The Biblical Basis for Family Worship (Part 3)

Read the series.

“Listen to Your Father and Mother”

In 2 Samuel 6, David and the Israelites successfully relocate the Ark of the Covenant from Obed-edom’s house to Jerusalem. It’s a time of great celebration and rejoicing. We read in verses 14 and 15:

And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet.

Once the ark is brought to its assigned place, David offers a burnt offering, a peace offering, and then, “he blessed the people in the name of the Lord.” (v. 18). Now it’s important for us to realize that David’s “blessing” was not just a casual “I wish you well.” Rather, this blessing, along with the offering of the sacrifices, was a formal religious function. In other words, David playing a role in leading God’s people in corporate worship.

With that in mind, look with me at the first phrase in verse 20: “But when David returned to bless his household….” The incident goes on to tell us of a conflict in David’s home. Yet, for our purposes, I want you to note that King David not only led corporate worship. David also led family worship. It was no mere “God bless you.” Rather, it was David playing the role of a priest in his home. We’re not told exactly how David led his household in worship. But if you’ll turn with me to Proverbs 4, we see something of what may have been involved in David’s family worship.

Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding, for I give you sound teaching; do not abandon my instruction. When I was a son to my father, tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, then he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live; acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.

As you know, these are the words of King Solomon, one of David’s son. They give us insight into the practice of David and Solomon. David taught Solomon, and now Solomon is teaching his sons the way of the Lord. While we cannot be sure that this instruction was always tied together with those set-times when David and Solomon performed the role of a priest in their home, we might conjecture the likelihood of such a connection based upon the regular practice of the priests (Deut. 33:8-10; Hos. 4:1-10).

Fathers, are we “blessing” our households? Do we fulfill the role of a family priest and instruct our household in the ways of the Lord? Listen to the words of Malachi 2:7: “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” Are you such a messenger in your home? What if there’s no father in the home?  What about homes with single mothers? If you’re a single mother, then you must do the best you can to assume this role (cf. Prov. 6:20- “do not forsake the law of your mother”). And you have two wonderful role-models in Scripture, the mother and grandmother of Timothy. According to the NT, Timothy was a useful servant in God’s kingdom who knew the Scriptures. He certainly did not get this way because of a godly father (Acts 16:1). But 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15 trace Timothy’s conversion and knowledge of Scripture to the teaching and influence of his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. Therefore, single mothers, take heart! The absence of a father leading in family devotions does not have to mean the absence of the family altar. History bears witness to the fact that much profitable family worship has been conducted by godly mothers.

Perhaps someone might suggest that the family altar passed away with the OT priesthood and sacrifices. Perhaps someone might suggest that the father’s duty in the OT has now become the pastor’s duty in the NT?

Bring Them Up in the Lord’s Instruction

Directing an exhortation to Christian fathers, the apostle Paul writes,

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up [literally, ‘nourish them’] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

This passage is often quoted as support for corporeal discipline. While I believe the text supports the use of the rod in child-rearing, I don’t believe we should limit its scope to scolding and spanking. More broadly, this is a command directed to fathers to “shepherd” our children, as a pastor would shepherd the sheep. In fact, the Greek word translated “bring up” is used in the LXX to refer to a shepherd caring for his sheep (2 Sam. 12:3; Psa. 23:2). Thus, the apostle Paul is commanding fathers shepherd their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Certainly, that may and often does involve scoldings and spankings. But it’s much more than wielding the rod. It’s also teaching and preaching God’s Word to our children. In fact, the word translated “discipline” is the same word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 3:16 where he tells young Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction [paideia] in righteousness.”

Thus, just as a pastor is to use the word of God to nourish and train God’s people, so too fathers are to use the Scripture to nourish and train their children. One of the best ways to teach and preach the Scriptures to our children is by establishing set-times of regular family worship. And I don’t think we should limit our family worship just to teaching God’s word. Let me remind you that Paul’s command to fathers in 6:4 is part of a larger command to be filled with the Spirit (5:18). And you’ll notice that Spirit-filled living also includes—verses 19 & 20—the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and also the offering of thanksgiving to God in prayer.

