Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
COLOSSIANS 3:18-21 (ESV)
When I was in high school, my family moved to a new house. Up to that point, we had lived in the same cul-de-sac for pretty much my whole life. The thought of leaving the neighborhood and my friends and starting over somewhere new gave me a good deal of anxiety, but thankfully we didn’t have to move very far. In fact, we stayed hilariously close, simply packing our things to get settled in a house in the next cul-de-sac over. My best friend, who used to be my next-door neighbor, could now wave to my backyard from his back door. The whole thing barely counted as a move at all, at least on the outside.
But in every way, this was an upgrade for us. Bigger rooms. A better layout. My brother and I were excited about all that, but the thing that caught our eye most was the pool. Our new home was mere seconds from the old one, but with this little five-foot deep oasis in our backyard, we might as well have moved to Six Flags.
Pools are tricky. You have to monitor all kinds of things to keep them in good shape. You have to watch for cracks and reseal them whenever they show up. You have to clean the surface of debris. Upkeep can be a ton of work after an autumn day of falling leaves or a particularly windy storm.
One of the most critical things to monitor and maintain when owning a pool is the water’s acidity, known more commonly as the “pH level.” Pool owners regularly consult a pH meter to check the quality of the water. There’s no way to really see the level of acidity, but you can observe it indirectly. When you notice something’s off, though, it’s usually too late. If the pH level is too low, the water in your pool will start to brown. If it’s too high, you’ll notice metal equipment in the pool beginning to corrode. (The pain in your eyes shortly after you jump in would also alert you to high acidity.)
These are obviously undesirable experiences for any pool owner or user. The pH level needs to be just right, and to do this, balance is key. We learned our first year with the pool that striking this balance requires consistent effort and attention. We checked the meter routinely because the water was constantly changing. Rain, diluting hair products, body oils, sunscreen – every day threatened to alter the pH level in the pool. We would read the meter and adjust accordingly, putting on our scientist caps and adding exact amounts of sodium carbonate or baking soda. We would add and wait and observe, trying to avoid letting the pool become a muddy pond or an acid bath. It was a lot of work, but when the level was right, when the balance was struck, the pool was everything you’d want it to be. The water was clean and clear and inviting, and on a hot summer day especially, you couldn’t imagine spending any time out of the water.
Christianity is a relationship-based faith. God calls a people together, and the Church moves on the friendships we forge and maintain within it. If relational evangelism is our mission, we learn quickly that this has to start at home. We’ll never get very far making new relationships with people who need to hear the hope of the Gospel if we can’t keep peace with our brothers and sisters who already share this hope.
Most people will meet a Christian before they ever pick up a Bible and read what it says. They will look at a believer’s home and his people and learn about the hope to which he clings, the values that create his family’s common language, and the love that holds them all together. The evidence that they can see will tell them about everything they can’t. In this way, our Christian families are ultimately an apologetic, an answer to a question the world is posing.
The people around us who don’t know Christ are seeking a place of belonging. They want healthy relationships. Like all of us, they yearn for places of peace and honesty and joy. Most of us realize perfection is unattainable, but this is still a picture we can see – here, now – in families united in testimony, finding the joy of the Lord to be their strength through struggle and brokenness.
The vibrant picture of a healthy Christian family in Colossians is not one that just happens. It takes care and diligence. The muck of disfunction presents itself in a home in unmistakable ways. Hidden bitterness eventually becomes harsh words. Jealousy or insecurity shows up as uncomfortable silence or outright absence. In relationships, darkness ignored always becomes darkness undeniable.
Though these are difficult things to see and work through, God gives us the way to monitor and address the health of our homes. We learn that the familial relationships we want to see are built on respect, sacrificial love, and encouragement. They are founded on the example of Christ and measured by the prescriptions of Scripture. Bringing all this to life requires our humility and honesty. It takes diligence and patience and forgiveness. Each of us in a home has a critical piece to play in keeping it together. And though it costs our blood, sweat, and tears, the work that goes into it never comes back void. When we’ve paid attention and responded well – when the balance is right – the Gospel-centered family is warm, inviting, unique, special. You couldn’t imagine spending any time outside of it.
God, every place where You dwell is marked by Your holiness and designed for Your glory. Thank you that my family is no different, that Your Spirit lives in me so that Your words might fill our conversations. Remind me to be present and active within my circle. Show me the promise of close-knit, Gospel-centered families and help me fulfill my responsibility to serve the one you’ve called me to. AMEN.
Family can be a very touchy subject for some of us. Even the prospect of simply reaching out to communicate can be fraught with hazard. But thankfully, relational progress is not a one-size-fits-all mandate. Think about how best you can encourage and serve the people in your family in pointing them to Christ. Whatever this might require of you – a text, a phone call, a visit, a meal – take action today with patience and right intention.