What is the aroma of your home? If your four walls could talk, would they describe a home of joyful love, or bitter carping. The tone and aroma of your home matter. The battlefield is where life-long friendships are formed. In the midst of conflict, fellowship is most necessary. The family is the frontlines for Gospel warfare. Too often we think of it as far off mission fields, or “important” spheres of society, like business, politics, finance, or the sciences. The Christian home is an arms dealer. The wife manufactures the ammo. The husband is then supplied with an arsenal, and then takes aim at the foe. As in any war effort, unity of force is a necessity. Disunity is the downfall of any military enterprise.
Fellowship not Fraternity
An important distinction should be made. The word unity gets thrown around, and can conjure up recent political appeals. While unity is a Bible word (Cf. Eph. 4:3,13), there can be unity on any number of things. What Scripture describes as the basis for Christian unity is the fellowship we have with God and, by necessity, the brethren.
Our fellowship is no mere fraternity of humans. Rather, because of our union with Jesus Christ–the mediator between God and man–we have fellowship with God. Christian fellowship is not based on commonly held beliefs; it isn’t a country club. It isn’t simply coffee and donuts after church. John Calvin once pointed out, “The ungodly have also a mutual union between themselves, but it is without God, nay, in order to alienate themselves more and more from God, which is the extreme of all evils.” Our fellowship is a spiritual communion of the saints through Jesus Christ which binds us into one body (Rom. 12:5, Eph. 2:16). It is in this fellowship with God by Christ that we are also reconciled to our fellow man (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
Christian fellowship is partaking. It is enjoying the benefits of our covenant union with God by Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). When you gather around your dinner table, your children partake of the benefits of your covenant vows. They taste the father’s hard work to fulfill his promise to provide for his bride; they enjoy the haven which their mother promised to make for her bridegroom. Eventually, they will enjoy the fruit of a life of covenant faithfulness by receiving their inheritance.
Fellowship is broken by sin, whether in Eden, or in your home. Sin breaks fellowship. What restores fellowship is forgiveness, and reunion into the partaking of the family riches.
Good Behavior is Not the Goal
One mistake that Christian parents make is that of trying to simply get good behavior out of their kids. They know they don’t want their children to become Philistines. But your goal is not merely good behavior, it is fellowship. God has brought us to enjoy fellowship with Him, and this forms the basis for true fellowship within the church, the home, and the nation. We don’t want to simply have good laws in our nation, we want a nation which enjoys true fellowship, based on the Gospel that sins are forgiven through Christ.
If you aim merely at getting good behavior out of your little ones, you can begin to treat your children like a programmer treats code. Input the code, out comes the program. But that’s not how God wants us to train up our children. Your children are not a pile of cinder blocks. The imagery scripture gives us is that of olive plants, growing up around your table (Ps. 128:3). Meaning you cannot treat them as a clump.
The practical here is that, while in some instances you are shepherding a flock (i.e. at DisneyLand), you can’t forget that you are shepherding individual lambs. Are they a son, or a daughter? Are they teething, or are they conniving the downfall of the empire? Are they needing a nap, or have they become possessed of a devil? Did you make a major life change that’s effecting them, or are they really just being a monster of iniquity?
Here’s a scenario, one child, call him Reggie, is misbehaving. Mom and dad are pulling out their hair to figure out how to corral him. They start to bicker about the approach, they air their complaints about him and each other in front of his siblings. Then one of the other children makes a loud noise, and her head is summarily bitten off. Mom and dad are the tail being wagged, and they’ll soon find the whole home is full of suspicion, and every square inch will be covered in eggshells. So, don’t discipline the whole family for one child’s “squirreliness”. You’ve failed to pave the way for the one child to be restored to fellowship, and as a result, the whole family is prepping for WW3.
Another angle here is that it is quite important that you don’t import stresses from work, marriage, or extended family into the atmosphere of your home. You are working to have an immune system capable of combating any toxin that comes from within or without. Dads, this means that on the drive home from work you need to put all the projects in the briefcase and leave them there, so that when you walk through the door you are breath of refreshment for your wife and your children feel solid beams of joy radiating from you. Cast all your cares upon Christ, and then walk into your home to cast cheerful love upon your family.
Moms, this means not anxiously complaining. Don’t whine to your children about your children whining. If you’re fatigued and feeling like Bilbo Baggins once said, “butter scraped over too much bread,” the kids shouldn’t be able to pick up on it. This is the work God gave you, so do it cheerfully. Clean up that mess of legos, again. Make the next meal. Do another load of laundry. Offer it all up in joyful worship. And husbands, make sure she gets good long Sabbath afternoon naps.
When parents grump about the headaches of their work, or friction with the neighbors, or tiffs with the in-laws, you are sending a message about how your children should face off against their rivals. Your showing them that when they butt heads with their siblings that griping and blame-shifting and envy are fair play. Instead of an aroma of joy, you’re cooking up a stench of strife (Ecc. 4:6).
A Potpourri of Joy
This is all about joy. Fellowship flows out of joy. If we look at 1 John 1:3-4, we see this truth ready at hand: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
This fellowship with the Father, through the Son, is the only means of Christian fellowship. This apostolic witness of our union with Christ is proclaimed so that joy brims over; so that your home is full of the sort of belly laughter that lasts until your cheeks hurt.
One of the key indicators that a marriage or a family is going sideways is if there is no more joking. The solution isn’t to buy a better joke book. Broken fellowship results in every interaction being poisoned, and the entire home will slowly be paralyzed. The Proverbs 31 woman , however, laughs at the days to come.
Is your home riddled with anxiety? Is it full of back-biting, arguing, joyless interactions? Is it marked by rivalry, envy, and contention? Is fellowship broken? Then first things first: look to Christ on the cross. Your sins are forgiven. Then take stock, and find where you have sinned against members of your family, and go ask forgiveness. Remember that forgiveness is the promise to not remember the others’ faults against them.
This is the valve which makes joyful fellowship possible. When the Gospel is embraced within your home, you can interact with each other without dancing gingerly around the mutually agreed upon landmines. The Gospel starts disabling all the trip-wires of bitterness, envy, rivalry, and strife.
God invites us into fellowship with Him. He is joy. Bright, burning Joy. We partake of Him each Lord’s day, and then He produces fruit in us. Remember that joy is a fruit of God’s Spirit, which is the result of fellowship with the vine. Your home is the frontlines of the battle. You will be a blunt blade, and the munitions you fire will be duds, if fellowship is not maintained. How do you maintain fellowship?
Look to Christ. Forgive your brothers. Laugh at the days to come.