Family Love: Applying God’s Word to Cultivate Love in Your Family
Most of us wouldn’t hesitate to say we love our family. We may list reasons why we love each member of our family, reflect on shared experiences, or talk about the connection and bond we have with our family members. However, if we expand our definition of family to include our extended family, while we still may say we love them, most of us would identify at least one family member that we just struggle to enjoy – the crazy aunt, the grumpy grandpa, the annoying in-law, the trouble-maker cousin – you know the one(s)! What if we expand our definition of family to include our church family or our community, do we love them well? And what does love really mean?
You see, we cannot truly cultivate love in our family if we don’t first identify who our family is and what love is. This can be a tricky task for Christians because what God says a family should look like usually doesn’t match up with what culture says a family should look like. Additionally, the way God defines love is often not the way culture defines love. Once we understand what a family is and what love is according to God’s Word, we can begin to foster love in our family.
What Is a Family?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives eight different definitions for the word family. Here are a few of them:
- “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children”;
- “any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family”;
- “a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head”
With so many definitions, and each vaguer than the one before, it is easy to be confused about what a family should look like and how it should function. The good news is, when our culture seems to pull us in a million different directions, we can always go back to God’s Word for consistent truths about God’s plan and purpose.
What the Bible Says about Family
The First Family
In Genesis 2, we see the creation of the first family and the roles God appointed to each family member. Man was created to work and tend the garden (v.15) and woman was created to be a helper to the man (v. 18-23). In Genesis 1, we learn that children are part of God’s plan for the family. In verse 28 God says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” Through these verses in Genesis, we see God defines the ideal family as one man and one woman, united in marriage, and their children.
*Note: This was God’s design for family before sin entered the world. Because we live in a world with sin and death, this is not what every family looks like. Regardless of what your family looks like, you can cultivate love within your relationships. The purpose of this article is not to condemn or judge families that look different from God’s ideal family, but to help families grow their love for one another according to God’s Word.
The Bible doesn’t specifically mention much about extended family, however, from the verses that do discuss extended family, we know it is important to God. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Caring for our family is important to God.
Proverbs 17:6 says, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” Our family should bring us joy and we should be proud of our family, especially when there are multiple generations. Every holiday, my grandpa gathers the family to pray before our meal and he takes my grandma’s hand and says, “look what we started.” He is proud and joyful that their love created something so beautiful and from the two of them there are now over 30 of us at family get-togethers.
In Matthew 8:14-15 we learn that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. This event shows Peter’s love and concern for his wife and for his mother-in-law. Jesus also shows compassion and love by healing her. The disciples were not just Jesus’s students, they were like family to Him.
Just as Jesus drew others to Himself, we should build relationships and community within our church. We do this by caring for needs within the church, encouraging one another, and through fellowship. Consider the following verses:
- Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
- If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16)
- Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:10-13)
- And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Jesus gave us a new commandment: love others the way He has loved us (John 13:34). This commandment does not say to just love our family or extended family, or even church family. We are called to love everyone. Through Jesus’s death and resurrection, those who believe in Him have been adopted into the family of God and are now “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). We are all a family. And for the ones who are not a part of the family, we should be loving them so that they would see Jesus through our love and open their hearts to His saving grace.
- Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17)
- For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)
- See also Luke 10:25-37 for the Parable of the Good Samaritan
What Is Love?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides many difference definitions for the word love:
- Strong affections for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
- Attraction based on sexual desire
- Warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
- Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
The word love is so vague in the English language. I can love God, my husband, and coffee, but I don’t love all those things in the same way. To understand family love, we need to consider how God defines love within different contexts.
What the Bible Says About Love
1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God defines love as Himself. God is love. This means we can look at all the characteristics of God and know what it means to love. Many of these characteristics are outlined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Love in the Context of Family
Family ties were extremely important to the Hebrew race. Through the way Jesus respected His parents, attended weddings, mourned with friends, and showed tenderness and affection towards children, it is evident that He appreciated family bonds too. From the verses we looked at earlier regarding the function of the family, we see that family love greatly revolves around respect.
Love in the Context of the Church
Loving our church family can be difficult, especially in larger churches. Love within the church revolves around intentionality. We must be intentional about getting to know our brothers and sisters in Christ and spending time with them outside of church. We must be intentional about showing grace and patience towards those who think differently than ourselves. We must be intentional about serving and meeting the needs within our church. We cannot say we love our church if we are not showing love and care for the people in our church. 1 John 4:20-21 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Love in the Context of Community
Loving the community God has placed us in often looks like meeting physical needs – serving food at a local shelter, donating items to thrift stores, volunteering your time, giving money to local charities. It may also look like speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Love within the community is caring for the orphans and widows and seeking justice for the oppressed and marginalized (Isaiah 1:17).
