Here are my notes from the 2017 Growing Young Disciples residential conference, for those engaging in Bible-centred youth ministry.
Jesus’ words are offensive
- a 20 minute talk becoming a 5 minute epilogue slotted on to the end of an evening of socials.
- our children’s groups get filled up with games that entertain rather than spending meaningful time in the Bible.
- the toddler group sings more songs rather than sharing the stories and teaching of the LORD to his people.
Jesus’ words are full of Spirit and life (6:63)
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
- God is Father because God is creator (1 Corinthians 8:6)
God the Father is the source of creation, and as such he is fatherly to all created things.
- God is Father to his Old Covenant people (Deuteronomy 32:6, 18)
As the one who forms Israel, he forms them in redemption and salvation (from Egypt). God’s fatherhood of Israel means that he is trustworthy, reliable and strong yet caring over them. He is jealous over his family yet determined to save his people (Deuteronomy 32:19-22, 36-39). God’s holiness means that God is jealous over his people… and yet when he sees their weakness and frailty under his judgment is determined to save them.
- God is Father to his Saviour King (2 Samuel 7:14-16)
God promises to be Father to the king (and his line). Even when the family line falters and fails, he will still love them.
- God is Father to the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:18)
Jesus comes to reveal the Father, and the Father is shown to be a totally loving Father to His Son.
- God is Father to his people in Christ
We will look at this more later on this week.
Creation order and the family
Do not commit adultery
- Living together unmarried is wrong
Men and woman are to establish a covenant of faithfulness to one another in marriage, and we are to do this deliberately, intentionally and publicly. In our culture, it is normal for people to live together without marriage, yet this is (at best) a weak position for the relationship to be in or (at worse) devastating in its rejection of God’s intension and the consequences when the privately established agreement breaks down.
- Polygamy is wrong
The Bible does feature people who have polygamous relationships but never does it establish them as patterns to follow. If anything, polygamy is given as a mark of pride and self-assuredness.
- Incest is wrong
Similar to polygamy, incest is a mark of sin and rejection of the LORD.
- Same-sex intimacy is wrong
Same-sex attraction is a consequence of disordered desires that affect us all.
- The complementarity of the Bible is difficult
Men tend towards cowardliness or chauvinism, whereas women desire the position of headship that God has given to men. Loving headship (in the pattern of God the Father and Jesus the Son) and loving submission involve hard work.
Honour your father and mother
- Son’s and daughters should honour parents (Colossians 3:20, Ephesians 6:1-3)
Colossians 3:20 direct children to honour (and as children, obey) parents and Ephesians 6:1-3 focuses this on our relationship with Jesus and as a function of being His people. The Old Testament directives on punishing dishonourable and disobedient offspring seem harsh. But when you realise that the honouring of parents in Israel were directly linked to the people’s orientation before God, the purpose and seriousness of these directives becomes clear.
- Parents should teach and nurture children (Deuteronomy 6, Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4)
This takes time, intention and effort. Ministers in churches should not subvert this responsibility, but rather support those parents who desire and seek to do this. Modern life puts great pressure on the nurture of children by parents.
- Family solidarity (for good or ill) is very significant (Genesis 5:3, Psalm 78:5-8)
We must resist the temptation to think of people as free-floating individuals. The Old Testament gives numerous examples of family solidarity, where one person’s righteousness and sin is taken up and/or passed on to numerous generations. Coming to Christ involves breaking out of family solidarity to be grafted into a new one (spiritual but often physical, too).
- The Mother has a significant influence on children (Acts 16:1, 2 Timothy 3:14-15)
Motherhood in the Bible is held up in principle and example as being one of the main (if not the primary) influences on children. Father’s are to take responsibility of headship, but this is often worked out through the wife/mother. Therefore, the parent-child relationship is inextricably linked to (and depends upon) the husband-wife relationship.
Failure, forgiveness and the family
Where we lay the blame for the situation we are in at the feet of others saying ‘it’s not my fault!’, eg Adam and Eve.
