Rape, attempted murder, homicide, deceit, kidnapping, jealousy, favoritism among parents, polygamy…Are these things you’d like to avoid in your youth/family ministry? I hope so! But if you take a look into the book of Genesis, these are the sins that wreck families who are supposed to be followers of God, live in purity, and be a blessing to the surrounding nations (consider Genesis 12). Yet, from Genesis 3-50, the world has gone from bliss to chaos due to the horrifying results of a sin-cursed world. And the most applicable thing, I think, to take from these chapters is that it wasn’t necessarily the surrounding culture that ruined lives, it wasn’t the government, it wasn’t educational systems, it was sin within the family.
The last couple of months, I’ve taken the teens in my Sunday School class through much of the book of Genesis in a survey fashion, starting with the life of Abraham (chapter 12). We traced some of the major events that took place from the lineage of Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and now (beginning this Sunday) to Joseph. I was struck with this realization earlier this week, namely, these families were in terrible shape. Now, this isn’t to say that we 21st century Christians should feel proud of ourselves when over half of teenagers have divorced parents, roughly 20% have been sexually assaulted, and a large percentage of teens leave the church once they graduate from high school – we’re in rough shape too. But the great news from studying Genesis is that while every family has been affected by sin, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the solution to our brokenness and misery. To get an idea of the problems within families in Genesis, let’s take a few examples of what happened to these families:
(Genesis 3) Adam and Eve, members of the first marriage ever, didn’t submit to God’s Word concerning just one tree. They decided to attempt to become “like God” and instead of each taking the blame, there was blame-shifting for the action taken (“the woman you gave me!” – Adam; “that serpent” – Eve).
(Genesis 4) Cain and Abel, the first children in history, did not have a terribly long-lasting relationship. Why? Homicide. Cain killed Abel. Youth Pastors, imagine getting a call from a mom in your youth group, asking you to preach her son’s funeral because of a murder. This is what you call brokenness.
(Genesis 6) God announces that He will bring judgment to the whole world by bringing a flood to consume every evil person. By His grace, He saves just one family. Genesis 6:11 makes it clear that the world is already in utter turmoil by the power of sin.
(Genesis 9) Noah, the dad of the only family whom God chose to save on the face of the earth, had a little too much to drink. Consequently, his son Ham turned his father’s bad choice into a mockery by pointing out to his brothers what had happened. Bad parenting; bad child.
(Genesis 12) Abram [later renamed Abraham] did follow God’s call on where he must go. But, he was far from faultless. When worried that the Egyptians would kill him for his wife, Sarai, he told his very wife that she should say “I’m his sister.” The plan seemed to have worked for a while, but God promised a child to Abram; he needs Sarai! God, in His sovereignty, worked it out that Abram and his wife were safely reunited. But this was only by the grace and providence of God, not the goodness of Abram. And oh, by the way, this wasn’t the only time this kind of thing happened; Abram did this again (chapter 20) and then his son.
(Genesis 16) In this chapter, Abraham and his wife try to do God’s will by contradicting His will…if that makes sense. In other words, Abraham was promised a child, so in their time of waiting, Abraham did have a child…but it wasn’t through Sarai his wife; it was through her servant, Hagar. This was another foolish decision that led to even further family conflicts between Sarai and Hagar, as well as the child Ishamel, and his his half-brother later birthed through Sarai, namely, Isaac.
(Genesis 19) There are family troubles galore in this chapter of Genesis. Starting with Lot, we see a rather intriguing individual. Consider the following, however: he placed visitors above the safety of his own family. When the angels had visited with Lot, and the surrounding Sodomites had demanded to have sex with these “men” (angels), he freely was willing to give away his two daughters to these Sodomites (vs. 8). Really?! How is there no concern that these men would rape these two young ladies? Oh and by the way, these young ladies had soon-to-be husbands who later laughed at Lot’s proclamation that the city would be destroyed (vs. 14) – more family trouble…
(Genesis 25-27) Jacob and Esau is a very interesting study and shocking reality of the problems and pains that come from sin and familial disunity. Even when they were in their mother’s womb, they were fighting (chapter 25). Multiple times, Jacob tricks Esau, whether it was for gaining a birthright for a pot of stew or in tricking their elderly father. If you look at the end of chapter 27 and in following chapters, Esau literally tries to kill his own brother. Sounds somewhat like a replica of what happened in chapter 4, right?
