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What's so Special About Families?

Some modern visionaries are now suggesting that the definition of family is any group of people living together in the same household regardless of blood connection or sex. But before we throw away the traditional view, shouldn't we consider what we would lose in the process?

by David Treybig

Some people say that families today come in all shapes, sizes and configurations. Because of so much divorce, it is no longer unusual for children to be raised in households apart from their biological parents and with siblings who are their half brothers or half sisters, or with other children and teens who have no biological relation to them at all.

Likewise, it is no longer unusual for men and women to have several marital partners throughout their lifetimes. Some believe that such arrangements are simply the product of enlightened individuals seeking happiness. Many justify their divorces saying: "It's better for the kids to see us happy rather than fighting. The kids are strong and resilient. They'll get over the divorce and eventually have a new family."

This kind of reasoning assumes that families are only temporary relationships until the happiness ends or something better comes along. This, of course, is a monumental change from previous generations, which generally viewed families as fixed and stable for life. It used to be commonly understood that while new inventions would undoubtedly come along changing our lives, we could always count on our families to remain stable. We would always have each other—for better or worse. But now the idea of disposable family relationships—ones that only last as long as everyone is happy—threatens to overwhelm the former perspective.

Some young people may even be pleased with the idea of rearranging their families. Like re-choosing sides for another neighborhood baseball game, some kids may relish the thought of trading brothers or sisters for someone easier to get along with.

Humanly speaking, changing the definition of family can look like a logical decision to match the realities of how people live in our modern world. But all of this reasoning overlooks the teaching of the One who created families in the beginning. God Himself is the originator of families and His intent was that they remain a continuing source of happiness and support for married adults and their offspring throughout their lives.

Let's see how He did this and what He has in mind for families. Let's see what He says about brothers and sisters getting along.

God gives Adam a family

From humanity's earliest beginning, there was only one human—Adam. Being a single male, with no other human around to share his life, was not a good environment for him (Genesis 2:18). In resolving this problem, God gave Adam a family that included one wife, Eve, and later, sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4).

Wedding scene God's intent was that, as the children of Adam and Eve grew up, they would marry and form new families. As God said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). God hoped that men and women who married would stay that way. He hated to see divorce—for a husband or wife to separate and divide their family (Malachi 2:16). Further, God gave the Seventh Commandment, which commands husbands and wives not to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14), as a safeguard to help protect family relationships.

From the instructions given, it is clear that God wanted marriages—and the families created by them—to last. Surprisingly, however, God's purpose for stable families is for far more than just providing happiness.

What marriage teaches us

In writing to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul admonished husbands and wives to love each other and treat each other respectfully—just as Christ treats the Church. In concluding his discussion on marriage, Paul then made a surprising statement: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:32). Previously, in this same letter, Paul spoke of God the Father having a "family in heaven and earth" (Ephesians 3:15).

Now, Paul explained that the human family was similar to our spiritual relationship with Christ. In this analogy, Jesus Christ is the Husband, the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23) and the Church is the wife, the bride (Revelation 21:9).

The reason Jesus died was to make it possible for us to become part of God's family (John 1:12; Romans 8:14,19). This has been God's purpose and plan from the beginning. Just as God intended marriage to be a relationship of continuity and trust, so should our relationship with Christ be. In His relationship with the Church, Jesus will never abandon the bride He loves so deeply or betray that relationship (Hebrews 13:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 2:17). His bride, the Church, will be composed of individuals who are likewise faithful (Revelation 2:10; 17:14). God's spiritual family is not going to be a temporary, throw-away-later relationship.

A human marriage built upon this same principle of trust gives its participants a small taste of this relationship with Christ. Family as designed by God, with inherent trust and happiness, was thus designed to give us a foretaste of an even greater relationship with God.

Foretaste of our spiritual family

Given the fact that human families provide workshops for insight into spiritual principles, how can we fulfill God's desires for us in our families? For starters, we can obey the Fifth Commandment which tells us to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12). When we learn how to honor our physical parents, we learn how to honor our spiritual Father.

If we are blessed with parents who love each other and are faithfully committed to each other, we learn firsthand how to build and sustain mutual respect for others. Families such as these are safe harbors in a world of false values, deception and misinformation. The coming Kingdom of God in the simplest of terms is a large, happy family that will last forever.

Brothers and sisters

While most young people have disagreements and fights with their siblings as they grow up, learning to get along with brothers and sisters is good experience for later in life. For all the supposed hassle of brothers and sisters, these relationships between siblings often turn out to be our longest and most enduring relationships. After all, family is family and family members always remain family. We may disagree with them at times, but we remain members of the same family.

God is calling us to be part of His family, too—but for all eternity. And just like a good parent, God expects us to get along with our spiritual brothers and sisters.

In my family, I was the oldest child with a younger brother and a younger sister. While I didn't always treat them as respectfully or nicely as I should have, my life today is richer and more complete because of them. Today they are some of my best friends.

Family generations

Generations Time has a way of making most of us view things from different perspectives. Now that my own children are grown, I have a deeper appreciation and agreement with my parents' emphasis on family respect and harmony. I guess I'm just following in their footsteps. And guess what? Not long ago, I gained a terrific son-in-law and I'm enjoying having him as part of our family, too. Someday, perhaps I'll also have grandchildren.

Through the years, my family and my wife's have been sources of stability, love and encouragement. I appreciate long-lasting family relationships because they reassure me that God is offering us the same kind of relationship with Him.

So what about the new idea that families can be just about any combination of adults and children? Having experienced the great joys of a traditional family as God intended, I have no desire to water-down the definition as He created it. In comparing my own experience to that of so many dysfunctional families and unhappy relationships that I see all around us, I've learned that His way is by far the best.

But what if you find yourself in a blended family with a stepparent and new brothers or sisters? Are you and your family doomed to failure? Of course, not! God always allows us to learn from our mistakes and try to do things better the next time. Your best course of action is to do the same thing all of us should do—make every effort to make your new family work. Honor your parents as God tells you to do, respect your brothers and sisters—old and new alike—and remember your Creator. If we follow this approach, we can all eventually be part of the greatest family of all—the family of God.

Recommended reading

The Bible offers lots of good advice on many aspects of life. In many ways it's your very own "instruction manual" for life. We've put together some of the Bible's most important principles and instructions about family, friendships, marriage, education, career, finances and health into a free booklet, . Be sure to request your free copy today! YU

About the author:
David Treybig is the managing editor for Youth United e-magazine and pastors United Church of God congregations in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida.

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