By: Jenni Walker
“For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more…being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:8, 9a, 11)
“Here on earth we may have a foretaste of the divine kindness, so that our hope and longing may be kindled for the full revelation of it.” (John Calvin)
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
* * * * *
I love traditions, particularly those centered on the holidays and yearly family events. Some of my most treasured traditions are those experienced at Christmas time. Even letting the “holiday dust settle” so to speak holds nostalgia for me: putting each memory-filled ornament and decoration away, eating the last of the sweets and the turkey (though, if you’re like my family, those tasty leftovers are likely being eaten for weeks to come!), and instead of the daily arrival of cards and photos from family and friends, the mail box once again being the recipient of its usual advertisements, billing statements, and occasional letter. As life returns to its normal routine, the glow of memories made and the assurance of those to come still linger with me.
Last year, my husband, Bryan, and I were doing a bit of window shopping a few days after Christmas. As I strolled through the clearance section at Marshall’s, I came across a discounted little treasure called “Our Christmas Memories Book.” It is a scrapbook with two pages dedicated to each yearly Christmas. There is room for a photo and also blank lines to write about special people, food, gifts, and memories that encapsulate that particular holiday season. Many of our Christmas family gatherings, trimmings, and traditions will fill those blank pages in years to come.
Books like this remind me that there is a special kind of joy found in tradition – it creates expectation, anticipation, desires longed for and fulfilled, and new delights! It can also create a deep sense of security, belonging, and peace. Similarly, God has a specific plan and design in which we experience these in our lives! One of the key ways is found in His design for family. It is kind of like a living nativity scene – Christian families are living displays of the glory, love, and faithfulness of God!
One of Beth’s and my favorite books is called Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot. (See the Resources tab on our website for more info about it!) In its chapter entitled Heirs of Grace, she points out that we often experience joy when we submit ourselves to a specific design or way of doing things. As she considers this, Elliot muses, “What is this joy which we feel in order and design?” (p. 118) What a simple yet profound question! I am sure that many of you have noticed that our culture right now tends to lean away from obligatory structure and communal order. There is an emphasis in our country on the individual as there has never been before. While there is some merit to individual expression, and each person’s life is of great value and worth, there is also something to be said for doing things according to a pre-determined order and design. An established way of doing things may pose certain limits, but it also can produce fulfillment, security, and, yes, joy!
A PROFOUND DISPLAY
I participated in a women’s Bible study this past summer that focused on a book co-written by authors Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh Demoss entitled Interior Design: Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood. One of the elements we discussed in this study was that of family affection. Kassian and Demoss aptly point out, “The biblical story line of male and female (and marriage and family) has little to do with us; it has everything to do with God. Your womanhood is ultimately not about you. It’s about displaying the glory of God and His powerful redemptive plan.” (Interior Design, p. 63) They observe that, no matter what season of life we are in, family is the context in which we all live, whether as a daughter, sister, wife, or mother. God Himself designed the family, and He places great priority on the family and the home, “the context in which most Christian women live out their faith” (p. 63). As such, it is one of the most profound ways to put the truth, grace, and glory of God on display!
In 1 Peter 3, when Peter describes married couples as “heirs together of the grace of life,” he also provides special and specific instructions to servants, masters, and husbands and wives. Elisabeth Elliot points out about this passage that “Peter is writing to exiles about how they ought to conduct themselves in the countries to which they have been scattered. Their obedience to authority may ultimately lead the surrounding peoples to glorify God.” (p. 118) Family by God’s design puts the gospel on display and leads others to glorify God and surrender to Him! It produces joy in our lives and draws others toward glorifying Him as well! Affection-filled families centered around Biblical truth and the riches of God’s grace make the gospel attractive. Such families often cause people to wonder what makes them different, and they are drawn to that, too. John Calvin calls it “a foretaste of the divine kindness” that we have while on this earth “so that our hope and longing may be kindled for the full revelation of it.” (John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, p. 73)
The clear-eyed love between a husband and wife, the selfless affection between a mother and her infant, the sense of protectiveness between an older sibling and a younger one, the correction and restoration extended by a father to his child, the hugs bestowed without restraint between out-of-town family members, the unfettered laughter shared by grandparents with their grandchildren – all of these scenarios and many more pull at our human heartstrings. They give us a “foretaste of the divine kindness” that is to come after our time here on this earth, and they intensify in us that inward longing to belong, to be secure, to be loved. These displays of family affection take the outside observer beyond the list of do’s and don’ts they might perceive Christianity to be and, instead, demonstrate tangibly the blessings found in living life in response to the grace found in Christ alone and, also, of the eternal hope that comes through that grace. Again, John Calvin puts it well, saying, “For before He fully reveals to us the inheritance of eternal glory, He intends to show Himself as our Father…[and in] this life helps to prepare us for the glory of the heavenly kingdom.” (p. 72-73)
EVEN A GLIMMER
Admittedly, even the best family interactions found in our time here on earth are but a glimmer of what is to come at “the full revelation” of our Lord’s divine kindness toward us through the work of Jesus Christ (1 John 3:1)! But even a glimmer of light is attractive to someone lost in darkness! Of course, there is no perfect family because even Christian families are comprised of sinners saved by grace. Not only that, but families can tragically be splintered or even broken during our time here on this earth. Let’s remember that grace, by definition, is undeserved and unmerited. It is not earned but, rather, bestowed. Family by God’s design, no matter what your situation, provides a platform for the sanctifying and restorative work of Christ in our hearts and lives, the opportunity to demonstrate the glorious grace of Christ to those closest to us day-by-day and moment-by-moment, and also a deeply impactful way to display the authentic and transformative love of Christ to a lost, dark, and hurting world!
What is the family role (or roles!) that God has specifically designed for you to play in your current season of life? Consider how you can glorify God in your various family relationships: How has God designed for you to interact with your spouse? Your children? Your parents? With your siblings? With your extended family? With your brothers and sisters in Christ? We’ll discuss in an upcoming post more specific ways to experience joy according to God’s design for family, and through His grace, as a wholehearted woman for God – no matter what your season of life!
In the meantime, however your relationships with your family members may look right now, remember that family is a calling designed by God for our good and His glory. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness, which includes the wisdom and grace to live according His design for families. And we can also take joy in being a part of the “forever family” of God! If you are part of the body of Christ, you are a member of that family. 1 Peter 3:8-9 reminds the family of God, “Finally, all of you, be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
What a blessing to submit ourselves to doing things God’s way! Family will never be perfect while we are here on a sinful earth, but we can pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” and then go forward with the guidance of our Helper, the Holy Spirit, and the calling of God on our lives! Believe today that there is “joy by design” according to God’s wisdom, and know that the work of Jesus Christ in us, and joyful obedience to His Word, will put His glory and grace on display through our families in ways we cannot even imagine right now.
* * * * *
Food for Thought:
- What family roles are you in right now? What does the Bible say about them? In what areas do you need God’s wisdom?
- Read 1 Peter 3:8-9, then prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to give you specific and personal action steps to walk it out – in both your personal family and in your interactions with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Read Ephesians 3 about the family of God and His glory! Write down what our Heavenly Father ministers to your heart and mind through this passage.