Where we turn and inflict pain on others out of our sin, eg the sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel.
Where we use and abuse people for our own purposes (and get rid of them or others when they get in the way or no longer suit our needs), eg David with Bathsheba (and Uriah).
Where our love is restricted to those who will love me back (to only those in our immediate family), eg Eli’s inaction at the sin of his sons against others.
Where we show off and seek the approval of others at the expense of loving/wise words or actions from those who have responsibility over us; eg Rehoboam rejecting the wise counsel of his elders.
Where sin is enabled and reinforced sin in/by others, particularly those that we are close to; eg King Ahab and Jezebel.
- God’s restraint of evil
God’s common grace means family life is not as bad as it could be or should be. The LORD restrains our sin and enables our families to be generally enjoyable and loving places.
- There is forgiveness (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Matthew 18:21-35)
Jesus brings forgiveness to us as those who are totally full of sin. We have deep forgiveness at the cross, but also the grace of God in Christ and forgiveness through his cross also enables us to extend forgiveness to others.
- God’s ability to bring good out of evil will enable us to come to terms with the past (Genesis 50:20)
God’s character and track record of bringing good from evil gives us confidence that the evil we face (or have committed) can be redeemed by the LORD and put to use for his good purpose.
- The Gospel of grace calls us to change and enables us to change (Titus 2:11-14)
Law does not change people (it shows us what sin is, which is why we need it and need to tell people of God’s law).
Wisdom in the family
- An overview of God’s wisdom in the Bible gives us an appetite for the specific detail of wise living in
- Wisdom is seen by (or through) law
- Wisdom like viewing blueprints of the universe
- Wisdom in Proverbs is particularly the voice of God through the godly parent
- Family is going to be taken as not just blood-line but also those close to us
- Christ is the wisdom from God
- Peer pressure is a major factor (Proverbs 13:20)
Proverbs is honest about the impact of those around us. Family members, school-peers, people on social media all work to shape us and have some degree of influence over us. Peer-pressure should really be called peer-attraction – we long to belong to social groupings and to have the approval of others. Proverbs, therefore, urges us to walk with the wise.
- Wisdom urges us to use our influence on those around for good (Proverbs 9, 13:24)
Given this degree of influence that people have on each other, we are to use whatever influence we have (authority, peer-level respect, etc) to strengthen, uphold and help others. In families, this is keenly seen in the work of discipline (which flows out the discipline of the Father, Hebrews 12:4-6). This cuts two ways:
- Parents are to disciple their children (Proverbs 19:18, 22:6, 22:15, 29:17)
- The wise are people who heed discipline (Proverbs 9:1-9, 10:17, 13:1, 15:5, 15:10, 15:12)
- Wisdom values faithful love to those around us (Proverbs ?, 12:4, 31:10-31)
God the Father is the standard of loving kindness shown to others. Like him, we are to show love and faithfulness to our family – first to our spouse (led by the husband) and subsequently to our children and extended family (Proverbs 17:17, 18:24).
- Wisdom commends peacemaking to those around us (Proverbs 10:12, 17:1, 17:9)
Proverbs urges us to be people who are peacemakers and are not quarrelsome. In our families, we are to seek peace and harmony above wealth, prosperity, social advancement, academic success.
- There is a blessing in godly families (Proverbs 17:6)
When families hold tightly to the LORD and value knowing him and walking with him, the blessing that is received is experienced both in the family and down through generations. This blessing is objective (godly sons and daughters bring blessing, whereas foolish children bring destruction) as well as subjective (godly sons and daughters make their parents feel joyful, whereas foolish children make them feel despair and sorrow). Parents should long for godliness in their children above everything else.
- It is a family with a purpose (Genesis 12:1-3, 18:19)
God’s purpose and plan for his forever family (covenanted to Abraham) is to bless the world, ‘to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just’.
