When The Time Comes to Divide the Family Estate

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Matthew Henry

“When Providence has removed your parents by death,
the best methods ought to be taken,
not only for preventing quarrels among the children
(which often happens over the dividing of the estate),
but for the preserving of love
so that unity may continue even when that center of unity is taken away.”
– Matthew Henry, Presbyterian pastor and commentator extraordinaire

The only way for believing families to heed this pastoral counsel is by resolving to trust in God’s sovereign hand. How easy it is to fall prey to a greedy, grasping tendency we all have when we are left to ourselves. An alternate path is to rest and trust in God’s sovereignty – He is the blessed controller of all things and, if He is in control, we don’t have to be. If we have a life-giving relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth, do we really need more of this material world and all of its stuff?

In Genesis 50, Joseph reminds himself of God’s sovereignty as he reflects on the evil done to him by his brothers. The center of their family has been taken away. Their father Jacob has died and all of his sons and their families, except Joseph, are in peril due to a great famine in the land. It would be tempting for Joseph to exact revenge at this time. However, he does the opposite.

Read this short account and marvel at the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in Joseph’s life. The same can happen for you:

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Cultivating a Healthy Marriage – Clothed with Kindness

Colossians 3:12-17 declares that our Lord has given us a wardrobe to wear
that will enable us to fulfill the vows that we make to the Lord and to each other on our wedding day.

All of us are naturally inclined to go to the wardrobe of the FLESH. This wardrobe produces in us and in our relationships such destructive attitudes like selfishness, envy, jealousy and even hostility. It results in discord, outbursts of anger, dissensions, and factions.

The wardrobe of the SPIRIT reflects the character of our Savior, Jesus Christ. One of his notable characteristics is kindness. In Romans 2:4 we learn that it is God’s kindness in Jesus Christ that leads us to repentance and faith.

Kindness is the second piece of clothing mentioned in the list in Colossians 3:12. It reads: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…”

The original word for kindness is ‘chrestos.’ The word has one letter different than the word for Christ – ‘christos.’ In marriage, kindness not only involves a willingness to forgive but also an overall readiness to enhance the life of your spouse because of your own deep inner security that comes from knowing that you enjoy the Lord’s favor and approval. This word speaks of a gentle, gracious disposition.

I see so many couples today who are extremely competitive with one another. They are unable to rejoice in the successes of their spouse. Kindness also enables you to give space for the uniqueness of each other. A kind person ceases trying to change their spouse to become more like them.

This character quality involves a self-control based on a growing faith in God’s over-ruling providence. Providence means that God governs all the actions of all of His creatures at all times and God works out all things according to the counsel of His will. A kind believer is above petty resentment and revenge. Kindness has a positive task – doing good – and finds the task allows little time for the coddling of wounded feelings and the self-assertiveness of a sharp temper.

Without kindness in your relationship, your marriage will become a business, contractual relationship. Unfortunately, you will see this happen to some of your dearest friends. Watch especially for sarcasm – sharp, bitter, or cutting expressions, remarks or gestures!

Sincerity is always your best guide for how to talk to and about one another.Here are some practical ways to check yourself and to see how kind you are becoming in your marriage.

Also, you can use this guide to pray for one another regarding certain areas of needed growth.

  • You say “yes” a lot more than “no” when your spouse asks for a favor or for help.
  • You are willing to share that last piece of pie or cookie because being kind is being generous.
  • You don’t interrupt your spouse when they are talking.
  • You are polite and say “please” and “thank you” when speaking to your spouse.
  • You don’t think it is old fashioned to open a door for your spouse or to share your jacket if your wife is cold.
  • You show respect for your mate.
  • You let your spouse know how much he/she is appreciated.
  • You don’t roll your eyes when your spouse says something you disagree with or something you think is trivial or boring.
  • You routinely look for the good in your spouse. You don’t assume the worst.
  • You are helpful.
  • You don’t allow unkind comments to flow from your lips.
  • You make sure that your teasing is fun and not hurtful.
May the Lord so work in us that kindness becomes a hallmark strength of our marriages.
Writing this let’s me know that I have some work to do in weaving kindness more into my own marriage .

