The Good News for a Modern World | Part 9
How Can Your Family Be Happy?
In the accounts of Jesus life as recorded in the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we notice that Jesus had very little to say about temporal behavior – matters having to do with government, trade, or social behavior. He did not lay down laws or rules of conduct other than in these two instances:
“You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, You must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 22:37-40
“All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”
– Matthew 7:12
Jesus did not come to legislate, but to enlighten. He came not to reform the kingdoms of this world, but rather to establish the kingdom of heaven. Though he was asked on occasion about certain conduct, he did not yield to the temptation to establish rules of behavior that might be good for one generation, but would be far from suitable for another.
We need only to look at how human relations have changed and improved over the past centuries, especially in the area of human rights. We are undergoing a serious testing because of the problems suddenly thrust upon social order by the elevation and augmentation of woman’s liberties – rights that have been so long denied her. Consequently, we can see that rules of conduct of an less enlightened age can be, and are, stifling in our modern times. And we can assume that rules established today might be inappropriate and ineffective in a future age. Thus, we must always recognize the two viewpoints of all mortal conduct – the human and the divine; the ways of the flesh and the way of the spirit; the estimate of time and the viewpoint of eternity.
Jesus was on earth solely to comfort the minds, liberate the spirits, and save the souls of men.
“Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.”
– Luke 4:18-19
We can imitate the Christ by being likewise sparing as to rules of conduct, and instead of looking to the ‘letter of the law,’ we should look to the ‘way of the spirit.’ And though we may not completely comprehend the ‘way of the spirit’ in all matters, we can be truly benefited in our relationships, including our family relations, by endeavoring to be spiritual men and women, and thus ‘good spiritual trees’ that naturally produce the ‘fruitage of the spirit:’
“On the other hand, the fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
– Galatians 5:22-23
With the above in mind, we will endeavor to answer the questions posed by looking beyond the letter of the law and into the underlying spirit.
Why is marriage vital to family happiness?
Almost everything of lasting value in civilization has its roots in the family. The family was the first successful peace group – the man and woman learning how to adjust their temperaments to one another, while at the same time teaching the pursuit of peace to their children. In fact, there is no greater training ground for the development of the ‘fruitage of the spirit’ than in the family relationship.
Consequently, if the families are good, the society is likewise good. The great cultural stability of the Jewish people, and any other nation, lies in the strength of their family groups. Marriage, as the yoking together of a man and a woman in a bond of partnership and love, forms a stable foundation which can foster peace, which, in turn, leads to happiness.
However, we must recognized in the 21st century that marriage and family life are not identical. Many modern families are single parent households. For whatever reason, marriage was not pursued or was not successful or resulted in the early death of one of the partners. Yet, the ‘spirit of family’ can exist and flourish in such circumstances resulting in similar peace and happiness even through the ideal family arrangement of two parents is not available.
When we extol the values of marriage and the two-parent household, we never want to discourage or dismiss the valiant and courageous single parents who are striving to honor the Father in their current circumstances. Though they do not have a physical mate to share the load, they do have a spiritual helper, the Spirit of Truth, which is the presence of the Christ as though he were actually in their midst.
“If you love me, you will observe my commandments; and I will request the Father and he will give you another helper to be with you forever, the spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither beholds it nor knows it. You know it, because it remains with you and is in you. I shall not leave you bereaved. I am coming to you. A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold me, because I live and you will live. In that day you will know that I am in union with my Father and you are in union with me and I am in union with you. He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me. In turn he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him.”
– John 14:15-21
Whether your family is a two-parent or one-parent household, always keep in mind the frailty and uncertainty of physical life, that ‘time and unforeseen occurrences befall us all.’ (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Rather, learn the lesson the Apostle Paul learned, to be content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves:
“In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want. For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”
– Philippians 4:12-13
Yes, whatever our family circumstances, we can achieve happiness through the strength imparted by the Father’s power and the Spirit of Truth of the Christ. Marriage is an absolute asset to happy family life. But the spirit of family life – the enduring bond of love, support, and encouragement – is the greater portion that can exist even when the family’s reality is not ideal.
How should a husband and wife treat each other?
Marriage is passing out of the property age and into the personal era. Formerly man protected woman because she was his chattel and she obeyed for the same reason. This was true under the ancient Jewish arrangement where the husband purchased a wife with a bride price. (Genesis 29:18-27; 34:11, 12; Exodus 22:16; 1 Samuel 18:23, 25) As a result, laws and rules were established for the fair treatment of the ‘property.’ Regardless of its merits, it did provide stability. But now, woman is no longer regarded as property and new mores are emerging designed to stabilize marriage and the marriage-home institution. Today, in many lands, a wife is not considered property. She is a freewill individual who elects to join in union with a man. Thus, we can see one example of how rules established for an earlier time are insufficient for our day.
