Raising a covenant family

The covenant family is God’s gift to those who marry in the Lord. It has as its highest calling to reflect the beauty, holiness, and blessedness of the personal covenant life that exists within the triune being of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The covenant family exists where husband and wife are bound together in the love of Christ in the unity of faith. The covenant family is created by God through the work of regeneration in the hearts of the two so married. The purpose to raise a covenant family begins with a serious attitude about marrying a fellow believer with whom we are truly one in the truth of the Lord. We must avoid being overwhelmed by feelings about a pretty face or an attractive body when seeking a life’s partner, rather than with the inner spiritual beauty and godliness of the heart. If we are guided mostly by sexual attraction, we are in danger of joining ourselves to the wrong partner. Sober judgments must be made before marriage concerning the prospective person with whom we will covenant together and spend our life.

The heart of Christian marriage is and must be the reality of personal friendship and fellowship, as well as of tender affection between husband and wife. In as far as this is absent or marred by grievous sin, our marriage has lost its heart and does not in fact reflect the life of God’s blessed covenant.

Establishing and maintaining a covenant home is the calling and solemn obligation God gives to the married couple. This is one of the chief purposes of Christian marriage. The married are not to live for themselves or for their own worldly pleasure or earthly glory. They are to live serving one another and, if God gives children, to raise these children in the fear of the Lord. The life of the covenant home has its source in living faith in the Lord and abiding union with Him. The covenant family serves for the continuation of the church of Jesus Christ in the world and the cause of His kingdom. It has, therefore, a very high calling. The name ‘covenant family’ is rich in meaning and significance.

Raising and maintaining a covenant family in this ungodly world is a daunting task. It requires the lifelong devotion of the Christian husband and the Christian wife. As husband and wife, we must be partners in the work of the Lord. God in His Word has defined the role of each partner in the marriage. This order was designed by the wisdom of God to serve the welfare of the marriage and of the family. The husband and father is to be the head of the home. He has the responsibility to rule the home in love and to maintain its godly order and discipline. The wife is to be the helpmeet of her husband. She is to serve her husband and children in love. She is to be ‘the keeper of the home,’ indicating that she has a role for which she must stay home for the great work of building her family in God-given knowledge and wisdom.

We are living in this sin-cursed earth with its many troubles and miseries, and we still have our corrupt nature with us. This sinful nature is the cause of all strife among men. Because of our sins, the above description of the covenant family will always fall far short of its beautiful and happy ideal. Nevertheless, we must constantly strive for God’s ideal, for His glory and the blessedness of our marriages.

In the covenant home, sin between husband and wife must be regularly confessed before the cross of Jesus Christ. There must be sincere humble and godly sorrow for the many sins that mar the beauty of our marriages. There must be repentance from these sins and sincere forgiveness offered. This is hard; it requires much grace. Festering sin, if left unresolved, will destroy the heart of marriage for a time, until it is again restored by the grace of God. Wounds and offenses must be healed with the balm of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. This must be done with great haste and urgency. The sun must not be allowed to go down on our sinful anger against each other in our marriage.

Husband and wife must be committed to a life-long relationship of faithfulness and love together, until they are parted by God through death. Strife and division, especially that which ends in divorce, is treachery before God. When one of the members of a broken marriage remains faithful to the Lord, He will also give grace to such a one to continue the covenant home and give grace to endure the deep pain of rejection and the suffering of separation.

Marriage must be a true and spiritual covenant relationship between husband and wife before children are born into the marriage. Great spiritual effort and much prayer must go into building a covenant home before children are born. This home must prepare the healthy spiritual environment that receiving and nurturing of God-given covenant children requires. This is much more important than making a pretty, cozy room before the infant arrives.

The spiritual reality of the bond of love, fellowship, and friendship that exists between the husband and wife will by the grace of God create an environment of personal warmth and protection, security and happiness that children so urgently need. Such an environment is vital for helping children grow up into mature and stable adults. The importance of this cannot be over-emphasized for the spiritual, psychological, and social well-being of the children and the development of their personalities as children of God and as citizens of the kingdom of Christ.

God by the Spirit and Word of the Lord Jesus Christ must live in the family for a home to be truly a covenant home. Without this reality, the home is not truly a covenant home. Practically, this means that there must be structured family worship in the covenant home. This family worship must include the regular daily, serious study of the Word of God. The Word of God must be applied to the lives of the members of the family in the regular course of the functioning of the family. The family must pray together and for one another. Both father and mother must be engaged in this family worship with their covenant children. The father must be the leader of this family worship. Leadership in this area is truly more important than any other. Mother must teach her children the truth of God’s Word while they are sitting on her knees and embraced by her tender affection. An excellent part of regular family worship is the singing together of songs of praise and thanks to God. There is great joy in singing. Covenant children usually delight in it. The covenant home should be a place of great joy in the Lord by such singing.

