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By Rev Charles Seet
(Preached at Life BPC, 8am service, 20 July 2003)

Text: Ephesians 5:25-33; 6:4

I. The Present Neglect of Family Life

We certainly want to thank God for all good fathers as well as good mothers. Unfortunately these are increasingly difficult to find, especially in our day and age when we are witnessing a general breakdown in family life. This is partly because of the trend today for people to be too busy to spend much time building meaningful relationships. The demands of work and school have increased so much. And the result of this is that family life is suffering a lot today. In many families father and mother both have to work for economic reasons. In some cases this has resulted in the neglect of their children, who grow up to be more familiar with the child-care or student care environment than with the home.

 

In one Christian family that I know, when father leaves the house for work, mother and children are still asleep. Mother leaves for work shortly after that. The children are left in the care of the maid. By the time father gets home at about 10 pm, his family has gone to bed. They hardly eat their meals together because of their conflicting schedules. And even when family members are together at home, they would spend much time in front of the TV, catching the news or their favourite TV show. There isn’t any meaningful communication between them.

Family life was not always like this. There was a time when family members had more time for each other. I remember growing up in a home where my father would come home promptly at 5.30 pm, and everyone was able to enjoy a meal together with lots of interaction. I would go for walks with my father in the evenings. He would bring us out to visit relatives and friends or just for an outing on Saturdays. But life has changed a lot since that time.

II. The Effort Required To Maintain Family Life

It is truly a challenge to have good family life under our present circumstances. And we all have to make anextra effort to spend quality time with our loved ones at home. I too have to make an extra effort to spend quality time with my family. I try to go back home during lunchtime everyday so that I can spend some time with my wife and son. And as we eat lunch together and send my son to school, we would have some conversation in the car. And when we all sit down together for dinner one rule that we observe in my family is that the TV must not be left on during meal times, so that we can have better interaction as a family.

We also interact during our family devotion time at night, before we all retire to bed. Sometimes it takes some effort to get everyone ready for family devotion. We would sit with our Bibles in the bedroom and start by taking turns to read a few verses from it. The youngest always starts first, and each would read a verse until we reach the end of the passage. Then I would ask a few questions to help the children understand the meaning of the passage. After that we would discuss the application of it to ourselves. Then we pray for each other – again beginning with the youngest. Sometimes we sing a short chorus to end the family devotion.

It is my hope and prayer that all families in our church will put in the extra effort to cultivate their family life, and particularly their time of family devotions. Of course it requires someone to take the lead, and plan what to do for each family devotion – This is the father’s role. He is responsible for the spiritual leadership of the home. And I say this to all fathers here this morning: If you haven’t been spending much time with your family, please make a special effort to make time for them, no matter how busy you are, for you bear a very important reponsibility of the spiritual nurture of your own family. Please do not neglect this responsibility as the consequences of doing this are very painful.

A story is told about a young man who stood at the bar of a court of justice to be sentenced for forgery. The judge had known this man from the time he was a child, because this man’s father had been a famous lawyer. ‘Do you remember your father?’ asked the judge sternly, ‘that father whom you have disgraced?’The young man answered, ‘I remember him perfectly. When I went to him for advice or companionship, he would look up from his work and say, ‘Go away boy, I am busy. My father finished his work, and here I am.’

III. Love For Your Family

Now, I can keep going on and on telling all you fathers here to make time for your family and to fulfill your God-given responsibility well. However, all this will not avail anything unless you have one thing that is needful – a love for your family. Hence, the main message to fathers this morning is a message to love the members of your family.

A. What Love For One’s Family is Not

Some fathers have a terribly mistaken idea of how love for the family should be expressed - “If I work hard and earn more money, I can buy more expensive gifts for my wife and children and they will appreciate me.” But instead instead of receiving the appreciation they expect, they find themselves alienated from them, and their children saying, “It’s not the gifts that I want, it is you!” Perhaps its better to give up a job that pays well but requires a lot of time away from your family, for a job that does not pay so well but allows you more time to spend with your family. This is what one father in our church did, and he has never regretted doing it.

And so let us understand that love should not be confused with merely earning more than sufficiently to provide everything that the family will ever need. We should also not confuse love with mere sentimental feelings or warm emotions that the world tends to portray as love. What then is love?

B. Love is Based on Commitment

Let us look at our passage in Ephesians 5:25 to find out – “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” Here we can see that the love of a husband for his wife must be modelled on the love that our Lord Jesus Christ had for the church. Jesus loved the church so much that He gave Himself for the church.

