16:5,23; Col. 4:15). The family that has its own physical and spiritual needs met, through mutual love, is in the best position to open its home and minister to others!

A fourth and final purpose for the family is as a visible and practical “object lesson” by which God communicates basic spiritual truth or principles. We see this most clearly in Paul’s teaching on the husband wife relationship which is a pattern of the bride’s (Church) relationship to Christ (Ephesians 5). This was implied in the introductory paragraphs with the clear references to Genesis 1 & 2: He created man, then instituted marriage, to reflect His glory. Paul make this compelling connection in Ephesians 5:32. After discussing the couple’s responsibility toward each other, He quotes Genesis 2 (leaving and cleaving to become one flesh) and says, “this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” The familial relationships are used multiple times in Scripture to transmit essential truths; the idea is understood because of the common appreciation for the illustrations. Two examples are Paul’s reference to his care for the church as a nursing mother and a committed father (1 Thessalonians 2), and our Lord’s encouragement to confident prayer based on how a father treats his children (Matthew 6:7-11).

God’s broad, eternal purposes in creation and redemption certainly include the family! Scripture has much to say about families, homes, marriages, and the parent-child relationship; it appears that we can summarize the purposes for this institution within the four categories above. God is glorified as the family provides for each other’s basic needs, realizes spiritual nurture, establishes an environment where ministry to others can be accomplished, and functions as a visible example to teach spiritual truth.

  1. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between what we might call the “nuclear” and the extended families. Our “traditional family unit” is made up of man and wife and their natural or adopted children. But the Hebrew family unit was larger, with closer ties to -- and dependence on -- direct blood relatives. Households were probably rarely limited to two adults and their descendants. As we use the term “family” in this essay we will be referring to this less restricted concept of family, in contrast with a more modern, western view of family today.
  2. Although we have allowed for extended blood relations to comprise our definition of family, it should be emphasized that from the beginning God intended for man to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. This is a clear statement about the formation of individual family units, or the fact that God intended for there to be a “separation.”
  3. Some of the key verses from Proverbs are 1:8; 3:12; 6:20,23; 13:24; 20:7; 22:6,15; and 29:15.
  4. Paul’s challenge to the jailer in Philippi is a good example. The jailer did believe and all of his “household” believed as well, and were baptized (Acts 16:30-34).
  5. In Romans 12 the spiritual gifts of showing mercy and giving (v.8) might even be paralleled with “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” in v. 13, which would exalt the ministry the family has in practicing the love described in this passage.

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