Thursday, 31 January 2008

Your family IS your work!

I'm presently reading a biography. The subject of it was an Anglican minister who died in the early 1980s who was also what is often called a "workaholic".

He was completely devoted to his ministry of evangelising and preaching. Unfortunately, he routinely allowed this ministry to draw him into neglecting his family, which included his beloved wife and two children. He was a popular international speaker to conferences, seminaries and universities, and regularly made trips of several weeks to many countries. When at home, his study was sacrosanct and he spent vast amounts of time there, studying and praying. He seems to have been a highly gifted and valued preacher, very self-disciplined, sensitive to criticism, something of a perfectionist, and deeply concerned that his ministry should be fruitful. All of this contributed to driving him into his study when at home, and around the world as many opportunities arose (in fact he had to turn around two-thirds of invitations down).

What I want to draw attention to here is the wrong thinking that calls us to label this phenomenon with descriptions like "spending too much time on his work" or "working too hard", etcetera. Biblically speaking, I think it's the very opposite. If we were to use Biblical terminology, we'd call it neglecting your work or being lazy.

How so? Because, according to the Bible, husbands and fathers are required by God to make their own families a priority area for their work. It's not for nothing that the apostle Paul routinely made family life one of the areas that he singled out for special attention and in-depth instruction (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-6:3, Colossians 3:18-21). God instituted the family - not the office or even the pulpit - before the fall, as the fundamental unit in human society (Genesis 2:18-25). There is a plethora of Scriptures urging us to pay serious and continual attention to our families:

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband." (Ephesians 5:25-33)

"For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1 Timothy 3:5)

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

"Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love." (Proverbs 5:18-19)

"Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing , and obtaineth favour of the LORD." (Proverbs 18:22)

As always, of course, the lazy man who doesn't want to invest the effort needed in his family can find many specious excuses. He spends so much time away from them because he loves them and wants to provide for them. He is in the office many hours to keep them in the style to which they've become accustomed. God has given him gifts in his vocation and he should use them fully, shouldn't he? He buys them the best presents and goes on holiday with them every year, doesn't he? Etcetera, etcetera.

The plain fact is, though, that God never told us to neglect our families in order to serve another cause. He told us to make them a non-negotiable priority. He tells husbands and fathers that he requires them to invest time, prayer, sweat and tears in patiently teaching, discipling, guiding, correcting and as the crown of it all enjoying the wonderful blessing of family life.

In our individualistic age Christian men need to make sure that they firmly resist the temptations to laziness which are offered on every side, that they take responsibility like real men, and that they trust God for the long-term fruit of this essential area of their work.

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