Here are my notes from the 2017 Growing Young Disciples residential conference, for those engaging in Bible-centred youth ministry.
In this account of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus offends his hearers, by being a local upstart (6:42) who claims to be the son of God (6:51).
Jesus’ words are offensive
The idea that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life is repulsive. This was true in the time of John 6, and is true today. To claim such today is to be a bigot, outdated and irrelevant.
But we must never limit Jesus’ words just to keep people attending our groups. This might include…
- 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)
Jesus words are not just the words of a man but the very Words of the God Man, who speaks words that bring eternal life. Nothing can compare to Jesus’ words, this is why they need to be front and centre in all that we do. For instance, asking ‘how is this going to help me share the words of eternal life with young people?’
What if people stop coming? That might happen. If so, we need to check that they are offended by the words of Jesus and his Gospel, rather than by anything that is our responsibility.
There are no guarantees. But if we limit Jesus’ words, then no-one will hear eternal life.
The idea of family is one that is common in our culture: physical family, interest groups, commercial partners, etc. Families are complicated and interconnected things that have a great impact on us and shape us all as individuals. The Bible, because of who God is, has family as a major theme and so it is important to consider all that the Bible has to say on family; both our blood-line family but also our faith-line family.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
The biblical word for ‘family’ covers the immediate family but also the wider family, descendants and ancestors. In Ephesians 3:15, the Greek word conveys the idea of complete or entire family, that is, every family. When the LORD names things he is not just giving them a label but determining what they are like. Family is no different. Family does not just get its label from God the Father; it gets it’s form, nature and substance from the LORD God, who is ‘Father’.
This means that we do not get a sense of who God is by looking at earthly fathers. Instead, God the Father determines what earthly fathers should be like. When we see steadfast loving kindness displayed through family relationships, with fathers in particular (no matter how small or slight), we are seeing a glimpse of God the Father’s character, his fatherly ‘DNA’. We can see this in all families (through God’s common grace) but should particularly be evident in believing families.
Five aspects of God’s fatherhood…
- 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
The world we live in tells us that family is cultural, and so we can express family (and other things, such as gender) however we like; ‘designer’ morality and ethics. Yet Creation has a King – a Lord. This means that Creation (including us) must submit to what the Lord of Creation says.
The 10 commandments stand above all other directives of the Old Testament. Commandments 5 and 7 give us God’s intended building blocks for families. They are the husband-wife relationship (Genesis 2:15-18, Exodus 20:14, Ephesians 5:21-33), and the parent-child relationship (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3).
Do not commit adultery
‘Adultery’ is the catch-all reference for all sexual immorality and relational intimacy. The relationship of a man and woman in marriage is one of the key illustrations used in the Bible for God and His people, of Christ and His church. The biblical material on marriage gives positive content but also sets a number of negative implications.
- 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
‘Honour’ to the father and mother is God’s foundation for all social order, government, authority and responsibility. A society’s attitude to family and family life is directly linked to their allegiance and alignment to the Fatherly familial LORD God.
- 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.
Followers of Jesus have a unique opportunity and responsibility to tell and demonstrate the wonders of God’s goodness in seeking to follow his decress and designs.
Failure, forgiveness and the family
Suffering in the world is very common throughout human history, like times of happiness are islands in a sea of turmoil. This is true of our families, too. We need to feel the reality of our sin and failure… and then take the medicine of the Gospel.
First, our failure. A tour of six characteristics of family dysfunctionality:
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.
We must not claim to be apart from this – this is us, this is me! Neither must we resort to self-help thinking or self-centered theology. The source of all these things is the sin in us, in our hearts, and they are the polar opposite of the characteristics of the loving kindness in the heart of God.
Only the LORD God of the Bible is able to bring hope in the face of evil and suffering.
- 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).
We must be clear that it is grace that changes people, and so it is grace that our families need most. Grace teaches us to be honest about sin (it gives us that freedom) and to seek God’s work in us, allowing him to change us and conform us to his likeness.
Remember: there is more grace in Jesus than there is in the most sinful people and the most sin-stricken family.
Wisdom in the family
What does it mean to live family life God’s way (changed by grace, seeking to be upright and godly)?
Six preliminary observations about viewing the wisdom of Proverbs as a whole:
- 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
Five themes from Proverbs:
- 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.
Talking about the family and fatherhood of God is often difficult for people because of the struggles and sin that is present in our own lives. These things strain our understanding of family, distort our understanding of fatherhood and maligns our perception of family relationships.
We can also feel discouraged about our own families and ministry, as well as envious of others. How reassuring that we can look forward to our forever family in Christ.
Seven features of the forever family:
- 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
Christians are effectively part of two families: our ‘this age’ earthly family and our ‘new forever’ heavenly family.
Our this-age family is part of creation order and so we are to honour it’s claims.
The Bible gives us five arenas of submission:
- Children to parents
- Slaves (workers) to masters (employers)
- Christians to pastors
- Citizens to governments
- Wives to husbands
Of these, the relationships of family (husbands, wives and children) are central in this present age.
- 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.
These priorities are one of the things that separates true Christianity from being a cult.
Our Christian family is part of the age to come and so the claims of Christ must reign supreme
In Matthew 10:32-39, Jesus places alignment and adherence to his Word and his claims above every earthly relationship. This means:
- 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.