|Chapter 22: MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY
Seventh-day Adventists Believe...
Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by
Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in
loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage
commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be
entered into only between partners who share a common faith.
Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the
fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love,
sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship
between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus
taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for
fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although
some family relationships may fall short of the ideal,
marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other
in Christ may achieve loving unity through the guidance of
the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the
family and intends that its members shall assist each other
toward complete maturity. Parents are to bring up their
children to love and obey the Lord. By their example and
their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving
disciplinarian, ever tender and caring, who wants them to
become members of His body, the family of God. Increasing
family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel
message.--Fundamental Beliefs, 22.
MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY
The home is a primary setting for the restoration of the
image of God in men and women. Within the family, father,
mother, and children can express themselves fully, meeting
each other's needs for belonging, love, and intimacy. Here
identity is established and feelings of personal worth are
developed. The home is also the place where, by God's grace,
the principles of real Christianity are put into practice,
and its values transmitted from one generation to the next.
The family can be a place of great happiness. It can also
be the scene of terrible hurt. Harmonious family life
demonstrates the principles of Christianity truly lived out,
revealing the character of God. Unfortunately, the
manifestation of these characteristics is altogether too
rare in modern homes. Instead, many families demonstrate the
thoughts and intents of the selfish human heart--quarreling,
rebelliousness, rivalry, anger, impropriety, and even
cruelty. Yet these characteristics were not part of God's
original plan. Jesus said, "From the beginning it was not
so" (Matt. 19:8).
From the Beginning
The Sabbath and marriage are two of God's original gifts
to the human family. They were intended to provide the joys
of rest and belonging regardless of time, place, and
culture. The establishment of these two institutions
culminated God's creation of this earth. They were His
finale, the best of the exceedingly good gifts He gave
humanity at Creation. In establishing the Sabbath, God gave
human beings a time of rest and renewal, a time for
fellowship with Him. In forming the first family, He
established the basic social unity for humanity, giving them
a sense of belonging and providing them with an opportunity
to develop as well-rounded persons in service to God and
Male and Female in the Image of God
Genesis 1:26,27 describes God's creation of the human
beings who were to inhabit this earth: "Then God said, `Let
Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.'...So
God created man in His own image; in the image of God
created he him; male and female created he them." The term
man is used here (in both the Hebrew and the English) in the
generic sense, as it is more than 500 times elsewhere in
the Old Testament. This term includes both male and female.
The text makes clear that it was not a case of the male
being created in the image of God and the female in the
image of the man.(*1) On the contrary, both were made in the
image of God.
Just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God, male and
female together are to make up "man." And like the Godhead,
though they are to be one, they are not the same in
function. They are equal in being, in worth, but not
identical in person (cf. John 10:30; 1 Cor. 11:3). Their
physiques are complementary, their functions cooperative.
Both genders are good (Gen. 1:31), and so are their
different roles. The family and the home are built upon the
fact of sexual differentiation. God could have propagated
life on earth without creating male and female, as is
demonstrated in the asexual reproduction of some forms of
animal life. But God made "two individuals, identical in
general form and characteristics, but each containing within
itself something lacking in the other and complementary to
the other."(*2) A world made up exclusively of members of
either sex would not be complete. True fulfillment can come
only in a society that involves both male and female.
Equality is no question here, for both are essential.
During his first day, Adam, the firstborn and so the
head of the human race,(*3) sensed his uniqueness--there was
no other like him. "But for Adam there was not found a
helper comparable to him" (Gen. 2:20). God was sensitive to
this lack, for He said, "`It is not good that man should be
alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him'"
The Hebrew word neged, translated "comparable" here, is a
noun related to the preposition that means to stand "before,
in front of, opposite, corresponding to" someone or
something. In this case the person who was to stand in front
of Adam was to complement him, corresponding to him as his
counterpart. So God "caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam,"
and taking "one of his ribs" (Gen. 2:21), shaped his
Upon awakening, Adam instantly recognized the close and
intimate relationship that this specific act of creation
made possible. He exclaimed, "`At last, here is one of my
own kind--bone taken from my bone, and flesh from my flesh.
"Woman" is her name because she was taken out of man'"
(Gen. 2:23, TEV; cf. 1 Cor. 11:8).
