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)
“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)
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Family affection is something we all desire throughout our lives. Our family roles may change over the years as we leave our childhood homes behind, as we become or gain in-laws, as we navigate long-distance relationships with extended family, and as we grow our own families. Yet the desire for a loving, unified, affectionate family still resides in each of our hearts. Did you know that was put there by God Himself? It is something to be sought and enjoyed because it draws us close to God’s heart for us as His people, to one another, and helps others who are lost to see the good news of the gospel displayed in many simple yet profound ways.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday. It is a day to reflect on Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem where He would soon be crucified on the cross for the sins of the world. (Next week, we get to celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday!) Yesterday, many friends and family members I know gave “palm branches” made of artificial leaves, green construction paper, or just some greenery from the yard to their children to wave joyfully, as the young children did during Jesus’s triumphal entry described in Matthew 21:1–16, shouting “Hosanna!” What particularly struck me as I viewed several pictures and videos of these dear children was the joy and affection that seemed to permeate their family lives. There are no perfect families, but godly affection is so important for genuine experience of God’s goodness and grace. This seemingly simple family activity profoundly demonstrates in a tangible way to children and adults alike the adoration, praise, and joy we all are to give to the King of Kings.
I participated in a women’s Bible several summers ago 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). 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, which is one of the ways we daily live out faith as followers of Jesus. As such, it is one of the most profound ways to joyfully experience the truth, grace, and glory of God!
When Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter, he addressed it to “the pilgrims [temporary residents] of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” (1 Peter 1:2) Those to whom he was writing were scattered throughout many places and were living where many people had never even met a Christian. He passionately reminds these followers of Jesus to obey commands such as “Honor all people,” “Servants, be submissive to your masters,” “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands,” “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife,” and “You younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.” Why was this his focus in the midst of suffering and exile experienced by the recipients of his letter?
It is because ultimately each one of them was called to submission to Christ first and foremost. Obedience to His authority lived out in the way they conducted themselves in daily life and the context of family honored Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of [their] souls” (1 Peter 2:25) above all else. Joyful obedience to God’s design put the gospel on display and could lead others among whom they were exiled to glorify God and surrender to Him! Embracing God’s design for family as a living display of His glory and grace brings honor to our Lord, produces His 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 because it is not contrived. It is real, and it is rooted in the ongoing work of the love of God in our hearts, lives, and relationships (Romans 5:5).
John Calvin describes it well when he writes, “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” (Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life). 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.
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! Tragically, families can 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 our 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? Whatever 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 (2 Peter 1:3), which includes the wisdom and grace to live according His design for families. 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 in our time here on this 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 life and work of Jesus Christ in us, and joyful obedience to His Word, will help us to experience godly affection in our own families and will put His glory and grace profoundly display in ways we cannot even imagine right now.
Time to Reflect
- What family roles are you in right now? What does the Bible say about them? How does following God’s design for them also deepen your relationship with Him?
- 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. How does obedience to such commands draw the hearts of unbelievers toward Jesus?
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(This devotion contains excerpts from The Wholehearted Woman: Who She is and Why She Matters by Beth Doohan and Jenni Walker.)