Marriage and the Family - 10 - Luke

Chapter 10

Luke’s Family-Life Series

Long before the current plethora of writings on marriage and the family (I suppose I am also guilty here now), there came from the Spirit of God, through the pen of a first century physician, a brilliant series on marriage and the family. The case histories and vignettes were not labeled as such, but rather interwoven through the fabric of his delightful unfolding of the perfect Man. The lessons learned are valuable and insightful even for us over nineteen centuries later. Let any of us who are tendering new advice remember that God has already given it through Luke 2000 years ago.

We have, we trust with divine aid and to our mutual profit, traced God’s pattern for marriage in the last several articles. Before us lies the vast and critical matter of family life.  It is hoped that this article will serve as a bridge between the two already intimately related subjects.

Allow your mind the freedom to return to a Greek medical school and a young student known to us as Luke.  His early training, in accordance with the principles of that day of medical training, would stress the importance of careful observation and detailed history taking. His skills as an observer and collator of facts would be sharpened razor fine during time spent with great teachers of his day. In an age when remedies were few, great stress was placed upon the ability to diagnose by observation and listening.

It takes little imagination to realize that the Spirit of God picked up this young physician with these skills and after conversion, used them in the writing of the most touching and tender of the gospel accounts. Note how Luke himself states that he had “accurate understanding” from above (Luke 1:3). Doubtless time was spent with Mary, questioning the early days of the Lord’s life, His boyhood, and early years. We owe a great debt to Luke for the touches that come from his pen as he paints upon the canvas of Holy Scripture, the scenes of the Lord’s life. The idea of the “understanding” which Luke professed to have is the knowledge that is the result of a thorough investigation. This was no haphazard collection of tales and rumors.

Luke writes with definite human interest. His Gospel is replete with accounts of widows and women, rich men and rogues, tears and touches, prayers and praises, fellowship at tables and family life. It is especially the latter element which is before us at this time. It is indeed refreshing to turn from the examples of the shortcomings in married life which have occupied us in previous articles to consider some of the virtues as seen in married couples which are described by Luke’s pen.

We are introduced in the very first chapter of Luke’s Gospel to a couple who epitomize many of the highest ideals of married life. They lived in the days of Herod, days marked by something less than the most moral of ethics. They were days when, as each of the synoptic writers tell us, theologians argued about divorce in an attempt to legitimize personal desires. Stable, monogamous marriage had given way to serial monogamy. The court of Herod was not renowned for morality. An heir to the throne would blatantly take his own brother’s wife. Yet amidst this atmosphere, there is a couple who are characterized as righteous, blameless, yet barren. Their marriage was according to the Word of God, which required the Levite to marry within his tribe (ch. 1:5). While it is difficult if not impossible to summarize each of the three marriages described by Luke in one word. We could write over their marriage; harmony, headship, and a heavy burden.

This aged and honorable couple, Zacharias and Elizabeth, had together lived and shared life’s blessings and burdens. Upon their hearts, and perhaps most heavily upon the heart of Elizabeth, had weighed the great reproach of barrenness. Their journey through life had been marked by personal sadness. Like the two walkers, whose story closes Luke’s Gospel, they had doubtless lost hope (Luke 24:21). Despite personal righteousness, the barrenness of their marriage had caused reproach for them before the nation.

To this faithful priest, a divine messenger is sent winging his way to earth. “Thy prayer is heard,” may have reference to their personal prayer for a son, or it may refer to Zacharias’ position as priest, praying for the nation and its deliverance. Whichever view is taken, it is obvious that as a wise and considerate husband he had shared the burden of years of personal sorrow with his wife. He had learned to be supportive, tender, and understanding. 

Notice some of the touches which the Spirit of God adds: in v. 40, it is “the house of Zacharias;” in vs. 60-62, it is evident that they were in agreement as to the name of the child. Despite being stricken dumb, he had been able to communicate with his wife concerning this important matter. She gladly allows his word to be the final authority in the matter. As our first chapter in Luke closes, the curtain falls on a married couple who, indeed, have enjoyed what Peter later called, “the grace of life.” In some hill country, in some city in Judah, we picture this venerable couple closing out their days together with the echo of Zacharias’ last recorded words in their ears, “the way of peace.”