Especially while the children are still in the home, both parents must help the children with their many daily sin problems and the struggles and disappointments of life. They must, in the course of life in the home, give wise counsel and advice for all the great issues of life. The father must be careful not to be cold and distant from his children. He has the calling to lead His family. He must do this in fatherly love and in sincere, tender-hearted concern for the welfare of his growing children. Father certainly must not behave like a cruel tyrant in his home. For then he will grievously abuse his wife and children and cause them deep psychological and spiritual harm. The grievous effects of this behavior will often last a lifetime for those who have experienced such abuse in their childhood.

One of the greatest challenges of parenting over the years is to maintain a personal relationship with children in the covenant home. This must continue even into adulthood, especially during the difficult teenage years. Father especially and also, of course, the mother must themselves be an example of godliness, holiness, reverence, humility, and the fear of God. Only then can they hope to instill this same attitude in the hearts of their children.

All of this requires time and sacrifice, both on the part of father as well as on the part of mother.

Father must not be so busy with his earthly career that he has very little time for the care for his children or to show interest in their lives as they are growing up. Children are with us in our homes only for a very short time. Woe unto the father who is seldom home long enough to take any genuine interest in the lives of his own children! Mother must be devoted in love to the daily care of her children and to being the keeper of her home. She is too busy with this calling to have an independent career in the world for her own glory and satisfaction. There are very few roles in life that require more self-denial and self-sacrifice than the role of the covenant mother in the home.

To maintain a covenant home there must be firm, consistent, and loving discipline of the children. This ought not to be given hastily or in anger or out of despair with the sinful behavior of the children. Through discipline children must be taught the seriousness of sin and the importance of holiness, obedience, and the fear of God. Children need constant correction and turning from sin. They need to be positively encouraged in the way of well doing. Every child, even in the same home, is different. God made them each unique. Some are in need of more discipline than others. Some occasionally need serious corporal discipline to deliver their souls from sin and turn them from hard hearts. Parents who neglect this, according to the book of Proverbs, do not truly love their covenant children. Though discipline is grievous at the time for both parents and children, it will yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness in the life of the children for the whole of their future.

We raise our covenant family in the midst of an ungodly world that is desperately wicked, increasingly so as the end of time approaches. In this world our children and young people are tempted on every side and surrounded by vanity. The Word of God tells us that we are not to love the world nor the things of this world. We need to condemn this world and its ungodly philosophy and lifestyle, especially its entertainment. This we must do for our children’s sake. This is urgent. The friendship of the world is, according to the Word of God, enmity against God and makes ongoing covenant fellowship with God impossible. Our homes and our children must be guarded from worldly influence. We must guard the books that are read, the television that is watched, and how the Internet and electronic devices are used by our children. Our families must be protected from the great evils of this world, such as fornication, alcohol abuse, and illicit drug use. By the grace and Spirit of God we must seek also to deliver our children from heart-sins such pride, enmity against the neighbor, self-centeredness, covetousness, and materialism. Negligence in this task of raising our covenant family will greatly endanger our children for becoming worldly and joining the friendship of the world.

Parents need to do all in their power to protect their children in the choice of friendships and the company they keep outside of the home. There is hardly a more urgent need for this than with regard to our children’s need for finding a life partner. How foolish it is for parents to have nothing to say about this in the lives of their young people! How many young people make foolish choices for a spouse that sometimes have disastrous consequences for them in later life.

In conclusion, let me make one more important point. God’s covenant with His people was known in Zion in the Old Testament. Psalm 128:5 says, “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion.” In the New Testament, God’s covenant is known through a living, active membership in the true church of Jesus Christ. There God’s people come together to worship the covenant God of their salvation. There He dwells with them and they with Him. God shows us His greatness and glory, His mercy and loving kindness and great salvation. We enjoy and appreciate the reality of God’s covenant with us through the preaching of the blessed gospel in the church. God protects and keeps us as our mighty Lord and God in Zion from our many enemies we have in this world. The great blessedness of the communion of the saints is experienced in the church of Jesus Christ. Often this is the place where good, strong bonds of Christian friendship are formed. We maintain our covenant families by bringing them with us to the house of God. Leaving and forsaking the true church of God will have serious consequences for our covenant families. Our children must be instructed in the church’s catechism classes to raise them to maturity in knowing and understanding the great doctrines of His Word. The goal is to prepare them to confess their faith in the midst of God’s people. There our covenant children will learn to live as citizens of Zion. Godly friendships in the sphere of the communion of the saints will often lead them to find good spouses for marriage. In the church they will learn the great wisdom and grace of God to establish their own covenant homes.

Let us strive with all our God-given powers to maintain this ideal for our covenant homes.