What is a “Functional” Family?
By Rick Peterson
In recent decades there has been a lot of discussion about dysfunctional families. And this is where it would be tempting to go into long, drawn out theories or spout the latest definition from a popular “Christian” psychologist. But the Bible keeps many things clear and simple, and the question before us can be answered from the words of Jesus Himself in the Gospel of Luke. So what does the Bible have to say about functional and dysfunctional families?
In chapter eight of Luke’s gospel, Jesus addresses the issue of authentic faith versus shallow and deadly, false-faith. And He does so by way of parable; first the parable of the sower, and then the parable of the lamp.
In the first parable, Jesus speaks to a “large crowd” telling them essentially that very few of them who hear His word will actually be saved. Indeed, Jesus speaks of four soils, only one of which will actually turn out to be fertile ground and “bear fruit with perseverance” (8:15). The other three types of soil hear the word of God, but they have no place for it in their heart and lifestyle. In this parable, only one-quarter of the people who hear the word of God benefit from that hearing; the rest continue in their futility and darkness.
The next parable, the parable of the lamp, addresses a similar issue of hearing. But in this parable the evidence as to whether one has heard the word of God is by whether or not there is any public evidence. No one who truly hears the word of God will want to keep it a secret. Instead, “he puts it on a lamp stand, so that those who come in may see the light” (8:16). In other words, there is no such thing as a secret Christian. If the only difference between a “Christian” family and an unbelieving family is church attendance, then the lamp is under a container, or does not exist at all.
Immediately after these two parables, Luke tells of an event wherein Jesus’ “mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd” (v.19). Someone reported to Jesus that His mother and brothers were, “standing outside” wishing to see Him. Now you would think Jesus would have immediately dropped everything and made room within the crowd so as to see his family. Instead, Jesus gives this fascinating response:”My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (v.21). This is astonishing! Jesus is saying the power and authority of the word of God is such that it defines His family! But it is not just the hearing of the word of God that defines His family, but those who hear the word of God and do it. This then is the biblical definition of a functional family: those who hear the word of God and do it.
Being a functional family begins with recognizing the authority and preeminence of the word of God to order family relationships. A functional family hears the word of God together, and together, does it (cf. James 1:19-25; John 8:32). And this is the family that Jesus acknowledges as being His own. He is among them, He teaches them, He comforts them, and He Himself is the standard for love and relational dynamic among the members.
In stark contrast, the dysfunctional family is simply that which remains in bondage to what Peter calls, “the futile way of life inherited from your forefathers” (I Peter 1:18). Only the blood of Christ can break that bondage of dysfunction (v.19). Only the redeeming power of Christ’s blood can break the bondage to the futility of mind and the “callous” nature of hearts alienated by sin (Ephesians 4:17-19). And that power of redemption is found only in a daily lifestyle of devotion to not only hearing the word of God, but doing it. AMEN.
© Rick Peterson. 2017.