Family worship is typically a source of much guilt for us. Not so much because of the content of what may be discussed, but rather in our neglect of it. We may read books about family worship, we may know what we are supposed to do in family worship, but we may still neglect the practice. Below are some ways family worship can become a habit in your family.
- Meditate often on the promises of Scripture. Family worship will be a painful chore if it does not flow from a deep love for God. A deep love for God flows from his deep love for us, summarized in his promises. So meditate on them so you would have joy in the Christian discipline of family worship.
- Have a plan. Without some kind of direction and purpose to your family worship, you will lack a clear message. This, in turn, will distract your children and cause you to be discouraged. And when you are discouraged…you will quit.
- Keep it simple. Sometimes we fathers are paralyzed by our desire to be profound. We want our family worship lesson to sound like our favorite celebrity pastor. There is a reason these men are well-known: they are uniquely gifted communicators. More significant than your infrequent profundity is your faithful daily reading of Scripture to your family. Stay within your range of gifts, and lead your family in the study of God’s pure words.
- Make it a routine. We live in a time when “routine” is a bad word. However, routine is very helpful in establishing habits. Choose a time when you will gather as a family to worship. In our family it has typically been around one of the family meals. Depending on our schedule for the semester, we will come together for family worship either around the breakfast or supper table. By choosing a regular time, you and your children will learn to expect the event, and miss it when it does not happen.
- Keep your material close at hand. If you have to rummage around your house to find your Bibles you have introduced a potential excuse. Keep all those things in a cupboard or drawer nearby. Do not tempt your own laziness by having your family worship materials in the next county.
- Be faithful in private worship. The strength of your family worship will only be as strong as your own commitment to the pursuit of God’s word. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is the passage that is most often cited when it comes to our duty of family worship. That passage lays out a specific order. First the parent is to love God and his word. Then he is to pass it on to his children.
The word of God feeds our souls. For that reason we should be diligent to set it before our children daily. Make it a priority in your family starting today.
“The prophet’s scorn for what is false is a generous thing because it springs from a profound love of what is true.”
(J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent)
We live in a society that is learning to hate rules. “Judge not, that you be not judged” is now one of the most popular verses in all the Bible. We hate prohibitions. We love freedom. We hate the “nos” but love the “yesses”. Biblically speaking, however, both prohibitions and prescriptions are present. Take the Ten Commandments. Eight of the commandments are prohibitions, things we ought not to do. Therefore negative commands, or commands which forbid behavior, are not a problem. Biblical prohibitions are only problematic when they are void of a godly love of biblical prescriptions. What I mean is that our reasons for not doing evil are based on our love for doing good. We do not do certain things because they are wicked, while we do other things because they are righteous. And our God loves righteous deeds (Psalm 11:7).
When it comes to our children, we are God’s agents to help them learn how to serve and fear him. For that reason, the rules of our home should be structured around prohibiting wickedness and promoting righteousness. We teach our children not to hit others, but to be gentle. The former is wicked while the latter is righteous. We teach them not to steal, but to be generous and willing to share. The former is a prohibition, while the latter is a prescription. We teach these rules because of our deep love for the God who saved us. He has charged us to raise up or children in the instruction of his name (Eph. 6:4). His prohibitions and prescriptions give shape to wickedness and righteousness for our children. In our daily worship to God in our parenting, we should not be like the husband who buys power-tools for his wife, or the wife who buys a subscription to Southern Living magazine for her husband. People who do that are offering gifts to themselves. Rather, the spiritual worship we offer to God should honor him and do so in the way he has described in his word. Just to confirm, his word both prohibits and prescribes.
If we concentrate only on what we should not do, we lose sight of the love of virtue. If we neglect what we should do, we lose sight of the hatred of wickedness. In both cases we are loosing sight of the gospel. In sending the Son to be our substitute on the cross, the Father does not only set us free from the guilt of our sin, but also frees us from the dominion of sin. When live apart from sin’s mastery, we learn to say no to wickedness in obeying God’s prohibitions and say yes to righteousness by following his prescriptions.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut. 6:6-7, ESV)
The obligation of Christian parents to pass on the truth of God’s word is clear in God’s word. The problem is, we do not have an exact “game plan” of what that may look like. Beyond bringing our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, ESV), how do we find the passage that gives us the checklist? Of course, no such list exists. Our task as parents is simply to set God’s promises and commands before our children so they might know who to love and how to love him (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #3). Below are some different ways we can teach our children diligently and raise them up in the instruction of the Lord:
- Catechisms. Catechisms, of course, do not replace the Bible, but summarize the teachings of the Bible. The Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism help your children understand the basic categories of theology, keeping them from error in what they believe and how they live. G. I. Williamson has written very beneficial study guides for each which can help you lead your families through a study of the catechisms.
