Keys to Family Unity
Family life represents different seasons of life for different people. For the mother and father, the introduction of children in their lives represents a major change, one that will last their lifetimes. And for the offspring, of course, going from nonexistence to existence is, indeed, a major transition. Then, too, children go through the various stages of life until they leave home and, indeed, might have children of their own.
Yet, whether as parents or children in a family, we all struggle with the same thing, and this is our sinful fallen natures, which can make unity in family life very challenging, to say the least.
Yes, in the body of Jesus Christ on the cross all humanity has been reconciled to God and to one another (Eph. 2:13–16, Col. 1:21–23), but on a daily practical level we must appropriate for ourselves the grace of Christ, which alone can make family unity a living experience for all who seek it in faith. This must be a daily experience in our lives. Fortunately, through the grace of Christ, it can be.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 18.
The cross of Christ removes the barriers that separate people from each other. Walls separated worshipers in the Jewish temple, men from women, and Jews from Gentiles. Describing the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, Paul used language that applies equally to other divisions between nations, people groups, social strata, and gender. “To create out of the two a single new humanity in himself, thereby making peace” (Eph. 2:15, NEB) is good news that helps couples to truly know “one flesh” unity in marriage. Also, by faith in Christ, long-divided families can be reconciled.
“Picture a large circle, from the edge of which are many lines all running to the center. The nearer these lines approach the center, the nearer they are to one another. . . .
“The closer we come to Christ, the nearer we shall be to one another.”—Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 179.
“Between father and son, husband and wife, . . . stands Christ the Mediator, whether they are able to recognize him or not. We cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through him, through his word, and through our following of him.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The MacMillan Publishing Co., 1979), p. 108.
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 3:12, NIV).
Unity among His followers was on Jesus’ mind in this prayer. Experiencing agape love is essential to this unity. Agape is the Bible word for God’s love used in this prayer and in many other places in the New Testament. Such love is God’s very nature (1 John 4:8), and it identifies Jesus’ followers (John 13:35). God’s love is not natural to the sinful human heart. It comes into one’s life as Jesus dwells with the believer by His Spirit (Rom. 5:5; 8:9, 11).
“ ‘Love each other as I have loved you’ ” (John 15:12, NIV). The disciple John, who wrote these words, was once not lovable but proud, power-hungry, critical, and hot-tempered (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54, 55; see also The Desire of Ages, p. 295). Later in life he remembered how Jesus had kept on loving him in spite of these traits. Jesus’ love gradually changed John, enabling him to love others in Christian unity. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NKJV), he wrote, and “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11, NKJV).
“If pride and selfishness were laid aside, five minutes would remove most difficulties.”—Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 119.
As human beings, our natures have been corrupted by sin. And, perhaps, the greatest example of that corruption is the curse of selfishness. We seem to be born selfish; we can see this reality in small children, whose basic nature is want for themselves. “Me, me, me . . .” By the time we reach adulthood, this trait can manifest itself in some pretty terrible ways, especially in the home.
Of course, Jesus came to change this (Eph. 4:24). His Word promises us that we, through Him, don’t have to be dominated by this destructive character trait. His whole life is a perfect example of what it means to live without selfishness; to the degree we emulate His life (1 John 2:6), we will overcome the tendency to live only for ourselves.
1 John 3:16–18
As Ellen G. White wrote above, if pride and selfishness were put aside, so many problems could be solved very quickly, long before they fester and brew and eventually turn into something nasty. All members of the family, especially the parents, must be purged (Prov. 16:6) of this sin at the foot of the Cross (the greatest example in all the universe of selflessness), even if that means constantly coming back to the Cross and kneeling in prayer, faith, tears, and submission.
The word submit (Eph. 5:21) means to place oneself humbly before another person on the basis of voluntary choice. This unique principle began with Christ (Matt. 20:26–28; John 13:4, 5; Phil. 2:5–8) and characterizes all those who are filled with His Spirit (Eph. 5:18). “Reverence for Christ” is what motivates people to submit in this way (Eph. 5:21, NIV). Mutuality in self-giving was, and still is, a revolutionary Christian teaching about social relationships. It brings to life the spiritual reality that all are one in Christ, there are no exceptions.
A household principle. The proving ground of Christian submission is in the home. If this principle is effective there, it will make a dramatic difference in the church. Paul moves immediately from the introduction of the principle of submission to discuss its application in families.
Three pairs of relationships are addressed in Ephesians 5:22–6:9— the most common yet most unequal relationships in society. The intent is not to reinforce an existing social order but to show how the faith culture of Christ operates when there is a radically different voluntary submission of believers to one another.
Those with greater social power—husbands, parents, masters—are always addressed second. Each receives a directive quite uncommon to the culture. These directives must have astonished the believers of the first century. They leveled the ground around the Cross and opened the way for true oneness to be experienced in relationships.
Ultimately, family cohesion and unity rest on the commitment of family members, beginning with the commitment of the marital partners, to care for one another. Sadly, Bible history is strewn with examples of failed promises, broken trust, and lack of commitment where it should have been present. Scripture also has stirring examples of ordinary people who, with God’s help, committed themselves to friends and families and kept their promises.
Look at the following families and their levels of commitment. How could commitment have been strengthened in some families? What encouraged the commitment shown in the others?
Parent-child commitment (Gen. 33:12–14, Exod. 2:1–10)
Sibling commitment (Gen. 37:17–28)
Family commitment (Ruth 1:16–18; 2:11, 12, 20; 3:9–13; 4:10, 13)
Marital commitment (Hos. 1:2, 3, 6, 8; 3:1–3)
When we commit ourselves to another person, as in marriage or in the decision to bear or adopt a child, there is a willing surrender of our freedom to make a different choice in the future, a surrender of control over an important segment of our lives. Laws may restrain negative behavior, but marriage and family relationships need love within them to enable them to flourish.
Further Thought: Ellen G. White, “A Sacred Circle,” pp. 177–180, in The Adventist Home; “Unity in Our Work,” pp. 236–238, in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6.
Results of Family Unity. “The first work of Christians is to be united in the family. . . .
“The more closely the members of a family are united in their work in the home, the more uplifting and helpful will be the influence that father and mother and sons and daughters will exert outside the home.”—Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 37.
The Secret of Family Unity. “The cause of division and discord in families and in the church is separation from Christ. To come near to Christ is to come near to one another. The secret of true unity in the church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management, not a superhuman effort to overcome difficulties—though there will be much of this to do—but union with Christ.”—Page 179.