Family Worship

March 6, 2011 / No. 3557

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we come to the last of our messages on the Christian home. From the Scriptures we have looked at the institution of marriage as well as the roles and responsibilities of the different family members. In all of this, what we have done is go to God’s blueprint for the family and answered the question: How are we to build our homes?
Today we come to a different question: How do we maintain our Christian homes? Marriage and family living is attended with many difficulties. In our homes there are sinners living together, sinful husbands and sinful wives, sinful parents and sinful children. There are many threats to the Christian home from the world—not only in its attack on the biblical teaching of marriage and family, but our homes are assailed by temptation to conform and to let go of our biblical principles. The world has access into our homes through media with television and movies and Internet and video games and so on. There are changes that take place in our homes. When our children are very little, it is not so hard to control their behavior, but when they get older they become more difficult. And, too, many homes today are broken up by divorce and rebellion.
In the face of all these difficulties, how do we maintain our Christian homes? As you can see, this is a very important question. The answer is that we worship God as families, that is, that we daily ground ourselves again in the Word of God and daily seek His grace through prayer. If a husband and wife will do this, they do not need to be afraid that their family will go the way of the majority of families and marriages. Family worship is the foundation from which a home cannot be shaken. It is the thread that holds a family and marriage together. It is the backbone around which a family is built and maintained through all the changes and troubles that might come.
In the Bible, God calls His people to gather with other believers in public worship every Lord’s Day. Besides this weekly activity, there should be a daily activity in the home of families gathering in private worship. The Bible makes plain that families ought to worship the Lord this way. This is what godly families have done from the very beginning of the world.
In Genesis 4 already we find that the two sons of Adam and Eve (Cain and Abel) came together to worship God with sacrifice, obviously something that they had first done with their parents. At the end of the same chapter we read about the family of Enos, the grandson if Adam, calling on the Lord in worship. The first thing that Noah does when he comes out of the ark is to erect an altar to God for worship, even though it was just him and his family. We read about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob worshiping God with their families in different places in Canaan. God says of Abraham: “I know him that he will command his children and his household after him.” When the Israelites were in Egypt, the Passover was instituted by God as a family ritual—something that each family celebrated on their own. In the book of Job, chapter 1:5, we read that this righteous man rose up every morning to pray with and for his children.
In Deuteronomy 6 , after God has given the law, He says to parents: “And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children; and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way and when thou liest down and when thou risest up.” The idea is that the worship of God should be a natural and regular and even spontaneous part of family life for God’s people. Psalm 128:3 , a psalm that speaks of the blessedness of the man who fears the Lord, says this: “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” What you have here is a picture or illustration. Olive plants grew around the walls of a house. Like that, children will grow around the table, not just in the physical sense with food and drink, but with a spiritual diet of the Word of God. In believing homes, this is a part of the meal that parents prepare. Job says that he esteemed the words of God more than his necessary food.
The New Testament teaches the same thing, that families should worship together. Acts 10 says that Cornelius was a devout man and one that feared, or worshiped, God with all his house. And that part of this worship of God was that they prayed to God continually in the home. Aquila and Priscilla were a married couple whom God used mightily in the early church. They were faithful in studying the Word of God together as husband and wife. And Timothy, one of the early pastors that God gave in the New Testament church, was an able and faithful minister of the gospel because, from a child, through the instruction of his mother and grandmother in the home, he knew the Holy Scriptures.
I suppose we could go on to many other passages in the Scripture that show families worshiping God together. This is something that the Christian church has always recognized and that Christian homes have always practiced. The day is begun and ended with prayer. Meals are preceded and followed not only by prayer, but also the reading and the discussion of the Word of God.
At the time of the Reformation, the Presbyterians wrote a “Directory for Family Worship” because they believed “besides the public worship of the congregations, it is expedient that secret worship of each person alone and a private worship of families be pressed and set up.” And so, this was something that the Protestant churches after the Reformation strongly encouraged.
But sadly, today, it has become a dying practice. Do you and your family worship God together regularly in your home? We come up with excuses, do we not? Life is too busy. The schedules of the different family members do not allow for it. Our family is too small to worship together. It is too difficult, with the diversity of family members, to find something that is edifying for all of us. It is difficult to keep the attention of the younger children or to get the older ones to be present or to participate. Or we feel inadequate. And so on.
