Redeemed by God
What makes the perfect family? Is it a certain standard of living or a specific number of kids? Is it making time to eat dinner together or going on vacation as a family? Is it communication or love or forgiveness? Maybe a better question is: Does the perfect family even exist? From the moment Adam and Eve, the first family, took a bite out of the fruit of the one tree God told them not to eat from in the Garden of Eden, sin and brokenness spread to every area of life. There are few areas this is more clearly seen than in the family unit.
Adam and Eve fell into sin in Genesis 3 then in the very next chapter their oldest son, Cain, murdered their youngest son, Abel. The effects of the Fall are the most visible in our family life, because that’s where we are our true selves. Sin and brokenness exists in every family because sin and brokenness exists in every person. This reality shows itself on a daily basis through various family conflicts and arguments, but some families experience this reality in more permanent situations, like navigating the transition into a blended family or going through the pain of a divorce. It’s these types of situations that have been too often ignored or mistreated by Christians and churches. What does the Bible say about blended families and stepfamilies? Does it even speak to the issue? How should churches approach and walk with families that find themselves in these difficult positions?
For many Christians, knowing where to turn in Scripture to find verses that address hard family situations seems like an impossible task. This is often the case because we tend to view the Bible as having an idealistic (i.e. unrealistic) view of life. The Bible’s teaching about how life is to be lived is idealistic only in the sense that it lays out for us how our Creator God intended us to live in every area of life, especially our families. The full spectrum of the experience of family life is presented in Scripture. As I mentioned above, the very first family that ever existed was plagued with issues, and the sin and brokenness didn’t stop there. Abraham had a child with his servant, Hagar. It drove a wedge of conflict between he and his wife, Sarah, and one of jealousy between Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16 and 17). Abraham’s grandsons, Jacob and Esau, were strong on rivalry and weak on integrity to the point that Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, in regards to the birthright of the first born (Genesis 25). The drama that existed between Jacob and Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29 and 30) seems more like something you would find in a soap opera rather that in the first book of the Bible. The great King David had a baby with another man’s wife then devised a plan to have that man killed but covered up as a death on the battlefield (2 Samuel 11).
There are numerous examples in the Bible of families that are clearly imperfect. All of the family situations mentioned are messy, wrecked by sin, and painful in one way or another. What is interesting to see, though, is that even in the midst of these broken families, God has a bigger plan that He is unfolding, and it is a plan of redemption. As you look through the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, you will find that many of the people mentioned are from family situations characterized by brokenness and hardship. All of these Old Testament families ultimately led to the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, who Himself was born into a family situation that sparked suspicion and gossip among those around them (Matthew 1:18-25). Christians who come from broken homes and blended families are by no means second-class Christians. All Christians are part of God’s grand story of redemption, a story that is made up of individuals and families who are being redeemed by God.
While it’s easy for us to jump to the practical perspective on things because we are dealing with the nitty-gritty details of each day, it is crucial to keep this overarching story of Scripture in mind. It’s the big picture that will provide hope and direction in the midst of daily life. This bigger picture also points us to a larger community that every Christian is a part of—the Church. Every command and truth regarding family life in the Bible is given in the context of community—the people of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. Family life can be lived in isolation, but God’s Word directs our families to point each other towards the Lord and His grace, and that can only happen through intentional involvement in a local community of Christians. As I mentioned above, many Christians and churches carry a stigma toward stepfamilies and blended families that hinders real acceptance and involvement. Therefore, we must carefully think about what steps churches can take to support and encourage these families. Here are a few practical thoughts.
Trust our God. When faced with a hard family situation, it’s easy for pastors and ministry leaders to immediately jump in and try to “fix” the problem. Our first step should be to look to our God. We can trust and hope in Him because He is our sovereign God “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:15). Whatever a family’s history or circumstances are, we can trust that God, in His goodness and wisdom, has directed circumstances to where they are now. As pastors and leaders, our focus should be on faithfulness and obedience to God in the present, not trying to rewind to the past or predict the future. Let’s commit to pray for these families whether they seek out our counsel or not.
Serve these families. Scripture consistently presents the crucial connection between the church and the home. God has designed life in a way that the family needs the church and the church needs the family. All families face challenges, but those challenges are multiplied in a blended family, and churches must step in to meet needs, big and small. As we seek to meet these different needs, we must be careful not to isolate these families as a separate group in the church. Our efforts to support them and remove the stigma shouldn’t have the reverse effect and end up preserving the stigma. The Church itself is a family, united by the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves us, not by what type of earthly family we come from.
Remember the Gospel. In our local churches we should strive to create a culture where we don’t put up hurdles in front of the cross. Some Christians and churches have done this when it comes to family types. We have preached a gospel that says you need to trust Jesus to save you, but you also need to come from a certain kind of family, a family that’s not too messy or awkward or broken. In our work to serve all types of families, let’s not forget that our Savior came to save all types of people. Perfect families don’t exist because perfect people don’t exist. Even in the midst of all of our imperfections, we can cling to our perfect Savior who knows our weaknesses and offers mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Cam Potts is husband to Kerry-Lyn and dad to Cooper and Libby. He also serves as Family Pastor to Students at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, KY. Twitter: cam_potts, Operationparent.org