BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON FAMILY
Biblical study and theological reflection on family relationships leads to the formulation of several propositions:
1. God is a relational being who has made human beings for relationships (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18; Eph. 1:4-6; Rev. 4:11). God is often revealed in Scripture in family terms. From the relationship of God with human beings truths regarding marriage (Is. 54:5) and the parent-child relationship can be discerned (Deut. 1:31; John 20:17).
2. The family was instituted by the Creator as the primary setting for human development and nurturance (Gen. 2:18-25; Ps. 68:5, 6). Since family is the primary place where the capacity for love and intimacy with God and other human beings is developed and where spiritual values are extended across generations, it is central to the disciple-making process (Matt. 28:19; John 8:31; 13:35).
3. The image of God is expressed in human beings as male and female. The Creator’s act of bringing the two together as equals in a monogamous, heterosexual union established the pattern for marriage. This union provides for companionship, fulfillment and the perpetuation of the human family (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18, 21-25). The relationship of the sexes in marriage has been distorted by sin (Gen. 3:16), but redeemed by Christ (Matt. 20:26, 27; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 5:21-31). Christ makes a difference in the marriage of Christians. A mutuality prevails that restores the Edenic ideal. Husbands and wives are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
4. The covenant of marriage rests on principles of love, loyalty, exclusivity, trust and support upheld by both partners (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 5:21-29; 1 Thess. 4:1-7). When these principles are violated through abuse, abandonment or other instances of unfaithfulness to the marriage vow, the essence of the marriage covenant is endangered. Despite the high biblical ideals for marriage and the divine power that is available to enable marital commitment to endure, some individuals will not survive in marriage. At times, irretrievable breakdown of the marriage occurs. Scripture acknowledges that tragic circumstances may destroy the marriage covenant. Jesus taught that the marriage covenant may be irreparably broken through sexual immorality (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). Paul indicated that death brings the marriage covenant to an end (Rom. 7:2, 3), as does desertion by an unbelieving partner no longer willing to be married (1 Cor. 7:15).
The above do not exhaust the destructive factors that may lead to brokenness and divorce. Despite the heartbreak, loss, disruption and long term consequences of divorce, within the context of redemption, divorce and marriage to another that may follow are not viewed as unpardonable sins beyond which there is no spiritual life and fellowship. Through repentance, confession, and the appropriate bearing of responsibility, grace can bring assurance of pardon, healing and new beginnings (1 John 1:9; 2:1).
5. While marriage is God’s general plan, singleness is within the divine design as well. It may be in the best interest of certain individual Christians to live singly (1 Cor. 7:7). God’s special acceptance and protection are over those who by choice or circumstances face life alone (Ps. 68:5, 6; James. 1:27). Friendship is a source of intimacy and of experiencing family. The fellowship of the Church, the household of God, is available to all regardless of their married state (1 John 1:3).
6. Sexuality is an integral part of what it means to be human (Gen. 1:27). Gender qualities find expression in many arenas of human existence. Sexual intimacy, however, is reserved for marriage (1 Cor. 7:2-6). Outside of marriage, a sexual relationship is contrary to the divine purpose (Gen. 2:24; Prov. 5:1-18; 1 Cor. 6:15, 16). Sexuality serves a unitive function in marriage which is distinguishable from the procreative function. Joy, pleasure and delight are God’s intent for married sexuality (Ecc. 9:9; Prov. 5:18, 19; Song of Songs 4:16-5:1). God intends that couples have on-going sexual communion apart from procreation (1 Cor. 7:3-5). This strengthens and protects marriage from inappropriate bonding with one other than one’s spouse (Prov. 5:15-20; Song of Songs 8:6, 7).
7. Bearing children is an option through which couples who are able and choose to do so participate in the blessing God intended children to be (Ps. 127:3-5). While marriages generally yield offspring (Gen. 1:28), procreation is not viewed as an obligation incumbent upon every couple in order to please God. God values children (Matt. 19:14). Children help parents understand about loving and trusting God (Ps. 103:13). They encourage the development of sympathy, caring, humility, and unselfishness in families (Ps. 127:3-5; Lk. 11:13). Parents are to provide, teach, and correct their children so they may come to know God, choose biblical values and be prepared for responsible interdependence with others (Deut. 6:6-25; Prov. 22:6).
8. God’s covenant love with people is the basic principle which under-girds and serves as an illustration for Christian family life. God’s covenant with humankind is characterized by love, forgiveness, commitment, acceptance, intimacy, and even sacrifice, that the deepest human needs might be met. As individuals experience the gospel and seek to live new lives in Christ, God’s covenant provides a pattern for relationships. Christian family members are called to love, to serve one another, and to forgive-just as God loves, serves and forgives. Strength and grace from God are promised to live the life to which Christians are called (Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 20:26-28; Eph. 4:32; Heb. 8:10-12; 1 John 3:16).
9. Broken relationships with God and with fellow humans were the tragic outcome of the Fall (Is. 59:2). Jesus’ mission restored agape-love relationships (Matt. 22:37-40; John 13:35; 15:12). The Church is called to be an extension of Christ’s ministry, an active agent in building and maintaining agape-love relationships and in healing and restoring relationships that have been broken (John 10:10; 20:21; Gal. 6:2; James 5:15).
Reprinted from Biblical Foundations of Family Ministries: A Resource for Biblical and Theological Foundations. Developed by Karen and Ron Flowers, Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2007.