Take Courage! There Are No Exemplary Families in the Bible

It is easy to despair when we realize how far we fall short as husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. Below is an excerpt from Eugene Peterson’s book Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998). It has been a source of tremendous encouragement for me and I hope it will be also for you. Thank you for taking time to read and digest this encouraging word.

Eugene Peterson writes:

The search of Scripture turns up one rather surprising truth: There are no exemplary families. Not a single family is portrayed in Scripture in such a way so as to evoke admiration in us. There are many family stories, there is considerable ref­erence to family life, and there is sound counsel to guide the growth of families, but not a single model family for anyone to look up to in either awe or envy.

Adam and Eve are no sooner out of the garden than their children get in a fight. Shem, Ham, and Japheth are forced to devise a strategy to hide their father’s drunken shame. Jacob and Esau are bitter rivals and sow seeds of discord that bear centuries of bitter harvest. Joseph and his brothers ring changes on the themes of sibling rivalry and parental bungling. Jesse’s sons, brave and loyal in service of their country, are capricious and cruel to their youngest brother. David is unfortunate in both wives and children – he is a man after God’s own heart and Israel’s greatest king, but he cannot manage his own household.

Even in the family of Jesus, where we might expect something different, there is exposition of the same theme. The picture in Mark, chapter three, strikes us as typical rather than exceptional: Jesus is active, healing the sick, comforting the distressed, and fulfilling His calling as Messiah, while His mother and brothers are outside trying to get Him to come home, quite sure that He is crazy. Jesus’ family criticizes and does not appreciate. It misunderstands and does not comprehend.

The biblical material consistently portrays the family not as a Norman Rockwell group, beaming in gratitude around a Thanksgiving turkey, but as a series of broken relationships in need of redemption, after the manner of William Faulkner’s plots in Yoknapatawpha County.

At the very least, this means that no one needs to carry a burden of guilt because his or her family is deficient in the sweetness and light that Christian families are supposed to exhibit. Since models for harmonious families are missing in Scripture (and for that omission I am repeatedly grateful to the Holy Spirit), we are free to pay attention to what is there — a promise of new community which experiences life as the household of faith, a family in Christ. Life together consists of relationships that are created not by blood (at least not by our blood) but by grace. We get along not because we are good but because we are forgiven.

In this new community, created by the Holy Spirit and called the church, much of the vocabulary used to describe relationships comes from the family as we already know it: brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. The message seems to be something along these lines. What you never managed in your own families naturally, you may now have in the new community supernaturally. All that was lost at Eden is regained at Gethsemane. Relationships learned at the cross of Christ, the ways of love and the techniques of forgiveness, will give you the brother and sister you longed for, the son and daughter you desired. What you learn in the community of faith you will then be able to take back into your natural families of sons and daughters, of fathers and mothers.

We are faced daily with the reality that something has gone wrong with our families. Our children fight and quarrel; our parenting misfires. We are involved in failure, and we are guilty. Something has, of course, gone wrong with the family, but it went wrong long before we came on the scene. It is futile to complain or feel guilty; we can, though, go to work and nurture family life on the new grounds provided by the Holy Spirit. Blood relationships are transformed into relationships of grace. Our natural families are informed and redeemed by the same principles that are foundational in the community of the Holy Spirit, the church.

But it is not easy to acquire these biblical perspectives. It is especially difficult when we are isolated from others and confined within the structures of our natural family. That is why it has seemed to me so important to encourage parent coalitions,” gatherings of Christians engaged to discover and appropriate the promises and gifts of God as they are learned through the forms of family life.