The first two chapters of Luke also introduce us to Mary and Joseph. Luke, as is his custom, seems to dwell primarily on Mary. Matthew’s account, which stresses the Lord’s legal right to the throne of Israel, emphasizes Joseph’s role. Yet, even in Luke’s account, it is touching to consider them. It is obvious that Joseph was all Mary had on the earthly level. He is seen taking her under his care despite what must have meant great personal reproach and cost. Agape love was evidenced in them to a high degree. He was seeing to her welfare despite what it would cost him. He is her protector and guide. He is with her in the journey (vs. 4,5), with her through the birth (v. 16), with her in fulfilling her responsibilities to the law and the journey to Jerusalem (v. 22), and the return trip to Nazareth (v. 39). At no stage does he forsake her for more “important” things.

Their home was also marked by a very definite desire to give the Lord priority in spiritual things. We are told that the parents went up every year to Jerusalem at the feast of Passover (v. 41). Keep in mind that these were not wealthy landowners; Joseph and Mary were from the working class. A journey to Jerusalem was costly, and there was no vacation pay for a self-employed carpenter. But God came first in their lives. Obedience and harmony in the spiritual realm are essential in marriage.

A small but touching incident is found even amidst Mary’s mistake. When she and Joseph finally found their missing child in the Temple, Mary’s well intentioned but incorrect rebuke was, “Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” She gave prominence to Joseph even here. This may seem minor, but how often we think of our own anxiety and sorrow first, even ahead of our spouse’s.

It is from Luke’s pen that we first hear and learn of Priscilla and Aquila. To be sure, Paul will enlarge our knowledge of them, yet Luke introduces us to them and gives us a lasting first impression. Comments have been made upon this couple in a previous article, but allow me the liberty of just noting, from Acts 18, their hospitality to Paul and then to Apollos. It is little wonder that this grace grew until it embraced the local church (1 Corinthians 16:19), and then all the churches of the Gentiles (Romans 16:3,4). This underlines an important principle for married couples: do what God brings into your life and the Lord will increase your sphere of usefulness.

Their move to Corinth was little more than bowing to the powers that be. Yet once there, a service for God became obvious. Having discharged this, they purchased a good degree and great boldness in the faith. Doors of opportunity opened and their service became valuable to all the churches.

But turn now for a few moments to consider something of family life in Luke. I would like to underline two families. The first was marked by a perfect Son; the latter by a perfect father.

Family life in Nazareth must have been very difficult. A village from which no good thing could come would hardly be the place for raising children. Yet here was where the Word of God directed Joseph and Mary. The unlikely soil of Nazareth witnessed the most unique growth that has ever occurred. In one sense it was very natural, yet in another sense it was most unnatural.

Notice first, however, a few details concerning Mary and Joseph. We are told that Mary “pondered (these things) in her heart” (2:19), and again, “His mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (2:51). I learn from these, and other Scriptures, the essential need to become students of our children. I recognize fully the unique nature of this Child, and also the unusual character of her meditations. Yet the principle is of value to note. We must take time and learn to observe the strengths and weaknesses (He had none) of our children if we are going to help them to develop. More on this later.

Joseph does not get much further mention in our gospel account. There are two inferences, however, that must not pass us by. As has been mentioned, Joseph went up to the feast year by year. Also, we are informed that the Lord went into the synagogue on the Sabbath “as His custom was” (4:16). When had these godly habits begun? We all know that the Lord would have manifested these on his own, yet the point here is that Joseph had taught his family to develop habits that put God first. It had been Joseph’s custom to recognize spiritual responsibilities; his children followed his godly example. It is rare for children to rise higher than their parents in their establishing of priorities. Parents who have failed to be at the assembly gatherings on a consistent basis, scarcely need to ask if their children will deem it important to be at all the gatherings.

