Family dysfunction is often more spiritual than relational, despite how regular tension and conflict might make it feel. Satan rejoices when homes are ruined. He fights to make families feeble. The weaker the family, the stronger his rule and the more his course advances.
Satan uses instruments, human means, in the battle. He often works through flesh and blood. Nevertheless, we do not fight against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Instead, we rely on flesh-and-blood relationships as we fight against him in our homes.
Corporate Worship and Warfare
Which relationships do we need to rely on? What alliances will help us defeat Satan as he attacks our homes? Our great alliance is with our brothers and sisters in the church. They are our fellow soldiers fighting the same war — and unity is key. We work together and depend on each other for lasting triumph.
“Satan rejoices when homes are ruined. He fights to make families feeble.”
The church is the army in the great spiritual war. While every family faces its individual battles, warfare is also a corporate endeavor. We wrestle together against a common enemy, Satan. We can see this reality especially in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the apostle envelops instructions about family relationships (Ephesians 5:22–6:9) between corporate worship (Ephesians 5:18–21) and corporate warfare (Ephesians 6:10–20). This structure shows that family relationships flow from, and depend on, the corporate worship and warfare of God’s family.
God’s family, the church, provides the source of power, the pattern, and the means of protection for our individual families. If we want to guard our families from the attacks of the devil, we will find our shield in the church.
Walking Home in the Spirit
Prior to his instructions on the family, Paul explains how we are to live and worship corporately (Ephesians 5:15–21). Walking in wisdom, he writes, entails being filled with the Spirit by speaking and singing truth to Christ and one another in corporate worship. In this way, the Spirit fills God’s gathered family and empowers them to live out the gospel, claiming victory in their homes. When God’s people are filled with the Spirit through corporate worship, wives submit to their husbands, husbands love their wives, children obey their parents, fathers tenderly train their children, servants obey their masters, and masters do good to their servants.
“If we despise the family of God, we will not survive in the effort to establish ours.”
The connection between the sections on corporate worship and the home is even clearer in the Greek. Ephesians 5:22 does not have the word submit; we only understand the implied verb by looking back at verse 21, where Paul uses the participle submitting. Paul uses unusual grammar to tie the two sections together, thus linking the family relationships in Ephesians 5:22–6:9 to the gathered family of God, the church, as the source of families’ strength. In other words, our individual family lives are an overflow of the life in the gathered family of God.
When filled with the Spirit, God’s family becomes not only the power but the pattern for our own individual families. Wives submit as the church submits to Christ. Husbands love as Christ loved the church. Children obey parents in the Lord, as God’s children also obey him. Fathers take their cue from the heavenly Father in exercising gentleness. Servants obey as they would Christ. Masters treat their servants respectfully because both masters and servants have one Master. Thus, the church’s relationship with her Lord and heavenly Father becomes the pattern for a Spirit-filled family. Sinclair Ferguson rightly says,
My family needs the church family for its own growth and health. No single family possesses all the resources it needs to be a truly and fully Christian family. We need support, friendship, example, wise counsel and much else from the church family. . . . Two Christian parents are not in themselves adequate to rear one child for Christ — they were never meant to be. (Devoted to God’s Church, 7)
Beyond Flesh and Blood
Having called specific members of the church to walk by the Spirit, honoring Christ in their respective callings, Paul draws the church to the armor that will keep its individual families firm in the path before them. Every family member — husbands, wives, parents, children, servants, masters — must be strong in the Lord to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11) and “withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13), clothed with the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:14). Throughout this section, Paul uses the second person plural, referring to the entire church. Corporate war is the means by which individual families stand against the schemes of the devil.
One of the devil’s schemes, against which the church must stand, is the temptation to devalue the place of God’s family for our individual families. Many Christians today fail to see corporate worship and warfare as indispensable. The gathering of the church is optional; we easily forsake the gathering for other pursuits, when we should let go of every other pursuit to gather with the church. When the devil separates us from the army of God, he has better chances for victory against our families.
Any military commander would be a fool if he sent his men into battle detached from each other. A commander who separates one man from the team may, in effect, send that soldier to his death, as David did to Uriah (2 Samuel 11:15). If an army is divided among itself, how can it stand? It can be a crime in the military to desert your team or to forsake a wounded member of the team. You fight for your country; you fight with each other; you protect each other. Care for one another is central. When believers forget and forsake the rest of the military, the church, they give an advantage to the devil.
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but we need flesh and blood for the war against the devil. No family feud is only relational; there is always more going on than meets the eyes. Eve’s disobedience and Adam’s passivity may have appeared as just as a flesh-and-blood issue if Moses had never led us behind the scenes to see the schemes of the devil. The counsel of Job’s wife, as the waves of trials swept over them, may have seemed simply like the words of a troubled soul (Job 2:9). But the author of Job lifts the curtains and shows us that behind those words lay an evil force. Job’s battle was not against flesh and blood; it was spiritual.
Full Armor for the Family
How do we fight these spiritual wars? In part, we do so corporately. We stand in whole armor Christ has won for us, and we fight with the word of God (Ephesians 6:13–18). The pieces of armor Paul lists are not different from the truth we corporately confess and sing to each other in corporate worship. Being strong in the strength of the Lord is similar to being filled with the Spirit, who “strengthens with power” in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). We put on the whole armor when we address each other with the truth of the gospel, our true righteousness in Christ, and the gospel of peace, strengthening each other’s faith in the gospel, singing of our great salvation, joining in songs that are rich with the word, which is the sword of the Spirit. Corporate worship itself is corporate warfare.
While these pieces of armor can be put on at the individual level, the corporate dimension is vital. For example, as individuals, we may not always have our shields up. But in corporate warfare, when a husband’s shield falls, others can gather around him and protect him with their own shields, praying and encouraging him back to the battle. Victory for individual families comes as we are engaged in God’s local family, where we wage the war with others against the schemes of the devil.
This reality also places a burden of responsibility on local churches, since the health of her families, in large measure, depends on the strength of a church’s worship and warfare. What the gathered family does with the truth determines the health of its individual families.
We Fight Together or Fail
Corporate worship and warfare are indispensable for our marriages and families. If we despise the family of God, we will not survive in the effort to establish ours. Your family needs God’s family. Your marriage needs God’s marriage. Your parenting needs God’s fatherly relationship with his people. We fight together or we fail.
If we isolate ourselves from the community of God’s people, we will inevitably fall in the battle, with none to lift us up. God has not designed us to live that way. The health of your family is the project of God’s family. We worship together, we war together, and by God’s grace, we will win together.