- It is a family with a Father (Ephesians 1:3-10, Galatians 4:6)
We are blessed by God and given the family status of sonship with Christ. We are adopted as sons and so we have the Spirit of the Son given to us and living in us. This provision of a Father answers one of the deepest longings in the human heart. As his children, we can approach the Father himself (instead of needing to go physically to Christ). The Father loves us with an unchanging love from all eternity, and always will.
- It is a family with a brother (Hebrews 2, Mark 3)
Jesus is not ashamed to identify us as his brothers (and sisters). In his teaching ministry, Jesus makes it clear that those who have faith in Jesus have a closer relationship to Jesus than he had with Mary as his earthly mother.
- It is a family with a bridegroom (2 Corinthians 11:2)
The church is betrothed to Christ as his bride and will be united to him for all eternity on the last day. For all who long for marriage and a deep intimate relationship will be fulfilled on that last day.
- It is a family with children (Isaiah 8:18)
Childlessness is a sad motif that runs throughout the Bible, yet often it is answered by the covenant promises of the LORD (Sarah, Rebekah, etc). These occasions are an anticipation of the fulfillment of children unto God’s people Zion in Christ.
- It is a family with an extended family (1 Peter 2:17)
We have a brotherhood of believers. All Christians around the world share the same Father in Heaven and, therefore, have a global bond of brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ.
- It is a family experienced in some measure within the local church (Galatians 6:10, Titus 2:3-4)
We see (in part) a glimpse of the forever family of God in each local church of faithful followers of Jesus, as people are mother-like and father-like in their discipleship of others in the church. A faithful local church can demonstrate something of the love of God the Father to unbelievers and those from poor or struggling family backgrounds.
Kingdom priorities and the family
Our this-age family is part of creation order and so we are to honour it’s claims.
- Children to parents
- Slaves (workers) to masters (employers)
- Christians to pastors
- Citizens to governments
- Wives to husbands
- Children should obey parents
For example, Jesus honoured and obeyed his parents even when he was doing the will of his Heavenly Father. There may be occasions where this creation order of submission is subverted or abused, but this does not negate this command. For instance, if non-Christian parents do not want their children to come to church, we must help their children to obey them and, in doing so, honour the LORD’s command to all creation.
- Children should honour parents
Creation order provides provision of care and support that begins with parents caring for children but ends with children caring for parents (Matthew 15, Mark 7, 1 Timothy 5:8). We don’t honour our parents for anything they have done but simply because they are our parents.
- Husbands and wives need to be faithful in marriage (even if one is not a Christian)
1 Corinthians 5:13ff urges marriages to be honoured and upheld.
- We are to value having and nurturing children in this present age
While there is still birth and death, we need to value having and nurturing children.
Our Christian family is part of the age to come and so the claims of Christ must reign supreme
- Children need to learn loyalty to Christ above loyalty to their parents
Jesus calls us to love him more than any other human allegiance, while still affirming the fifth commandment. This functions best when parents are urging their children to love and obey Jesus more than but also at the same time as they love and obey them as parents. Our children will one day no longer be subject to our rule and care, but they will always be subject to His rule and care.
- Parents must learn loyalty to Christ above ambitions for their children
How much of what we do as ‘all-age ministry’ is actually only children’s ministry under a different name. Parents need to know and value their place in and under Christ as much as (if not more than) their children. What do parents most long for for their children? The answer to that question betrays the priority they have for their children.
- Husbands and wives must learn loyalty to Christ above partnership to their spouse
We know that it is foolish to be tied to an unbeliever (particularly in marriage) because one will have very different values and priorities to the other. Yet this principle is also true for believing couples. Our spouse might struggle in their faith, our they might have a different outworking of their faith to us. The key is that we are yoked more to Jesus than to our spouse. That way, no matter what happens in our marriages, we will be seeking to honour him and therefore will want what is best for our marriages and our families.
- We find our deepest family ties in our zeal for the Gospel (Mark 10:39)
It is fellowship in Christ and in the Gospel of Jesus that gives us our deepest relationships with others, especially in our earthly families.