读经：诗102:18-28 林前24:1-25:28 代下24:1-25:28
A busy father was looking for a way to entertain his young daughter. He found a map of the world in a magazine and cut it into pieces. He gave the pieces to his child and suggested she try to piece the map back together.
After a very short time she said she had finished. He was very surprised by how quickly she had done it. He asked her how she had managed to do it so fast. She replied, ‘I noticed when you took the page out of the magazine that on the back of the map of the world there was a picture of a man and a woman. I thought that if I could put the man and the woman back together, I could put the world back together.’
Marriage and family life are hugely important. They are part of God’s natural order, and are a vital part of the fabric of society. Pope John Paul II once wrote that family is the ‘foundation’ of society and ‘nourishes’ society continually.
Nicky and Sila Lee have invested their lives in strengthening marriages and family life. Their courses and books such as The Marriage Book and The Parenting Book have had a profound impact on thousands of people in our own local church and now in many countries around the world. Recently a government official in one country said to Nicky and Sila, ‘A strong society depends on strong families and strong families depend on strong marriages. That’s why we are interested in your work.’
The Bible has a great deal to say about family life. Not only do we have a natural family, but as Christians we are part of the church, which the New Testament sees as ‘the family of God’.
The three passages for today are not directly on the subject of family life, but in each of them we see something about family.
1. Children and the next generation
Psalm 102:18-28Every generation has a responsibility to think about the future and to plan for the future. We should be concerned, not just about what happens in our time but also about the next generation. The psalmist is concerned for the next generation: ‘Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord’ (v.18).
Jesus is the key for every generation. Interestingly, the writer to the Hebrews quotes verses 25–27 of this psalm and applies them to Jesus (Hebrews 1:10–12): ‘Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). He ‘laid earth’s foundations a long time ago, and handcrafted the very heavens’ (Psalm 102:25, MSG). Jesus will be there forever: ‘Year after year you’re as good as new’ (v.27, MSG).
The psalm ends with this hope for the next generation: ‘Your servants’ children will have a good place to live and their children will be at home with you’ (v.28, MSG).
This is a hope, a prayer and, to some extent, a promise. Of course, as we will see in the Old Testament passage for today, everybody is responsible for their own lives. However, there is a sense in which God treats people as families. We can hope, pray and believe that our children will live in his presence and be established before him (v.28).
Lord, thank you for this hope that we have for our children. I pray for my own family and for those in the church, that we will live in your presence and that our children will grow up to know, love, serve and be established before you.
2. Family and homes
1 Corinthians 16:5-24Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, has a big sign outside saying: ‘Welcome Home’. The vision of Brian and Bobbie Houston, the senior pastors, is that everyone who comes to the church will be welcomed, loved and given the hospitality that we would give to a guest in our own home.
We need to recapture this New Testament vision of church as a home. Of course, the early Christians did not have church buildings. They met in homes (v.19). Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘If Timothy shows up, take good care of him. Make him feel completely at homeamong you’ (v.10, MSG).
The church is the family of God. God is our father. Paul sees the whole church as a family. He talks about other Christians as his ‘brothers and sisters’ (v.15). The church is not an organisation you join; it is a family, where you belong.
Paul, who was single and did not have his own wife or children, loves the Corinthians and seesthem as his family. He found spiritual refreshment by spending time with them (v.17). He ends his letter, ‘I love all of you’ (v.24, MSG). He expects them to ‘love the Lord’ (v.22) and to love one another. They should express this love by greeting ‘one another with a holy kiss’ (v.20).
This is not just a nice theory; it is very personal. He longs to see them (v.5). He knows that they will ‘help’ him (v.6). He does not want to spend only a short time with them; he wants to spend much longer ‘if the Lord permits’ (v.7). Paul’s message in his letters flows from his love and concern for the people in the church. He practiced what he preached when he wrote ‘do everything in love’ (v.14).
The only reason Paul is not coming sooner is that ‘a great door for effective work has opened to [him], and there are many who oppose [him]’ (v.9). (It seems that whenever God opens ‘a huge door of opportunity for good work’ we should expect that there will also be ‘mushrooming opposition’ (v.9, MSG).) Do not let such opposition deter you from making the most of great opportunities when they arise.
He goes on to talk about Timothy, whom he describes elsewhere as his son in the Lord (4:17). He then speaks about his ‘brother Apollos’ 16:12) and goes on to talk about ‘the family of Stephanas’ (v.15, MSG). It appears from the New Testament that it was quite common for whole families to be converted and baptised together.
We also see in this passage an instance of a married couple having a joint ministry. Aquilla and Priscilla ran a church in their home (v.19). Here, Aquilla is named first. However, more commonly Priscilla is the one whom Paul names first (see Romans 16:3). It is clear that they ran the church together.
The family of the church is made up of single people like Paul, married couples like Priscilla and Aquilla, and whole households like those of Stephanas. Together we make up the family of God.
What Paul writes applies to us all: ‘Keep your eyes open. Hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute and love without stopping’ (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, MSG).
Lord, please give us such love for one another that whether we are single or married, we all experience the riches and refreshment of being part of the family of God.
3. Parents and children
2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28Good parenting is a huge advantage in life. Joash’s father died when he was only seven years old. His mother ensured that he was ‘taught and trained by Johoiada the priest’ (v.2, MSG). He clearly received a good education and ‘did what pleased God throughout Jehoiada’s lifetime’ (v.3, MSG). Joash had a family of his own which included ‘both sons and daughters’ (v.3, MSG).
God had promised his blessing on David and his family. Kingship passed down the family line. However, although God’s love was unconditional, each person was responsible for how they responded to this love. The book of Moses (which is probably a way of referring to ‘the Law’, the first five books of the Old Testament) is quoted in support of the fact that ‘parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each of you will die for your own sins’ (25:4). (‘We each pay personally for our sins’, MSG.)
We see this principle worked out in the book of Chronicles. Joash started out well. He ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (24:2). He ‘decided to restore the temple of the Lord’ (v.4). Everyone joined in: ‘All the officials and all the people brought their contributions gladly, dropping them into the chest until it was full’ (v.10). ‘They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design’ (v.13). (It is interesting to note in passing that buildings for worship do matter and can be restored if everyone gets involved.)
Sadly, Joash’s reign did not end well (vv.17–27). It is so important not just to start well but also to finish well.
Tragically the same pattern was repeated in the life of his son, Amaziah. He started well (25:2), but did not finish well. He became ‘arrogant and proud’ (v.19) and ‘turned away from following the Lord’ (v.27).
Lord, help us to be good examples and to finish well. I pray that family life would once again be the foundation to nourish our society continually. May there be a reversal in the decline in marriages and a restoration of strong families.
2 Chronicles 24:1–25:28
With good advice young children can accomplish great things. We mustn’t underestimate them.
Joash became king at the age of seven. With the help of Jehoiada the priest he started so well. He did extremely well while he had a good adviser. Sadly, when his adviser died, he went off the rails. It is so important to keep helping one another so we can all finish well.