This love was not based on any attractiveness in the church. In fact the next two verses show us that Jesusalready loved the church even before it was sanctified, cleansed and made presentable by His work in it. Such is the love that all who are husbands here must have for their wife – a love that is based on a firm commitment toward your wife. This love is not based on how you feel about your wife. Feelings change all the time. Disagreements, moods and strange habits have way of changing your feelings. If the quality of any marriage and family life depended upon good feelings, it would very soon end up in terrible jeopardy!

But if your marriage and family life depends on a deep sense of loving commitment then it would still remain strong and stedfast, despite any change of feelings. Loving commitment enables us to be kind, patient and forgiving. It enables a husband to forgive his wife for whatever hurtful things she may have said to him ot done to him when she was unhappy. We think of the example of the prophet Hosea, who continued to love his unfaithful wife, Gomer, even after she had tragically left him and their three children to live with her lover. When Gomer found herself abused and reduced to a slave, Hosea’s love for her caused him to seek her, buy her out of slavery and bring her back home to live with him again (Hosea 3:1-3).

And so our scripture text of Ephesians 5 teaches us the husband to have such loving commitment to his wife. And this loving commitment is meant not only for his wife, but by extension, to the rest of his family as well. We who are fathers must show the same loving commitment to each child under our care. This will keep a father from disowning his son or giving up on him, even when he becomes rebellious and disobedient. Psalm 103:13 tells us “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” We think of the many times that Israel rebelled against God, and roused His displeasure and chastising wrath against them. And yet as their heavenly Father, God always remained patiently and steadfastlycommitted to the covenant He made with them! The afflictions they suffered were actually given by God out of His great love for them. Proverbs 3:12 – “For whom the LORD loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” We think of the father of the prodigal son, who kept looking out day after day longing for the son’s return until he finally saw him and welcomed him home (Luke 15:20)!

Loving commitment also enables a father to persevere patiently in bringing up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord as Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: butbring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It is not easy to do this, because it requires fathers to know their children well enough to train them and even to discipline them with the righteous rod when necessary. All that requires much energy and time.

But when you have the same kind of loving commitment that Jesus had for the Church, it will become quite natural for you to give your time and energy for them. It will motivate you to be with them, help them, support them and make personal sacrifices for them.

I think of a father in our church who heard that his son studying overseas was feeling lonely and discouraged, and he took time out of his very busy schedule to fly halfway round the world just to spend time with him, counsel him and attend a church there with him. I think of another father in our church who went hiking with his son in the dense forests of Taman Negara during the school holidays, to discover the glories of God’s creation together.

Please do not ever think that the time you spend with them, in doing things together with them, going places together, or just being together is wasted time. The opportunity to do all these things with them is limited to the 18 or so years until they leave the home and are on their own. Those years will be gone in no time! Please make good use of the opportunity while you still have it. Use it to build pleasant memoriesthat will last for a lifetime, memories that play an important part in strengthening the bond of commitment in the family. And that commitment forms the basis of love for your family. Let us go on now to understand another aspect of love – how it is expressed.

C. Love Is Expressed in Meaningful Communication

This aspect of love is also modelled on the love that Jesus had for the church. V.26 tells us – “That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,…” Here we see Jesus loving the church by using the Word to sanctify and cleanse it. Without giving the Word to the Church, there can be no sanctification and nourishment in the lives of believers. Verse 29 brings out the nourishing quality of the Word which Jesus communicates to His Church – “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishethand cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church…” Each time we hear the Word being preached or taught to us, Jesus is communicating His loveto us by nourhsing us! In the same way, we who are fathers should love our families by the words we speak. This means that we must communicate well with the family to edify them, and build them up.

But to some fathers, communication with the family is limited to saying to the wife, “I’ll be home for dinner”, or “Please iron my shirt”, and saying to the child “Have you finished your homework?” This may be some form of communication (and some may even say that it is better than none), but is it meaningful communication? Does it edify and build up the family? Will it bring nourishment to their lives?

The only kind of communication which can edify and nourish is sustained, meaningful communication. This takes place when we share our knowledge and experiences, opinions, beliefs and values with them.

Meaningful communication is a two-way process of giving and receiving. We ask them questions to probe their understanding and perception, and in turn we welcome questions from them that will ellicit answers for their benefit. This is the kind of communication that really builds up the relationship. It is the level where mutual trust and confidence has been achieved, and where those who communicate are confident that they can trust one another without the fear of being judged or maligned. Let us learn to communicate well with our family members, going past the usual clichés and mere exchange of facts, and proceed on to the level where real influence is imparted, and personal impact is made.

