THE FIRST LESSONS FOR FAMILIES TO LEARN
January 22, 2006
If you have been reading the Bible along with us so far this year, you have noticed that we have just finished this week reading the great book of Genesis. Genesis begins in chapter 1 by giving us an overall view of God’s created work. It helps us to understand ourselves by saying in verse 27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.” And then in chapter 2 we go back and take a more specific look at God’s creative work just with us. We learn in the beginning of the chapter that God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life, and then at the end of the chapter we discover that God in this creative work, making male and female in his image, does so for the purpose of establishing the relationship that we call family. We find out that God makes us to be companions and that he provides a way for us to enjoy the commitment that it takes to live in the way that honors him. At verse 24 we are told, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.”
I have always been interested in what that says by way of a foundation for family life. But in my reading of Genesis this time through, I decided I would take a look at just how that emphasis on family plays out through this book. So I got out the sheets of paper and started jotting down just the verses that deal in one way or another with what happens when people try to live in families. By the time I finished my journey through the book, I had four pages with about 30 verses on each page. And I have discovered that this book of beginnings is really about what happens in a family. As I read through the book I’ve discovered that not only do we have the foundation for family life here, but we have all of the problems and challenges that families are likely to face as they go along. In the very beginning we have not only the relationship but then the lessons that need to be learned if families are going to succeed. I would like you to join me on this little journey through the book of Genesis this morning.
The first lesson that we learn about ourselves from Genesis is that marriage is our most consequential choice that we will ever make about life just purely in this world. Whether we marry indicates, of course, a choice about companionship. A person can live a godly life without choosing to be married if that is the course that he wants to take. But if the person wants the kind of companionship and the kind of relationship that God created for marriage, whether he marries shows that he intends to live with a kind of an honor that comes from God. Whether he marries shows a recognition of human dignity of beings made in the image of God who don’t merely fall into relationships as animals might, but who choose to live in a way that reflects a connection with God.
Bradford Smith wrote, “Marriage is a sacred tool for helping us transcend a notion of conditional love.” He says, “Marriage can work only if we realize that getting married changes us fundamentally and forever. Commitment often means sacrifice. It is the laying down of one’s life for another.” Whether we marry is certainly a profound choice. Who we marry is also of extreme importance. I notice in reading Genesis when it comes times for Abraham to be concerned about companionship for his son Isaac in chapter24:3 calls his servant and says, “I want you to make sure that you do not take a wife for my son from among the daughters of the Canaanites (these pagan ungodly people of the land in which we sojourn). I want you to go to the land of my father’s and find there a wife for my son.”
We need to be reminded from time to time that who we marry has a profound impact on our lives. Bro. Mac Lyon wrote, “What your spouse believes will make a difference. It might determine such personal important things as where you live, the kind of business or profession you follow, the way you conduct your business or profession, what you do with your money, how you spend your leisure time, the kind of food you eat, how many children you have or whether you have any, and how you might prevent or whether you might abort an unwanted child, the kind of entertainment you enjoy, the friends you keep, where and how the children are educated, whether the wife might have a career, whether the husband is able to pursue his life’s dream and ambition to a successful reality, whether the marriage is permanent and even where you will spend eternity. Who you marry is important.
And then how you love that person is crucial. In Genesis 29:20, Jacob has gone to the land of his mother to his uncle Laban’s house, and there he decides that he will choose for himself a wife. He falls in love, as you may remember, with Rachel, and he makes an agreement with Laban that he is going to work for seven years for him for the hand of Rachel in marriage. The Bible says, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” That verse has been called by someone the most romantic verse in the Bible, but it talks about what married love really is and what it is about. Mark Young has observed, “This kind of love is a love that was willing to wait. It was a love in which time did not matter.” He says, “We learn that kind of love not from romance novels, movies or television, but from God. He is the one who has taught us to love so deeply that time does not matter. He is the one who has placed the capacity to love that intensely within our hearts. Through him we learn what love truly is. We see the ultimate act of love displayed when our Father gave His Son for our salvation. We learn from his word how to be friends, spouses and lovers as we should be.” That is the first great lesson. Marriage is our most consequential choice for this life.