- Bible reading. You may choose to read one chapter per day from the Bible with our children. Read a chapter a day until you finish a book and then start another one. Make sure you choose both New Testament and Old Testament books. If you do this daily, you will have 365 chances each year to teach your children what you are learning as you study God’s word for yourself.
- Sermon review. Each day you can talk with your children about part of what you have learned together during corporate worship. This method gives you a handy outline to start with and will help reinforce what was taught from the pulpit. All you need is a little note taking during Sunday worship and choosing several main themes on which to concentrate (see an example here).
- Topical study. The catechism is topical, but here I mean something else. Sometimes we may come across a certain theological concept we want to teach our children. Other times there is a certain behavior that crops up in our home. This kind of family worship takes time to address these issues over a span of a week or two.
I’m sure you can come up with more ways to lead your family in worship, but these four can help you get started with family worship. Don’t neglect your responsibility. Adjust what you are saying to the age of your children. Without your leadership in family worship, your children will only think of God’s word on Sunday, and that is simply not enough.
Last post we talked about personal and family worship as essential to the health of the family. Though we recognize the significance of family worship, sometimes the “how” of implementing this joyful duty is less clear. Below are some thoughts on what to include as we lead our families in worship.
Pray Together. Children learn how to pray from their parents. If they never hear us pray for anything other than the meal, how will they develop in prayer? For our children who are just learning to pray, we can supply some basic guidelines for their prayers. In our home, a staple for our youngest prayers is asking God to forgive their sin and thanking him for taking care of them. As children grow in maturity, they quickly learn to verbalize their own thoughts. Since these thoughts have various degrees of purity and faithfulness to God’s will, we should take time to instruct our children in prayer. Fortunately the Bible supplies the model in the Lord’s Prayer. Not only should we teach them to memorize the prayer, but also instruct them as to what the six petitions mean. Westminster Shorter Catechism numbers 100-107 provide great help to us.
Study Together. As basic as this truth may seem in a post on Family Worship it still must be said. Parents are to set the words and commands of God before our children (Cf. Deut. 6:6-7). We cannot fulfill this parental responsibility when the book in which the words are found is never opened. The next question in your mind might be: “But what should I study from God’s word?” I have some thoughts on that question, but it will wait until the next post. For now let us recognize that we must study the Bible with our children if we expect them to know it.
Sing Together. Even though there is a healthy range in musical ability across families, psalms and hymns should be sung in our homes. For some this task is easy due of the musical gifts the Lord has given. For others, this part of family worship is more difficult. In extreme cases, mp3s and CDs can provide the necessary scaffolding to be able to sing together. However, for the most part, we should pick up our favorite psalter and hymnal and worship God in song together, even if it is only a joyful noise. Even 3 year-olds can easily learn psalms and hymns. Once known, they will have the opportunity to participate in the church’s worship when those songs are selected by the pastor. As our children mature we can teach them to sing parts and have them accompany our singing with different instruments, all to the praise and glory of God.
Family worship can be a tremendous spiritual catalyst. As the Holy Spirit gives fruit, our children will learn how to pray, participate in congregational worship, and hear the very promises and commands of God. Do not deprive your children of that opportunity.
Within the family context, God’s word provides us with the stability we need live for his glory. Therefore it is important that we are students of the Bible. Our personal worship is of most significance. From our private practice of Bible study we will build our leadership in family worship. Our teaching to our children will only be as meaningful as our personal worship is strong. So a couple of thoughts about these activities:
Personal Worship. Our personal study of God’s promises and commandments prepares us for our public practice of them. Now I know we should not read the Bible to pull up our Bible reading app and fool our phones into thinking we are good Christians. If we read for the praise of man or our smart phone app, we have received our reward. Instead, our reading should flow from a deep love for our Savior and a desire to know how we should express our love for him. Psalm 119 is a perfect example of how we should feel about the study of God’s word. The psalmist uses words such as “praise”, “delight”, and “wondrous”, to describe his study of God’s commands. As we give our attention to our Savior’s words, we can ask him to open our eyes to see wondrous things out of his law (Ps. 119:18).
