Did you ever fight with your siblings growing up? What about your parents? Did you perfectly obey them when you didn’t get what you want, or when they insisted that you clean your room before hanging out with friends? Mostly likely not.
Similar to our struggle with God, we desire independence and autonomy in our family. In family relationships, this desire often causes tension.
At the very beginning, God established humankind’s calling to family. In Genesis, God saw that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). He officiated the first marriage between Adam and Eve.
Before the Fall, marriage and family were wholesome, right relationships, the way God intended them to be. Since the Fall, because our relationships are broken, families often endure conflict and struggle of various kinds—siblings fight, parents get divorced, and loved ones die unexpectedly.
Understanding what the Bible says about how we should love and respect one another as spouses, parents, and children can transform our perspective as well as our behavior and, ultimately, lead to a more flourishing family.
But let’s pause and be honest, many of us seem more eager to figure out our calling in work—“Am I in the right job, right career?, etc.”
The first thing to remember here is that our calling as a Christian is more than your job—it’s to God himself first. That is and always will be our greatest call.
Then, underneath that general calling to know and love God are various particular, or secondary, callings. In addition to work, family is one of our particular callings and deserves just as much attention. To that end, here are a few key biblical principles to both embrace and to pass on to the children in our lives:
1. Marriage is biblical.
Marriage is a special, beautiful, God-created institution. It begins in Genesis 1:24–25. Jesus also reinforces it in Matthew 19:4–6. Marriage unites a man and a woman into “one flesh” both spiritually and physically. The “mystery” of marriage makes it impossible to exhaustively define, but we can still understand certain clear teachings about it (Eph. 5:32).
First, Jesus defines the role between a man and a woman. Once married, husband and wife form a new family by leaving their parents and cleaving to one another. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines cleave as, “to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly.”
Second, marriage is intended to be for a lifetime. Once a man and woman are united, no one is to separate that relationship (except in an extreme circumstance, see Matt. 19:9 or 1 Cor. 7:15).
2. Both children and parents have responsibilities to one another.
The parent–child relationship is an echo of our relationship with our heavenly father. The first responsibility of everyone in the family, both parents and children, is to obey God. Children obey God when they obey their parents. While broken and imperfect, we are able to glimpse the love of God through the care, guidance, and love of our earthly parents. Although in many cases it is broken, this relationship is intended to mirror God’s love.
It is a child’s responsibility to obey and honor their parents (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16, Eph. 6:1–2). A child’s calling to honor his or her parents is so important that God made it one of the Ten Commandments. It’s repeated throughout scripture and emphasized in the New Testament. The commandment to honor our parents is described as the first commandment with a promise: that those who honor their parents will live long on the earth.
Parents also have responsibilities to their children. Fathers are warned not to “provoke your children to anger” in Ephesians 6. John Stott, a well-known evangelical leader, writes:
What we do know is that parents can easily misuse their authority either by making irritating or unreasonable demands…or by humiliating or suppressing [their children], or by those two vindictive weapons sarcasm and ridicule…There must be a place for discipline, as Paul goes on to say, but it must never be arbitrary (for children have a built-in sense of justice) or unkind. Otherwise they will become discouraged.
Stott also points out that just as the husband’s love is to build up the wife so she reaches her full potential, the parents’ love and instruction should lead children to reach their potential.
So, just as children should obey and honor their parents, parents should never abuse their authority. Respecting these family roles is a way to honor God’s created order and show one another Christ’s love.
3. Parents are responsible for educating and disciplining their children.
John Piper, in his article “Do Not Forsake Your Mother’s Teaching,” focuses on Proverbs 1:7–9,
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head, and ornaments about your neck.
In Ephesians 6, parents are called to bring up children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Both teaching and discipline are for the child’s good, to keep them from harm. Whether children are homeschooled, attend a private school, or go to a public school, it is the parents’ primary responsibility to instill a strong biblical foundation in their children. In return, it is important for children to respect the teaching and discipline of their parents.
The family is the primary instructive environment for children. In addition to learning, the family should be a place for worship as well. Sharing your faith with your siblings and parents is another way to honor your calling to God and family.
Honoring our call to family is a way to love God and honor his commandments. It’s also an important opportunity to demonstrate to the watching world the goodness and beauty of family as God intended it to be.
Editor’s Note: For help teaching the next generation about calling, consider IFWE’s homeschool curriculum developed by Art Lindsley, Understanding God’s Calling, available in the IFWE Bookstore. Though designed for high school-aged homeschool students, the course is well-suited for other ages and various educational settings.