The second lesson that comes out in Genesis is that hateful anger is deadly to family relationships. Anger which arises over selfish things, anger which is maintained and not dealt with is a danger to life. In Genesis 4 we learn of two brothers who are bringing sacrifice to God, of all things. One of them does so carelessly and the other one does so with great purpose and sincerity. God accepts one and doesn’t the other, and the Bible says that because God had regard for Abel and his offering, “Cain was very angry and his face fell.” Notice this is an anger that takes hold of him. “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face falling? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’” Anger has to be controlled, in other words.
In Genesis this problem comes up again and again. Sarai gets anger because Hagar’s boy Ishmael laughed at her boy. She insists that Hagar be sent off into the wilderness. Jacob’s brothers get angry at him because he tells them of a dream that he has had before, etc. It is no surprise that this need for us to make sure that we are angry for the right reasons and that are anger is controlled is an important theme in scripture. In James 1 we are told that we are to be swift to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger. We can’t build strong families out of people who are quick to fly off the handle.
And then in Ephesians 4:26 we are taught to not let the sun go down on our anger. In other words, take action to resolve this anger. You can be angry and anger not be sinful as long as you are angry for the right reasons, not selfish; as long as your anger is controlled, as long as it is not a habit, and as long it is resolved as it should be.
The third great lesson that comes out as we trace this family through Genesis is that unselfish honesty is best for everybody in the family. Since the family relationships are the most intimate, they require the greatest degree of honesty from us. Three times in Genesis we find husbands in order to protect themselves, have their wives to tell other people they are not really their wives – they are their sisters – and it seems like that kind of thing can become a family trait. In Genesis one of the keys is the story of the family of Isaac and Rebekah – Jacob and Esau – and how one doesn’t value his birthright highly enough and the other one acts deceitfully to get that birthright. One has his mother help him plan a way to literally pull the wool over the old man’s eyes. There is dishonesty through this book at other turns also. In chapter 29 Laban certainly deceived Jacob and then in chapter 37 this kind of deceitfulness comes up again as Jacob’s sons mislead him about the fate of their brother Joseph.
Someone has said that “honest communication can help couples get to the heart of issues and free them to make needed changes.” That certainly is true. The kind of communication that it takes in marriage is communication which takes responsibility for our own behavior, communication which realize that we have a choice about how we communicate, and then communication which gives each other the benefit of the doubt. All three of those are extremely important and this book reflects that truth.
Fourth, we learn from this book that jealous scheming is a cancer in the heart of a family. This problem seems to be a repeated pattern also. There is perceived favoritism that comes up. Someone decides, “I am going to watch out for my personal interests in this process,” and then behind the scenes there will be some sort of ugly, deceptive, scheming action in which one person tries to take advantage of everybody else. In this book that kind of problem is a terrible danger. You see it with Sarai’s efforts to kind of get her way and then what happens to Hagar and Ishmael because of that. You see it with Jacob and his brother and how their parents, Isaac and Rebekah, have favorites. Isaac loves Esau and Rebekah loves Jacob and so Rebekah overhears Isaac talking to Esau and she calls “her” son (that is significant – was Esau not her son, too?) and tells him what to do in order to get their way in this situation. And then, of course, the kind of scheming that went on among Joseph’s brothers whereby they left the impression with their dad that something had happened to Joseph in such a way that they could satisfy their jealousy and get rid of him. All of those things are ugly; they are beneath what ought to take place in an honorable family’s life. Jealousy is a shorthand word for selfishness. It means that we can’t stand not having the attention or the blessing ourselves and that we resent it when somebody else has that. And then we take dishonorable action to try to get that from other people. Anything that has to go on in a family which has to be covered up or hidden or which we are afraid for other people to find out is the danger that we are taking about here.
