The new financial year began with big changes in welfare. Various reports and debates have argued both for and against the changes. At the grassroots we see a need to protect the vulnerable and provide for the needy: we are grappling with the right to life, dignity and the basics of food and a home.
We often talk about our rights, but it is important to consider our responsibilities – in particular, our family responsibilities. Public debate may run the risk of our being forgetful of the family, as if it’s been airbrushed out of the picture. But the family is the foundation of society.
Rather than letting it recede into the background, it has a key role to play. As state welfare shrinks, the family has a growing importance. To try and look at things positively we are rediscovering the importance of family relationships.
The Bible teaches lots about the family. The Old Testament spoke about the ‘house’ or ‘household’ when referring to the extended family. This was the way welfare was provided for relatives as well as ensuring stability for raising children. God’s laws promoted good relationships in a household. The key principle was: ‘honour your father and mother’ (Ex 20v12). God’s law defined whom you could marry: one man to one woman so long as they were not close blood relatives, so as to minimize the disruption of harmony (Leviticus 18). The family was to help out relatives and even fellow Israelites who had hit hard times. Radical laws were given to guard against long-term debt: in the 7th year (‘Jubilee’) all debts were written off and land returned to the original family owners (Deuteronomy 15)! Family life was driven by a higher calling to love the Lord God with heart, soul and strength (Deut 6v5), while also loving our neighbours as ourselves (Lev 19v18) – this was Jesus’ summary of the law (Mt 22v37-40).
The New Testament teaches that the family must meet its responsibilities in a society that had no welfare provision. It uses the family as a model for the churches that met in households: members were to relate to one another as if an extended family. They were to protect the vulnerable and provide for the needy (Acts 2v42-47), giving special attention to widows and orphans. The family and also the church family are to be modeled on the love and care shown by our heavenly Father.