Throughout human history, the family has been the foundation of society. Within a strong, well-functioning family we can fulfill our physical and emotional needs. Strong family ties provide us the love and security we need for a happy life. Children grow into well-adjusted adults through example, instruction and discipline. Chores and responsibilities are shared for the good of all.
But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (KJV, Mark 10:6-9)
The family of biblical times had the husband as "lord" of the household and the wife as his helper. The husband worked diligently to provide material needs and protection while the wife worked diligently at domestic chores (Ward, pp. 92-94). In these New Testament passages, the need for a strong, healthy marriage is expressed in terms of the idealized family of the ancient world:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (NIV, 1 Peter 3:1-4, 7)
Contemporary marriages may follow the biblical model or may be quite different. Regardless of how we divide the roles and responsibilities in our marriages, though, we must be sure the marriage fulfills its essential family functions and provides a loving environment for children to grow into responsible adults.
Unselfish love is the "glue" that holds families together. In marriage we must subdue our own egos and selfish pride for the sake of the family. The Apostle Paul states it eloquently in this passage from First Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (NAS, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Divorce is a genuine tragedy. It often leaves the marriage partners embittered and disillusioned. It robs the children of the love and security of a healthy family and denies them a good role model for their own future marriages. The expense of divorce may consume the family savings. The work and expense of maintaining separate households means more work and less time for ourselves and our children.
We need to make an effort each and every day to keep our marriages strong and not let them drift toward divorce. We must put aside our anger, forgive our spouse a million times over, always be faithful, subdue our own pride and ego, and always let love guide our actions.
In the Old Testament Law, a man was allowed to divorce his wife at will. (Wives did not have the same privilege.) Jesus saw the injustice and pain of divorce, though, and said that neither husband nor wife should separate from the other:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." (NIV, Matthew 19:3-9)
The Apostle Paul echoed Jesus' sentiment:
Now, for those who are married I have a command, not just a suggestion. And it is not a command from me, for this is what the Lord himself has said: A wife must not leave her husband. But if she is separated from him, let her remain single or else go back to him. And the husband must not divorce his wife. (TLB, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
Adultery destroys marriages. The adulterer shows total disregard for the marriage vows and for his or her spouse. In this passage, Jesus reminds us that not only should we always be faithful, we should also avoid any actions or situations that might eventually tempt us into adultery:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. (NAS, Matthew 5:27-28)
Unfortunately, some marriages cannot and should not be saved. A viable marriage is a contract of mutual love and respect, as reiterated in Ephesians:
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (NIV, Ephesians 5:33)
When one partner seriously violates the marriage contract, as by emotional, physical or sexual abuse, the marriage cannot endure. None of us should feel obligated to endure an abusive relationship.
Schools can teach the knowledge and skills needed to earn a livelihood, but children learn their values primarily from the example and teaching of their parents. As parents we must both practice and preach our values. The author of this proverb speaks as a father would instruct his own son or daughter:
Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding, For I give you sound teaching; do not abandon my instruction. When I was a son to my father, tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, Then he taught me and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live; Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; and they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. (NAS, Proverbs 4:1-5, 14-18)
Of course, the parents' instruction does no good if the child rejects it. Our parents may not be perfect, but they have loved and cared for us, and they deserve our respect. The Bible advises children to honor and obey their parents:
Children, obey your parents; this is the right thing to do because God has placed them in authority over you. Honor your father and mother. This is the first of God's Ten Commandments that ends with a promise. And this is the promise: that if you honor your father and mother, yours will be a long life, full of blessing. (TLB, Ephesians 6:1-3)
Listen to your father's advice and don't despise an old mother's experience. Get the facts at any price, and hold on tightly to all the good sense you can get. The father of a godly man has cause for joy-- what pleasure a wise son is! So give your parents joy! (TLB, Proverbs 23:22-24)
In addition to instruction and a good example, children need discipline to grow into responsible adults. Through discipline, children learn the consequences of their actions and learn to control their behavior:
Discipline your son and he will give you happiness and peace of mind. (TLB, Proverbs 29:17)
Teach a child to choose the right path, and when he is older, he will remain upon it. (TLB, Proverbs 22:6)
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (KJV, Proverbs 23:13-14)
The verse above, and a few similar ones, are sometimes used to justify a harsh parenting style based on corporal punishment. However, the dominant theme of the Bible is not to beat one's children, but rather to "teach a child to choose the right path" through instruction and discipline. Beating with a rod is an example of how discipline may have been practiced in Old Testament times. Unfortunately, beating and spanking embitter the child and teach him or her to control others by physical force. The child may change his or her behavior out of fear but does not learn self-control.
Fortunately, modern parenting methods offer us a better alternative. The methods of natural and logical consequences teach self-control and values without causing bitterness between parent and child (Dreikurs, Kober). In New Testament times, the harsh Old Testament teachings about discipline are replaced with verses such as these:
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (NIV, Colossians 3:21)
And now a word to you parents. Don't keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice. (TLB, Ephesians 6:4)
Jesus greatly valued children and the innocence of youth, saying we should humble ourselves before God the way a child does before an adult. He also placed anyone who would corrupt a child among the most despicable of sinners:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! (NIV, Matthew 18:1-7)
The enthusiasm and idealism of youth can be a potent force. Young adults are often able to see the simple truth of a complicated matter and are able to work tirelessly for a good cause. Paul gives this advice to Timothy, his young friend and associate:
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (NIV, 1 Timothy 4:12)
On the other hand, the temptations of youth may be a trap for those who have not yet developed a strong sense of right and wrong. Even children must take responsibility for their own actions. Wrong is wrong and evil is evil. It cannot be not justified because "Everybody does it," or "I won't get caught," or "I won't get punished," or "I was mad," or "I just felt like it," or "I wanted it," or "I did it to get back at __________." (Fill in the blank: my parents, teacher, brother, sister; that bigot, bully, cheater, grouch, show-off, hypocrite, etc.:)
Run from anything that gives you the evil thoughts that young men often have, but stay close to anything that makes you want to do right. Have faith and love, and enjoy the companionship of those who love the Lord and have pure hearts. (TLB, 2 Timothy 2:22)
Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right. (NIV, Proverbs 20:11)
A strong and supportive family bonds husband and wife in a union of love and mutual respect. It is our refuge from the pressures and disappointments of the world and is the instrument for giving our children the things they need most: protection, love, training and discipline. The more we cultivate strong family ties, the more fulfilling our lives will be.
Related verses: Psalms 133:1-3, Proverbs 3:1-35, Proverbs 15:5, Proverbs 18:22, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 18:21-22, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, 1 Timothy 5:8.