From the diversity of male and female God brought order,
oneness. That first Friday He performed the first marriage,
joining these two, the epitome of His image, to make them
one. And marriage has been the foundation of the family, the
foundation of society itself, ever since.
Scripture describes marriage as a decisive act of both
detachment and attachment: One shall "leave his father and
his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall
be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24, KJV).
Vital to the marriage relationship is a leaving behind of
the former primary relationships. The marriage relationship
is to supersede that of the parent and child. In this sense,
"leaving" one's relationship with one's parents allows one
to "cleave" to another. Without this process, there is no
firm foundation for marriage.
The Hebrew term translated "cleave" comes from a word
that means "to stick to, to fasten, to join, to hold onto."
As a noun it can even be used for brazing and soldering
(Isa. 41:7). The closeness and strength of this bond
illustrates the nature of the bond of marriage. Any attempt
to break up this union would injure individuals bound this
closely together. That this human bond is a close one is
also emphasized by the fact that the same verb is used to
convey the bond between God and His people: "Him shalt thou
serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name"
(Deut. 10:20, KJV).
In Scripture this pledge, this promise by which married
couples are bound together, is spoken of as a "covenant,"
the term used for the most solemn and binding agreement
known in God's Word (Mal. 2:14; Prov. 2:16,17). The
relationship between husband and wife is to be patterned
after God's everlasting covenant with His people, the church
(Eph. 5:21-33). Their commitment to each other is to take on
the faithfulness and endurance that characterize God's
covenant (Ps. 89:34; Lam. 3:23).
God and the couple's family, friends, and community
witness the covenant that they make with each other. That
covenant is ratified in heaven. "`What God has joined
together, let not man separate'" (Matt. 19:6). The Christian
couple understand that in marrying, they have covenanted to
be faithful to each other for as long as they both live.(*5)
4. Becoming one flesh.
The leaving and covenanting to cleave results in a union
that is a mystery. Here is a oneness in the full sense--the
married couple walk together, stand together, and share a
deep intimacy. At the outset this oneness refers to the
physical union of marriage. But beyond that, it also refers
to the intimate bond of mind and emotions that undergirds
this physical side of the relationship.
a. Walking together.
Of His relationship with His people, God asks, "Can two
walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3, KJV). That
query is appropriate also of those who would become one
flesh. God instructed the Israelites not to intermarry with
the neighboring nations, "`for they will turn your sons away
from following Me, to serve other gods'" (Deut. 7:4; cf.
Joshua 23:11-13). When the Israelites ignored these
instructions, they met with disastrous consequences
(Judges 14-16; 1 Kings 11:1-10; Ezra 9:10).
Paul reiterated this principle in broad terms: "Do not be
unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what
fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what
communion has light with darkness? And what accord has
Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an
unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with
idols? For you are the temple of the living God"
(2 Cor. 6:14-16; cf. vs. 17,18).
Clearly, Scripture intends that believers should marry
only other believers. But the principle extends even beyond
this. True oneness demands an agreement as to beliefs and
practices. Differences in religious experience lead to
differences in lifestyle that can create deep tensions and
rifts in the marriage. To achieve the oneness Scripture
speaks of, then, people should marry others within their own
b. Standing together.
To become one flesh, two people must become completely
loyal to each other. When one marries, one risks everything
and accepts everything that comes with one's mate. Those who
marry proclaim their willingness to share their mates'
accountability, to stand with their mates against anything.
Marriage requires an active, pursuing love that will not
"Two persons share everything they have, not only their
bodies, not only their material possessions, but also their
thinking and their feeling, their joy and their suffering,
their hopes and their fears, their successes and their
failures. `To become one flesh' means that two persons
become completely one with body, soul, and spirit, and yet
there remain two different persons."(*7)
Becoming one flesh involves sexual union: "Adam knew Eve
his wife, and she conceived" (Gen. 4:1). In their drive to
be joined together, a drive that men and women have felt
since the days of Adam and Eve, each couple reenacts the
first love story. The act of sexual intimacy is the nearest
thing to a physical union possible for them; it represents
the closeness the couple can know emotionally and
spiritually as well. Christian married love should be
characterized by warmth, joy, and delight (Prov. 5:18,19).
