I’ve put together a little mini-series on family, and have shown first that God created family and second that God created family as a means of carrying out his will. In today’s article I want to show that God also created family to picture his truth.
Here is what I mean: God uses family as a means of providing pictures that can teach crucial truths to humanity. There are things we cannot easily understand if we do not understand family. On the other hand, there are things we are well on our way to understanding when we understand family. When God wants to teach us certain truths, he essentially says, “picture a father and a son, or picture a wife and a husband, or picture a brother and sister.” Because he made these family relationships to be universal, he can use them as pictures in every context and in every age. He begins with what we know, then uses that knowledge as a bridge to what we don’t know.
So if we understand family, we have language and concepts that help us understand certain truths about God and his works and his ways. But if we lose family, or redefine it, we begin to lose that language and lose those concepts.
Let me give you four important pictures God uses that depend upon family.
Family Pictures the Trinity
First, family pictures the Trinity. If you don’t understand family, you can’t understand God himself. Why? Because God reveals the first person of the Trinity as God the Father and the second person of the Trinity as God the Son. Of course this Father-Son relationship is not identical to our father-son relationships, but it does help us understand that they relate and interact as Father and Son.
Imagine there was a place with no fathers and sons. In that place you would have trouble explaining John 3:16: “For God [the Father] so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” If you don’t understand the powerful, natural love and protection of a Father for his Son, how could you understand what it cost God to provide his beloved Son as a sacrifice?
This is one reason fatherlessness is harmful—it removes the point of comparison between our fathers on earth and our much greater Father in heaven. This is one reason why fathers who abuse their children are committing a terrible offence—they are giving a false picture of the way God the Father relates to God the Son—No one would ever accuse God of cosmic child abuse if there wasn’t the reality of human child abuse. This is why we need to be concerned about same-sex relationships—in a partnership where there are only two mothers, the picture of God as Father is negated.
Family Pictures the Gospel
So family pictures the relationship of the Trinity. It also pictures the relationship at the heart of gospel. The good news of the gospel is that God has a family, and we are invited to become part of it. When we put our faith in Jesus, we are adopted by the Father and become his children.
Ephesians 1:4 says, “In love, he [the Father] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace…” How can we understand what it means to be welcomed as sons of a loving father if we don’t know anything about family?
Imagine that place where there are no families, where perhaps government raises children itself. In a place like that, you would struggle to explain the intimacy of the relationship we enjoy with God as his children. When we’re saved by God, we aren’t registered into an institution by a bureaucrat, but welcomed into a family by a Father. God gave us family so we would know what it means when he offers us the great honor of becoming his beloved sons and daughters.
Family Pictures Christ
Then, family also pictures Christ and his church. In Ephesians 5 we learn that the relationship of a husband and wife has always served as a picture of the relationship of Christ and his people. We are meant to say, “You know how a husband loves his wife and would sacrifice himself to save his bride? That’s how Jesus loves his people. You know how a wife responds to her husband’s love and joyfully follows his leadership? That’s how the church is to respond to Jesus.”
In a place where there is no marriage, you would struggle to explain how much Jesus loves his church and how the church is to respond to that love. This is why the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions is harmful. Christ and the church are pictured through the complementarity of a husband and wife, not the uniformity of two husbands or two wives.
This is why it is so damaging that more and more people are choosing to cohabitate instead of marry. Christ and his church are pictured in the covenantal permanence of marriage, not the temporary convenience of cohabitation. The covenant, the public promise before God and man, makes all the difference.
Family Pictures the Church
Family pictures the Trinity, the gospel, and Jesus Christ. It also pictures the church and the relationship between Christians. Spend time around Christians and you’ll soon hear someone speak of “brothers and sisters.” That’s not just a charming little quirk, but a spiritual reality that follows from our adoption into the family of God. Think of 1 Timothy 5:1 where Paul tells Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”
If you found that place where there are no fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters, how would you explain how church members are to relate to one another? Or if you found a place where fathers are dishonoured, mothers are forsaken, brothers are resented, or sisters are taken advantage of, it would be difficult to explain. Why? Because we are to relate to one another like a family!
Here’s what we need to see: God has given us family as a way to picture other things, a way to understand other realities. And the more our families look like God’s design for families, the clearer those pictures will become, the closer people will be to understanding.