The title and theme of this book is Sacred Families, and under this banner I will attempt to describe the spiritual formation for each part of the family in order to set it apart for God's glory and purpose in this world. A family is truly sacred (set apart) when it is purposefully designed and offered to God for His use and honor. Hopefully, you will understand more clearly how this can be accomplished with your own family as you read this material.
The secular world places a great emphasis on the importance of family, and rightly so because it is the basic unit of society. As the family goes, so goes society. However, as Christians we realize that there is an extra dynamic to family that we see and strive for that society ignores or even rejects. This extra element is the role of family as an instrument of God's will in expanding His kingdom on earth, and as a type or preview of what Christ's relationship with the church will be like in heaven (Ephesians 5:31).
For the sake of clarity, therefore, when I mention the family it will not only be about how to make families more functional or peaceful (although there will be some of this). The goal of this book is to understand what our families are called to be in Christ. The Lord calls us to not only be well-balanced and happy as families, He also calls on us to become sacred families. This means that in addition to fulfilling His purpose for the family in everyday life, God calls upon sacred families to reflect in their everyday lives a measure of the glory that will ultimately be seen when the "bride" (church) and the "lamb" (Christ) are finally united forever in heaven (Revelation 19-22).
With this idea in mind, therefore, we are going to explore the three main components of family in order to learn how we can develop a more sacred view and experience of each.
Component #1 - Marriage
The family rests on the initial relationship between a man and a woman. There are many views and styles of marriage today, but we will examine the biblical pattern for marriage found in the book of Genesis which contains the DNA code for what marriage was meant to be. We will also examine the goal of every marital relationship.
Component #2 - Parenting
I will be discussing this vocation from several perspectives. One section will be devoted to explaining ways that parents can instill true spirituality into their children, and not simply imparting the knowledge and fear of the Law (rules and punishments). In addition to this, I will also review the very important lessons that God teaches all parents through their children and discuss the necessary changes to parenting that adults are required to make as their children develop from one stage of maturity to the next.
Component #3 - Home
The final section of this book will look at an overall view of the home. A Christian home is not only the place where you live, it is also the place where you live out your love. We will examine seven different ways a home nourishes and molds a person's life, and how a Christian home sustains and promotes a sacred family life.
Component #1 — A Biblical Marriage
Building a sacred family begins with a biblical marriage. In other words, a marriage based upon and put together according to God's original design. There are three elements in this design found in Genesis 2:18-25. In most cases, problems in marriage can be traced to a malfunction or neglect in these areas:
A. Knowledge of Self
18Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 19Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.
- Genesis 2:18-20
Notice that Adam was first taught about his environment and then about himself. He was created as an adult person in touch with his world, emotions and needs. Through his experience and knowledge he quickly recognized that he was alone and thus incomplete in this state. Note also that God did not create woman immediately. He allowed Adam the time to know not only himself and his surroundings, but also the needed experience to discover this sense of "aloneness" in his life.
This basic teaching in the Bible about self-knowledge and marriage is echoed by marriage counselors today. These professionals tell us that the best time to get married is when we have reached a certain level of both social and emotional preparedness which include:
You are socially ready for marriage when you have some idea of what you want out of life and have a basic set of convictions that guide your major decisions (e.g. religious or moral standards). You are ready for married life when you have learned to function within society independently. In other words, you may love and respect your parents, but you are now taking care of yourself by yourself. These are not the only factors that point to social readiness, but considering marriage without having these basic things in place would be unwise.
You are emotionally ready for marriage when you recognize your need for marriage. In other words, wanting to be married not because this is what your parents want or what your beloved wants, but what you want for yourself. You are, therefore, emotionally ready for marriage when you are prepared to stop being alone. This is important because some people want to marry but they continue to live and think as single people. You know that you are emotionally ready to take this important step when you are prepared to make a full and lifetime commitment. If you have to be talked into it by your partner, your family or friends, you are not ready emotionally.
A good way to assess if two people are ready for marriage is to evaluate the four variables present when trying to decide if it is time to enter into marriage. What often happens is that you have two people and four variables that do not match. For example, he is ready socially but not emotionally (he has a job and an apartment but is reluctant to leave his "buddies" and bachelor ways); she is ready emotionally but not socially (wants to settle down and have a family but lives at home with her parents and hasn't finished school yet). The marriage plans never begin because one or more of the variables are not in place. The ideal situation is that the partners are both socially and emotionally ready.
In Genesis 2:18-20 we see that Adam was ready for marriage socially because he knew his position and role in the world, and he was ready emotionally because he realized that he had a need and desire for a partner to complete his life. God, in His majesty and wisdom, then created woman to be a perfectly suited social and emotional companion to the man as he would become to the woman.
In God's plan for marriage the partners know themselves and know their position within God's creation. They are also ready and willing to leave their single status to enter into the lifetime commitment of marriage.
Another element in God's plan for marriage...
B. Knowledge of our Partner
21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."