"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled"
(Heb. 13:4). "The Scriptures tell us clearly that the joyous
sexual expression of love between husband and wife is God's
plan. It is, as the writer of Hebrews emphasizes, undefiled,
not sinful, not soiled. It is a place of great honor in
marriage--the holy of holies where husband and wife meet
privately to celebrate their love for each other. It is a
time meant to be both holy and intensely enjoyable."(*8)
5. Biblical love.
Marital love is an unconditional, affectionate, and
intimate devotion to each other that encourages mutual
growth in the image of God in all aspects of the person:
physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Different
types of love operate in marriage; it has its romantic,
passionate times; its highly sentimental times; its
comfortable times; its companionable and sense-of-belonging
times. But it is the agape love described in the New
Testament--the selfless, all-for-other love--that comprises
the foundation of true, lasting marital love.
Jesus manifested the highest form of this kind of love
when, accepting both the guilt and the consequences for our
sins, He went to the cross. "Having loved His own who were
in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1, NASB).
He loved us in spite of the end to which our sins brought
Him. This was and is the unconditional agape love of Jesus
Describing this love, Paul said: "Love suffers long and
is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is
not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its
own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in
iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things,
believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails" (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
Commenting on this passage, Ed Wheat wrote: "Agape love
is plugged into an eternal power source and it can go on
operating when every other kind of love fails....It loves,
no matter what. No matter how unlovable the other person is,
agape can keep on flowing. Agape is as unconditional as
God's love for us. It is a mental attitude based on a
deliberate choice of the will."(*9)
6. Individual spiritual responsibility.
Though marriage partners have made a covenant commitment
to each other, they must each individually bear the
responsibility for the choices that they make (2 Cor. 5:10).
Taking such responsibility means that they will never blame
the other person for what they themselves have done. They
must also accept the responsibility for their own spiritual
growth; no one can rely upon another's spiritual strength.
Yet, on the other hand, each one's relationship with God can
serve as a source of strength and encouragement to the
The Effects of the Fall Upon Marriage
The distortion of humanity's reflection of God's image
that sin brought had its effect upon marriage as certainly
as it did on any other area of human experience.
Self-interest intruded where perfect love and unity once
reigned. Selfishness is the primary motivator of all those
not compelled by the love of Christ. Running counter to all
of the principles of surrender, servanthood, and giving that
the gospel represents, it is the common denominator of all
By their disobedience Adam and Eve contravened the
purpose of their creation. Before they sinned, they had
lived in full openness before God. After, instead of
joyfully coming to Him, they fearfully hid from Him,
attempting to conceal the truth about themselves and denying
their responsibility for their actions. Pervaded with a deep
sense of guilt that their rationalizations could not erase,
they could not meet the eye of God and the holy angels.
Since then this evasion and self-justifying denial has been
the common pattern of human relationships with God.
The fear that drove them to concealment distorted not
only Adam's and Eve's relation to God, but also to each
other. When God questioned them, they both sought to protect
themselves at the expense of another. Their accusations give
evidence of the serious breakdown that had occurred in the
loving relationship God had established at Creation.
After sin God told the woman, "`Your desire shall be for
your husband, and he shall rule over you'" (Gen. 3:16). He
intended this principle, which did not change the basic
equality of the man and woman, to benefit both that first
couple and married couples thereafter.(*10) Unfortunately
this principle became distorted. Since that time dominance
through power, manipulation, and destruction of
individuality has characterized marriage through the ages.
Self-centeredness has left acceptance and appreciation of
one another in short supply.
The essence of Christianity is living in the self-denying
harmony that characterized marriage before the Fall, which
destroyed this harmony. The affections of husband and wife
are to contribute to each other's happiness. Each is to
cultivate the happiness of the other. They are to blend as
one, yet neither of them is to lose his or her
individuality, which belongs to God.(*11)
Deviations From God's Ideal
The practice of one mate's maintaining several spouses
runs contrary to the oneness and union that God established
with the first marriage in Eden. In polygamy there is no
forsaking of all others. Although Scripture describes plural
marriages as a cultural reality in the time of the
patriarchs, its description clearly shows that those
marriages did not attain the divine ideal. The various
sub-units within those marriages became involved in power
struggles, bitter resentments, and alienation (see Gen. 16;
cf. 29:16-30:24, et al.), using the children as emotional
weapons to injure other members of the family.
