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What does the Bible say about family?

The concept of family appears over and over in the Bible. Family is one of the first things God set up for humans. On the seventh day of creation, God said that man and woman “shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), thus setting in motion the building blocks of humanity: the family unit. And that's just the beginning of how the Bible defines family relationships and dynamics between parents, children, and siblings. "Family" even has spiritual meanings.

Family Dynamics: Parents & Children

The impact of one member of the family is highlighted when an entire household is saved after one person believes (Acts 16:11-15; 16:31-33). This effect is especially true in the relationships between parents and children. Twice in the New Testament, there are commands for children immediately followed by commands for parents. Children are to obey their parents, and parents should lead and not “provoke your children” (Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20-21).

Paul gave this model of a Christian home to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae, which shows how wide-reaching it is. It applied to the churches then, and now, it applies to modern families in modern churches.

In an ideal family unit, the parents and the children are working to glorify God in tandem. That doesn't mean it's always going to go that way, because sin can infiltrate familial relationships so easily. But it IS the way God designed families to work.

Many families we see in the Bible show this proper family relationship. Noah led his three sons, and God spared the entire family from the flood because they were all righteous in His eyes (Genesis 7:1). Jacob was the father of twelve sons who went on to become the twelve tribes of Israel. As the model shows, he did not provoke them but guided his sons with spiritual advice at the end of his life (Genesis 49).

In the New Testament, Timothy’s mother, Eunice, showed the perfect model of Christian parenthood. Along with her mother Lois, she played a major part in Timothy becoming such a powerful leader in the church (2 Timothy 1:5). The children in these scenarios accepted the guidance and direction of their parents and grew in their faith. Nobody is perfect, of course, not even these biblical families, but we can still learn from their stories.

Family Dynamics: Siblings

Brothers and sisters are incredibly important in the Bible as well, and these relationships reveal how we are all supposed to take care of each other. When Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the answer from God is, as we find out, "Yes, Cain, as a matter of fact, you are. Now what have you done to your brother?" (Genesis 4:9-10, paraphrased). Siblings are supposed to watch out for one another. Yet Cain committed a crime that was especially awful because it was against his own brother.

The siblings of the Bible are models of both “what to do” and “what not to do.” Cain and Abel are obviously a "do not." Then we have Jacob and Esau. They were twins, and Jacob betrayed Esau (Genesis 27:35). They eventually settled their problems when Esau forgave Jacob, throwing his arms around him and weeping (Genesis 33:4). Esau showed true brotherly love in that situation.

The New Testament offers another set of amazing siblings: Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary worked together to host Jesus and His disciples at their house. Martha was all about the job, while Mary focused more on listening to Christ (Luke 10:38-42). Their story says a lot about how we interact with work and Christ, and how harmful comparing ourselves against our siblings can be.

Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus too. When Lazarus got sick, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus (John 11:3). The fact that they called Jesus means they were asking for a miracle. This action alone reveals how much they loved their brother. We don’t beg for miracles for just anyone, which shows the amount of love we ought to model for our siblings.

Joining Jesus' Spiritual Family

Family is not just physical blood relatives (though blood relatives are still super important). When Jesus came, He instituted a new kind of family—one that is tied by spiritual bonds. John 1:12-13 says, "to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, [Jesus] gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

The spiritual family includes all believers. Jesus went so far as to say, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). This connection makes sense: we are born into a physical family as babies, then we are “born again” into a spiritual one as those adopted by God (Romans 8:15; John 3:3; Ephesians 1:4-5). And Jesus commanded believers to extend that sibling love to all other Christians, for we are now brothers and sisters in God's family (John 13:34-35).

Family is an essential building block for humanity and Christianity. Our physical families are to be a source of unconditional love, encouragement, and support for one another. Our spiritual families are to do the same. Our personal spiritual growth and strength rely on those who go before us, guide us, and walk with us—like parents, grandparents, siblings, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who follow Christ should be defined by their love for each other as members of one big family.

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TL;DR

The Bible teaches a lot about family, both physical and spiritual, and models both good and bad relationships. Family is an essential building block for humanity and Christianity. Our physical families are to be a source of unconditional love, encouragement, and support; our spiritual families are to do the same. Our personal spiritual growth and strength rely on those who go before us, guide us, and walk with us—like parents, grandparents, siblings, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians should be defined by their love for each other as members of one big spiritual family (John 13:34-35).

By: Amanda Harman

Amanda is an awkward literature nerd who is more comfortable with words than people. Her family, understanding this shortcoming, has lovingly supplied her with many books over the years to give them reprieve from her attempts at conversation. She is now in college, where she gets to read entrancing textbooks on research and ethics, and where she attempts to share some knowledge in coherent sentences working as a peer tutor. One day, maybe, if she studies hard enough, God will help her have a natural interaction with a stranger.

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