What we need to see is that family worship is not an option, but a duty; not a burden, but a blessing. God has blessed us with families, with the fellowship of family life. And that can be a true, enriching fellowship only as we fellowship through worship of God. He is the God of the covenant, the God of friendship. He comes to us in our homes to fellowship with us and to establish His covenant. Worshiping God as families is one of the greatest joys and privileges that we have in our home.
For parents, family worship is a responsibility. None of you would starve your children. Jesus says, “If a son ask bread of his father, will he give him a stone?” And the answer is very obvious. No! If a man’s son is hungry, he will not give him a stone. He will give him food. And so it should be with the spiritual food that is essential to the eternal well-being of the members of the home, and especially the children.
So what does this family worship include? First, and most importantly, the head of the home ought to lead in family worship. This means the man, the husband, the father, has the responsibility to lead his family in daily worship and prayer. From Ephesians 5 and 6, a couple of passages that we have already looked at in this series of messages, that becomes very clear. In Ephesians 5:25 and 26 husbands are told to love their wives as Christ also loved the church. And one important aspect of that love, at the end of verse 26, is that Christ washes His bride the church with the Word. And so husbands ought to love their wives. This is what husbands who love their wives will do.
In Ephesians 6:4 , fathers are told not to provoke their children to wrath but to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That means that fathers must use the Word of God to nourish and to admonish or teach their children.
Now this does not mean that the wife has to be silent and she plays no role. No, she has her own insights into the Word of God that she ought to share. And if the father is absent, then the mother takes over. But men, you men, you have to make sure that family worship is conducted in your home. Just as, usually, your wife will prepare a meal for you to eat, so you ought to prepare yourself for this, so that your family devotions are edifying and effective. And then you should lead in such a way that the whole family is encouraged to participate with questions and discussion. And so, first, the head of the home must take the initiative and give leadership in family worship.
In Joshua 24:15 , Joshua expresses his resolve to do this as a father. And he calls all Israel to do it with him in their homes. This verse reads: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
There are several things that we should get a hold of from this text. First, the word “serve” here means to worship. Joshua talks about worshiping the idol gods or worshiping Jehovah God. Second, “worship” belongs to families. Joshua says, “As for me and my house [or home], we will serve [or worship] the Lord.” And then, third, we should see that this is not a matter of preference for God’s people, but of demand and obligation. Joshua is not saying here that Israel was free to serve the idols if they chose. Maybe that is something they would choose to do, but that would be an act of rebellion and would result in dreadful punishments from God. In their homes, Joshua is saying, they must serve the Lord. And, fourth, notice that Joshua, as the head of his home, makes a resolution: We will serve the Lord. Fathers and husbands, that should be your resolution.
The second thing that is involved in family worship is this, that it be done regularly, that it be a standard part of your daily family life. Ideally it is something that we do with our families every time that we eat, which would be three times a day. But some rarely eat together. Then ideally family worship is something that we do at the beginning and towards the end of the day. The Old Testament saints had a morning and evening sacrifice in Jerusalem. And the families in their different locations prayed at that time. It was a part of their daily schedule. A busy family life should not take us away from our responsibility to set time aside for the worship of God. Let it become habitual in your home, so that when you do not do it, your little children will say, “But, Dad, Mom, we didn’t read the Bible yet.” And then take those words as a cue that you ought to do it.
The third thing involved in family worship has to do with our attitude and approach to God in worship. Family worship is something that ought to be done with reverence and diligence. Parents should work to create an appropriate environment for the worship of God, an environment in which all other distractions are put aside and time and effort are given to think exclusively about God and spiritual things. The children should learn that this is important by being required to pay attention and by seeing the earnestness and diligence of their parents. The Bible speaks of us having the Word of God written on and bound to our hearts. This can happen only in an environment where the Scriptures are taken seriously.
