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Building a Christian Home
April 26, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EPHESIANS 5:21-6:4

We have just concluded a series of ten theological sermons on what we believe. For the next several Sundays, let's be more practical. The other evening, the In-Between group had a delightful dinner in a Chinese restaurant and my fortune said that I am conservative, cautious and practical. Why are you laughing? I do not claim to be conservative or cautious. My philosophy is that I would rather fail by doing something than fail by doing nothing. Like our Second Mile Campaign, where we're coming to our congregation to see if we are to continue the programs we now have. Instead of cutting back, we come to you for a second chance. The philosophy is it is better to fail by trying than to fail by doing nothing at all. So I'm not cautious. But, I hope I'm practical. 

We're looking at some practical things about the Christian home this Sunday and the next, on building a Christian home. We are all concerned about the family and what is happening to the family today. We as parents are concerned, we as children, and we as grandparents are concerned about the family. The Bergtholds have a  hanged stitchery in their home which reads, “Grandchildren are God's reward for growing older.” Grandparents are concerned about the family, and all of us as citizens are concerned about family life. Let's look today at the Christian home. 

What is a Christian home? I believe that a Christian home is one where Jesus is head of the family. We just read in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ.” A common commitment to Christ as a family is a Christian home. A family where children are baptized into the faith and where the parents take seriously the training and nurturing of those children, a family together seeking to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, that is a Christian family out of reverence for Christ. Paul precedes “reverence for Christ” by saying, “Submit to one another.” Usually we begin this passage with the next verse. People like the next verse better for the next verse, verse 22, says, “”Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands”. But, Paul does not begin with that verse. He begins with verse 21 which says, “Submit yourselves to one another.” It's a mutual subjection, it's a mutual subordination. 

Paul goes on in this beautiful passage to say, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church and died for it.” The love a husband has for his wife is not an authoritarian kind of love. It's the kind of love that leads to self-sacrifice, the kind of love where you're willing to give up for the wife all that you have as Christ did for you and for me. It's not a lording over; it’s a serving and sacrificing love, a mutual subjection and subordination where Jesus is the head of the house. In non-Christian homes, sometimes the man is head of the house. But as you look at our society, usually it's the wife who is head of the house. And in too many places, it's the children who are heads of the house where the children have the parents right under their thumb, whether that child is two years or a teenager. 

But, in a Christian home, Jesus Christ is the head of the family and the family seeks to work out its identity as a family by seeking to serve Jesus Christ in a common commitment to Jesus Christ made alive, made vital and made dynamic by worship and by service—by worshiping together as a family, by keeping live and vibrant by worshiping together in the home with prayer and Bible, and by serving Christ, by making a common commitment of the family to serve, to look for the unloved in the neighborhood and in the world, to reach out, to help, to share, to forgive, to love, to set high standards for the family, not just high standards for the children, but high standards for the entire family and seek to serve Jesus Christ as Lord. I see so many families in our church that really practice this, I can't name them as there are too many. They are here just about every Sunday as a family—in Sunday School, in the worship service, children singing in the choir, youth in the choir, serving as acolytes, active in the youth fellowships, active in scouting, the parents working active in the church on the committees, in the organizations. St. Paul's Church is a central and important part of their family life and they act out their identity. 

Further, we are not just the Jones family, we're not just the Smith family, we're not just the Norris family, we are a Christian family. That identity gives us purpose and a sense of direction as a family. I think of the Negley family who takes world hunger seriously as a family. They raised sheep in their backyard that the city didn't know about for the Roundup project a few years ago. We’re headed for another hunger Roundup this fall. The Negley family often eats sacrificial meals as a form of identification with those who are hungry. A Christian family has a common commitment to Jesus as the head. 

Now let's be even more practical, and look at some of the ingredients in a Christian home. The1980 Discipline of our church has a statement about the family. It begins with this sentence, “We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect and fidelity.” These are the four ingredients of a  Christian home—mutual love, responsibility, respect and fidelity (loyalty, trust). 