Monogamous marriage provides couples with a sense of
belonging that strengthens their intimacy and bonding. They
realize that their relationship is unique and that no one
else can share what they do. The monogamous relationship
reflects most clearly the relationship between Christ and
His church and between the individual and God.(*12)
Fornication and Adultery
Current thinking and practice make light of lasting
commitments in which both spouses are sexually faithful to
each other until death. But Scripture regards any sexual
relations outside of marriage as sin. The seventh
commandment remains in effect and unchanged: "Thou shalt not
commit adultery" (Ex. 20:14, KJV). No qualifiers or
disqualifiers are mentioned here. This commandment is a
principle that jealously guards the marriage relationship.
The full import of the Biblical view of fornication and
adultery stands in direct contrast to today's tolerance of
such activities by "consenting adults." Many passages in
both the Old and the New Testament condemn such practices
(Lev. 20:10-12; Prov. 6:24-32; 7:6-27; 1 Cor. 6:9,13,18;
Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; 1 Thess. 4:3; etc.).
Such liaisons can have far-reaching and long-lasting
effects. They defraud the legitimate sexual partner, and may
harm him or her physically, emotionally, financially,
legally, and socially. They hurt the extended family, and if
children are involved, they particularly injure them. These
liaisons may result in the transmission of venereal diseases
and the birth of illegitimate babies. Then, too, the cloud
of lies and dishonesty that hovers over such affairs so
destroys trust that it may never be restored. Even aside
from the Biblical injunctions against these forms of
immorality, the train of unfortunate consequences that
result should provide ample warning against engaging in
Impurity of Thought
Sin is not merely the outward act; rather, it is also a
matter of the heart that reaches deeply into the thought
patterns. If the springs are polluted, the rivers are not
likely to be clean. Jesus saw that the inner reservoir of
the mind motivated human behavior, "for out of the heart
come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft,
false witness, slander" (Matt. 15:19, RSV). In this vein He
traced the act of unfaithfulness to the thoughts and
emotions: "`You have heard that it was said to those of old,
"You shall not commit adultery," But I say to you that
whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already
committed adultery with her in his heart'" (Matt. 5:27,28).
An entire industry has developed to capitalize upon the
perversion of the imagination. The sensual films and books
it produces have no place in the Christian life. They not
only encourage illicit relationships, they also reduce men
and women to mere sexual objects, thus distorting the true
meaning of sexuality and obscuring the image of God.
Christians are called upon to think pure thoughts and live
pure lives because they are preparing to live in a pure
society throughout all eternity.
Some parents cross the boundary that demarcates the
healthy expression of affection to their children, becoming
physically and emotionally intimate with them. Often this
results when the normal husband-wife relationship has been
neglected and one of the children has been chosen to pay the
role of the spouse. This blurring of boundaries may also
occur between siblings and extended family members.
Incest was forbidden in the Old Testament (Lev. 18:6-29;
Deut. 27:20-23) and condemned in the New (1 Cor. 5:1-5).
This kind of abuse damages the child's developing sexuality
and creates in him or her an unwarranted burden of shame and
guilt that he or she may bring into marriage later in life.
When parents transgress those boundaries, they damage the
child's developing sense of trust--so vital to faith in God.
A statement Jesus made sums up the Biblical teaching on
divorce: "`What God has joined together, let not man
separate'" (Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:7-9). Marriage is sacred
because God has consecrated it. Ultimately it is God who
joins the husband and wife, not mere human words or the
sexual act. So it is He who has sealed their union. The
Christian understanding of divorce and remarriage, then,
must be based on scriptural grounds.
Jesus' statement makes clear the basic scriptural
principle that undergirds a Christian understanding of
divorce: God intended marriage to be indissoluble. When the
Pharisees asked Him whether marital incompatibility was
reason enough for divorce, He affirmed the Eden model of
marriage as a permanent union. When they pressed Him further
about Moses' laws of divorce, He answered, "`Moses, because
of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce
your wives, but from the beginning it was not so'" (Matt.
19:8). He went on to stipulate that the only legitimate
reason for divorce was sexual infidelity (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).
His response to the Pharisees makes it clear that Jesus
had a far deeper understanding of fidelity than they did.