Jesus elevated a woman’s status by bringing his message of sonship and spiritual freedom to all mankind equally:
“You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one [person] in union with Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:26-28
Yet, certain mores of the Jewish culture continued to be promoted, especially by the Jewish Christians, foremostly the Apostle Paul, “a Hebrew [born] from Hebrews; as respects law, a Pharisee; as respects zeal, persecuting the congregation; as respects righteousness that is by means of law, one who proved himself blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6) And Paul was wise to continue many of these customs because of the loose morals and debase culture of the Gentile population that was joining itself to Christianity.
Nevertheless, Paul was able to go beyond the ‘letter of the law’ to the ‘way of the spirit’ when he counseled the Christians in Ephesus on marriage:
“Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ. Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of [this] body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.”
– Ephesians 5:21-24
We note first that while wives are counseled to be in subjection to their husbands, husbands are also to be in subjection to their wives – yes, to one another. That counsel carries the theme of mutual respect, common concern, corresponding dignity, and Christian equality. As a wife should be mindful of what her husband needs to carry out his responsibilities, a husband is to likewise be mindful of what his wife needs to carry out hers.
Next, Paul emphasized the ‘spirit’ of the subjection that the wife is to demonstrate by saying it should be conducted ‘as to the Lord.’ So we see that underlying a wife’s subjection is a husband’s responsibility to deal with his wife as the Christ deals with the congregation. When a husband does this, he is setting the parameters for a successful marriage. But if he fails, a domino effect results where the wife cannot properly be in subjection, nor can the children.
When husbands do not live up to their Christian responsibilities, many unappreciated and disrespected wives have seen, as their only option, the need to step forward to maintain family order and stability. Such a wife is often characterized as ‘usurping her husband’s headship’ when in many cases, the husband has abdicated the position and she is only steadying the ship. Yet all of this can be avoided if a husband looks to the example of the Christ and models his behavior accordingly. And, of course, a wife who is involuntarily thrust into a headship-type position must still conduct herself ‘in fear of Christ,’ that is, with a view to pleasing the Christ.
Paul continues his counsel:
“Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word, that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor, not having a spot or a wrinkle or any of such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish. In this way 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, as the Christ also does the congregation, because we are members of his body.”
– Ephesians 5:25-30
This counsel reminds us of the practice of agricultural husbandry. If a farmer wants a tree to produce fine fruit, he first must cultivate the land around it, feed and water it, keep it clear of pests, shield it from adverse weather conditions and occasionally prune it. Only then will the tree produce the kind of fruit the farmer seeks. And if the farmer wants the tree to produce fine fruit year after year, he must continue his ‘husbandry’ year after year, for in the season that he fails to do so, the tree will also fail. Similarly, a husband must care for his wife in a manner that would allow her, even impel her, to produce the fruitage of the spirit. If he does so, he is the beneficiary! Like Christ, such a husband is presenting his wife as a gift ‘to himself!’
And Paul continues:
“For this reason a man will leave [his] father and [his] mother and he will stick to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This sacred secret is great. Now I am speaking with respect to Christ and the congregation. Nevertheless, also, let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”
– Ephesians 5:31-33
Here, Paul reveals that the spirit of his counsel is based on the example of our Lord. So rather than establishing laws about what a wife can and cannot do, or what a husband should and should not do, each of them can look at the loving care of the Christ in determining how to behave toward one another. Applying the counsel in this fashion allows for the unique ‘personality’ of each marriage to flourish. Few fleshly laws and rules of behavior can uniformly apply to all marriages. This is an opportunity for spiritual men and women to have their perceptive powers trained ‘through use’ (Hebrews 5:14) so that they do not need to look to laws and rules of behavior. Instead they will be motivated from the ‘law written in their hearts.’
“‘For this is the covenant that I shall covenant with the house of Israel after those days,’ says Jehovah. ‘I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I shall write them. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people. ‘And they will by no means teach each one his fellow citizen and each one his brother, saying: “Know Jehovah!” For they will all know me, from [the] least one to [the] greatest one of them.”
– Hebrews 8:10-11
Finally, we should remember that man has no rightful authority over woman unless the woman has willingly and voluntarily given him such authority. A wife has engaged to go through life with her husband to help him fight life’s battles, and to assume the far greater share of the burden of bearing and rearing children. In return for this special service it is only fair that she receive from her husband that special protection which man can give to woman as the partner who must carry, bear, and nurture the children. As Peter counseled:
“You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.”