The fifth lesson from Genesis is that immorality exacts a terrible price. The cost is too high for the pleasure. Whatever kind of immoral behavior we are talking about here, when you get right down to it, it comes from disregarding what God has said about the kind of relationship he has planned for us. We began this process in Genesis 4 where in verse 19 we read of Lamech who married two wives. Jesus commented on these problems in Matthew 19 when he said some of these things happen because of the hardness of our hearts, and there is an illustration of it here. The short story that I can tell you is that whenever God’s will is ignored in the story this book tells, there are always sad results. God promises a son but Sarai suggests to Abraham, “Take my handmaid and have a son with her,” and Abraham listens to Sarai’s suggestion in Genesis 16 and a terrible process begins. In chapter 19 there is the immorality at Sodom and then what happened between Lot and his daughters and the terrible enmity toward Israel that that eventually created. In chapter 38 Judah goes in to a prostitute or someone he thinks is a prostitute who turns out to be his own daughter-in-law. That ugly story between him and Tamar shows the consequences of immorality. Then you will remember what Potiphar’s wife tries to do to Joseph and then what happens in that story. Immorality is a temptation that has to be overcome in our families.
The sixth principle that comes through loud and clear in this book is the wonderful fact that forgiveness is possible. It would be a sad story if we read that God had the idea for family and that he made it possible and then we learned that families had problems and the story ended there. But Genesis stresses the fact that just because families may confront problems does not mean that families have failed. In this book there is the touching story of when Jacob comes back home and meets his brother Esau. They had been separated for 20 years, and here comes Jacob who bows down before his brother and his brother falls on his neck and kisses him. They forgive one another. In chapter 45 there is the story of what takes place when Joseph finally makes himself known to his brothers. Again, they appear to have been separated for about 20 years. The feelings of guilt are strong enough that when something goes wrong, his brothers still think it is because of what we did to our brother that this has happened to us. Joseph, making himself known in Genesis 45, says, “I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourself because you sold me, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” The Bible says in verse 15 that he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. Forgiveness! That is how forgiveness acts. In Genesis 50 after their father dies these brothers worry, “Well, maybe Joseph’s forgiveness was not permanent; maybe it was not real.” This time they come to him and actually ask him to forgive them, and with them falling down before him, Joseph says, “Don’t fear for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as you are today.” And then it says that he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. His forgiveness was not that kind, “I’ll let it go but I am going to exact a price for it.” His forgiveness was real.
And we should learn from this story that this family journey is a journey best made with the Lord. When Jacob goes off to the other land where he meets Laban’s family, God said in Genesis 27:15, “I’ll be with you.” And then when Jacob comes back after all that time, God meets him again. He finds out he is in the camp of God in Genesis 32. When Jacob is trying to decide whether to go to Joseph in Egypt, God said, “Don’t be afraid to go. I’ll be with you.” (Genesis 46:4) When Joseph had been mistreated and sold into slavery and then lied about by his owner’s wife, the Bible said, “The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor even in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:21) The story of God’s being with his people I think is beautifully illustrated in a way that I had not thought about until I read through the book this time with Joseph’s boys, Manasseh and Ephraim. If you stop and think about what those two names meant, what they reminded people of, what they sounded like, you find out that Joseph named one of them “God has made me forget.” In other words, God has made me forget all my hardship. And he named the other one “God has made me fruitful” in this land of my affliction. (Genesis 41:51-52) That is what we mean by this being a journey best made with the Lord. When we ignore him, our families struggle. When he is with us, he strengthens us to meet those struggles. God has made me forget and God has made me fruitful.
Look at the overall story here in this book. God has had family in mind from the beginning. He wants us to know about the important possibilities of this relationship we call marriage of the need for us to deal with our anger in the right way, for us to be unselfishly honest, not to hurt each other but to draw close together, for us to avoid favoritism and jealous scheming, for us to reject immorality, for us to seek forgiveness, and for us to make the whole journey with the Lord. When we read the rest of the Bible, we see people still dealing with all of those things. But with God working on us to make us realize that this home is meant to help get us ready for that home. He gives his Son to open up a way for us to come home, and when the gospel invitation comes out and is presented, it is an invitation literally for people to come home. When someone confesses that he believes that what Jesus has done for him is enough to reconcile him to God, and that person confesses that and is baptized into Christ, God raises him up with the spirit of adoption as his child. It might be that you are here today and you want that kind of family and that kind of home. If we can help you to act in response to God’s invitation, would you let it be known right now while we stand and sing together.