From what He said, and from the principles regarding
marriage in both the Old and New Testaments, it can be
affirmed that God intends those who marry to reflect the
image of God in a permanent union.
Even the unfaithfulness of one's spouse does not
necessarily mean that the marriage must end in divorce. The
way of the cross encourages deep repentance and forgiveness,
the putting away of the roots of bitterness. Even in the
case of adultery, through forgiveness and the reconciling
power of God, the injured spouse should seek to maintain
God's original purpose in Creation. "Biblically speaking,
adultery need be no more destructive to your marriage than
any other sin....When you are ready to forgive and let go of
your negative attitudes, God will be more than ready to heal
you and renew your love for each other."(*13)
While the divine ideal for marriage is that of a loving
and permanent union that continues until the death of one
partner, at times a legal separation becomes necessary
because of offenses such as physical abuse to spouse or
child. "In some civil jurisdictions such a separation can be
secured only by divorce, which under these circumstances
would not be condemned. But such a separation or divorce, in
which `unfaithfulness to the marriage vow' is not involved,
does not give either one the scriptural right to remarry,
unless in the meantime the other party has remarried,
committed adultery or fornication, or been removed by
Because marriage is a divine institution, the church has
a unique and solemn responsibility both to prevent divorce
and, should divorce occur, to heal as far as possible the
wounds it causes.
God created male and female to differ from and yet to
complement each other. And when He did so, He oriented their
sexual feelings toward those of the opposite sex. The
differentiation and connectedness that characterize people
are manifested in the attraction that draws the two sexes to
each other in order to form a whole relationship.
In some cases, sin has affected even this basic
orientation, bringing about a phenomenon that has been
termed inversion. In such cases, the natural orientation
toward the opposite sex appears inverted, producing a basic
sexual orientation toward people of the same gender.
Scripture condemns homosexual practices in strongly
negative terms (Gen. 19:4-10; cf. Jude 7,8; Lev. 18:22;
20:13; Rom. 1:26-28; 1 Tim. 1:8-10). Practices of this type
produce a serious distortion of the image of God in men and
Because "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of
God" (Rom. 3:23, KJV), Christians will deal redemptively
with those who are afflicted by this disorder. They will
reflect the attitude Christ took toward the woman taken in
adultery: "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more"
(John 8:11, KJV). Not only those with homosexual tendencies,
but all persons who are trapped in behaviors or
relationships that cause anxiety, shame, and guilt need the
sympathetic ear of a trained and experienced Christian
counselor. No behavior is beyond the reach of God's healing
After God created Adam and Eve, He gave them dominion
over the world (Gen. 1:26; 2:15). They made up the first
family, the first church, and marked the beginning of
society. Thus society was built upon marriage and the
family. Because they were the only human inhabitants of the
earth, God commanded them "`Be fruitful and multiply; fill
the earth and subdue it'" (Gen. 1:28).
As world population statistics indicate, an unpopulated
earth no longer cries out to be filled and subdued. But
those married Christian couples who decide to bring children
into the world still have the obligation of rearing their
children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Before a
married couple sets out upon that course, they should
consider God's ideal for the family.
1. The father.
Scripture has given the husband and father the
responsibility of being head and priest of the household
(Col. 3:18-21; 1 Peter 3:1-8). He becomes a type of Christ,
the head of the church. "For the husband is head of the
wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the
Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject
to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in
everything. Husbands, love your wives, just 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 husbands ought to
love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his
wife loves himself" (Eph. 5:23-28).
As Christ leads the church, husband and wife "both should
be yielding, but the Word of God gives preference to the
judgment of the husband" where it is not a matter of
conscience.(*16) At the same time he has the responsibility
to treat her individuality with utmost respect.