– 1 Peter 3:7
The loving care and consideration which a man is willing to bestow upon his wife and their children are the measure of that man's attainment of the higher levels of spirituality. Truly, men and women are partners with God in that they co-operate to give birth to children who grow up to possess the Spirit of God and to be its temples. It is therefore Godlike for a husband to share his life and all that relates thereto on equal terms with his wife who so fully shares with him that divine experience of reproducing themselves in the lives of their children.
Should you abandon an unhappy marriage?
Marriage is the most intimate of all human relations. No two people are closer than a husband and wife. Consequently, what truly goes on in a marriage is known only to the two people involved. Therefore, it is unwise for outsiders to dictate how a married person should respond to the marital relationship. As mentioned above, even Jesus refrained from issuing laws on temporal behavior and human relationships.
In the area of marriage and divorce, Jesus’ opponents sought to entrap him by challenging his agreement with, and acceptance of, the laws of Moses. We read this account:
“And Pharisees came up to him, intent on tempting him and saying: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?” In reply he said: “Did you not read that he who created them from [the] beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”
– Matthew 19:3-6
Here, Jesus explains the intimacy of marriage – there is, in fact, no closer relationship. The two become one. He further reminds them that no man has the authority or the right to ‘put it apart.’ Once Jesus reaffirmed the enduring intent of marriage, the Pharisees pounced on the opportunity to expose Jesus as an opponent of the law of Moses:
“They said to him: “Why, then, did Moses prescribe giving a certificate of dismissal and divorcing her?” He said to them: “Moses, out of regard for your hardheartedness, made the concession to you of divorcing your wives, but such has not been the case from [the] beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.”
– Matthew 19:7-9
Jesus did not oppose Moses; instead, Jesus emphasized the divine will and clearly identified the type of sin under the law that one would commit if they divorced and remarried, when there was no fornication – that is, sex outside of the marital bond.
This exchange provides insight into the matter of marriage, divorce and separation. Here are a few factors we can glean from this exchange:
- That from the beginning, it is God’s will that a man and woman who enter into marriage stay married as one flesh.
- That if one of the mates engages in fornication, the marriage could be dissolved, and the mates are free to remarry.
- That if one of the mates obtains a divorce, when there has been no fornication, and marries another, that mate has committed adultery.
- That a marriage could be dissolved even when there is no fornication, and neither party will have sinned, unless they marry someone else.
- That, even though the permanency of marriage is God’s will, Moses allowed a way out of an undesirable marriage, apparently without divine disfavor.
Today, we are not under the law of Moses – whether it be to acquire its benefits or suffer its maledictions. We are free people, operating under the law of the spirit and we are counseled to exercise that freedom wisely. And we remind you that the things set forth here are written to spiritual men and women who are seeking a spiritual resolution to a difficult marriage, rather than to physical persons who are merely seeking a loophole:
“Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God.”
– 1 Peter 2:16
“You were, of course, called for freedom, brothers; only do not use this freedom as an inducement for the flesh, but through love slave for one another. For the entire Law stands fulfilled in one saying, namely: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” If, though, you keep on biting and devouring one another, look out that you do not get annihilated by one another.”
– Galatians 5:13-15
“Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.”
– Galatians 6:7-8
Thus, it appears that we have a measure of freedom when it comes to making a decision to separate from a marriage mate. But with that freedom comes a great deal of responsibility. We should be careful not to make such a decision based on purely fleshly desires, or, as the scripture says, we will reap corruption.
The counsel is that we are to do all things ‘with a view to the spirit.’ Hence, a marital mate must consider the effect on his or her spirit in deciding whether to remain in, or depart from, an unhappy marriage. Some factors such a person would consider are: What effect would separation have on my relationship and freeness of speech with the Father and the Christ? Will it enhance or inhibit my ability to pursue ‘the things of the spirit?’ Have I truly applied spiritual counsel in my marriage? Have I truly carried my own load in this marriage? Would remaining in the marriage result in physical, emotional, mental or spiritual scarring to myself or any to children of the marriage?
All Christians are to be ‘lights of the world.’ (Matthew 5:14-16) But if we are in a situation that could choke out or extinguish our inner flame, our priority is to the Father. In the overall scheme of things, a marriage is a temporary arrangement that will not survive the flesh (Matthew 22:29-30), whereas our relationship with the Father is eternal.
The Apostle Paul discussed marriage and separation, but refrained from laying down new laws. Instead, he did give some instructions, designed to coach, teach or educate, in this regard:
“To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife. But to the others I say, yes, I, not the Lord: If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her; and a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to [his] wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would really be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace. For, wife, how do you know but that you will save [your] husband? Or, husband, how do you know but that you will save [your] wife?”
– 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
Marriage is not a prison bond or a life sentence on death row, where one waits for the other to die. Such a view has resulted in untold misery and led to the actual death of a mate for the sole purpose of escaping an unhappy marriage. To that extent, separation functions as the social safety valve which prevents worse situations from occurring.
The root cause of unhappy marriages is that our society has not properly educated our young people on how to have a successful marriage. And so long as we fail our children in this regard, and allow their unwise and immature ideals to dictate whether to enter into marriage, just so long will separation and divorce remain prevalent.
Rather than seeking to judge and punish one another on the matter of divorce and separation, a religious association will serve its members best by providing real, practical and constructive marriage preparation and counseling. And if we begin with our youth, we have a better probability that this question of remaining in or abandoning an unhappy marriage will become less and less frequent.
Finally, as with all temporal problems, the solution lies in our relationship with God. When we know we are children of the highest personality in the universe, and heirs with our Creator God, Jesus Christ, we are moved from the heart to imitate our Father and we are receptive to the guidance of Holy Spirit, including the indwelling Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of Truth of the Christ. When we do so, even if circumstances lead us to separate from an unhappy marriage, we can continue in unbroken communion with our Father.
Children, what does God want for you?
The Father’s purpose for children is no different from his purpose for adults, for indeed children are in actuality just small, inexperienced adults. In the same way that the Father wants adults to know Him and love Him, He wants the little children to know and love Him. And the sooner in life that a personality comes to know the Father, the greater their potential to become spiritual leaders, brilliant shining lights, and living examples of the Master on earth.
There is no need for separate instruction for children. Children should sit with their parents and learn about the Father, the Christ and the eternal heavenly career. Learning about spiritual things stimulates their minds and their imaginations. It expands their vocabulary and enhances their social skills.
In fact, wise parents learn much from inquisitive and trusting children. When Jesus was on earth, he always made time for the children. He did not let over-anxious adults, even his apostles, deprive the children from contact with the Master, the Son of Man/Son of God. Their humility and trusting nature serve as examples to the adults, as they, too, are sons and daughters of God with the heavenly hope.
“Now people began bringing him young children for him to touch these; but the disciples reprimanded them. At seeing this Jesus was indignant and said to them: “Let the young children come to me; do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to suchlike ones. Truly I say to you, Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a young child will by no means enter into it.” And he took the children into his arms and began blessing them, laying his hands upon them.”
– Mark 10:13-16
Parents, how can your children find happiness?
In order for parents to be true blessings to their children, the parents must first establish their own relationship with the Father and imitate the Christ. The counsel Jesus gave to his disciples can be applied equally in the parent-child relationship:
“Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you. Why then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.
– Matthew 7:1-5
When we remember that our goal is to develop strong, mature, spiritual adults who will one day become our spiritual brothers and sisters, we can see the application of the scripture. Yes, the goal is to raise adults, not children! And we are to be good examples of right and moral behavior and godly devotion. Honesty and self-respect are among the best gifts we can give our children. That is especially true since it seems that children can spot hypocrisy in an instant! Perhaps that’s because children are not carrying around a lot of emotional baggage that clouds their discernment.
Additionally, we should respect our children’s individuality and not judge them unfairly. Each of us has our own personality that is unlike any other personality. There will be many things our children like that may be different from the things we like. They may have goals that are different from the goals we want them to have. But wise parents will deal with their children as the Father deals with the parents – with love, patience and according to knowledge:
“As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, Remembering that we are dust.”
– Psalms 103:13-14
Rather than being stern taskmasters, spiritual parents will be more like guides and instructors, teaching their children to encounter life’s dangers safely. We remember that the human mind works the same way in both adults and children. The only thing lacking is experience. Thus, just as do adults, children develop their ‘perceptive powers’ through use – trial and error.
“But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”
– Hebrews 5:14
So we should allow our children an opportunity to see and experience the wisdom of our counsel – sometimes firsthand. Think of how we taught them to walk. They fell many times. But instead of chastising them for falling, we extolled the few solid steps and encouraged them to get up and try again. We can continue this loving guidance throughout their childhood so that when they approach adulthood, they will have many experiences to guide them when a parent’s counsel is not available.
Overall, the most important thing a parent can do is to sit quietly and contemplate the Father’s love for the parent and how He disciplines and trains us. And then be examples of that Fatherly love to our children. And to fathers specifically, but to all men, we remind you that your behavior will color a child’s understanding of what ‘father’ means, and it will translate into their expectations of their heavenly Father. Therefore, let ‘father’ carry a positive connotation for children so they will know how wonderfully privileged they are to have a heavenly Father.