In this time of testing, when many of us are restricted to being at home every day, we need to take special care and thought to how we act and treat those in our homes, the members of our families. Now, more than ever, we are able to see where we fall short of the demands which our Christian faith and our life in Christ place upon us.
St John says in 1 John 4… Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love… If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
When we are stuck in close proximity with others, with our brothers, sisters, children, wives, husbands, parents, then we are given the opportunity to see how much the love of God has transformed our hearts. If we do not love then we do not know God, and love is not a vague feeling but is put into practice if it really exists.
What does command of us on these difficult times. He says… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. There is no opt out clause. We are not told that we only need love our wives to the point of death if they are wonderful. The Lord Jesus gave himself for the Church when he had been rejected by his own people, and when they had wished him dead. But he still loved and loved to the very end. This is what is required of us as husbands if we wish to be sure that we belong to Christ. We cannot say that we love God and yet do not love our wives with complete self-sacrifice, putting our own desires and wishes second to helping them become the person that God created them to be. Christ, our God, says of himself, that he came to serve and not to be served, and in the same way, as husbands we must be of service in our homes, to our wives and children, not lording it over them but always giving ourselves for their salvation at whatever cost to ourselves it must be. In this difficult time of lockdown, this is what God requires of those of us who are husbands, without excuse, that we become those godly and spiritual men that God wishes us to be and that our wives and family need us to be. There should be no violence in our behaviour, speech or manner. The spiritual authority of Christ was not manifested other than in service and gentleness and love.
But he also says… Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church. This is also difficult, especially when a husband is not like Christ. It does not mean that the wife should become a slave or servant. It does not mean that a wife must do whatever a husband demands, if he is not living according to the Christian ideal of the husband, with self-sacrifice and obedience to God. But it does mean that the wife is to seek the salvation of her husband by helping him to become the man that God desires of him, just as he should be helping his wife to become the woman that God desires of her. This submission is the joyful and powerful co-operation of the Virgin Mary to the will of God, it is not a fearful obedience to force and violence. It is a positive action for the salvation of her husband and for the family of which he is the head. It is expressed in prayerfulness and service which powerfully fills the home with the divine and transforming presence.
But there is a word for children also… Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. This obedience is a spiritual thing. It is “in the Lord”. It is not a grudging obedience, filled with sullenness. But it is a joyful and active desire to find union with Christ and service to Christ in everything our parents ask of us. It does not mean we cannot ask questions or negotiate, but obedience is better than finding lots of reasons why we should not do something. It brings its own reward, and we will discover “it goes well with us”, when we stop thinking only of ourselves and give ourselves freely to service to our parents, and indeed to our brothers and sisters. Whatever we think we might lose by being quick to obey, we will in fact discover we gain much more.
And then to fathers, and mothers… do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. In this time when we are all living on top of each other it is easy to become stressed and to act and speak in a way that expresses only our own frustrations. But this not how we are to live and act if we say that we love God. And if we are to bring our children up in the right way, with the knowledge of God, then we must have this experience already ourselves. How can we teach others to love and serve God if we do not love and serve God ourselves, and especially in the way in which we show that we love and serve others.
In this complicated time the state of our own life before Christ is perhaps more clear to us than before. Perhaps we are stressed, angry, shouting, becoming violent, selfish, frustrated and easily irritated. These are not simply normal reactions to being in lockdown. They are signs that we still have much to do if we want to grow closer to God and be able to experience the love of God. They are not normal for a spiritual man or woman and we should not be satisfied when we see them in ourselves.
Thank God, he also says to us… be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. There is help for us, if we see that we are failing as husbands, wives, children and parents. There is a strength for us if we want to express the life of Christ in each of these relationships. Through increased prayer with greater attention, warmth of heart and repentance, we can grow closer to God. Through greater effort to be of service, and to restrain our tongue from saying unkind and hurtful things, we can discover the grace of God within us to transform us further. In these difficult and stressful times, when we need to become those husbands, wives, children, brothers and sisters, and parents, that our families need, and our wider families too, God will give us his strength and power if we ask him, and if we desire to become the spiritual man and woman, and youth and child, he created us to be. Our families need this of us. God asks this of us. When things get difficult, our relationships and attitudes towards others reveal how close to God we really are. But he waits to strengthen us and transform us when we turn to him with repentance for every hasty word, violent action, unkind behaviour.
Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.