The Family and the Word of God

by Dr. David Allen

The following is the second in a series of articles on family life, taken from sermons preached by Dr. David Allen while ministering at Free Grace Baptist Church, Belvedere in 1987.

As we begin a consideration of courtship, marriage, parenthood, and childhood we need to stand beneath the cross of Christ. There are many questions we must answer with regard to family life. What is the difference between infatuation and love? What is the difference between the love which a brother may have for his sister and the love which he will have towards his prospective wife? What is meant by a wife's submission to and reverence of her husband? What is meant by a husband loving his wife? How are parents to train and nurture their children? Are there any biblical guidelines for Christian parents to follow in the disciplining of their children? Are 'dating' or 'courting' biblical? Whom may a Christian marry? What is marriage? How are children to live and behave within the home?

In this study we will not be answering any of those questions. Before we come to these vital and most important areas of life it is absolutely imperative that we first of all consider some general and fundamental principles. We need to remember that the very fact that we are Christians will lead to problems in these areas. The Christian life, in spite of all the extravagant statements made by evangelicals, is not a life that is divorced from the real world where we float about in some state of suspended animation. The Christian life is fraught with difficulties and problems. The very fact that a person has become a Christian will create problems which will never have to be faced by the unconverted person. The Christian is a disciple of Christ, a person who has counted the cost of discipleship, has believed the gospel and has turned to Christ. He is a person who longs to be taught from the word of God. There are not instant solutions for every problem. It is a life of disciplined obedience. If we are to live God-honouring lives in these vital areas, we shall need to lay down biblical principles for that life of Godly obedience. Therefore there are four principles which I will lay down here.

Firstly we must start with the word of God. The Bible has something to say about the whole of life. There is no aspect of life which it does not consider or govern. Biblical Christianity cannot be confined to the hours of worship on the Lord's day. It affects every area of our life, and has much to say in particular with regard to marriage and family life. We are not to live our lives in compartments (Sunday is religion, Monday to Friday is work and Saturday is rest). Our religion is to permeate the whole of our lives, and is to affect every relationship. If I am a Christian my Christianity must enter my married life, and enter my home. It must radically affect me as a husband, and as a father. Therefore we need to turn to the word of God. There are two cautions here. First, we are not to come to this subject with our own preconceived and unbiblical notions. Our own opinions and thoughts on the matter are not important, nor are the opinions and thoughts of the preacher to be considered here. His thoughts do not count. Neither are we concerned about the so-called experts in these areas; we are not interested in the pool of learned ignorance. The Scriptures of truth clearly condemn such an approach. Does not the Lord say 'for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord' (Isaiah 55:8)? The world and its wisdom does not understand the purpose of marriage and family life. It is only the Christian who can truly understand and appreciate what marriage is about. Secondly, we must not allow ourselves to be moulded by the traditions and the cultural standards of a godless and decadent society. We are not going to let the world influence our thinking. Tradition must not dominate our thoughts. It is surprising how many married Christians base their concept of family living upon the tradition that they have inherited from their parents. If their parents were Christians, sadly the children often fall miserably short of the standards set by those parents because they are looking to the tradition of the parents instead of to the word of God. Those brought up in a Godly home have much to be thankful for in these days, but as Christians it is to the word of God we must turn lest we make the word of God to none effect through our tradition. We are to be biblicists, bringing all matters of life to the bar of holy Scriptures. God has spoken in his infallible, inerrant and inspired word concerning these vital issues of love, courtship, marriage, parenthood and childhood. Therefore it is what God has said that should concern us, and that alone. We ought to accept unquestioningly the absolute authority of the Scriptures. 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works' (2 Tim. 3:16). The aim then is to search the Scriptures and bring every area of family life under the light of Scriptures.

The second principle is the fear of God. 'Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God' (Eph. 5:21). The apostle is addressing men and women whom he has exhorted to be 'filled with the Spirit'. Therefore verse 21 forms a link between that and what he now goes on to say about marriage. Men and women who are filled with the Spirit and are going on being filled, are to show that characteristic in their dealings one with another. He gives three instances of this fundamental principle when he speaks of wives, husbands and children. This is all done in the fear of the Lord. What does this 'submitting yourselves one to another' mean? The idea is of subjection. This is an unpopular word today, but that is the meaning. This idea can be illustrated by considering an army regiment. All the soldiers must submit to the others; it would be utterly impossible to create a fighting force if every soldier acted independently of each other. The soldier is not to live that individual, intuitive, instinctive life, but rather, on enlisting in the king's service he resigns himself to live that life of discipline and subjection with regard to the whole regiment. If he were to act independently he might endanger and discredit the whole regiment. It is essential that the Christian realise that he cannot act independently of the whole body of Christ, and in the whole matter of marriage and parenthood and disciplining of children we are not given license to act independently. 'Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular' (1 Cor. 12:27). The way in which we act in love, courtship and marriage affects the whole body of Christ and it is the whole which matters, not the individual. The Christian marriage in which the wife has thrown off all subjection to her husband, and where the husband treats his wife as a chattel, affects the whole body and discredits the glorious name of Christ. Therefore when it comes to the question of choosing a marriage partner, the most important question is this will this relationship, if entered into, affect the whole body of Christ? Will this relationship bring glory to Christ, or discredit his glorious name?

