First Mennonite Church
October 29, 2017
Spiritual Wholeness in the Family and God’s Promises
Texts: Exodus 20:4-6; 2Corinthians 5:17-18
Let me say something that might sound a little cliché: faith in God, or even better stated, faith in Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior, has more than just a spiritual effect on a person’s life; its effect is holistic wellbeing. Faith in Jesus Christ makes a world of difference in the lives of people. I am forever grateful to God for revealing his light to my parents. When I see the way of life or the path some of my contemporaries and relatives chose whose parents do not know the Lord, I cringe at the idea of what I could have become had my parents not known the Lord when I was still a child. Some of my friends and relatives are alcoholics and drug addicts. There is intra-family strife in households of some of my extended family. In our case, each of my siblings is fully aware how God’s grace in Jesus Christ changed our family’s course of life for good. When I hear my brother and sisters speak or when they write to me, gratitude to God is always present, even in those times when they are going through difficult moments in their lives.
In Exodus 20, God gave his Commandments to the people of Israel. In Commandment number two, God declared, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (20:4-6).
It is very important to note that when Commandment number one, “You shall have no other God before me” is violated, violation of Commandment number two will follow. When people (and let me specify here) when families and that begins with the parents in the family, do not acknowledge God in their lives, idols replace God. If and when someone does not acknowledge God as Lord in his or her life, other things claim lordship upon that life. And whatever thing it would be that claims lordships on someone, that something becomes a modern-day idol. It is very important to take note that God warns against two things in relationship to idols. God forbids bowing down to them or worshipping them. Today’s idols include jobs, profession, and loyalty to brand names or loyalty to causes, ideologies, or people, including family or loved ones. Today’s idols also include money, electronics, material things and possessions, entertainment, and entertainers—celebrities and the Hollywood stars. Someone might say, “I do not have idols. I do not worship things or people.” And that might be true. But God warns against bowing down to them. Bowing down to idols would mean allowing something to have control over one’s life. Bowing down before something is being overly obsessed or passionate about something. God warns against bowing down before any idol or worshipping it. So here is a question that can help you know if you have any idol: what is it you are passionate about? Are you obsessed about something?
A common oversight about bowing down before idols or worshiping them is what God says of its effect, not only for the violator of Commandment number two, but also for his descendants up to the third and fourth generation. God says, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me . . . .”
At a first glance, this commandment might look overreaching or unfair to the children of the violator of these first two commandments. And we can go as far as to say that these Commandments do not apply to us anymore. Such arguments against this Commandment might sound logical only if punishment is everything there is in it. But that is not the case. There is also a promise, which outweighs the harshness mentioned, for those who obey the commandment and love the Lord. God promises to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love the Lord and keep his commandment. God is slow to anger and great in steadfast love. His visitation upon disobedience of the parents goes only up to the third or fourth generations, but his faithfulness and love to those who love and obey his commandments go upon countless generations of their descendants.
Christian family counselors and therapists often go to this passage to understand, explain, and treat chronic cases of intergenerational cycles of family dysfunction or illnesses. In many cases of multi-generational problems in the family Christian counselors have to dig deep into the family’s history to identify behaviors, lifestyles, patterns of intra-family relationship, and even practices of spirituality or their lack of it.
Some weeks ago I was reading the story of a family of four generations which lived together in same trailer house. The grandfather was a hardworking man, but one day he hurt his back. As a result of his injury, he stopped working and began living on his disability benefits. His daughter got pregnant when she was only fifteen years old and dropped out of high school. She gave birth to a baby girl who was diagnosed with some kind of mental problem. The young mother began working at a factory and one day she, as well, got hurt while working. She also began living on and providing for her daughter from her disability check. When her daughter turned fifteen, she gave birth to twins, a boy and girl. These children were inconclusively diagnosed as having some degree of Asperger Syndrome or autism. And because the mom was on disabilities, her two children qualified for welfare assistance as well. The monthly checks were put together to pay home and cell phone, cable bills, prescriptions, and everything else, including food, which mostly came from fast food restaurants. The children did not go to school so they roamed about the neighborhood. Pictures of inside the trailer house show a house in complete disarray. The writer says that while she was visiting with the family, the TV never stopped and the speakers were on high volume, the dogs were barking and chasing around inside the house, the children were yelling at each other and parents were yelling back at them. It was total chaos.
This case was in one of the southern states where the state government wants to cut down on social welfare spending. When the caseworkers were instructed to reevaluate this family to see if they qualified for continued help, the mother of the twins insisted her children needed their prescription for depression. But what seemed more troubling to the writer of the story was that the mother of the twins instructed her children to tell the caseworker they were sick, even when the new assessment indicated otherwise. The mother said that if both her kids were taken off the assistance they received, the family’s precarious means of survival would disappear. The writer finished her story with various questions: Was this family’s case pure coincidence of people depending on disability checks at a young age? Was mental illness strictly the result of genetics or did social environment also play a role in it? But the writer’s greatest concern was for the children. Would the children ever get to overcome that lifestyle after being raised in such a pattern by three generations of family dysfunction, illness and dependence?
The warning God set in the second Commandment is a powerful reminder that our children do not only inherit from us our physical features, our genetics, the sound of our voice or laughter, and our mannerisms. They can also receive from us God’s promised blessings of wholeness and his favor. I believe this is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthian church. In 1Corinthians 7, Paul says that if only one spouse is a believer, the husband or wife and children, are sanctified because of that believing spouse or parent (7:14). God honors his promises. God promises to bless the children of those who love him and obey his commandments. But our children can also inherit the effects of our sin and of those of our ancestors. This idea might seem superstitious or simply absurd, but if God honors his promises for blessings, he honors every word he has spoken as well. It is for this reason that we as parents should pray for our children that the bondage of intergenerational sins does not come upon them. But most importantly, we as parents should lead our children to Christ, the One who makes all things new.
In 2Corinthians five, verses 17 and 18, Paul writes: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
Christ Jesus is Redeemer and Liberator. Christ Jesus transforms and regenerates, that is: He makes all things new in those who believe and receive him as Lord and Savior. The old passes away when Christ enters into our heart. Even the effects of the sins of past generations will also pass away for anyone who is in Christ. The new begins and the process of transformation is set in motion from the inside out. If you have Christ in your heart, which is the case, you are God’s new creation. And to your and my children God promises his steadfast love and faithfulness. Amen!