Shaping the Christian Family on the Anvil of Everyday Living

Shaping the Christian Family on the
Anvil of Everyday Living


“What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God,” says Martin Luther. The great Reformer knew the special significance of the home and God's word at work in that place. Here is a reason why: the fifth command in the Ten Commandments emphasizes proper motives inside the home.

It links honor for one’s father and mother to possession of the land that God promised Abraham (Genesis 12:1-9; Exodus 20:12). To “honor” means to give them the respect that we reserve for the sacred. God certainly knows what and why he commands!

How we apply God's norms inside our families impacts generations to come. As pastor Charles Swindoll says, "A family is a place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living." Therefore, the ethics of family will necessarily be rooted in some special features.
"Family" Defined
Hopefully, we have not become proverbial Rip Van Winkles and slept our way through the social revolution that is underway in our world. “Family” traditionally means “the basic unit in society consisting of two parents rearing their children.” It has come to mean, however, “any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family.”
A broader definition is a “group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.” Clusters of the same social unit are also known as “clans,” meaning that groups of people derive from a common stock.
Biblical History
The history of family tells a different story than we may first imagine. Biblical families were often quite large and included the father, mother(s), sons, daughters, brothers and sisters (until their marriage), grandparents, other kinsman, as well as servants, concubines, and sojourners (aliens). The Old Testament families grew quite large through births and covenants made with individuals and other groups. Family solidarity was maintained by organization around the father figure and retributive justice in terms of corporate (i.e., family) responsibility.
These families functioned as religious communities, preserving past traditions and passing them on through instruction and worship (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-9). “The importance of the family is to be seen in the projection of this concept beyond the boundaries of the family as such. It then refers to the Hebrew tribes, the nations of Israel and Judah, foreign nations, and to all of Israel, viewed as a community of faith rather than a nation."
In the New Testament Greco-Roman Era, the father was a “husband, a propertyowner [sic], a slavemaster [sic], and a patron to freedmen and clients” (A History of Private Life: From Ancient Rome to Byzantium, 71). Roman households, for example, consisted of a number of “domestic slaves or former slaves, a paterfamilias, his legitimate wife, children, along with a few dozen free men known as 'clients.’" (History, 71).

It is apparent that a household was not a “natural family” as we typically conceive it to be in the 21st century! A noteworthy feature of the relationship between slaves and masters was that a servant was part of his master’s family (History, 51).

Furthermore, slaves were considered to be human beings (Cf. also that slaves were at times unruly and untrustworthy). Masters set upon their household servants the moral duty of serving with loyalty and devotion (cf. Philemon). A pattern is emerging, but we need to expand our understanding of the family a bit more before we consider the obligations that all have to the family. We have some help in the Bible.
Household Codes inform Christians about Family Responsibilities
Colossians 3:18-4:1 represents what is known as a “Household Code.” There are several such codes in the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 5:21-6:9; 1 Peter 2:18-3:7, 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 6:1-2; and Titus 2:1-3:8; Lexham). Household Codes, also known as the Haustafeln (German), were familiar texts found in the New Testament as well as ancient Greek literature (cf. Aristotle, Politics).

Aristotle, for example, believed that an orderly “household” produced an orderly society. These codes described moral relationships between the various family members in households—both in domestic and public settings. We should recognize the moral nature of these codes because they describe moral relationships in pairs: husbands/wives; children/parents; and slaves/masters.

The household codes in Ephesians and Colossians are a bit different from the other New Testament examples because the instructions are embedded within distinct theological and Christological frameworks.

These paired relationships are listed in these texts and represent reciprocity between family members (inclusive of husbands/wives, parents/children, and masters/slaves).

There are different functions of the family: husband and wife, parents and children, and siblings, and masters and slaves. Each of these members plays a key role in the well-being of the whole family (Otto Piper, Christian Ethics). Each of these dyads was also to be shaped by mutual submission and obedience (Lexham Bible Dictionary). Christian “family was cohesive, orderly, and lived “unto the Lord” (cf. Ephesians 5:21).

The Christian family, therefore, “may be considered an institution willed by God and serving the ends he has with mankind” (Piper, Christian Ethics, 288) This type of home in the New Testament was important because it also served as protection against outside paganism. Now, I will carry forward some of the Biblical characteristics of families and show how they are evident in our current day.
Three "Family" Anecdotes
My family has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with a Christian family whose daughter has embraced transgenderism. In the case of our long-time friends, their child has declared that her identity is now male and has severed her previous relationship with her family. The confusion, brokenness, and grief pulses through every interaction with these dear friends.