Charles Williams, I think more than any other Christian in our time, has shown the centrality of what he calls “substituted love” (and what theologians in the Reformation traditions have named “the priesthood of all believers”). Williams’s exposition of the doctrine in his novels and his poetry showed both how necessary and how attractive it is to “bear one another’s burdens . . .” (Gal. 6:2). He invited Christians who were faced with difficulties, whether slight or heavy, to enter into “compacts.” “Compacts,” he wrote in his essay “The Way of Exchange,” “can be made for the taking over of the suffering of troubles, and worries, and distresses, as simply and as effec­tually as an assent is given to the carrying of a parcel . . . . To begin the way in small things conveniently is better than to dream of the remote splendors of the vicarious life; not that they are likely in any case to seem very splendid when they come. To begin by practicing faith where it is easiest is better than to try and practice it where it is hardest. There is always somewhere where it can be done.” (Charles Williams, Selected Writings (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 128.)

Since the burden of parenthood is particularly onerous to many during the time their children move through the years of adolescence, I have hoped, by describing some of the motions of that process and by inviting parents to meet together, to initiate acts of burden-sharing, “compacts” of substituted love. Where two or three – and eight or ten – gathered together in our Lord’s name we learned through honest discussion, se­rious Scripture reading, and faithful prayer, the inner dynamics of the family of God which is the church. Sometimes we found that we also became more skilled in love and practiced in pardon, and so were able to live with one another and with our sons and daughters in happier ways, and that was so much the better.

It is this second community with its origins at Pentecost that releases energies of redemption, not the first whose roots are in Eden. And so it is with the presuppositions of faith that I have approached the entire matter of the parent and the adolescent. It is more important, I think, that families be used as places to develop faith than that the faith be used as a resource to develop families. For it does no good to improve the family if we only make a household god out of our success. Our Lord, who wills our love for one another, also gave us solemn warning, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

What Does It Look Like to Cherish Your Bride?

Cherishing Your Bride

The Lord has been challenging me lately to become more intentional in cherishing my wife. It is easy for our wives to feel undervalued because we can so easily take them for granted.

Our wives are like beautiful orchids that demand tender care and wise attention. Therefore, we must proactively work to ensure that they flourish and blossom spiritually, emotionally and physically. Here are a few thoughts I have worked on over the past several weeks on what it looks like to cherish your bride. You may not have time right now to read all of this, but please print it off and put it in your Bible and commit yourself to read and think through this article some time over the next week. Don’t be overwhelmed by this pastoral letter. Ask the Lord to show you one way that you can cherish your wife better.

Ephesians 5:29 calls us who are husbands to cherish our brides. In Greek, the word ‘cherish’ literally means “to keep warm, to cherish with tender love, to foster with tender care, to give your wife reason to hope.” This notion of the tenderest care is a metaphor the Apostle Paul uses for pastoral ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”

Your wives will be cherished when:

1. You actively seek to cultivate her spiritual well-being and health by…

a. Praying with and for her. Prayer is the most intimate bond of your spiritual union. Do you daily and specifically pray for your wife? What about using the Lord’s Prayer as a grid for your prayers for her? When you do, you cherish her as the Lord does His bride, the church. Hebrews 7:25 says that he ever lives to make intercession for us. You are to bring her to the throne of grace. Do you regularly pray with and for her?

b. Setting an example by consistently walking with God. Whatever virtue that you want to see in your wife and in your children must first be seen in your own life. Do you, with some regularity, talk with her about what you are learning from your own study and reading of God’s Word? Do you ever read the Scriptures together? Are you growing in your ability to converse with her of the deepest, most intimate concerns and anxieties of your soul?

c. Encouraging her to discover and use her spiritual gifts and unique strengths. Do you know what she enjoys and does well? Are you encouraging her to develop and use the strengths she possesses to serve Christ and his church? Or do you honestly feel threatened by her abilities and successes?

