The Struggles of the Believer” (Part Fourteen)

Luke 12:51-53

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (ESV).

In every gathering of Christians, there will be people facing various struggles with differing degrees of success. Thankfully, not all of us struggle in the same way! In God’s providence and according to the grace given us, some have no problems in a few areas, but face trials and temptations in a couple others. There is something mysterious in this fact, and I have often thought that it should induce all of us to be compassionate and understanding toward one another. You might ask, “How does he or she survive in the midst of all their problems?” At the same time, that brother or sister might be wondering the same thing about you.

Next in our series, let us consider three problems that believers face in reference to our families. The words of Jesus recorded in Luke should help us understand that he never promised that our families would be places of peace. One aspect of our struggles can always be false expectations. We assume that our family will be a place of rest and peace. Yet remember even Jesus had conflict in his family (Mark 3:21). We might hope that through the application of gospel truth, these problems will become non-existent in any church that preaches and holds to the gospel. But simply being part of a gospel assembly does not mean that all families conduct themselves according to the gospel. These struggles all constitute part of life in this fallen world, and wishful thinking won’t make them disappear. Hopefully, we will learn a few Biblical principles that can provide help and encouragement, and teach us to avoid adding to the problem.

Here is the first of three problems that most believers face in their families at one time or another. They are struggles that come from the error of partiality. This is the situation in which either or both parents show a preference for one child above the rest of their children, or ignore one to prefer the others. As a famous comic said many years ago to his comedian brother, “Mom always liked you best!”

Consider two Biblical examples of this problem.

  • It happened in the family of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:26). Here both mom and dad made the same mistake, and it really doesn’t matter who started the mess. Dad liked the athletic, outdoorsman, but mom preferred the more refined thinker. Once this started, the opportunities for disagreement and strife between the couple and among their children quickly became numerous.
  • Their son Jacob didn’t learn from their failure, since he preferred his son Joseph over his eleven other sons (Genesis 37:3). Without digressing into a discussion of the Bible’s view of polygamy, let us understand the relevance of this incident to our time. Widespread divorce and remarriage have created similar situations in which some have children in the same family who do not come from the same mother and father. This provides ample opportunities for partiality to be displayed. Jacob’s situation was complicated by the fact that Joseph was the oldest son of his deceased yet favorite wife, Rachel.

To combat this error, we need a proper view of children. Recognize that all your children are a gift from the Lord. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. They will never be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the city gate (Psalm 127:4-5 CSB). The testimony of Scripture and human experience should join to convince us that God gives children. How many want children and can never have them! If God has granted you the ability to reproduce, be sure to treasure each gift and to bring the up properly—in the warning-instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Recognize also that God has designed each of your children (Psalm 139:13-16). He made each one with their own particular physical features, personality traits and varying abilities. For some wise purpose, he made them according to his design, and he gave them to you to nurture and to love. Try to help each child achieve the best that God has made them to be. Their gifts, abilities, preferences, and dreams may be different from yours, but show every child the love and care that God wants you to give and give to them.

Grace and peace, David

The Tarnished Silver Spoon (Part Two)

Genesis 37:1-11

Joseph’s problems originated in his family. People have family problems because families are made up of sinners. It can very be easy to write on this theme. In our day of hyper-individualism, people don’t feel the need to work through issues with their family, and strife accelerates. As we look at these verses, we will see how the conflict originated and developed. However, let us not forget that the Lord would use these problems to bring about a much greater good. If you’re in family conflict today, put your hope in what God can still do for you and your family.

Three circumstances aggravated hostility toward Joseph.

The first circumstance was his Father’s preference for him. Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:3-4 CSB). How many problems can develop between siblings, because of their parents unwise attitudes and actions!

Two phrases are unclear, but the consequences of them are. The first is born to him in his old age. This doesn’t mean that Joseph was his youngest son, because Benjamin, his full brother was. The idea probably is that after all the trials that Jacob’s beloved wife went through to have a son, Jacob specially favored Joseph. Much ink has been spilled about a robe of many colors. Whatever it was, it loudly proclaimed that dad liked Joseph best.

It is fearful the harm that can come to children through the foolishness of their parents. Parents ought never to show favoritism for one child over the others. All should be equal objects of parental love. Exploring this situation would make this article book length; therefore, I can’t dive deeper into it. Please don’t do it. Instead, notice that children often have to bear the consequences of their parents’ sins. Again, the hope is that God’s grace is greater than our sins. Yet, Joseph bore the brunt of his brothers’ anger. Proud human hearts cannot stand to have someone else preferred before one’s self. We only have to say, “Teacher’s pet” or “boss’ son” to bring numerous examples to mind. Hatred in the heart will eventually work its way out through the tongue (Matthew 12:34). Then, many complicating problems arise.

The second circumstance arose from the report Joseph made about his brothers. At 17 years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers. The young man was working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought a bad report about them to their father (Genesis 37:2 CSB). This was a complex situation to be in, and for us to understand thousands of years later. We are not told many things:

  • Jacob’s intent in sending Joseph to work with his brothers. Was he sent to learn, to spy, or simply to help?
  • Joseph’s attitude toward his brothers.
  • Joseph’s skill level in interacting with his brothers. Did he complicate the problem? Is there something he could have done?

One lesson is to avoid “psychologizing the text”. Lacking more information, we cannot suppose that we can say what was actually happening. By the way, don’t give psychological evaluations about people when you lack skill and information. It only mucks up the situation.

So then, we can make a couple observations that should be transparent.

  • While Joseph worked with his brothers, he observed some disagreeable practices by his brothers. What these were has not been recorded. A person can imagine many things, but that brings us to another lesson: Avoid speculation. One evil that recurs among Bible teachers is when a teacher speculates about a situation and then draws countless applications from their own speculations. You can see this in the paucity of Biblical references in many “Christian” books.
  • Since we don’t know what his brothers did, it is impossible to blame or to vindicate Joseph. No wise parent wants to encourage a tattle-tale, for such talk leads to more strife. On the other hand, wise parents need to know if their children are involved in serious sin.
  • The problem was that the sin of Joseph’s brothers was exposed, and they did not like it (cf. John 3:20)

The third circumstance that aggravated their hostility was Joseph’s dreams. God willing, we will consider it in our next article. But as we think about hostility problems in physical or spiritual families, it is important for us to consider if we ourselves have aggravated situations that have happened in this fallen world. We will have conflicts with those we love the most. But are we ready to follow God’s way out, when we are tempted to escalate the problems (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). May God help you this weekend!

Grace and peace, David