As Christ demonstrated a gentle rulership that went to
the cross in servanthood, so the husband is to lead
sacrificially. "Christ's rule is one of wisdom and love, and
when husbands fulfill their obligations to their wives, they
will use their authority with the same tenderness as Christ
uses toward the church. When the Spirit of Christ controls
the husband, the wife's subjection will only result in rest
and benefit, for he will require from her only that which
will result in good, and in the same way that Christ
requires submission from the church....Let those who stand
as husbands study the words of Christ, not to find out how
complete must be the subjection of the wife, but how he may
have the mind of Christ, and become purified, refined, and
fit to be the lord of his household."(*17)
As priest of the family, like Abraham, the father will
gather his family about at the beginning of the day and
commit them to the Lord's care. In the evening he will lead
them into praising Him and thanking Him for the blessings
bestowed. This family worship will be the tie that
binds--the time that gives God priority in the family.(*18)
The wise father spends time with his children. A child
may learn many lessons from the father, such as respect and
love for their mother, love for God, the importance of
prayer, love for other people, the way to work, modesty,
love for nature and the things God has made. But if the
father is never home, the child is deprived of this
privilege and joy.
2. The mother.
Motherhood is the closest thing on earth to being in
partnership with God. "The king upon this throne has no
higher work than has the mother. The mother is queen of her
household. She has in her power the molding of her
children's characters, that they may be fitted for the
higher, immortal life. An angel could not ask for a higher
mission; for in doing this work she is doing service for
God....Let her realize the worth of her work and put on the
whole armor of God, that she may resist the temptation to
conform to the world's standard. Her work is for time and
Somebody in the family must bear the ultimate
responsibility for the character of the children. Child
training cannot be haphazard or delegated to others, for no
one feels quite the same about a child as do its parents.
God created the mother with the ability to carry the child
within her own body, to suckle the child, and to nurture and
love it. Except for the extenuating circumstances of severe
financial burdens or of being a single parent,(*20) if she
will accept it, a mother has the unique privilege of
remaining with her children all day; she can enjoy working
with the Creator in shaping their characters for eternity.
"Someone in a relationship needs to consider the family
as a career....Taking on the career of being a mother and
wife is a fabulously rare lifework in the twentieth century,
and a very challenging job. A wasted effort? A thankless
job? An undignified slave? No, a most exciting possibility
of turning the tide, of saving the species, of affecting
history, of doing something that will be felt and heard in
In Old Testament times a person's name conveyed a short
statement about the person who bore it. Eve received her
name after the Fall (Gen. 3:20). Because she was to become
the mother of all human beings, her name (Hebrew chawwah)
was derived from the word for "living" (Hebrew chay). It
reflects the extraordinary position of honor that she
occupies in the history of the human race.
Just as procreation was not the sole and exclusive right
of either Adam or Eve, so neither was parenthood. The latter
was also to be a shared responsibility. And so it should be
now, not only in the bearing of children but also in the
rearing of them. Each parent has certain responsibilities,
and they are to be carried out as to the Lord. "Lo, children
are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is
his reward" (Ps. 127:3, KJV).
1. A priority.
Other than their commitments to the Lord and their
spouses, parents have no higher responsibility than to the
children that they have brought into the world. They must
put their children's interests before their own advancement
and comfort; the children did not choose to come into the
world, and they must be given the best possible start in
life. Since prenatal influences vitally affect one's
spiritual, mental, and physical health, making the child's
welfare a priority should begin even before birth.(*22)
A parent's love should be unconditional and sacrificial.
Even though it may never be completely reciprocated,
children must have it to have a good self-image and
emotional health throughout life. Children who have to win
love or who feel rejected and unimportant will try to obtain
their parents' love through undesirable behaviors that
become ingrained and habitual.(*23)
Children who are secure in their parents' love will reach
out to others. They can be taught to give as well as to
receive and that there is a reason for existence beyond
self. As children develop, they can learn to glorify God.
Christian parents are to dedicate their children to God's
service at the earliest possible moment of life. Seventh-day
Adventist congregations provide for such a dedication with a
simple ceremony in which, before the congregation, parents
present their children to God in prayer, much as Joseph and
Mary presented the infant Jesus to the Lord in the Temple
(Luke 2:22-39). In this manner the child begins life as a
part of an extended spiritual family. Members of the
congregation participate in the social and spiritual
development of the young one as a child of God and a member
of the body of Christ.
In this service the parents also dedicate themselves to
educate the child in the way of the Lord so that the image
of God will be formed in the child. To reach this goal,
parents will bring their children to Sabbath school and
church regularly so that the little ones become a part of
the body of Christ early in life. Then, as the child reaches
school age, the parents and church will make every effort to
enable him or her to have the Christian education that will
nurture that child's love for the Lord even further.