This may raise a question in the minds of some. Few would question the propriety of a parent teaching God’s word to a child. Some, however, question the propriety of requiring children who are possibly unconverted to sing and pray in family worship. Is it right for us to demand our children to sing and pray to God, even if they are not converted? I believe the answer is ‘yes,’ for the following reasons:

  • God commanded the entire nation of Israel to sing and pray, knowing that many of them still had uncircumcised hearts. Of course, God also exhorted them to circumcise their hearts, i.e., to be converted (Deut. 10:16)!
  • The Bible teaches us that giving of praise and thanksgiving is the duty of all mankind, not just believers (Pss. 148:7-13; 150:6)
  • The Lord Jesus Christ does not rebuke but rather commends the praise of children when it is offered to him:

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF’?” (Matt. 21:15-16).

These passages support the propriety of children singing and praying to the Lord. Of course, our job as parents is not merely to insure that they sing and pray but to urge them to sing and pray from the heart.

Don’t Let Your Prayers be Hindered

Having exhorted the wives with respect to their duties towards their husband (vv. 1-6), now Peter turns to the husbands:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).

One of the reasons why we husbands must relate properly to our wives is “so that [our] prayers will not be hindered.” The term translated “hindered” is a military word that refers to the setting up of a blockade. A poor relationship between a husband and wife sets up a road block to prayer. There are various ways to interpret this, depending on how we interpret the noun “prayer” and the pronoun “your.”

First, the noun “prayer” can refer either to the practice of prayer or to the answers to prayer.  Thus, poor family relationships may set up a roadblock either to the answers of our prayers or to the practice of our prayers. Second, the pronoun “your” is plural in the original and may refer either to husbands (plural) or to husbands and their wives (plural). If it is just a reference to husbands, then Peter is warning them that their own private prayers may be hindered if they do not maintain a right relationship with their wife. However, if the reference is to husbands and their wives, then Peter is warning that a poor relationship in the home may hinder the joint prayers of husband and wife. This interpretation certainly makes sense since we all know how difficult it can be to come together for prayer if we’re at odds with another person.

A number of good commentators agree. Let quote from three. Edmund Clowney, a late professor of Westminster Seminary, writes,

Probably Peter also has in view the joint prayers of the couple.  Husband and wife are to pray together; their home becomes a temple where they together approach God in the worship of a holy priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices.10

Even better are the words of Albert Barnes:

It is fairly implied here that it was supposed there would be united or family prayer. The apostle is speaking of ‘dwelling with the wife,’ and of the right manner of treating her; and it is plainly supposed that united prayer would be one thing that would characterize their living together. He does not direct that there should be prayer. He seems to take it for granted that there would be; and it may be remarked, that where there is true religion in right exercise, there is prayer as a matter of course. The head of a family does not ask whether he must establish family worship; he does it as one of the spontaneous fruits of religion—as a thing concerning which no formal command is necessary. Prayer in the family, as everywhere else, is a privilege; and the true question to be asked on the subject is not whether a man must, but whether he may pray.11

Finally, John Brown offers these comments:

There seems in these words a direct reference to family prayers…. If family prayers are hindered, what hope of family prosperity, in the best sense of the words? And if conjugal duty is neglected, how can they but be hindered? They are in danger of being neglected or disturbed, or discontinued. Let, then, Christians husbands, and wives too, guard against everything which may hinder family prayer. Let their whole conduct toward each other look back and forward to the family altar.12

Do you see the point? Peter assumes that we practice family worship, and he assumes that we would never want anything to hinder such family worship. With that assumption in view, Peter is endeavoring to use our commitment to family worship, especially prayer, in order to motivate us to dwell properly with one another. Perhaps one of the reasons why so few husbands and wives in our day are committed to living in harmony together is because so few are committed to worshiping in harmony together. May it never be said that the prayers of our home have been hindered!

Husbands, our wives need us to lead them in prayer. Furthermore, our wives need us to teach them God’s Word. Remember Paul’s word to women in 1 Corinthians 14?

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home ….” (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Obviously, Paul is assuming that the husbands are taking the time to teach their wives God’s word. Dear brothers are we doing that? If not, I believe the Word of God condemns us.

Conclusion

In summary, I think the overall teaching of Scripture supports the practice of some kind of formal family worship, which would include such things as the reading and teaching of Scripture, prayers, and praise. In our next installment, we’ll consider some of the benefits of family worship, which will also (indirectly) support its practice. Finally, we’ll offer some guidelines for conducting family worship in a way that’s edifying and God-honoring.

Notes

10 The Message of First Peter, 135.

11 Barnes Notes on the New Testament, 1417.

12 Expository Discourses on First Peter, 2:235-36.

Bob Gonzales bio


Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological ReviewThe Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.

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