(Genesis 29) Jacob gets married in chapter 29! But he wakes up on his honeymoon and realizes that he’s got a serious problem: he married the wrong woman! Jacob’s own father-in-law tricked him by giving him Leah as a wife instead of Rachel. In a sense, he’s getting a taste of his own medicine of trickery. Nevertheless, he works for Laban to get Rachel as well. Two wives was not God’s intention for marriage, and we see in the chapters following 29 why: both women play the karma game based on who has how many babies and, of course, you’ve got to imagine the uncomfortable home life of two wives, one husband, and multiple kids. Again, not God’s original design, but He fulfills His plans and purposes despite our ridiculous actions.
(Genesis 34) This is one of the messiest chapters of the Bible. Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, is raped by a man named Shechem. This guy tries to marry her, but eventually Dinah’s brothers devise a plan to have Shechem’s town circumcised in order to have Shechem marry Dinah. Just as these men were still in pain from their “surgery,” Dinah’s brothers attack and kill every single male in that town, while also rescuing their sister. First of all, two wrongs don’t make a right. Second of all, this is once again a “family” matter.
(Genesis 37-50) There are a lot of chapters in this section, but in summary, Joseph is daddy’s favorite, Joseph’s brothers hate him, they have him sold into slavery, and deceive their father into thinking Joseph is actually dead. Once again, these family troubles are not simply that a child has a bad attitude, won’t listen, stays out at a friends house too late, etc. [and those are all problems for sure!] But what’s going on here and in several other passages is that family members are viciously trying to ruin, even sometimes murder, their own family members. It’s almost unbelievable that God’s chosen nation would come through these families…but that’s only a greater reason for the sheer magnitude of God’s grace. It’s not for those “good people” who help themselves; it’s for sinners. To conclude this article, here are a few pieces of application for your family ministry in the 21st century Church.
I. All Christian Families Have Struggles With Sin
These Genesis families can teach us that God’s promises are applicable to those who believe on Him, even if they make major blunders of sin. God’s grace extends to people who have all sorts of familial problems, whether that includes marital difficulties, disobedient children, in-law conflicts, or whatever else. God’s grace also heals. We can forgive others because God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4). Perhaps it will be a long and slow process, but God has all power and authority to put pieces back together.
II. All Christian Families Have Something To Praise
Yes, Abraham was imperfect. But there are some good things to note as well. For this post, I will simply refer to Genesis 22. Abraham, in this instance, was willing to follow God’s commands no matter how difficult it might be. He offered up his very promised child to be sacrificed on an altar to God. However, God stopped him and He provided Abraham with the sacrifice. Maybe God’s promises were finally starting to sink in to this elderly man who quite often failed to trust God’s Word in times past. Whatever the case, there is probably something praiseworthy in every Christian family. Therefore, the church should attempt to guide that family in spiritual maturity. It might take a long time before they start “getting it,” but by God’s grace, they too, can be sanctified and examples of faith in God.
III. All Christian Families Have Something To Look To
I love Deuteronomy 6’s emphasis on the family’s responsibility to train up children in God’s Word. This should be at the forefront of all youth ministers’ minds. This “model” family is something to look to, especially for incorporating principles in youth ministry.
IV. All Christian Families Have Someone To Look To
Jesus Christ is the our “Someone” to look to as individual Christians, corporate families, and entire churches. He took our sin upon the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), exchanged our sin for His righteousness (Philippians 3:9), and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). When we fail like these families in Genesis, we look to Jesus. When we succeed in life and ministry, we look to Jesus. He’s the only way to be cleansed of sin and He’s the only reason we’re living in righteousness. In your youth/family ministry, there is the Gospel to be preached and a Savior to proclaim. May you always look to Jesus in your own family and in the families of your church.