Jehovah’s Loving Family Arrangement
“On account of this I bend my knees to the Father, to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name.”—EPHESIANS 3:14, 15.
1, 2. (a) For what purpose did Jehovah create the family unit? (b) What part should the family have today in Jehovah’s arrangement?
JEHOVAH created the family unit. By means of it, he did more than satisfy the human need for companionship, support, or intimacy. (Genesis 2:18) The family was the means through which God’s glorious purpose to fill the earth was to be fulfilled. He told the first married couple: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) The warm and nurturing environment of the family would prove beneficial for the multitude of children who would be born to Adam and Eve and their descendants.
2 That first couple, however, chose the course of disobedience—with devastating results for themselves and their offspring. (Romans 5:12) Family life today is thus a distortion of what God wanted it to be. Still, the family continues to have an important place in Jehovah’s arrangement, serving as a basic unit of Christian society. This is not said with any lack of appreciation for the fine work being performed by the many unmarried Christians in our midst. Rather, we recognize the large contribution that families also make to the spiritual health of the Christian organization as a whole. Strong families make for strong congregations. How, though, can your family thrive in the face of today’s pressures? In answer, let us examine what the Bible has to say regarding the family arrangement.
The Family in Bible Times
3. What roles did the husband and the wife play in the patriarchal family?
3 Adam and Eve both spurned God’s headship arrangement. But men of faith, such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job, rightfully took their places, as family heads. (Hebrews 7:4) The patriarchal family was like a small government, the father acting as religious leader, instructor, and judge. (Genesis 8:20; 18:19) Wives also had an important role, serving not as slaves but as assistant household managers.
4. How did family life change under the Mosaic Law, but what role did parents continue to play?
4 When Israel became a nation in 1513 B.C.E., family law became subordinate to the national Law given through Moses. (Exodus 24:3-8) Authority to decide, including on life-and-death matters, was now given to appointed judges. (Exodus 18:13-26) The Levitical priesthood took over the sacrificial aspects of worship. (Leviticus 1:2-5) Nevertheless, the father continued to play an important role. Moses exhorted fathers: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Mothers had considerable influence. Proverbs 1:8 commanded youths: “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” Yes, within the framework of her husband’s authority, the Hebrew wife could make—and enforce—family law. She was to be honored by her children even after she had grown old.—Proverbs 23:22.
5. How did the Mosaic Law define the place of children in the family arrangement?
5 The place of children was also clearly defined by God’s Law. Said Deuteronomy 5:16: “Honor your father and your mother, just as Jehovah your God has commanded you; in order that your days may prove long and it may go well with you on the ground that Jehovah your God is giving you.” Disrespect for one’s parents was a most serious offense under the Mosaic Law. (Exodus 21:15, 17) “In case there should be any man who calls down evil upon his father and his mother,” stated the Law, “he should be put to death without fail.” (Leviticus 20:9) Rebellion against one’s parents was tantamount to rebellion against God himself.
The Role of Christian Husbands
6, 7. Why did Paul’s words at Ephesians 5:23-29 seem revolutionary to his first-century readers?
6 Christianity shed light upon the family arrangement, in particular upon the role of the husband. Outside of the Christian congregation, it was common for husbands in the first century to treat their wives in a harsh, oppressive manner. Women were denied basic rights and dignity. The Expositor’s Bible says: “The cultivated Greek took a wife for the production of children. Her rights put no restriction upon his appetite. Love was not in the marriage contract. . . . The slave-woman had no rights. Her body was at her owner’s disposal.”
7 In such a climate, Paul penned the words of Ephesians 5:23-29: “A husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body. . . . Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it . . . Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” To first-century readers, these words were nothing short of revolutionary. Says The Expositor’s Bible: “Nothing in Christianity appeared more novel and more severe, in comparison with the dissolute morals of the time, than the Christian view of marriage. . . . [It] opened a new era for mankind.”
8, 9. What unhealthy attitudes toward women are common among men, and why is it important that Christian men reject such viewpoints?
8 The Bible’s counsel for husbands is no less revolutionary today. Despite all the talk of women’s liberation, women are still viewed by many men as mere objects for sexual gratification. Believing the myth that women actually enjoy being dominated, controlled, or bullied, many men physically and emotionally abuse their wives. How disgraceful it would be for a Christian man to be swayed by worldly thinking and to treat his wife abusively! “My husband was a ministerial servant and gave public talks,” says one Christian woman. Yet, she reveals, “I was a victim of wife beating.” Clearly, such actions were out of harmony with God’s arrangement. That man was a rare exception; he needed to seek help to deal with his rage if he hoped to have God’s favor.—Galatians 5:19-21.
9 Husbands are commanded by God to be loving their wives as their own bodies. Refusing to do so is rebellion against the very arrangement of God and can undermine one’s relationship with God. The apostle Peter’s words are clear: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with [your wives] according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, . . . in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7) Treating one’s wife harshly could also have a devastating effect on her spirituality and the spirituality of one’s offspring.
10. What are some ways in which husbands can exercise headship in a Christlike manner?
10 Husbands, your family will flourish under your headship if you exercise it in a Christlike way. Christ was never harsh or abusive. On the contrary, he could say: “Learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) Can your family say that of you? Christ treated his disciples as friends and put trust in them. (John 15:15) Do you grant your wife the same dignity? The Bible said of the “capable wife”: “In her the heart of her owner has put trust.” (Proverbs 31:10, 11) That means allowing her a measure of freedom and latitude, not hemming her in with unreasonable restrictions. Furthermore, Jesus encouraged his disciples to express their feelings and opinions. (Matthew 9:28; 16:13-15) Do you do likewise with your wife? Or do you view honest disagreement as a challenge to your authority? By taking your wife’s feelings into account rather than ignoring them, you actually build her respect for your headship.
