Community, Family Life & the 10 Commandments by Phil Tiews

Over the last decade or so we have entered into a new reality in community life. The nuclear family has blossomed into the extended family, even the overlapping extended family, or clan, as the second generation of community folks have sometimes married one another and started having children of their own. The ‘grandkid’ link ties those first generation folks together with family-, as well as community-ties. Some of us are also being called upon to care for aging parents or relatives, drawing us into deeper relationship with the ‘pre-first’ generation! This is a wonderful development. In the past we have invested in building intentional community together in no small part because of the loss of more natural community in our culture. Now we are experiencing the most natural of community structures, the extended family, growing up right in our midst. What a blessing! What a multiplication of dinners, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, exchange of life on every level through these family networks.

Ah, but there lies a bit of a rub. ‘Natural community’ competes with ‘intentional community’ for time, energy, resources. In the early days of our community we resolved this potential conflict by largely withholding ourselves from investment in our families of origin. As we were building a new set of relationships together rooted in Christ, participation in community activities almost always took precedence. We have become far less intense in our time commitment over the years, of course, but the number of places where community and family intersect has actually increased with the emergence of interwoven family connections. There might be less community ‘stuff’, but there is a lot more family ‘stuff’!

What do we make of this and how can we walk out this new reality fruitfully? I am sure that the Lord has a lot to show us still, but here are a couple of thoughts. Let’s keep seeking the Lord and talking about this together:

1. Family is very important to God & it must be to us

Family is important enough to God that it makes it into the ‘Top Ten’ of his commandments. Ephesians 3 speaks of every family on earth being connected to the Fatherhood of God. Much can be said on this point, but it is clear that there is a significant, holy, spiritual reality about family. As a community we must not disparage or diminish family by viewing it as ‘competition’ to ‘real’ community. We should find ways to encourage and build up families as they seek to understand how to engage with God.

2. Family is not and end in itself but is part of the fabric of the Kingdom

Just as we as individuals are called to ‘lay down our lives, take up our cross and follow’ when we enter into being disciples of Jesus, so families do not exist solely for their own benefit but must lay down their (corporate) life, take up their cross, and follow. It is the wonderful pastoral challenge of ‘patriarchs & matriarchs’ to instill this Gospel ethic into the culture of their families. We have plenty of models and experience with fleshly or worldly extended family life. Let’s help one another grow into a Kingdom-centered culture of extended family life. Hopefully this is a place the rest of the community can provide support and encouragement.

3. There is a powerful mission / Kingdom potential in community-embedded extended families

Family life is in tatters in American culture. This has not gotten better in the 40 years we have been together, it has gotten far worse. The witness of healthy, Christ-centered extended families who are not living for themselves but are engaged with God’s broader people can be huge. One response people in the culture make to the family fiasco is to try to ‘cocoon’, to draw Mom, Dad and 1.75 children into an isolated family haven. This is doomed. Interacting with vital family networks that which also have living connection to others can give a whole new vision and provide a place of life to emerge from the cocoon.

In addition, in almost all our extended family networks, there are those who are not walking with Christ, or who do not really have him at the center of their lives. Healthy, loving connections to their broader family which has an authentic Christ-centered culture provide a bridge ‘back home’ for these loved ones. Sometimes, though, they need interaction with someone outside their immediate family, but who knows and loves both them and their family. This is where the community connection can help with the mission to the extended family’s skeptical members.

These are just a few thoughts, and many of you, especially those in our ‘clans’, probably have more. The bottom line is that we should embrace this new era that the Lord has brought us into, viewing it from a broad Kingdom perspective, not as a ‘problem’ it raises for ‘our way of doing things’. God is restoring something to his people – extended families in mutual partnership with broader community life sharing together in the Kingdom mission to reconcile the world to himself. Challenging, exciting, wonderful.

Husbands, Wives, Parents, Children -- Ralph Martin


Husbands, Wives, Parents, Children by Ralph Martin Revised Third Edition, Flame Ministries, Inc. Manila, Philippines, 1997

Unity TALK IS CHEAP, the saying goes, and that seems particularly true when it comes to talk about unity. These days, every politician and popular singer apparently has to give at least an occasional plea for love and commu­nity and people getting together. If you listened to all the talk, you might well be convinced that some wonderful new age of harmony and peace is dawning for our whole soci­ety, only to be disappointed by the next day's headlines.

For behind the rhetoric, the real trend in today's society is not toward greater unity, but toward more and more individualism. That is, after all, the era that proclaims "do your own thing" that tells each individual to pursue an independent happiness without much concern for others. Some social commentators see so much preoccupation with self in our society that they call us "the new narcissists."

In the face of a society that encourages everyone to pursue a separate course, Jesus calls his people to unity, even to perfect unity. It was for Christians of today as much as of any time that he prayed: "May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21).

The unity that Jesus desires for his disciples is not the insubstantial stuff of casual talk; it is as real and complete as the unity that Jesus himself shares with his Father and the Holy Spirit. It is a unity that welds separate indi­viduals together into one body, able to move together un­der the direction of one head. Jesus calls us to be in perfect unity with one another and with him. He wants us to reflect in our relationships as sisters and brothers the same unity that exists in the life of the Trinity.

