…On Family Government
The Rev. Dr. Brian M. Abshire
In 1 Timothy 3:1ff, the Apostle Paul requires an elder to be “one that ruleth well his own house.” While the specific context refers to an elder in the church, the requirement is in fact applicable to ALL godly men in their family situations. It can be argued that every male head of a household is in fact an “elder” and it is from this pool of household “elders” that overseers were appointed over the household of God. Hence, sound family government is a fundamental duty of every godly man.
Both the church and the state grow out of the godly family. If the family does not do its job of raising, educating and training godly, covenant children, then the church will not have godly members fulfilling their callings, let alone godly men to rule in the civil realm. Furthermore, a basic Biblical principle is that we need to learn how to be faithful in little things, before God will ever entrust us with greater things (Matt 25:23). If we cannot govern our own families properly, why should God EVER allow us authority in the broader culture?
However, a recurring problem is that our theoretical knowledge often exceeds our practical knowledge. While we may be convinced that we OUGHT to govern our households according to Biblical criteria, some of us are not always sure what that actually entails. Most of us, whether we realize it or not, model our concept of family government from what we observed growing up in our own families. And often, those households, even Christian ones, were significantly influenced by cultural values tainted with humanism to one degree or another. Furthermore, the rapidly changing social situation of the past one hundred years means that household management skills that worked quite well for our grandparents may not always work so well today. While the principles remain the same, the specific applications may change. Sadly, too many, sincere, Reformed Christians see their children grow up to at best, lukewarmly embrace the covenant. At worst, some see their children abandon the covenant altogether. They do not understand what went wrong, not realizing that sincerity is no substitute for truth. Sometimes, the reason why they failed as parents is because they did not understand what governing their families actually entailed.
It is not sappy, sentimental piety to say that one’s spiritual relationship with the living God takes precedence over everything else in life. Jesus defines “eternal life” as knowing the one true God (Jn 17:3). This knowledge is not just academic or theoretical, but rather an intimate, loving relationship with the living God. Hence, the head of the household bears primary responsibility to ensure that all those under his care are nurtured spiritually. Clearly this requires finding a sound church, where the Reformed faith is taught. And of course, it means that the father takes seriously his job to ensure that his children are properly catechized in our holy religion. Even more so, the godly father will ensure that the family conducts daily family worship where the Scriptures are taught to the entire household. These are the basics, and EVERY godly father ought to be committed to these things.
But there is another dynamic that is often over-looked in terms of spiritual development; the husband’s relationship with his wife. According to the Apostle Paul, just as Christ sanctifies His church, so also ought husbands to love their wives and work for their sanctification (Eph 5:21ff). A husband will stand accountable on the Day of Judgment for how well they completed this duty. God will not be impressed with a man’s knowledge of TV trivia, or how many strokes he took off his golf game, how high he climbed the corporate ladder, or even how successful he was in the ministry. God WILL require the man to give an account of whether the man’s wife grew in holiness under his head-ship. Does she respect him, look up to him, is she confident that she can turn to him to answer spiritual questions (1Cor 14:34-35)? The man of course must first be SELF-governed himself to provide this kind of leadership. But he must also understand the principles of spiritual growth and be committed to putting them into practice by helping his wife become what God expects her to be (e.g. Eph 4:22ff).
He must be able to gently, lovingly and self-sacrificially, correct, reprove, rebuke, teach and encourage her. Yes, she is a joint heir in the Kingdom (1 Ptr 3:7), but God requires the husband to lead her spiritually. At a minimum, this means spending time with her, talking with her, and knowing her so well that he can effectively minister to her. It means discerning when to give her some room, and when to crack down. It means knowing when to listen sympathetically to her, and knowing when and how to tell her to “knock it off.” And as he works on helping sanctify his wife, he provides a godly model for the rest of the family. As our children see their mothers respect and submit to their fathers, and grow in grace and character under their loving and tender tutelage, they too will respect and submit to his authority and leadership.
A second aspect of proper family government concerns for lack of a better term, the physical management of life. One aspect of physical management would refer to a man’s calling or vocation. If a man is to govern his household, then he must be able to provide for it, and that usually means knowing what gifts, skills, talents God has given him and then using them diligently for the glory of God. A man must provide for financial needs of family (1 Tim 5:8). Therefore he ought to be conscientious in his labor, wise in his time, productive in his efforts. Work is NOT something he does simply as a means of making money to finance his leisure. Work is good, because God worked and is the means by which we bring every area of life in submission to Christ.
A gracious God, normally speaking, will bless the godly man in his labor by giving him wealth and power. But the wealth and power are to be used for the glory of God, not ever-more expensive toys. As God blesses the godly man financially, he in turn will govern his family by laying up an inheritance for his children (2 Cor 12:14), and be gracious and charitable in giving to the needs of others (Gal 6:9-10).