2. You actively cultivate her emotional well-being and health by…

a. Taking the initiative to know, understand and communicate with your bride (1 Peter 3:7). We must take the initiative to ask thoughtful questions and listen. Honestly, I have been convicted lately that I live more by monologue than dialogue (Proverbs 18:13). This work of communication is messy and takes time and effort, but we will be wonderfully rewarded. Can you answer the following questions: What is your wife’s greatest concern right now? What is her greatest need? What is her greatest dream for the future? What causes her pain?

b. Guarding and protecting her from your passions and from her emotions. Do you exercise the greatest of care in guarding the purity of your relationship by making her to sole object of your stimulation and sexual excitement? Do you seek to shield your wife from unnecessary emotional pressure? Do you seek to guard her from those things to which she is especially vulnerable? The Apostle Peter reminds us husbands that we are to live with our wives in a understanding/considerate way and grant her honor…so that our prayers will not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

c. Resolving conflict and discord biblically. Do you take the initiative to resolve conflict and heal discord in your marriage relationship and in your family? Or do you sulk off into a corner with your self-pity?

d. Making decisions. You make sound and timely decisions after hearing her point of view and only after coming to a mutual agreement. Only on rare occasions should husbands use the trump card in the decision-making process. Some of us men need to pray that God will instill in us a greater boldness in making decisions and not be immobilized by our fear of making a mistake. Others of us need to slow down and not be so impulsive and quick in our decision-making.

3. You actively cultivate her physical well-being and health by…

a. Non-sexual touching with words of tenderness and affection. If you haven’t already, let me encourage all of you husbands to develop some terms of endearment for your wife. If you read the Song of Solomon, you will note that one of his terms of endearment was: “O most beautiful among women.” The book of Proverbs supplies us with another: “The wife of my youth in whom I delight.” Better yet, come up with your own… words that are strictly between you and her that immediately let her know how much you love her.

b. Working diligently to provide financially for her and your family’s needs (1 Timothy 5:8).

John Piper sums up cherishing under the broad category of servant leadership:

“When a man senses a primary God-given responsibility for…

the spiritual life of the family

gathering the family for devotions,

taking them to church,

calling for prayer at meals,

for the discipline and education of the children,

the stewardship of money,

the provision of food,

the safety of the home,

the healing of discord,

he is not being authoritarian or autocratic or domineering or bossy or oppressive or abusive. It is simply servant leadership. And I have never met a wife who is sorry she is married to a man like that. Because when God designs a thing he designs it for his glory and our good.”

Wives, please make sure that your expectations for your husbands are realistic and grounded in God’s Word. You must continually look to Jesus to meet the deepest needs and longings of your heart. Your husband has feet of clay and will disappoint you. At those moments, look to your perfect bridegroom as ask Him for grace to love well your imperfect husband. Also, pray that the Lord will sensitize and empower your husband to love you well.

Husbands, ask the Lord how He wants you to intentionally cultivate your relationship with your wife. We think about ways to prosper our businesses and careers. Our marriages are not any different. A good marriage takes time and lots of effort.

Chuck Swindoll concludes: “A good marriage takes longer than you planned… costs more than you figured… is messier than you anticipated… and requires greater determination than you expected.”

What Marriage Is

Peter Marshall

Peter Marshall

Marriage is not a federation of two sovereign states.

It is a union – domestic, social, spiritual, physical.

It is a fusion of two hearts – the union of two lives –

The coming together of two tributaries, which, after being joined in marriage,

will flow in the same channel, in the same direction…

carrying the same burdens of responsibility and obligation.

— Peter Marshall

A Wonderful 75 Minute Investment in Your Marriage or Future Marriage

“Cultivating a Healthy Marriage: Part One”

The above link will lead you to a recording of a seminar led by Tim and Kathy Keller. Presently, it is free to download from the Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s resource website.

If I could only recommend one resource to couples for marriage enrichment or marriage preparation, this would be the one. It is 75 minutes long. Scottie and I have benefited greatly from listening to and applying the teaching found here. I hope you’ll do the same.