- Genesis 2:21-23
I am not sure about the idea of having one partner especially created for another one (match made in heaven; soulmates, etc.). I think Adam and Eve were the only ones specifically designed for each other. I do know, however, that only one man was designed to be with one woman; not men with men or women with women; not three women with one man, etc. This being said, I know that the goal for this man/woman combination is that they become one, and the only way to achieve this goal is through the ongoing effort of the partners to know and understand each other.
In every society the road from being single to being married is different. Each era and cultural setting has its own system of pre-arranged marriages: long courtship and engagements, family introductions, pen pals and, in our day and age, internet match-making. In the end, however, the thing we want most to do is to know the other person so we can draw closer to them. This is an important part of the marriage sequence because it is through this process that we establish not only a material contract (marriage license, vows, dowries in some countries), but it is during this process of gaining knowledge about the other that we establish an emotional contract as well.
Two people who have adequate knowledge of their environment and themselves need to spend time learning to know each other as well. It is during this effort to truly know one another that the couple begins to lay down the groundwork for their unity or "oneness." Unfortunately, people in our society today are bombarded with the notion that having sex is the only or best way to really know someone else. The truth, however, is that engaging in sex before the commitment of marriage actually hampers the process of getting to know the other person. The reason for this seeming contradiction (sexual intimacy decreases the possibility of intimate knowledge) lies in the understanding of God's purpose in creating the sexual component in human relationships. He has given sex as a way for married people to express emotional, physical and spiritual realities to one another. For example, sexual intimacy is:
- A way to express our commitment to the "oneness" shared by the partners in marriage ("we are now one").
- A way to express loyalty ("I am yours").
- A way to surrender self ("I am all yours").
- A way to establish family (an extension and growth of our oneness).
- A way to provide emotional comfort (comfort without words).
- A way to experience and share physical pleasure, intimate enjoyment and play (without guilt or shame).
The point here is that we are not usually ready to do all of this with someone we do not know well. Sex before marriage, therefore, can provide physical gratification, but if entered into without the other elements designed to create permanent oneness, simple gratification becomes emotionally and spiritually confusing and painful. There are much better and less risky ways to increase our knowledge of someone we care for.
Going back to the Bible and the very first partners in a marriage relationship, we see that Adam was ready socially and emotionally, and God fashioned for him a perfectly matched partner. In the pre-sin world of the Garden, Adam immediately recognized the suitability of God's final act of creation: Eve. In other words, Adam knew her completely and she knew him in the same way. These two were ready for the commitment because they knew each other in perfect wisdom and understanding as only ones who were without sin could know.
We should take special care in getting to know our prospective mates because unlike Adam and Eve, we are marrying weak and sinful people. Knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses enables us to go into a marriage commitment with our eyes wide open, and that is precisely what God wants.
If we know ourselves and know the other person, we then need to know what we are getting into when we marry. Marriage is the uniting of two people into a lifetime relationship that only death can legitimately end. Most people understand that marriage involves a ceremony and a legal contract as well as a personal promise or commitment. These are the things that accompany, legitimize or sanction a marriage in society and in God's eyes. This is why living together is not marriage. Simple cohabitation is not marriage or equal to marriage because it lacks the elements (legal contract and lifetime commitment) that make marriage the highest form of personal commitment possible between two people, not to mention the framework that God requires for men and women who seek to share physical and emotional intimacy.
On the wedding day when you say, "I do," what you are saying is, "I do promise to live with you as your spouse until I die." This is a high and noble thing, but very difficult for weak and sinful people to accomplish, so the Lord gives us three rules to follow in order to keep that vow for a lifetime.
24For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
- Genesis 2:24-25
Rule #1 - Separate to Unite
You need to leave parents if you are to cleave to your spouse ("cleave" means glued to). The commitment in marriage is to be glued to your partner not your parents, or buddies, or work mates, etc. When you decide to marry, the decision is to make your partner the priority over family, friends, hobbies or work. You cannot have unity unless your spouse is your first priority in this physical world (in a Christian marriage it is understood that God is before all things).
Rule #2 - Permanence is Permanent
In marriage you become "one flesh," there is no room for any other flesh. In the one flesh union the couple does not necessarily think or act alike. One flesh means that both partners are absolutely committed to the union they are equally a part of. You do not give up identity in the one flesh relationship, but you do give up independence.
Life has many stages, and marriage has been designed by God to bring people through each of life's marker points together. The goal is not simply to be one, the goal is to live all of life as one because God has designed life to be experienced in the one flesh paradigm.
Rule #3 - Intimacy Must be Without Fear
The final verse says that they were naked and unashamed. The word "naked" here does not simply mean without clothes, it means that they were laid bare before each other. Adam and Eve were totally honest, expressed openly their feelings, had no reservations about their sexuality because they were without sin and totally transparent with each other. God created sexual intimacy and placed it last (not first) on the basic foundation made from: a) knowledge of self, b) knowledge of the other, c) commitment to unity, and then d) sexual intimacy. When these elements are placed in this order, the marriage reflects the form that God intended and will have a greater chance of success.