In leaving office the 40th U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, highlighted where great national changes come from: “Let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table” (Farewell Address to the Nation, Jan. 11, 1989).
Additionally, Pope John Paul II had offered a similar lesson in Perth, Australia, about the importance of the family: “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live” (Homily, Nov. 30, 1986).
Many modern family models have become quite warped. Does the Bible offer any examples that can serve as humanity’s idyllic family model?
Has the family model changed in recent history? The Pew Research Center reports: “The classic nuclear family, the kind imprinted on the American imagination by TV shows like Leave It to Beaver, has been left behind. In 1960, 37% of households included a married couple raising their own children. More than a half-century later, just 16% of households look like that” (Jens Krogstad, “5 Facts About the Modern American Family,” PewResearch.org, April 30, 2014).
What about today’s families? How many families do you know that exhibit Christian characteristics such as presented in Scripture? The apostle Paul counseled: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18-20). Just what is the best family model? And to what does the human family ultimately point? Let’s explore the family model from a few perspectives—families of old, families today and the Bible’s family model.
Discerning good family qualities amid changing values
Stop and think for a moment about some of the families you’re acquainted with. What are some of the more outstanding characteristics you’ve observed? How many families appear to have it all together?
Can you remember what made you feel a particular family was a stable and successful one? Was it because a peaceful atmosphere pervaded interactions? Was it that family members laughed together a lot or said “Please” and “Thank you” often? Did you leave their presence wishing you had what they had but felt unable to describe or emulate their example?
A great many people look to media portrayals of families, whether in dramas, sitcoms or even the news, but what is considered typical or ideal has certainly changed. Media reflects societal change but is also a driving force in it. Should that be our template for a happy, productive and healthy family?
Do modern television characterizations of the family model trump time-tested values and concepts of a strong family? Well-intentioned and sincere people quote media as if it were the gospel truth on various subjects. Of course, the Bible is gospel truth; media isn’t. Entertainment media is increasingly involved in politics while eyeing the almighty dollar. Its purveyors don’t just report the news; they make or remake the news. And the mainstream news media often does the same.
The media industry is motivated by big money, amorality or making up one’s morals on the fly, and the gullibility of well-meaning viewers who can be influenced to accept what can become a new normal.
Modern Family vs. Father Knows Best
Let’s observe the cultural shift that has occurred by comparison. First consider a present-day television family model—that of the show Modern Family. The Wikipedia entry on the program gives this description:
“Modern Family is a mockumentary family sitcom that revolves around three different types of families (nuclear, step, and same-sex families) living in the Los Angeles area, who are interrelated through [patriarch] Jay Pritchett . . . [who] is remarried to a much younger woman, Gloria . . . with whom he has an infant son . . . and a son from Gloria’s previous marriage . . .
“Jay’s daughter Claire was a homemaker, but has returned to the business world . . . She is married to Phil Dunphy, a realtor and self-professed ‘cool dad.’ They have three children . . . a stereotypical ditzy teenage girl . . . a nerdy, smart [girl, and] . . . the off-beat only son. Jay’s lawyer son Mitchell and his husband Cameron Tucker have one daughter.”
The term mockumentary is fitting. Such a production uses a fictional setting to analyze and parody current issues. What’s concerning is the power of the media to introduce and help establish a new societal norm. How does this so-called new norm compare with the old family norm?
Of course, families from time immemorial have lacked God’s high moral standards, many failing in providing vital godly instruction, as God commanded ancient Israel (see Deuteronomy 5:29; 6:6-7). Even so, biblical values were a major influence in America until several decades ago.
And when one considers how the family model has changed in more recent times, the entertainment model of those past decades can be loosely considered a good one. Take, for example, the old TV family production Father Knows Best. Author and fatherhood coach Elliott Katz wrote the following in a USA Today column just before Father’s Day a couple years ago:
“The TV show Father Knows Best has come to symbolize the stereotyped gender roles of the 1950s. The father, Jim Anderson, worked as an insurance agent while his wife, Margaret, stayed home. Their three well-behaved children . . . loved and respected their parents . . . In each episode Jim came home and dealt with problems . . . [And] following their father’s wise advice, the problems were resolved.
“Over the past decade when the role of fathers is discussed, Father Knows Best is often cited as reflecting gender roles so out of date there isn’t anything today’s father could learn from the show. I disagree. As I watch the show today, I see important lessons for fathers that address common complaints wives have about husbands. These complaints include not paying enough attention to what is going on at home and not helping sufficiently with parenting—the kind of tensions that can lead to breakups.
“Jim Anderson was a very involved father. In each episode, he was aware of situations at home that needed to be dealt with, and he dealt with them. Though it might be unrealistic to portray a father as being able to solve every problem, the important lesson for today’s fathers is that Jim stepped forward and got involved. He didn’t ignore what was going on in his home and expect his wife to handle it” (“‘Father Knows Best,’ Even in 2016,” June 16, 2016).
Modern critics are usually somewhat sarcastic and condescending regarding older family models like this. But as Katz notes, there remains much of value here.
Older does not necessarily mean outdated, and that is especially true with certain godly examples passed down from ancient times.