Allow me to stray to Matthew and Mark for one point. In Matthew 13:55, we are told that Joseph was a carpenter. In Mark 6:3, the Lord Jesus is referred to as “the carpenter.” Joseph had evidently taught Him the trade, preparing Him for future years. He wisely established goals and training for the lad. I realize that the Son was unique and had eternal goals and purposes. Yet Joseph must be commended on the human family level for taking care for his family’s future. This leads into the final point I would like to make concerning the Lord’s early years at Nazareth.

Recall the difficult verse with which Luke 2 ends: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” I am not now going to attempt to explain all the questions which some have with this verse. That task will fall to abler minds and more eloquent pens. Simply allow me to show that there are four areas of development for which I, as a parent, am responsible.  “He increased in wisdom,” suggests the emotional and intellectual side of life.  “Stature” is the physical aspect. “Favor with God” is the spiritual element. “With man” underlines the social development. May I say something that all may not agree with immediately? I believe not only that I have a responsibility for all these spheres, but that it is an equal responsibility in them all. It is obvious is it not that you must provide for the physical growth of a child? While we place an emphasis on the spiritual side of growth because it has the greatest consequences, you would not feel successful as a parent if your child were malnourished and sickly, but able to recite verse after verse. You willingly own a responsibility for his physical as well as spiritual welfare. In just the same way, we are accountable for the emotional and social adjustment of our children. If you question this, consider for a moment, how the spiritual side may be forever marred by a warping of the social or emotional aspect. We must channel these and control them with a view to spiritual welfare and usefulness, but we dare not neglect them. To impair the social adjustment of a child by unnecessary isolation and over regulation may forever hinder his ability to speak to men for God or even to get along with his brethren.

Turn in closing to the perfect father in Luke 15. Here was a father who had ably provided for his own. A day came when a son wanted to leave home. He was willing to let him go and endure the pain. To his credit, when his son was many miles distant both physically and morally, there were impressions that had been made that never left. The son knew and remembered a well ordered home, but he not only knew his father’s home, he knew his father’s heart. He knew his father well enough to know that he could at least expect mercy and reception.

What will our children remember of us when they leave home? What impressions have been made during the eighteen or more years that God has entrusted them to us? Do they know us well enough to know what to expect from us? This kind of knowledge does not come easily or quickly. It involves cost, not only of time but of emotions. The willingness to hear in order to be heard; the grace to acknowledge that, perhaps as a parent, I have been wrong or too hasty in a judgment. All this enables our children to know us and to have confidence in us.

The father had an open door for his son. You may well add that it was upon his terms, not the son’s. That is true, yet, to his everlasting credit, it must be shown that he patiently waited despite a heart that must have been heavy with sorrow and care. Compassion, love, forgiveness and grace were all in abundance in the parabolic home. No need for “I told you so,” undue harshness or warnings as to the future. Here was a father who had perfect timing. He did not break the bruised reed; nor did he quench the dimly burning wick.

Even in dealing with the elder son in the field, the father manifested traits which we as parents should strive to emulate. He was patient and entreated his son. He went out to him. He did not stand on ceremony. He was not afraid of “losing face” or appearing soft. Despite profligate living on the part of one son, and proud words from another, this father never lost control. He only lost control at the reception back of his prodigal son. He broke down with tears of joy and kisses of forgiveness.

It is essential to be in control with our children. Neither discipline nor kindness must be from a posture of anger or weakness. The welfare of our children must be paramount.

You may well be able to add to this brief consideration from Luke’s writings. The length of the article is not as important as its lessons. May we, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, live life together, sharing its burdens and blessings. May we have grace, like Joseph and Mary, to be united in its experiences, and supportive one to another in its trials. The perfect father of Luke 15 is before us, not so much to remind us of shortcomings, but to serve as a goal. Mary’s insightful study of her Son, and Joseph’s concern for the spiritual and social development of his family, can all serve as examples for us.