The spiritual teaching the parents do is an ongoing
process that enters into every phase of the child's life.
"`You shall teach them [the Lord's commands] diligently to
your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your
house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when
you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and
they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall
write them on the doorposts of your house and on your
gates'" (Deut. 6:7-9; 11:18 ff).
The child is influenced by the whole atmosphere of the
home. The parents cannot convey spirituality through family
worship alone. It must come through their continual trusting
in Jesus; it must be manifested in their lifestyles,
clothing, and even home decorations. Knowing God as a loving
parent is vital to the child's Christian growth.
5. Learning obedience.
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is
old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). What does this
training entail? Discipline implies far more than
punishment. Punishment usually deals with the past, whereas
discipline looks to the future. Discipline is a discipling
process in which a young one is apprenticed to the parent
for training, guidance, and example. It means teaching
important principles such as loyalty, truth, equity,
consistency, patience, order, mercy, generosity, and work.
When children learn early to obey their parents
implicitly, authority poses no problem to them in life. But
the type of obedience learned is important also. True
obedience comes not simply because it is required, but
because it springs from within. The secret of this kind of
obedience lies in the new birth.
"The man who attempts to keep the commandments of God
from a sense of obligation merely--because he is required to
do so--will never enter into the joy of obedience. He does
not obey....True obedience is the outworking of a principle
within. It springs from the love of righteousness, the love
of the law of God. The essence of all righteousness is
loyalty to our Redeemer. This will lead us to do right
because it is right--because rightdoing is pleasing to
6. Socialization and language development.
It is within the family that children are socialized as
members of the human race, with all the responsibilities and
privileges that entails. Socialization is the process by
which children learn the basic skills with which to function
in society. Language with all its nuances of communication
is one of the first skills the child learns. The language
used in the home needs careful monitoring, then, so that it
reveals God's character. The child should hear frequent
joyous and spontaneous expressions of affection among family
members, and praise to God.
7. Gender identity.
It is in the home, through wholesome interaction with the
males and females that make up the entire family system,
that children learn to function as male or female within
society. Adults need to teach them the beauty of their
developing sexuality through correct and appropriate
information. It is also their responsibility to safeguard
the children from sexual abuse.
8. Learning values.
A basic socializing function of the home is to provide
for the assimilation of the values espoused by the family.
The family's values and religious concepts do not always
coincide. Parents may claim to adhere to certain religious
principles, but the values that they model before the child
may not be in accordance with those principles. It is
important that parents be consistent.
The Extended Family
Marriage, as God designed it, is exclusive; family is
not. In a highly mobile society one rarely finds extended
families--grandparents, siblings, and cousins--all living in
close proximity. The church family can help those far from
or without kin find a true sense of worth and belonging.
Here, too, single parents can find a comfortable place in
which to rear their children with love and tender
cherishing. And the church may supply appropriate role
models that may be lacking in the home.
Through learning to love the old people in the
congregation, children can learn respect. And those who are
old can experience the satisfaction of having a little one
to love and enjoy. "Now also when I am old and gray-headed,
O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to
this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come"
God gives special consideration to the elderly, saying,
"The silverhaired head is a crown of glory, if it is found
in the way of righteousness" (Prov. 16:31), and "Even to
your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry
you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and
will deliver you" (Isa. 46:4).
In the church, singles may find a special place to be
loved and cherished and to share their love and energies as
well. Through its ministry they can come to sense God's care
for them: "`Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you'"
It is part of "pure religion" to give special care to
those in need (James 1:27; Ex. 22:22; Deut. 24:17; 26:12;
Prov. 23:10; Isa. 1:17). The church family has a special
opportunity to provide a haven, a shelter, a place of
belonging to those who do not have a family; it may surround
and include each member in the special unity that Christ
said would be the mark of Christianity itself
Since the family is the very soul of the church and
society, the Christian family itself will be the instrument
of winning and holding its members for the Lord. The very
last verses of the Old Testament are a prophecy of what will
take place before the Lord returns: "Behold, I will send you
Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and
dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the
fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to
their fathers" (Mal. 4:5, 6). While many forces today
attempt to pull the members from the family, God's call is
to a reuniting, a resolidifying, a turning and restoration.