The call to unity is addressed even more directly to those Christians who are married. God intends the union of husband and wife to embody in a special way the total unity that he desires for all his people. He has designed man and woman to fit together in marriage, to pass from living as two separate individuals to a life as one body, one flesh. Even our reproductive design reflects this purpose: man and woman must unite to produce new life.

The book of Genesis emphasizes this fundamental intention when it describes the creation of man and woman. The account begins with the creation of man alone: "the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (2:7). But Gen­esis tells us that God was not satisfied with this solitary male: "It is not good that the man should be alone" (2:18). Note the contrast here with the phrase that describes God's satisfaction when his creation is completed: "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (1:31). Something about man by himself was not good; he was incomplete, unfinished.

"So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh, and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman" (2:21-22).

Taken superficially, this passage might seem to belittle women: "What do you mean, we got made out of someone's rib!" But Arab friends have told me that in their culture a person often calls his closest friend his "rib". "Joe down the block is my good friend, my rib." The word indicates that two people are very close and share a genuine bond of unity.

In the same way, Genesis uses the image of the rib to show how closely man and woman are bound together. They are made of the same substance; they share the same life. Adam recognized this at once when he awoke and saw the woman: “This at last is "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (2:23).

That fundamental unity, we are told, is the reason why "a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (2:24).  In the Lord's plan, a husband and wife do not just live together on friendly terms. They cleave to one another — one of the strongest possible words to apply to a human relationship — and become one flesh. While "one flesh" obviously refers to the physical union of sexual intercourse, it also means that husband and wife become a new social entity, a unit that works as one.

"The man and his wife were both naked and were ashamed" (2:25). God's original plan for the union of and woman included no shame or guilt or disorder, there was peace and freedom.

We know that this original unity, and the harmony that marked it, did not last.  When men and women disrupted their relationship with God, they also disrupted the harmony between themselves.   Genesis tells us that after the fall God said to the woman: "I will greatly, multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth chil­dren, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen. 3:16). To the man he said, "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field" (3:17-18).

What a change in the relationship of husband and wife! Where once unity and peace characterized their life together, now frustration and anxiety fill it.  Even the new life that springs from their union causes the woman pain. The man, meanwhile, is caught in an endless, painful struggle to make a living.

As a sign of this change, the man and woman now have clothing. The freedom and rightness that once marked their relationship has vanished. In its place has entered a sense of shame.

Fallen humanity never fully recovered the ideal of married unity that God offered the first man and woman. Even among God's chosen people, divorce — the mark of a final breaking of unity — was a common occurrence. As long as men and women were unable to restore their origi­nal union with God, they could not live up to God's design for their life together.

That is why Jesus' teaching is so important for our understanding of Christian marriage. According to the gos­pel of Matthew, some Pharisees tried to test Jesus by asking him: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (19:3).  At the time, Jewish authorities were divided into two camps on this question: some allowed divorce only on very strict grounds, others advocated more leniency. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to come down on one side or the other of the question so that he would antagonize half the people.

But Jesus' answer went beyond what the Pharisees probably expected. "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh*? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What there­fore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (19:4-6}-

"The two shall become one flesh." With these words, Jesus reaffirms in the new covenant God's original plan for marriage. He tells us that husband and wife actually do become one unit, one flesh, and that God himself stands behind their union. God wills full union between them as a fundamental part of his plan and creation. Jesus allows no room for compromise on this issue, stating even more bluntly that "whoever divorces his wife... and marries an­other, commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (19:9).

The gospel of Matthew, although not the other gos­pels that record this incident, allows a qualification to this statement: "except for unchastity" (19:9). The interpreta­tion of that passage has caused considerable controversy, and various Christian denominations now take quite differ­ent stances on permitting divorce. But for many centuries the church took a very strict position on divorce in keeping with Scripture.

I realize the plight of the many divorced Christians today, and I do not want to imply any judgment on their individual situations. That is up to the Lord and to the responsible authorities in the churches. Today, when so many people who marry in church are only nominally Christian, one can even question whether some partners actually contract a Christian marriage.

But the complexities of the divorce question should not distract us from the clear scriptural teaching that God wants the unity of husband and wife to remain unbroken. The book of Genesis tells us that this was his original inten­tion, and the gospels reaffirm that ideal for the Christian people. Its reaffirmation was anticipated in the Old Testa­ment by the prophet Malachi, who said,"...the Lord is wit­ness between you and the wife of your youth...she is your companion, your betrothed wife. Did he not make one being, with flesh and spirit?...You must then safeguard life that is your own, and not break faith with the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel" (Mal. 2:14-16 NAB).

Paul came later to realize the full significance of the unbroken unity of marriage, saying, "This is a great fore­shadowing; I mean that it refers to Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:32 NAB). The fidelity of husband and wife is a sign of God's unbroken covenant love for his people. That is one reason why God insists on the unity of Christian mar­riage; he wants marriage to reflect his love and his life, to set before the world an image of his own relationship to the body of Christ.