And let all your actions always be consistent with whatever you say. Nothing can be more damaging to communication than setting a bad example. In fact we communicate much more by what we do than what we say. In order to teach them to live lives that are morally upright, helpful to others and reverent toward God, we must live such lives ourselves for them to see and be good, reliable role models that they can follow. This will pave the way for their spiritual nurture and admonition. It is the best way to keep the commandment to fathers found in Ephesians 6:4, to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It is the best way that we who are fathers can build them up to know the Lord Jesus, to love Him and obey Him as they should.

Now, I do not know of any fathers who keep on saying the words, “I love you” to all their family members. Most fathers hardly ever say that. Perhaps this expression of love is rather foreign to most fathers’ lips. But when we communicate with our family members meaningfully both by our words and our works, and especially to build and nurture them up in the Lord, we are actually saying, “I love you” to them very loudly and powerfully. If knowing Jesus and His salvation is the best thing that has happened in your life, then there is no better expression of love you can give to your family than to build them up in the Lord. This brings us to the final part of our message to fathers:

IV. Providing Good Spiritual Leadership for Your Family

This is the ultimate way to love your family, and yet it is often neglected by Christian fathers. Fathers, your family needs good quality spiritual leadership, and you are the ones to provide it for them! If you fail to do this, your children will by default be led by the trends, values and influences of their friends and of the sinful world, and one day you will have to answer to God for each of them. God takes delight in fathers who take the helm of leadership in their families well, and who do not abdicate their leadership responsibility. This can be seen in the commendation that God gave to Abraham in Genesis 18:19 – “For I know him, thathe will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment;…”

Whenever we who are fathers begin to slacken in our role of spiritual leadership, let us rememberAbraham. He became a father only when he was 85 years old when his first son, Ishmael was born. And 15 years later, when Abraham was 100 years old he had his second son, Isaac. Imagine what it must have been like for an old man over 100 years old to take care of a teenager and a toddler at the same time! If Abraham was able to exercise good spiritual leadership in his family, there is no valid reason why we should not be able to do it, by God’s grace.

Abraham provided for his son’s needs well – even to the extent of finding a suitable wife for Isaac (Genesis 24). He evidently taught Isaac the fear of the Lord. In those days there were no Sunday School classes or VBS that could cater to Isaac’s spiritual nurture. Many fathers today unfortunately just leave the spiritual nurture of their children entirely in the hands of these ministries of the church. But Abraham wasn’t like that. He taught Isaac all that he knew about God and His covenant with them. That’s how Isaac later on knew enough to continue in the same covenant relationship with God that his father had enjoyed. Imagine what would have happened if Abraham had been too busy (like many fathers are today) to spend time with Isaac – the line of redemption would have come to an early end!

He would probably take the young boy Isaac with him whenever he went out to tend to his flocks and talk with him about God, and he would answer whatever questions his inquisitive son would ask him. His son would also be there with him when he worshipped God in the offering of animal sacrifices. Abraham made sure that Isaac knew every little detail about the whole procedure – how to bind the lamb, cut it and lay it on the altar with the firewood, and then calling upon the Lord in prayer.

And Isaac later knew it so well that when they went up to Mt Moriah he observed that his aged father had forgotten the most important detail for the sacrifice – the lamb! And Abraham replied that God would provide one for Himself, which was actually fulfilled.

And when Isaac realized on the mount that he was the sacrificial lamb, his response revealed the spiritual leadership that father had exercised over him. Although he was probably able to outrun his aged father easily, he obeyed his father without putting up any struggle or resistance. As Abraham commanded him,“Isaac my son, go up on to the altar and lie down there” Isaac willingly yielded his life to his father to be used as a sacrifice to God.

That event on mount Mount Moriah not only revealed Abraham’s obedience to God. It also revealed Abraham’s success as a father. Here was a father who, as God had said, would command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment”. It is evident that Abraham had successfully taught Isaac how to obey the Lord, and Isaac knew that he must obey God, even if it had to cost him his life.

May all our fathers here strive to do the same in our respective families. How wonderful it would be if the Lord can say of us, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Genesis 18:19)

You will notice that this verse ends with a wonderful promise – “that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.” God had promised to make Abraham’s descendants a great and mighty nation, and all the families of the earth would be blessed in him and his descendants. Now of course, this promise of being a mighty nation belonged only to Abraham. None of us can claim that promise. But there are other blessings that the Lord may bring upon us and our families if we are faithful in our role of spiritual leadership, like the ones described in Psalm 128:3 – “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD.”

May we look forward to this promise being fulfilled as we take our role of spiritual leadership of our families seriously. It is a good promise for all fathers to live by, and the blessings are really tremendous! Perhaps some fathers here may be wondering how they should begin to do this. For a start, you should have a regular time of family devotions at home. If you have not done this, please plan to begin soon.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

November 19 & 26 - The End of the World

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10