The godly man will also govern his family physically by learning how to be a faithful steward of what God has given him. He pays his bills on time and learns to live within his means, being content with what he has (1 Tim 6:6-8). He will ensure that he has a well ordered home; i.e., the grass is cut, the house is painted, and things are stored neatly and safely.
He assists his wife in ensuring that the home is properly maintained by organizing the children to do family chores. He ensures that family pets are disciplined and well mannered. This may sound a bit superficial, but if a man’s dog is uncontrolled, then it is likely that his children will be as well. Having a polite, friendly and well-trained dog is just a matter of firmness and discipline. If the man cannot train his dog properly, it is unlikely that he will do much better with his children.
Which brings us to the specific application in 1 Timothy 3, “having his children in subjection with all gravity.” A basic rule of thumb concerning a father’s REAL degree of sanctification is the behavior of his children. If he cannot reprove, rebuke, correct and manage them, with all the resources God has given him (as in being bigger!) then he demonstrates a real lack of spiritual maturity. Raising godly, dominion oriented children is serious business and basic to every other endeavor. A godly head of household must know how to discipline his children to restrain their sinful impulses. This does NOT mean that the godly home has to be run like a prison. But it does mean that the father ensures that his children are respectful, polite, well mannered and under control.
Failure in these areas means that the man is NOT working diligently and conscientiously at his most basic calling. He is not a good steward and is not to be trusted with other responsibilities. Therefore he has a poor witness to the pagan community. When the world looks at a Christian household, they ought to see a difference in the way we live. “Making the most of your time because the days are evil…” (Eph 5:15-16).
As well as ensuring that his home is well organized physically, the godly man will also govern his home by ensuring that the family is growing intellectually. Primarily of course he does this by ensuring that his children receive a sound, Christian education. Granted, not every family can afford the tuition of a private Christian school and if the family home-schools, then usually the wife takes on the greater burden of teaching the children. But even so, it is the FATHER’S responsibility to ensure that the children are getting the best education possible. That means that Dad MUST be involved in some aspect of his children’s education, even if it is nothing more than reviewing with Mom what the children did that day in home school.
Furthermore, Dad needs to ensure that the children are being stretched intellectually by ensuring they are reading good books at an early age. Family worship also provides him a wonderful opportunity each day to stimulate and challenge his children to learn how to think through a passage of Scripture and teach them how to make good practical applications. A godly Dad will turn OFF the idiot box, and interact with his children, imparting HIS values, and not those of the godless apostate sodomites who run Hollywood.
There are also life skills children need to develop that are best learned by personal instruction from their father. Working with the kids in one’s work shop, or planting a garden, doing home maintenance, etc., all give his children the opportunity to learn by doing. This is how children develop their core beliefs and character. What they see in Dad is likely what will be reproduced in their own lives. Hence the more time Dad spends with his family, AS a family, working or playing together, the deeper influence he will have on their intellectual and personal development.
As Christians, we are to be ruled by the Word of God and not our emotions. But at the same time, emotions are a significant part of life. Everyone wants to be loved, accepted, and appreciated. Affection, expressions of tender feelings and compassionate care are not added “extras” to the Christian home, but essential to its well being (e.g., Eph 4:32). Therefore, a well managed, godly home will abound not only in sound doctrine, discipline and hard work, but also in love. All the tasks mentioned above become just that much easier when accompanied by a warm, loving and gracious atmosphere.
Hence the godly man will work to develop relationships with his children, enjoying them while they are still present in his home, so that when they leave to form their own households, the family remains intact. He will work to resolve disputes and adjudicate problems between the children so that they grow up loving and appreciating their siblings. It is very likely that the very real animosity so many adults have towards their brothers and sisters is caused by bitterness from unresolved problems from their youth. And sadly, the reason can too often be traced to the fact that Dad was not willing to get involved in helping them handle problems biblically.
The head of the household will also be quick to admit his own mistakes, sins, etc., confessing them and making restitution for them as necessary, thus giving his wife and children a model of humility. And as a result, he will never allow bitterness, frustration or anger to build up. He will make doing chores fun, family worship and catechism a delight and will learn how to laugh and enjoy his family (e.g., Psa 128). Granted, all these tasks are serious ones, but Dad can make them a joy, rather than a trial IF he is willing to be emotionally involved with his family.
There is of course more that needs to be said, and the danger of a brief essay is that important concepts are not sufficiently developed. Yet even so, at least we have pointed out some fundamental areas that Christian men can consider in regards to their own duties and responsibilities. Since the time of Adam, men have been sinfully tempted to pass responsibility off to someone else. But God demands and requires that we properly govern our families according to His values. If we fail here, then we accomplish little in terms of eternity.
Let a man work diligently at his calling and ministry, and enjoy the blessings that come from a gracious and merciful God. But he will never SEE those blessings unless he takes his domestic responsibilities seriously and manages his own household well.