Family Worship. We fathers must make sure to lead our families in Bible study each day. In doing so, we model how to study God’s word to our children. This task can be intimidating which tempts us toward dangerous and harmful extremes. On the one hand we may do too much. If we find ourselves coming to family worship with a 20 page, single spaced, heavily foot-noted treatise on the meaning of the wheel covered in eyes in Ezekiel 1, we are trying too hard. If that is our practice, we are teaching our children God’s word is too complicated and boring. On the other hand we can do way too little. If we find ourselves not doing family worship because we have to be at the next extra-curricular commitment for our children we are doing too little. The failure to practice anything teaches our children that hobbies are more important than God’s word.
So how do we make personal and family worship healthy, balanced and meaningful? Of course, we must practice it in the first place. But then, the Westminster Shorter Catechism #3 gives two simple questions we can ask of any biblical passage we read: 1. What does this passage teach us about what we should believe about God? and 2. What does this passage teach us about our duty toward God? Every passage will address either one, or both of these questions. Then take the time to explain what you are learning to your children. Teach them God’s word and pray that he would use your feeble efforts to open their eyes and see the truth of God’s promises in all their beauty.
Christian marriage, like all of life, is shaped by self-denial. There is, of course, an understanding among most adults that we cannot always get our way in human relationships. However, I’m talking about something a little different: the denial of self in pursuit of our daily worship of God. Romans 12:1 teaches we are, by God’s mercy, to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The motive is not inward, but an act of worship toward God. As John Calvin has said, that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory.” (On the Christian Life, Chapter 2, Section 1). Glorifying God should happen in all of life, so what shape does that take in our marriage relationships?
- Think Sympathetically. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Our Heavenly Father is all those things and, as his adopted children, we are to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). All people are a little irritating at times, but think on that which is excellent: the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse. Think of the ways your spouse has been used by God to bless and sanctify you. In doing so, you give glory to God for the goodness he has worked in your spouse.
- Communicate Graciously. So often we communicate our love for each other according to our own preferences. We should instead take account of the likes and needs of our spouse in a kind and tenderhearted way (Eph. 4:32). If your wife needs help managing the children we are not expressing concern about them when we buy them our favorite cordless drill. That purchase was made for you, not her. God calls us to love our fellow man as ourselves. Since our spouses are included within that category, we should honor the Lord in our expressions of affection by being tender-hearted as he commands.
- Serve Selflessly. The first years marriage, Lisa and I would argue about who worked harder. We were both convinced we were shouldering the bulk of the family’s load. Obviously we were thinking of our own glory instead of God’s. Yet he commands us to “through love, serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). The most important question is not whether you are working harder than your spouse, but whether you are effectively and selflessly performing your God-ordained role. In doing so you give glory to God.
The Bible tells us we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reflection of the content of your heart can only be seen by what you do. It is not most clearly seen in what we do when we know everyone is watching, but around the one person most likely accept us despite all our warts and sins.
Last week we began looking at the roles God has set out in his word to guide Christian marriage. Usually men, in their carnality, love to hear the passages of Scripture that deal with submission. It can awaken a sense of entitlement, or pride. God anticipates this reaction when dealing with Christian marriage. Immediately following his teaching to Christian wives he follows up the husbands.
In Eph. 5:22-33 you may notice that, while 51 words are used to instruct the wife the husband needs 102. It is exactly in combining the instruction to the man with what we have previously seen given to the woman that we see the compelling beauty of God’s design for marriage. Here, God gives men the following instruction about his relationship with his wife.
- Husbands are to lead as servants. The expectation of many is that men, in marriage, will be the selfish oaf sleeping on the couch while the wife scurries around doing all the work. Nothing could be further from the ideal, as far as Paul is concerned. The husbands is to love is wife as Christ loved the church (5:25). Christ loved the church by giving up the splendor of heaven and suffering humiliation from the day he was conceived up until the point when he is raised from the dead. He suffers those things to redeem his church because he loves her. Christ is the picture given to the husband to follow in leadership. He must be willing to give up the greatest personal comforts for the sake of his bride, just as Christ was. Therefore, the husbands concern in marriage is not his happiness and ease, but his wife’s.
- Husbands are spiritual leaders. True happiness is not found in stuff, but in faith in Christ. Often the man is seen as the provider, which is part of his job in marriage. However, he is primarily to be the spiritual leader of his home. Christ gives himself up to sanctify the church, cleansing her through the washing with the word. That is where true joy is found. Therefore the tired, discouraged husband still takes time to open the Bible with his wife, to lead her. The husband does not affect spiritual change in his wife, but can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about such transformation.
- Husbands are to lead as they would like to be led. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies (5:28-29). I don’t know many men who would like to be ignored, taken for granted, and treated badly for the sake of some personal convenience. Therefore they are not to treat their wives that way.