And then, fourth, our family worship should be biblical and instructional. That is, it should use the Bible to teach our children. There are devotionals that can be read in family and private worship that can be profitable. But these can also make us lazy and take us away from the Scripture. The Bible ought to be read in our homes so that we and our children gain a knowledge of the entire Word of God from beginning to end. The book of Judges, chapter 2, speaks of a generation arising after the time of Joshua that knew not the Lord, nor the mighty works that He had done. The reason for this was the failure of their parents to teach them. God has given us His Word as the main tool for instruction and for family worship. II Timothy 3:16 explains the usefulness of Scripture this way (and it is worthy that we notice each use): All Scripture, Paul says, is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine [that is, for teaching], is profitable for reproof [that is, for correction of sinful behavior], is profitable for correction [that is, correction of wrong ideas], and is profitable for instruction in righteousness [that is, to tell us how we ought to live]. And so, let your family worship be a time of instruction from the Word of God.
Does this mean we have to read the Bible from cover to cover repeatedly? Well, let me go on to the fifth thing involved in family worship. It should be brief and appropriate. This means that in family worship the father does not just read a long chapter of the Bible, shut the Bible, and then close with prayer. No, family worship needs to be edifying. It needs to be suitable and intelligible to the audience. When you have young children in the home, that means you read the Bible stories that are so exciting to children—the gospels filled with the miracles of Christ, the history of Old Testament Israel, Egypt, the Judges, David, the Kings. Make sure that they get it. And then, as those children get older, expand your reading to the Proverbs and Psalms and the books of Moses and the prophets and the epistles.
And it does not need to be a church service. Part of making sure that we understand the Word of God as families is that we talk about it, that we ask appropriate questions, that we, perhaps, have assignments after family worship to discover the meaning of something difficult that we have read. Times of family worship ought to be spiritually enriching times in the Word of God. God’s Word is appropriate to all our needs. In the Bible we see the struggles of God’s people with their sins. We witness the miraculous deliverances that God gives. We observe the godly conduct of so many lasting examples. And everywhere in the Scriptures we find Christ Jesus. These are the things that should guide our family worship.
And then, finally, family prayer ought to be a part of our family worship. Prayer can take two forms. Did you know that when we sing God’s praises we are praying? If you look through the book of Psalms, you will see that every song is a prayer. Music is a wonderful gift that God uses to impress His Word on our souls and minds. It is a wonderful practice for families to sing together. God uses music in difficult times as well. At funerals and in hospitals I have heard families singing together in order to encourage one another.
And the other form that prayer takes is that one person leads the rest in prayer. The head of the home should take this leadership. Prayer times in the family are times for us to talk about prayer with our children, to ask them what things we need to pray about, to teach them how to pray. There are things in our daily and family life that we need to pray about. We thank God for all that He has given us. We pray for His grace and Holy Spirit as we go about our calling. We pray for one another. We pray about our sins, about temptation, for forgiveness. We pray for the spirit of peace and love to rule in our homes. And we need to teach our children to make intercessory prayers for others and to thank God for all the blessings that they receive.
Fathers and mothers, are you worshiping God with your families? Husbands and wives, are you worshiping God together in your home? If there is no religion in your home, no expression of faith and worship of God that is part of your daily life, what kind of Christian are you, really? Can your home be called a Christian home? The faith and worship that we express in church with other believers must be a part of our daily family living.
I want to finish now with some motivations for family worship.
First, let us remember that this has a bearing on the eternal welfare of the souls of our family members.
Second, family worship helps us in other practical areas of family life by promoting unity, by building relationship, and by bringing us back again and again to the foundation: Jesus Christ. This becomes the backbone and the anchor of family life that sees us through many difficulties.
Third, we should be motivated to worship God in our families by a love for His church, and especially for the future of that church. In our homes we are raising the church of tomorrow. Through strong homes, strong churches are built and maintained.
And then, finally, let us be motivated by this thought: That our time for doing this is very short. If you have children, you have them for just a little while. And what even is your own life but a vapor that vanishes in a moment. This is not something that we should postpone. There is an urgency to this. We need to engage in worshiping God in our families regularly and diligently, for the time is short. This is a priority. God has given us two things in this life that we will keep in the next. At death you will lose all your material wealth and all your earthly achievements. But there is your soul, and there are the souls of your children, that you will keep, that God will take to heaven. You see how serious this is?
Let us pray.
Father, we give thanks for Thy grace that comes down into our homes so that families are saved. Lord, help us in our homes to put the emphasis on the things that concern Thee and the kingdom of heaven. And cause us to grow in our homes, in our knowledge and love of Thee and Thy Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.