The great tragedy of the twentieth century is this, that Christians have tended to act as individuals, independently of the body of Christ. We are now reaping the sad consequences in our churches of that humanistic philosophy. The man in an army is not fighting for himself but for his country, and that is the argument of the apostle. The whole of our Christian living is to be controlled by this, 'submitting yourselves one to another.' This fundamental principle of Christian living is illustrated in three quite separate types of relationship; husbands/wives, children/parents, servants/masters. If the Christian cannot act in the fear of the Lord and unto the Lord, then he must not act. We are to be people who have been transformed and are now motivated in all areas of life by the fear of God.

What is the fear of God? It is a fear of disappointing and grieving God. The Christian has been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20), he is no longer his own, he belongs to Christ, for the whole of every day. We bear his name, and live before men as his representatives. He says, 'Ye are the light of the world'. If the world is ever to see Christ it will only see Him as it sees Him in us, so we act in the fear of God because we do not want to tarnish the dear name of the one who so loved us and gave himself for us.

But the fear of God is far more than that. 'Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' (Phil. 2:12). 'Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear' (Heb. 12:28). 'Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.' (2 Cor. 7:1). This is more than the fear of disappointing and grieving God, although that in and of itself is sufficient motive to every Christian duty. This, however, is a fear of standing before the judgment seat of Christ, that 'every one may receive in his body according to that which he hath done, whether it be good or bad.' The Christian is going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and look into his face. The books will be opened, and we will have to give an account of our actions. Each will have to give account of any selfish or individual act carried out without any thought for the body of Christ and the glory of His name. Our salvation will not be lost, but what we have here is the judgment of reward, which can be observed in 1 Cor. 3:9 onward. Therefore as we consider all these questions regarding family life, the foundational principle is the word of God, and the second principle is a true fear of God, which we need to motivate us so that we do everything with an eye upon the whole body of Christ and His glory.

The third principle is the will of God. 'Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is' (Eph. 5:17). We are to know God's will, and we are without excuse in these matters. It is the will of God that we be not drunk with wine, but that we be filled with the Spirit. This filling of the Spirit will be evident in the home, in the relationships there, but what of those areas not clearly revealed; for example, how is a Christian to know whom they are to marry? How are they to know and to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God for their lives? 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.' (Rom. 12:1). In order to define this good and acceptable and perfect will of God, there must be a presentation of our bodies as a holy and acceptable sacrifice unto God, which is our reasonable service. The language the apostle uses here is the language of the priest who offers an animal as a sacrifice unto God, that is, the whole animal unto the Lord. The Christian is to present the totality of his being, his entire body, as a living sacrifice, and to relinquish all claims upon it. Our attitude must be, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?'. Paul adds that this is the only logical and reasonable response. 'It is our reasonable service'.

We are also exhorted not to be conformed to this world. We live in a world where there is a marked enmity against God and holiness. Unless we are constantly on our guard, we are ever in danger of falling prey to the godless and decadent standards of our generation. The Christian must never allow this world to mould and squeeze him into its materialistic life style. Paul is here emphasising complete, absolute and total separation from this world and its anti-Christian philosophy. He is not advocating monasticism; we are not to cut ourselves entirely off from the world, we are to live a life of practical and vital godliness in the world, but we are not to be conformed to this world. We must be conformed to the image of Christ; that is the purpose of our predestination. This will radically affect the programmes that we view on television, the company that we keep and will even determine where we work and whom we marry. The greatest need of the hour is for Christians to get to grips with Rom. 12:1, for we can never prove what is that good and acceptable will of God until we set our affections on things that are above.

If we are to know God's will for our lives, we must be 'transformed by the renewing of [our] mind'. The word 'transformed' in this verse comes from a Greek word from which we obtain our English word 'metamorphosis'. This is a biological word describing the process whereby a rather unattractive caterpillar undergoes a complete transformation and is changed into a beautiful butterfly. Metamorphosis is also a geological word and describes a process whereby rock, such as limestone, when subjected to great heat is changed into marble. Marble began its life as a rather unattractive piece of rock but, because of movement in the earth's crust and being subjected to tremendous heat, it is changed and is altogether different. It becomes something that is much prized and sought-after and of great value. In like manner the apostle says that the Christian is to be metamorphosed or transformed. Either we must be changed in a gradual and quiet way as the caterpillar, or we must undergo great heat as the limestone. One way or another the Lord will have us changed, and the heavenly sculptor will shape the Christian into the very image of Christ. This is transformation or transfiguration by the renewing of our minds.

When people say they have a problem over guidance, in most cases (not all) what they really mean is that they have a problem with obedience. We will never experience the renewing of our minds while we are conformed to this world. The apostle tells us how we are to renew our minds: 'Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.' (Phil. 4:8)

As we consider the whole question of love, courtship, marriage and family life the word of God is our sure foundation, the fear of God is our constant motivation and the will of God is to be our goal. The final principle is that we must place the whole within the context of the love of Christ. All the family issues that are mentioned here can only be understood as we consider them in the light of the love of Christ for the Church. We are ever to remember that 'God commendeth His love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'. We cannot understand family relationships unless we come to the very heart of God, to the cross of Christ. He loved the Church and gave himself for it, and as we consider our particular position in the family we are to look to Him who humbled himself, laid aside His glory and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Copyright © Family Matters 1996