It is in combining biblical submission with leadership that the beauty of God’s design for marriage is seen. The wife joyfully follows her husbands leadership trusting him to lead her spiritually as they are sanctified together by the Holy Spirit. That, my friend, is true joy.
Having laid out foundational assumptions in last week’s installment we can now begin to address the issue of marriage. In Genesis 2:18-24 God establishes marriage in this order: 1. God made man; 2. God made woman; 3. God brings them together; 4. therefore, marriage. But God does much more than simply establish marriage. Our God and Savior gives us roles within marriage to be practiced for his glory.
There are three primary biblical texts to which we can turn for instruction on the roles of husbands and wives within marriage: Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18-19, and 1 Pet. 3:1-7. In examining biblical roles we will mostly use the Ephesians passage. This text begins by addressing the woman’s role in marriage.
In Eph. 5:22, Paul calls the wife to “submit to your own husbands”. Paul helps us understand what this means through a word-picture. “Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Eph. 5:24). In our day, submission is often associated enslavement to tyranical napoleon complex types. Even “complementarians” can do summersaults to avoid the cultural backlash of using this word. But if God says it, it must be good. So what should we consider when it comes the issue of biblical submission?
- The cultural definition of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an enslavement, but rather a joyful yielding of our rights to one in leadership over us. Each day we submit to many things such as traffic laws, lines at customer service counters, our bosses, clients, and the list goes on. Why then would a woman submitting to the man she loves be a bad thing?
- The nature of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an assessment of the value or rank of a person. Therefore there should be free and open discussion between husbands and wives on the decisions that will be made in their marriage.
- Wives are to follow the leadership of their husbands. The church is led by Christ, and marriage is a picture of that relationship. The wife takes on the role of the church and the husband that of Christ. Therefore, the husband leads the marriage, and the wife follows his leadership.
- The wife is to submit to her husband in everything. The Bible teaches that, unless the husband is leading to sin, the wife is to submit to her husband. In everything. My next post will show this instruction to be less risky than it may appear to you now, especially when considering a properly functioning, Biblical marriage.
The challenge of examining biblical roles for marriage by weekly installments is that we look at each role in isolation. The Bible teaches on these roles in relation to each other, so our conclusions on roles within marriage will have to wait until next week when we examine the Bible’s prescribed role for men.
If parenting is a labor of foggy love, so is marriage. Of course it does not start out that way. When I started dating my wife 24 years ago, our first days were all excitement, sunshine and roses. Nary a cross word was spoken between us, and we had limitless patience for each other, or so it seemed. We were young, foolish and ran into all sorts of trouble. Lisa was eighteen years old when we married, and there was a pressing motivating factor behind our marriage who arrived six months later. For people looking at our start, the most likely outcome would be two (or three) ruined people and one ruined marriage. However, by God’s grace he preserved us, using people and his word to sanctify us and accomplish his purpose in us.
Now I’m no marriage guru, but I think I have learned a couple of things after 22 years. I want to walk through some of what I’ve learned in my own marriage and try and clear the fog a little. However, first there are foundational assumptions to lay out:
- Trust the Bible. Christians start with the sufficiency and perspicuity (why just say “clarity” when you can say “perspicuity”?) of the Bible to give stability to every part of life, including marriage. The Bible and the Bible alone is our final authority when it comes to every single minuscule detail of our lives. Sorry Oprah.
- Biblical Obedience Presumes Regeneration. It seems one always has to make this disclaimer when teaching the commands of Scripture. As soon as the “thou shalts” of the Bible come out, so do the cries of “legalism!” In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 16, good works are described as acts done according to God’s command, out of faith in him, as we live empowered by the Holy Spirit, bearing his fruit. That means biblical marriage does not make you acceptable to God. Instead, you are acceptable to God by the work of Christ alone, therefore you should honor him in your marriage.
- Command and Principle. Though the Bible will be specific in its commands, there will areas of marriage governed by application of biblical principle. In these there can be variety among faithful Christians. It is my goal to be gracious in teaching application, yet uncompromising in the Bible’s requirements for obedience.
- Men and Women Are Different. In some quarters there is a desire to minimize differences between men and women. However, the Bible does not operate that way. For example, the curses given to Adam and Eve after the fall are not the same. God curses Adam with hardship in his work, and curses Eve with hardship in bearing children and submission. If men and women are the same God would not need to make distinctions along gender lines in his curses.
So, no legalistic righteousness through marriage. Instead we will look together at God’s requirements for his people in marriage so we would know how to honor him.