We’ve all experienced the dysfunction and pain that can come from families. Whether it was in our family of origin or our own family we’ve created as adults, there are often sources of hurt and patterns that feel impossible to break free from.
In a recent sermon, pastor Kyle Cunningham took an honest yet hopeful look at family dysfunction through the lens of the biblical patriarch Jacob. Though Jacob was one of God’s chosen fathers of the nation of Israel, he made some colossal mistakes in raising his family.
Let’s walk through Kyle’s sermon together to unearth some wisdom for our families today.
Dinah’s Devastation and Protection in the Modern Age
Kyle started by recounting the disturbing story of Jacob’s daughter Dinah from Genesis 34. Dinah left home to visit friends in a nearby town, and while there the local prince Shechem assaulted her. Yet Jacob did nothing to address this or restore Dinah’s honor in the community.
In ancient Near Eastern culture, Jacob’s inaction brought shame on the family and failed to protect his daughter. It was only through her enraged brothers taking revenge that some sense of justice was served.
As Kyle noted, we rightly react in horror at such abuse today. We have a vigilance about protecting our kids from harm. Yet he observed an odd dynamic while recently watching children play at a park – hyper attentive helicopter parents not letting them stray out of arm’s reach, yet handing them smart phones connecting them to the wider world.
How often do we closely guard against physical danger, yet introduce spiritual and emotional perils? Viruses of racism, addiction, cyberbullying and strangers with malicious intent are a click away on the devices we often place too early into small hands. Are we failing to protect our kids just as much as Jacob did Dinah?
The Creep of Idolatry
Jacob’s second failure was in his spiritual leadership for his family. When returning to Bethel, where he had encountered God, Jacob has his whole household bury their idols and pagan images under a tree to purify themselves.
This makes clear that idolatry had crept into Jacob’s home, even after his life was transformed by God. He had failed to fully remove competing allegiances. Jacob led his family spiritually astray by allowing idol worship to coexist alongside the true God.
As Kyle humorously pointed out, we scoff thinking we don’t have idols like household gods today. Yet what about making sports, work, or technology into idols by giving them more time, attention and devotion than God?
What can we learn from Jacob about keeping our whole lives and homes centered on God alone? Do we compromise with idols that distract and lead our families away from loyal worship of God?
The Poison of Favoritism
Jacob’s third and most damaging failure was his favoritism toward his wife Rachel, and his sons by her – Joseph and Benjamin. The opening verses of Genesis 37 make clear that open preferential treatment bred murderous jealousy among the other brothers.
To understand these dysfunctional family dynamics, we need to consider the backstory. Jacob’s first wife Leah bore six sons who would become patriarchs of Israel. But his preferred wife Rachel was barren for years. She finally gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin much later in life.
As the sons of the unloved Leah, the older brothers simmered in anger at Dad’s affection for these late arrivals. Joseph exacerbated this by lording his status over his siblings. The poisonous favoritism rotted the roots of familial love.
Don’t we often shuttle our love and attention disproportionately to certain family members today? Whether it’s a golden child, a spouse, or our own nuclear family over extended relatives, favoritism strains bonds meant to be self-giving and egalitarian.
Grace Working Through Brokenness
While Jacob’s failures as a father and leader were egregious, Kyle took comfort that God still chose this highly dysfunctional family as His vehicle for blessing the world. God’s grace overcomes human weakness.
The destruction favoritism breeds is evident in the alienation and violence between Joseph and his brothers. Yet God redeemed their broken relationships for His glory.
This offers hope that no family is too far gone for God to heal and use powerfully. Where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more.
Cultivating Healthier Families
However, Kyle challenged us to also learn from Jacob’s negative example. Our families could go far in advancing God’s Kingdom if we steward them according to His design.
He offered simple but practical advice from Ephesians 6 for nurturing healthy Christian families. Fathers should be careful not to “exasperate” or anger their children through wounding favoritism or neglect. Instead, they should bring them up in the “training and instruction of the Lord.” This is a call for active discipleship through prayer, scripture reading, and spiritual conversation at home.
It’s sobering to consider when we’ve last read the Bible or prayed with our kids. We cannot outsource discipleship solely to church youth groups. Parenting for the glory of Christ must be hands-on.
For those with prodigals and regrets, take heart that God’s grace transcends our mistakes. But also humbly walk in renewed commitment to disciple each generation, not merely biologically reproduce.
No matter our family’s past or present, we can start building a godly heritage today. Small seeds of prayer and scriptural engagement can grow strong spiritual trees over the years of investment. Our families can be conduits of grace in a hurting world.
Key Takeaways on Family:
- Like Jacob, we often fail to fully protect our kids from harm or allow idolatry to compromise sole allegiance to God. Self-examination is needed.
- Favoritism poisons families, whether parent to child, spouse to spouse, or among siblings. We must fight for equal love.
- Through dysfunction, God’s grace still choses families as instruments of redemption. No family is too broken for Him to heal and use.
- Discipleship cannot be outsourced. Regular family spiritual practices are vital – prayer, Bible reading, discussing faith. Start today.
- God’s grace covers parental mistakes. But lack of discipleship in the home has generational consequences. May we parent on purpose.
- All families have dysfunctions. But with God’s power we can plant seeds of health that will bless generations to come.
The Path Forward
Wherever we find our families today, this passage points to the need for God’s grace and also intentionality in nurturing spiritual health. Ruts of dysfunction may feel impossible to escape. But we serve a Redeemer.
Jesus entered the messy chaos of family life just like we experience. Let’s look to Him as we walk the path of healing. God cares deeply about the holiness and love saturating our homes.
May we parent and grandparent, husband and wife, brother and sister for God’s glory. No family is perfect or past the need for growth. But our families can powerfully reveal the Gospel as we point each other to Christ daily.
What “family idols” do we need to repent of? What spiritual habits can we build into our rhythms at home? God is eager to work through whatever we surrender to Him today.