And those families that respond to His call will have a
strength that will reveal real Christianity. The churches
made up of those families will grow; their young people will
not leave; they will portray to the world a clear picture of
1. Cf. White, Education, p. 20.
2. A.W. Spalding, Makers of the Home (Mountain View, CA:
Pacific Press, 1928), p. 58.
3. That Adam was responsible for the planet is evident in
that God held him accountable for sin even though he was not
the first to transgress (Gen. 3:9ff). The New Testament,
also, as it compares the two "Adams," holds the first Adam
liable for the entrance of sin and death (Rom. 5:12ff; 1
Cor. 15:22; cf. White, Great Controversy, p. 647).
4. "God Himself gave Adam a companion. He provided `an help
meet for him'--a helper corresponding to him--one who was
fitted to be his companion, and who could be one with him in
love and sympathy. Eve was created from a rib taken from the
side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as
the head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior,
but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and
protected by him" (White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 46).
5. For more on the covenantal aspects of marriage, see
"Marriage as Covenant" in Covenant and Marriage: Partnership
and Commitment (Leader's Notebook) (Nashville: Family
Ministry Department, Sunday School Board of the Southern
Baptist Convention, 1987), pp. 51-60.
6. See SDA Church Manual, pp. 150,151; F.M. Wilcox,
"Marrying Unbelievers," Review and Herald, July 2, 1914, pp.
9,10; G.B. Thompson, "Marrying Unbelievers: `Can Two Walk
Together, Except They Be Agreed?'" Review and Herald, July
31, 1941, pp. 2, 12-14; F.M. Wilcox, "The Marriage
Relationship, Following the Divine Order," Review and
Herald, May 4, 1944, pp. 1-4; White, Testimonies, vol. 4,
7. Walter Trobisch, I Married You (New York, N.Y.: Harper
and Row, 1971), p. 18.
8. Ed Wheat, Love Life for Every Married Couple (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), p. 72.
9. Ibid, p. 62.
10.White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 58,59.
11.E.g., see White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 361; White,
Messages to Young People (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn.,
1930), p. 451.
12.See also White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 145,208,
337,338; White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, pp. 104,105; vol.
4a, p. 86.
13.Wheat, Love Life for Every Married Couple, p. 202. See
also "The Divorce Court or the Cross," in Roy Hession,
Forgotten Factors...An Aid to Deeper Repentance of the
Forgotten Factors of Sexual Misbehavior (Fort Washington,
PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1976); Wheat, "How to Save
Your Marriage Alone," in Love Life; and Gary Chapman, Hope
for the Separated: Wounded Marriages Can Be Healed (Chicago:
Moody Press, 1982).
14.SDA Church Manual, p. 175.
15.See Hession, Forgotten Factors. In helping transgressors
to repent and find forgiveness in a loving God, this
excellent volume carefully delineates the deeper issues of
16.White, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 307. She also wrote, "We
women must remember that God has placed us subject to the
husband. He is the head and our judgment and views and
reasonings must agree with his if possible. If not, the
preference in God's Word is given to the husband where it is
not a matter of conscience. We must yield to the head" (E.G.
White letter 5, 1861).
17.E.G. White manuscript 17, 1891. See also Larry
Christenson, The Christian Family (Mineapolis, MN: Bethany
18.For ideas on how to have a dynamic family worship, see
John and Millie Youngberg, Heart Tuning: A Guide to Better
Family Worship (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1985);
Christenson, The Christian Family, pp. 157-197.
19.White, Adventist Home, pp. 231,232.
20.Parents who must place a child under another's care
should choose someone who holds similar values to theirs so
that there can be full cooperation in rearing the child in
the love and "admonition of the Lord." The parents should
also carefully observe the other children with whom their
child would be associated. Do they want their child to be
like those children? Children learn so much so quickly and
so indelibly, all aspects of child care need to be
21.Edith Schaefer, What Is a Family? (Old Tappan, N.J.:
Fleming H. Revell Co., 1975), p. 47.
22.See White, Desire of Ages, p. 512; White, The Adventist
Home, pp. 255-259.
23.See Gary Smalley and John Trent, The Blessing
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986). The authors
carefully depict how parents' bestowal or withholding of
unconditional love is the key to the emotional and
psychological wellness of the developing child.
24.White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 97.