Scriptural example: Abraham and Sarah
God’s Word, the Bible, gives us no example of a perfect human family—as people are flawed and limited, and even great people of faith struggled with family issues impacted by their own sins and the problems of the culture in which they lived. Nevertheless, there are examples of a godly family model in the Bible we should learn from and follow in many respects.
Let’s briefly explore the example of the early patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah. This couple showed some high-quality characteristics rarely seen today.
Abraham and Sarah exemplified true faithfulness to God despite their human weaknesses. And God worked with them, remaking them into a good family model that echoes through four millennia.
Despite some shortcomings as a husband and father, Abraham’s obedience, faith, hospitality and effective intercession were exemplary. God said of him, “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19). And furthermore: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5).
He was human and susceptible to the weakness of the flesh. But above this, he exhibited godly character and worked at putting God first in His life, coming to be called the friend of God and father of the faithful (James 2:23; Romans 4:11).
When God first told Abraham that he would have children, Sarah led him to try to rush things along by a surrogate mother—a situation that later resulted in Sarah becoming jealous and behaving harshly (Genesis 15-16). Later, when God told Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son, she initially laughed because of their advanced age (Genesis 18:10-15).
Yet it was through faith that Sarah received the ability to have a child past childbearing years (Hebrews 11:11-12). She became a model of inner beauty through a precious gentle spirit and of devoted submission to her husband in marriage (1 Peter 3:1-7). And she and Abraham together raised a godly and obedient son, Isaac.
Such qualities of character and family life transcend time, location and culture. And what we see in the family life of Abraham and Sarah is typical of the best families in the Bible.
Although there are other good examples of families in the Bible, there’s a particular family model presented in Scripture that’s being formed now to ultimately become the perfect family of God forever! Are you a part of the godly family model now being remade more fully in God’s image?
Human family a type of God’s spiritual family
God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son are now creating Their family model through human beings who desire to honor Them. This model began with Them. As the Son of God and man, Jesus loved and honored His Father with all of His heart, mind and soul. This is the key to the godly family that puts God first in everything.
Every human being must come to understand this fact: God, through His wisdom and love, instituted the family unit. He is the Author of the perfect family model. He created the first man and woman, united them as one flesh, and exhorted them to be fruitful and multiply, to have children (Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:23-24).
Of course, not all married couples are able to have children—and God understands that. There are nonetheless many blessings and much to be gained and learned in the marriage relationship, which pictures a higher spiritual reality.
Still, producing and rearing children is a major reason for the creation of marriage. Malachi 2:15 states: “But did He not make them one . . . And why one? He seeks godly offspring.”
God further tells us to train our children in His ways (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; see Proverbs 22:6) and that children are a heritage from Him (Psalm 127:3). Indeed, all children belong to God—and He has placed them in our care to raise them properly.
The best family model on earth, at this point, is found in the New Covenant Church of God: “. . . But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
The apostle Paul showed that God is building His growing family here on earth: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22; see also Ephesians 3:14-15).
God, through Christ Jesus, is remaking His called-out ones in this life to become His holy family forever! He reshapes our thinking, speaking and actions to be transformed into His way of life (Romans 12:2).
No family on earth today is perfect, and that includes God’s spiritual family at present, because human beings are not perfect. God works with us who are imperfect and flawed people in order to perfect or mature us in His holy way of life. This leads us to God’s grand goal of His future family.
God’s ultimate family in Heavenly Jerusalem
We catch a glimpse of the final and ultimate state of God’s family in the vision the apostle John was given of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City that God the Father will bring down from heaven to the earth:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4).
Perfection at last—with no more troubles!
This is the supreme family model that Almighty God through Christ Jesus will bring about. And since God’s desire is to save all people (1 Timothy 2:4), He will ultimately accomplish bringing multiple billions into His divine family model in the New Jerusalem—as the stars in the sky and sand on the seashore.
The family model today was instituted by God and is a type of the ultimate divine family God has planned for all humankind—a family that will last forever!
Building Godly Families: Aspects to Strive For
Let’s consider some solid characteristics of the godly family model:
• The father is the leader of the family. His responsibility includes caring for his wife as Christ cares for the Church (Ephesians 5:23).
• The mother is his suitable help (Genesis 2:18), and together they set the best example for their children while teaching them the way of God (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
• Father and mother should work in harmony to train their children in God’s way.
• Children follow their parents’ good example, since actions speak louder than words. Kids learn more from what their parents do than what they say.
• Parents should avoid belittling their children, publically and privately, lest you discourage them (Colossians 3:21).
• Parents should encourage their children to strive for excellence in character, in their studies and in their future profession.
• Parents should sacrifice for each other and for their children.
• As with all members of the Church, husbands and wives should submit to one another in humility, patience and love (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5).
• Parents should always make time for their children since the greatest gift parents can give to their children is themselves and their time. Life passes by quickly; there’s no time to waste (Ephesians 5:15-16).
• Parents are stewards for future sons of God, as God said of Abraham (Genesis 18:19).
• Parents should not curse or swear. Children will take to swearing because they are impressed with and by their parents and will view cursing as acceptable.
• Parents should turn their children to God who has given human beings life on His earth and sustained us with His bounties.
• Parents should always tell their children that they love them and that they will stand by them and be there for them for the rest of their lives. This is very important.
• Parents should read the Bible to their children and pray with them daily.