Over the next few Sundays we'll look at these ingredients, beginning today with mutual love. I'm glad they use the word “mutual”. Love is so undefinable especially in our society, but they use the word mutual—mutual giving and receiving, subjecting to one another as Paul said. Children cannot give love until it is first received. And parents cannot demand love from the children unless it has been first been given. Some parents give very little love and then try to demand respect and responsibility. Some parents give much love and then do not allow the children to return it. They give love without a means of receiving it back. And this bottled up love, this one-way love becomes pampering, indulgence, parentalism. This kind of love that is bottled up and is a one-way street does not allow love to grow in the children and be returned as respect, responsibility and loyalty. Love is mutual giving and receiving.

And “mutual” includes the father. Christian homes where Jesus is Lord does not mean the father gets off the hook and doesn't have a responsibility, which is a sign of our times. Dr. Sullivan, a professor of Family Living at the University of Akron states, “Mothers have unconsciously stolen away the child rearing role.” I don't know if mothers stole the role or if fathers gave it up willingly, abdicated. This professor’s class of 48 students describe their fathers as being unemotional, uninvolved, misguided into thinking that the giving of things means the giving of love, difficult to talk to, unable to show love, very unaffectionate. I'm afraid that characterizes too many homes where the father has abdicated. What a turn-around in family living it would be if all of us fathers took seriously our responsibility and our role in the family. Giving love as well as things, being physically affectionate, talking, communicating, caring, and being available. 

One child who wrote of his father in an article called “My Pop’s Tops,” He says, “We have such good fun with my daddy that I wished I had known him sooner. He takes me fishing. He takes me hunting. He is a farmer. He smells like a cow. And when I smell that cow in the house, I know my Pop is home. And I am glad. My Pop’s tops because he was a brave soldier. He didn't see me until I was three years old; yet he is just as good to me as if he knew me all my life.” Mutual includes the father. 

Now, lest you single parents feel that you have an impossible task, it is very possible to be a single parent and have a Christian home. Many successful homes have only one parent, and mutuality and subjection is between that parent and the children.

Now, what is love? I believe love begins with affection, physical affection, hugging, touching. Love means enjoyment—enjoying the children, enjoying one another, enjoying each other's company, playing games, doing things together, going places together, just relaxing and enjoying each other. And love certainly includes the verbalizing of that love by saying “I love you. I appreciate you.” If your children, if your grandchildren were asked right now if you loved them, what would their answer be? Would they be confident? Or would they hesitate and say, “I don't know. I think so.” What if your spouse were asked if you love him or her? What would the answer be? Love begins with physical affection and verbalizing, “I love you.” 

But, love includes a lot more. Other ingredients includes these words from the statement of what we believe about family—respect, responsibility and loyalty. Without respect, responsibility and loyalty, there's no love. I'm glad we're including those ingredients for it frees us from the errors of the past where we believed all a child needs is love. That was an overreaction to the previous generations where children were punished, where children were raised very sternly in the home and in the school. Overreacting to those harsh days of our past, our society just seems to have gone too far. We overreacted. 

And we went too far into permissiveness, self-expression and self-indulgence, where we raise children who are indifferent to the rights of other people, and are unable to give respect and responsibility. 

Now the dirty words are progressive education and humanism. People are attacking the public schools for being humanistic, but the opposite of humanistic is materialistic. But, as usual, they attack without any answers. In the reaction today, in overreacting to the progressive education in overreacting to permissiveness, we are overreacting back to the cries of “we need more authoritarianism”. We need to beat these kids to a pulp, bring out the paddle, put them in jail. Let's show them who's boss—overreacting again and going too far. 

I believe there's a far better way and that's the Christian way, the Christian home where there is mutual love, respect, responsibility, and trust. We'll look at those ingredients next week. The summary of today: A Christian home is one where Jesus is head of the family and the family is working out that identity. The first ingredient of such a home is mutual love.

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris