Without a doubt you've heard that families today come in all shapes, sizes and configurations. Because divorce is so common, it's no longer unusual for children to be raised in households apart from their biological parents and with siblings who are their half brothers or half sisters or with teens or other children who have no biological relation to them at all.
Likewise, it's no longer unusual for people to have several marital partners during their lifetimes. Some believe such arrangements are simply the product of enlightened individuals seeking happiness. Many justify this casual attitude toward divorce, saying: "It's better for the kids to see us happy rather than fighting. The kids are strong and resilient. They'll get over the divorce and eventually have a new family." But rarely do they realize the full cost of divorce.
They too often assume that families are only temporary relationships until happiness ends or something better comes along. This, of course, is a monumental change from previous generations, which generally viewed families as fixed and stable for life.
It used to be commonly understood that, while new inventions would undoubtedly come along and change our lives, we could count on our families to remain stable. We would always have each other—for better or worse. But now the idea of disposable family relationships—lasting only as long as everyone in the relationship is happy—threatens to overwhelm the former perspective.
Humanly speaking, changing the definition of family may look like a logical decision to match the realities of our modern world. But this reasoning overlooks the teaching of the One who created families. God Himself is the originator of families, and His intent was that they remain the continuing source of happiness and support for married adults and their offspring throughout their lives.
Let's see how He did this and what He has in mind for families. Let's see what He says about brothers and sisters getting along.
God gives Adam a family
At humanity's earliest beginning, there was only one human being, Adam. As a single male, living alone, with no other human being around to share his life, he was not in what His Creator considered a good environment for him (Genesis 2:18). In resolving this problem, God gave Adam a family that included one wife, Eve, and, later, sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4).
God's intent for the children of Adam and Eve was that, as they grew up, they would marry and form new families. As God said: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). God wants people who marry to stay married. He hates to see divorce—for a husband or wife to leave and divide the family (Malachi 2:16). Further, God, in the Seventh Commandment, forbids adultery (Exodus 20:14), an important safeguard for protecting family relationships.
From the instructions He gave, it is clear that God wanted marriages—and the families created by them—to last. Surprisingly, however, God's purpose in demanding
stable families is for far more than just providing immediate happiness.
What marriage teaches us
In writing to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul told husbands and wives to love each other and treat each other respectfully—just as Christ treats the Church. In concluding his discussion on marriage, Paul then made an astonishing statement: "This is a great mystery, but [in speaking of marriage here] I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:32). Previously, in this same letter, Paul spoke of God the Father having a "family in heaven and earth" (Ephesians 3:15).
Paul explained that the human family is similar to our spiritual relationship with Christ. In this analogy, Jesus is the Husband, the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23), and the Church is the wife, the Bride (Revelation 21:9). Jesus died to make it possible for us to become part of God's family (John 1:12; Romans 8:14, 19). This has been God's purpose and plan from the beginning.
Just as God intended marriage to be a relationship of continuity and trust, so should our relationship with Christ be. In His relationship with the Church, Jesus will never abandon the Bride He deeply loves or betray that relationship (Hebrews 13:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). His Bride, the Church, is to be composed of individuals who are likewise faithful (Revelation 2:10; 17:14). God's eternal spiritual family will not be a temporary, disposable relationship.
A human marriage built on the same principle of trust gives its participants a small taste of this relationship with Christ. Family, as designed by God with inherent trust and happiness, was planned to give us a foretaste of an even greater relationship with God in His future kingdom.
Foretaste of our spiritual family
Given that families serve as workshops for insight into spiritual principles, how can we fulfill God's desires for us in our families? For starters, we can obey the Fifth Commandment, which tells us to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12). In learning to honor our physical parents, we indirectly learn to honor our spiritual Father.
If we are blessed with parents who love each other and are faithfully committed to each other, we see firsthand how to build and sustain mutual respect and love for others. Such families are safe harbors in a dangerous world of false values, deception and misinformation. The coming Kingdom of God, in the simplest of terms, is a large, happy family that will last forever. (For more articles on how parents and teens can have better relationships, check out the July - September 2002 issue of Youth United at www.youthmagazine.org. This E-magazine is especially for young people, and this issue focuses on family relationships.)
Though most young people have disagreements and fights with their siblings as they grow up, having to learn to get along with brothers and sisters is good experience for later in life. For all the supposed hassle of brothers and sisters, relationships between siblings often turn out to be the most enduring. After all, family is family, and family members remain family. We may disagree with each other at times, but we remain members of the same family.
God is calling us to be part of His family too, not just for the rest of this physical life but for all eternity. And, as any good parent, God expects us to get along with our spiritual brothers and sisters.
I was the oldest child in my family, with a younger brother and sister. Although I didn't always treat them as respectfully as I should have, my life today is richer and more complete because of them. They remain among my closest friends.
Time has a way of altering our perspectives. Now that my own children are grown, I have a deeper appreciation for, and agreement with, my parents' emphasis on everyone getting along and showing respect for all members of the family. I guess I'm just following in their footsteps.
Through the years my family and my wife's family have been sources of stability, love and encouragement to us. I appreciate long-lasting family relationships because they reassure me that God offers us the same kind of relationship.
So what about the new idea that families can be just any combination of adults and children? God says the ideal family unit is a man with his wife and children committed to an enduring relationship (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:22-33; 6:1-4). This is the model to strive for.
Having been blessed with the great joys of a traditional family as our Creator intended, I have no desire to see the definition of the family, as He created it, corrupted. When I compare my experience to that of the many dysfunctional families and unhappy relationships we see all around us, it's obvious that God's way, as shown in the Bible, is by far the best.
But what if your parents have divorced and remarried and you find yourself in a blended family with a stepparent and new brothers or sisters? Are you and your family doomed to failure? Of course not! God makes provision for us to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others and to have the opportunity to do things better the next time.
Your best course of action is to do the same thing any person should do—make every effort to make your new family work. Honor your parents as God tells you to do, respect your brothers and sisters—old and new—and remember your Creator. If we follow this approach, we can eventually be part of the greatest family of all, the family of God. GN