Scripture: Eph. 5:21 – 6:1-4; Deut. 6
Leading Question: From an educational perspective, where can one go in the Bible to find he ideal family setting and the ideal family in action?
In both Testaments, but especially in Old, one is likely to learn more about family models by contrast than by comparison. In our age, we have moved to an individualistic model rather than a communal model. And from what we find in Scripture, we are likely to learn more by contrast, that is, how not to behave as a family, rather than by seeing a family in an ideal setting and putting the ideal into action.
But to answer our leading question, “Where do we find the ideal in the Bible?” let’s go to one key passage in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6, and to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament, Eph. 5:21 – 6:4.
Deut. 6:1-9 (NRSV): Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Question: To what extent does repetition get the job done?
Comment: Memorization often forms a solid foundation for further reflection and action. But mere repetition will not necessarily lead to principled thinking and action. But later in the same chapter the ideal comes closer to realization in narrative form:
Deut. 6:20-25 (NRSV): 20 When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. 23 He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. 25 If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right.”
Comment: Two things are worth noting in this part of Deuteronomy 6: 1) obedience was a matter of healthy survival in their new land. In short, obedience has nothing directly to do with salvation; 2) the narrative form is more likely to find a permanent home in the minds of both parents and children.
Ephesians 5:21 – 33 (NRSV): 21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
Ephesians 6:1-4 (NRSV): Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: 3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Here one finds explicit counsel for both parents and children. And it is in a form that is much applicable to us. In general, it’s better to go to the New Testament virtue lists where the traits are universally applicable to individualistic as well as communal cultures and the “fruit of the Spirit” passage leads the way:
Gal. 5:22-26 (NRSV): By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Question: Does good parenting produce good children.
Comment: Any devout and careful parent would be grieved if the children did not turn out well. But there is encouragement from many of the stories in Scripture. One of the more striking cluster of examples comes the monarchy in Judah: The wicked king Ahaz raised Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings. But then good king Hezekiah raised Manasseh, one of the most evil kings and Manasseh, who reigned for 55 years, the longest of any king in Judah. His son Amon was also wicked, but only reigned 2 year. Yet this “wicked” father-grandfather duo raised Josiah, again one of Judah’s best kings. In short, even the best of parenting is no guarantee of good results, and the worst of parenting does not necessarily doom a child to bad results.
Finally, let’s consider Old Testament examples of how not to raise children:
Abraham and Sarah: both told lies and both encouraged bigamy with Hagar
Isaac and Rebecca: both showed favoritism
Jacob: polygamy and favoritism
Eli: his boys did not turn out well
Samuel: his boys did not turn out well
David: after his affair with Bathsheba, his family fell apart
In sum. It’s much easier to tell others how to be good parents than to be a good parent yourself.