Everyone has a family. Your spouse, your kids, your friends, your extended relatives. You have a family. We get to pick our friends, but none of us get to pick our families of origin. As a result, family relationships can be the most challenging in our lives. There is this dynamic that goes on when we talk about family. It is called perception versus reality. There’s the ideal family and then there’s reality. There’s a gap, sometimes small, sometimes big that is usually never filled. Although none of us come from an ideal family, we all dream of having the perfect family. Where we have fallen short, or will fall short when it comes to the ideal versus the real, is where we fall on following biblical teachings on family. The question is, “are we willing to embrace a biblical ideal that we will never reach in our family or will “we be tempted … to abandon that ideal” and lower the bar, ultimately redefining the family ideal? In this series, we’re going to discover what the Bible says about dealing with the imperfections in family and navigating the struggles of family life.
Something To Talk About:
What is the ideal family? No matter what the subject, the Bible is the best place to find out what the ideal is and that includes family. But when you study the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are virtually no good examples of family. That trend continues in the New Testament.
- Families in the Bible are messed up: Look at Adam and Eve, the first family. They walked with God, living in a perfect environment and messed it up. The first recorded murder in history occurred between two brothers (Cain and Abel) and the first civil war in the nation of Israel was between David and his son. Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel gets his maid servant pregnant, then ends up sending her and her son away because his wife Sarah couldn’t get along with them. Jacob tricks his older brother out of his birth right. Jacob then works years for an untrustworthy uncle who continuously cheats him. These stories, all of which are true, continue on and on with dysfunction throughout the Old Testament. It doesn’t get a whole lot better when you look for great examples of family life in the New Testament.
- God set high standards: Are things any different today? While the families in the Bible might be all messed up, and many families today are less than ideal, the principles of God are not. Jesus constantly raised the standard, pointing people in the direction of what seemed to be an unattainable ideal and yet didn’t condemn when they fell short. He provided grace even when it was short of ideal. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul took the teachings of Jesus, which were applied in a very new way to the people of that day. Jesus taught that though there were rules in place, the idea was that they would be followed because the heart directed it, not simply out of duty. Paul was urging the people of his day to a shift of thinking. Instead of “I have to obey, I want to obey,” he took the teachings of Jesus and inserted those teachings into how family should work. You see, God set the family unit up with an ideal way to function and generations of people twisted it. We are going to look to these principles in this series to uncover how we can best bridge the gap between the ideal and what is real.
- What is your definition of the ideal family? How does that measure up against God’s standard for the ideal family?
- What is one thing you wish your family would have or do more of that you see in other families?
- What do you hope your children experience in family that you did not?
- Read Ephesians 6:1–2 and Colossians 3:18–21. How do these passages challenge your assumptions and experiences about family life?
- What is one thing you can do this week in your interactions with your spouse, parents, or children to better live out the New Testament family ideal?
Take One Thing Home with You
We want the ideal family, but the reality is usually very different. The easy thing to do is to normalize our current reality. To say things like, “We are all too busy to give any more effort” or “nobody has time for that.” Or maybe we shrug our shoulders and say, “It’s just the way things are today.” Or maybe we look to the future by saying, “we’ll get around to family time when the kids are a little older.” Or maybe we believe it is already too late: “It’s too late for us, there is already too much hurt and pain.”
In other words, we are willing to redefine what the ideal family is, basically lowering the bar and ultimately redefining the family ideal. We are willing to embrace a standard that many of us have or will fall short of. Or, will we redefine terms until we feel good about where we are?
Jesus didn’t leave us that option. We can’t lose sight of God’s original ideal in spite of cultural shifts, our own failures and dealing with the tension of the ideal verses real family. While Jesus taught and pointed toward an ideal, He refused to condemn those who fell short. Jesus raised the standard and that is the standard we all strive for. But as the standard went higher, the grace went deeper, forgiveness is richer and the inclusion became broader.