11. (a) How can fathers care for the spiritual needs of their children? (b) Why must elders and ministerial servants set a good example in caring for their families?
11 If you are a father, you are also required to take the lead in caring for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of your children. That includes having a good spiritual routine for your family: working with them in the field service, conducting a home Bible study, discussing the day’s text. Interestingly, the Bible shows that an elder or a ministerial servant should be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner.” Men serving in these capacities should thus be exemplary family heads. While they may carry a heavy load of congregation responsibilities, they must give their own families priority. Paul showed why: “If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?”—1 Timothy 3:4, 5, 12.
Supportive Christian Wives
12. What part does the wife play in the Christian arrangement?
12 Are you a Christian wife? Then you must also play a vital part in the family arrangement. Christian wives are exhorted “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands.” (Titus 2:4, 5) You should thus strive to be an exemplary housewife, maintaining a clean and pleasant home for your family. Domestic work may at times be tedious, but it is neither demeaning nor trivial. As wife, you “manage a household” and may enjoy considerable latitude in this regard. (1 Timothy 5:14) The “capable wife,” for example, purchased household supplies, made real-estate transactions, and even generated income by managing a small business. No wonder she earned her husband’s praise! (Proverbs, chapter 31) Naturally, such initiatives were made within the guidelines her husband gave as her head.
13. (a) Why may submission be difficult for some women? (b) Why is it advantageous for Christian women to submit themselves to their husbands?
13 Subjecting yourself to your husband may not always be easy, however. Not all men command respect. And you may well be quite capable when it comes to handling finances, planning, or organizing. You may have a secular job and make a substantial contribution to the family income. Or you may have suffered in some way from male domination in the past and may find it difficult to submit to a man. Nevertheless, showing “deep respect,” or “fear,” for your husband demonstrates your respect of God’s headship. (Ephesians 5:33, Kingdom Interlinear; 1 Corinthians 11:3) Submission is also crucial to the success of your family; it helps you to avoid subjecting your marriage to unnecessary stresses and strains.
14. What might a wife do when she disagrees with a decision made by her husband?
14 Does this mean, though, that you must be silent when you feel your husband is making a decision that works against your family’s best interests? Not necessarily. Abraham’s wife Sarah was not silent when she perceived a threat to the well-being of her son, Isaac. (Genesis 21:8-10) Similarly, you may sense an obligation to express your feelings at times. If this is done in a respectful way at “the right time,” a godly Christian man will listen. (Proverbs 25:11) But if your suggestion is not followed and no serious violation of a Bible principle is involved, would not going against your husband’s wishes be self-defeating? Remember, “the truly wise woman has built up her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.” (Proverbs 14:1) One way to build up your house is to be supportive of your husband’s headship, praising his accomplishments while taking his mistakes in stride.
15. In what ways can a wife share in the discipline and training of her children?
15 Another way to build up your house is to share in the discipline and training of your children. For example, you can do your part to keep the family Bible study regular and upbuilding. “Do not let your hand rest” when it comes to sharing God’s truths with your children at every opportunity—when traveling or simply shopping with them. (Ecclesiastes 11:6) Help them to prepare their comments for the meetings and parts on the Theocratic Ministry School. Keep an eye on their associations. (1 Corinthians 15:33) When it comes to matters of godly standards and discipline, let your children know that you and your husband are united. Do not allow them to play you against your husband.
16. (a) What Biblical example serves to encourage single parents and those married to unbelievers? (b) How may others in the congregation be of help to such ones?
16 If you are a single parent or have an unbelieving mate, you may very well have to take the lead spiritually. This may be difficult and at times even discouraging. But do not give up. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, succeeded in teaching him the holy Scriptures “from infancy,” despite her being married to an unbeliever. (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15) And many in our midst are enjoying similar success. If you need some assistance in this regard, you might let your needs be known to the elders. They may be able to arrange for someone to help you get to meetings and out in field service. They may encourage others to include your family in recreational outings or gatherings. Or they may arrange to have an experienced publisher help you get a family study started.
17. (a) How can youths contribute to the family welfare? (b) What example did Jesus set in this regard?
17 Christian youths can contribute to the family’s welfare by following the counsel of Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and your mother’; which is the first command with a promise: ‘That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.’” By cooperating with your parents, you demonstrate your respect for Jehovah. Jesus Christ was perfect and could easily have reasoned that it was below his dignity to submit to imperfect parents. Yet, “he continued subject to them. . . . And Jesus went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.”—Luke 2:51, 52.
18, 19. (a) What does it mean to honor one’s parents? (b) How can the home become a place of refreshment?
18 Should you not likewise honor your parents? “Honor” here means to recognize duly constituted authority. (Compare 1 Peter 2:17.) In most situations such honor is due even if one’s parents are unbelievers or are failing to set a good example. You should honor your parents all the more if they are exemplary Christians. Remember, too, that the discipline and direction given by your parents are not intended to restrict you unduly. Rather, they are to protect you so that you can “continue living.”—Proverbs 7:1, 2.
19 What a loving arrangement, then, the family is! When husbands, wives, and children all follow God’s rules for family life, the home becomes a haven, a place of refreshment. Nevertheless, problems involving communication and child training may arise. Our next article discusses how some of these problems can be solved.
Do You Remember?
□ What pattern was set by God-fearing husbands, wives, and children in Bible times?
□ What light did Christianity shed upon the role of the husband?
□ What part should the wife play in the Christian family?
□ How can Christian youths contribute to the family’s welfare?
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“Nothing in Christianity appeared more novel and more severe, in comparison with the dissolute morals of the time, than the Christian view of marriage. . . . [It] opened a new era for mankind”
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Christian husbands encourage their wives to express their feelings, taking those feelings into account