The indescribable sorrow of that family is being replicated in countless other Christian and secular homes (I know of a number of families who have reached out to me because their children have embraced an LGBTQ+ lifestyle, or they have rejected their upbringing in some other way; cf. Luke 15:11-32). All tell a similar story. They wonder how their child, who was raised in a Christian home, could have adopted such a radically different way of seeing the world and family relationships.

How is the “family” to be defined when there are two radically different understandings of the same? And how are people to live together when vicious forces are tearing them apart? It is obvious that worldviews matter. Hold onto this thought.

Several Baptist Center for Global Concerns members traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, last year to attend an Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. We had booked a return flight home that was delayed several times, then canceled late in the evening. We needed to get back home! We met for the first time a stranded Nigerian Baptist pastor who also needed to get back to Dallas by the next day.

We invited a man, whom we literally did not know, to travel ten hours with us back to our final destination! Our journey in a very small rental car with something of a language barrier was grounded by our Christian family ties. Despite all the cultural and language differences, something special was created in those miles across the South. Hold onto this thought, as well.

Finally, we have seen in recent months, enormous division in the Methodist communion over the LGBTQ+ issue and among the Southern Baptist convention tribe over a sexual abuse scandal and the role of women in ministry! The Baptist World Alliance, in which the Center participates, also has faced similar challenges about Christian sexuality and other ministry-related issues.

The global Christian clan (i.e., family) is encountering severe challenges. Despite the turmoil, Christians are beginning to appeal to one another based upon their family of faith commitment (Christian relationships) and their unified mission in Christ.

Notice that I have termed each of these three experiences as “family” concerns. I did so by building upon a Biblical description of the family. Christian family is constructed on a worldview that God, the Creator, is Lord. He is our Father! Each human life in God's family has value and dignity (cf. Old Testament "aliens" and 1st century slaves). "Family members" have responsibilities that are lived out unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:21, 22; 6:1, & 5). Conflict in a fallen world will surface (Cf. parent/child discord and master/slave relationships in the first century), but the love of Christ will nourish and buoy the family.

I hope these illustrations cause us to ask the questions: What is my "family" responsibility? What are some forward steps, even if they are incremental strides, that I may take?
Steps Forward for “Christian Family”
Christian family demonstrates order under the supreme authority of God. Two observations come to mind.

First, the various household codes demonstrate a consistent family order within each of the biblical texts. The texts follow a logical progression from marriage to family to wider concerns.
We also should see an ever-widening circle that is reflective of deep intimacy through couplets.

All of us know that family relationships after the Genesis 3 fall into sin are often characterized by tension, conflict, and even out-right rebellion (Cf. Genesis 3:12; 4:1-10). However, we may draw the conclusion that God has a definite order “for his economy on the earth.” Since the order is ordained by God, Christians have a responsibility to accept it and live together within it (cf. NAC). This biblical worldview recognizes God's authority as the ultimate head of the home.

Secondly, wider biblical texts illustrate an order that is evident in creation and functional subordination in the Trinity (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16). Creation order shows the timelessness of this willful submission, and The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit provide Christian homes a pattern to follow.
Does it work?
Even though Paul urged slaves to accept their position and adjust to it, as egregious as human slavery was then and is now, he sowed seeds of emancipation that became evident when we read of the relationship between the slave Onesimus and his master, Philemon (see the Letter to Philemon).

A badly severed relationship surely had caused a disruption in that Christian home, house church, and wider company of believers. The love of Christ, however, transformed Onesimus’ life and provided the groundwork for a restored relationship with his master and reconstructed fellowship within the Christian community. Surely, the love of Christ also softened Philemon's heart as the head of that family and house church. The restored relationship is a testimony to the way that families may be strengthened.

Therefore, the notion of a Biblical family in all its varying forms is characterized ultimately by God's Fatherly authority and the permeating presence of the loving Christ who unifies and nurtures all members of the household.


I used pastor Swindoll's quote above for a reason: "A family is a place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living." All Christian families, in order to be useful to the Heavenly Father, will require shaping on his anvil.

Consider how adopting God's view of His family will begin to transform your relationships at home, church, and in wider Christian circles. Mutual and sincere love for and submission to Christ will enable us to relate to each other as a whole and resolve our concerns for the benefit of the family of faith and God's glory!

Prayerfully yours,
Larry C. Ashlock