Monday, March 3, 2008

Family First

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8

Paul wrote these words to Timothy after leaving him to serve the church at Ephesus. The letter is all about matters concerning the church. It gives very specific instructions to those who are serving in a leadership capacity. Overseers’ and deacons’ qualifications are carefully laid out. As you read over these instructions, you get the general overall gist that these men were to be godly and faithful both to the Lord and to their ministry. What is especially interesting to note, however, is the emphasis Paul places on the men’s actions within their own families. Apparently, Paul felt that it would be within their own family circles that their true colors would ultimately be exhibited. How they operated with their families was a telling characteristic that should be taken into consideration should a man be considered for a leadership role.

I can tell you that this principle was true in my life. Not once in all my years of teaching did one bad word escape my lips. In the car on the way home from school, unfortunately, I was not so careful. I was also patient to the extreme with my students when they misbehaved or needed help. But at home, after dinner, as we sat around the table doing homework, it sometimes took everything within me not to murder four Coleman children before bedtime.

I can also tell you that my children operated under the same double standard. My husband and I would sit with our jaws hanging open during parent-teacher conferences as the very same children who threw temper tantrums at home were lauded for their self-control. The brothers who frequently resorted to physical violence to settle arguments were the same children whose social skills apparently were exemplary. And respectful? They were virtual saints. Nothing like the children we knew who talked back to their parents and had to be sent from the dinner table in shame. My husband often said during the parent-teacher conferences: “Are you sure you have the right child? C-O-L-E-M-A-N?”

Why do we set such a double standard in our actions? Why do we view what we are perceived as in the public eye as more important than those who are the most important to us might think?

I think it is largely because we feel safe in our families. We know we are loved and accepted. No small sin will keep our parents from loving us, our husbands from being loyal to us, our children from adoring us. And so we feel free to be less careful in our actions around those who ultimately mean the most to us.

When we studied the above passage in seminary, several of the men in the class shared memories of when their father-the-pastor never made it to a single Little League ball game because of the demands of their ministry. It was a sad commentary of how we can become out-of-balance even in something as worthy as serving the Lord and His people.

I was guilty of this crime. At one point in my life, I was teaching school full time, teaching two women’s Bible studies, directing a children’s choir, making meals for people in need, and entertaining as often as possible. This was in addition to the challenge of raising four elementary age children. I slowly began to realize that something had to go. I was doing a lot of things, but I was doing none of them well. So Steve and I sat down and listed out all of my commitments. Each one was examined as to my spiritual gifts. Each one was also examined in light of whether others could do the task equally well. My children only had one mother, so that one had to be the top priority. Steve only had one wife. Again non-negotiable. Others could cook or even work with the children’s choir. I kept one Bible study and turned the other over to a friend who was also gifted in teaching. In going through the evaluation process, I gave myself freedom to do a few things well and still be a good wife and mother. Because my family needed me more than any ministry ever could. Just because something has the word “ministry” attached to it does not make it impossible to refuse.

I used to think of myself as irreplaceable. To my surprise, the ministries I gave up didn’t lose a beat. God used others to fill the gaps and used those very opportunities of service in the lives of those who gladly served in my place. Apparently I was not as indispensable as I thought.

Paul knew it would be a temptation to go for the public ministry and lose sight of one's own family. And so he wrote the warning in 1 Timothy 5:8. It is a good passage for us to read on a regular basis. It is too easy to neglect the ones who need us most. So we must guard ourselves from losing the balance in our lives. We never want our children to perceive that we must make a choice between God and them. Because the impression that would leave, of a God who greedily pulls mom or dad from the family, will taint their ideas of who He is for the rest of their lives.

1 comment:

Dave said...

In junior high, when we would act up, my band director used to say, "Everyone's expendable. If you won't be responsible, I'll find someone who will."