How to Cultivate Family Love According to God’s Word
The unique thing about families is, we don’t get to choose them! It is easy to love the people who have similar tastes, enjoy the same activities as you, or have the same sense of humor; but it can be more difficult to love those who seem to be nothing like you. So, how do we learn to cultivate love? We start with our why: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) We want to grow our love for one another because the love of Jesus is so overwhelming, that His love should be evident through our lives. As imitators of Christ, we should possess the same attributes outlined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a.
Love is patient and kind.
Be patient. To have patience means to endure. God patiently waits for us to accept His Son (2 Peter 3:9) and He endures all our sin. When we consider the patience God has given us, it seems silly to be annoyed with a toddler’s independence, a grandparent’s story you’ve heard a million times, or the church member who sings off key every week. In response to God’s patience for us, we should practice patience with our family. This may look like refraining from yelling at your toddler who is taking ten minutes to put on their shoes, or smiling and nodding along to your grandparent’s story, or admiring the church member’s devotion to worship, instead of letting these things annoy you.
Be kind. Kindness is not complementing someone just to say something nice. God does not show us kindness by making us feel good about ourselves. Instead, He shows His kindness by extending mercy and grace to us when we are at our worst. Families see each other at their worst. In those moments, it is important for us to be kind to one another and extend the same mercy and grace that God has shown us.
Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.
Do not be envious. Many of us have experienced some sort of rivalry, whether it was with a sibling, spouse, friend, or fellow church member. A little competition can be healthy, but when we find ourselves jealous of other’s skills and talents, it is difficult to love them well. One way to fight jealousy, is by remembering that God has uniquely created and gifted each of us in the way that will bring Him the most glory (1 Peter 4:10). Instead of wishing you were like someone else, thank God for the gifts and talents He has given you, and use those to glorify His name. If your children or friends struggle with this, encourage them by pointing out the ways God has gifted them and help them discover how they can use those things to please the Lord.
Do not boast. Though we all possess gifts and talents, it is important that we do not boast about our gifts or become arrogant. Romans 12:3-6 says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them….” The gifts and talents we have been blessed with are not more important or better than the gifts and talents God has bestowed on others. Using our gifts should always be done in humility and with thanksgiving.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.
Compromise. When two people get married, they bring two different worldviews into one household. If they have children, then they add more opinions to the mix. The same is true of our relationships with extended family, friends, and church – when two or more people come together, it is not a matter of if they disagree, but when. When disagreements arise, it is tempting to believe that we are right, and therefore the other person is wrong. But love does not insist on its own way. We must learn to listen to other’s opinions and beliefs with humility, genuine care, and a desire to know them better. When we do this, we are more likely to work together to find a compromise that is appealing to everyone involved.
Admit when you are wrong. There will be times when we are plain wrong. Our instinctive response is to defend ourselves and we may become irritable or resent the person who called us out on our wrongdoing. However, many times the people who call us on our sin, do so out of love and concern for our well-being. Although it may hurt, we should receive their rebuke with humility and gratitude.
It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Do not say, “I told you so.” We all have those moments; your kid got hurt after you told her for the hundredth time not to jump on the bed or your spouse got lost after he took the “shortcut” instead of following your directions. Our family will mess up and sometimes they will mess up even after you warned them of the consequences of their behavior. In those moments, we don’t want to celebrate their failure with a snide “I told you so.” Instead, we want to offer grace and point them to the truth – you messed up, and there are consequences, but you are still loved and valued, and you are forgiven.
Love bears all things.
Forgive one another. We are all sinners, and just because we care for one another, doesn’t mean we won’t sin against each other. In fact, the ones we love the most are often the ones we hurt the most. A key to cultivating family love is forgiveness. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” It is through our love that we are able to forgive one another, and through our forgiveness that we grow stronger bonds, trust, and care for one another.
Believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Believe in and hope for the best. It is easy to be skeptical of love. We see marriages fall apart, friendships end, churches split, and social injustices happening on a regular basis. However, if we enter relationships with the assumption that love isn’t real, it can’t last, or it isn’t enough, then we set ourselves up for failure. We grow love in our relationships, whether it is in our family, church, or community, by choosing to believe in and see the best in those around us. This doesn’t mean we overlook their mistakes or naively stay in unhealthy relationships, but it means we hope for better days and trust that every relationship and circumstance is part of God’s purpose for our lives. There will be heartbreak and disappointment in our lives, but Christ’s love allows us to endure these things in this life because we have the hope of eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Love never ends.
Commit. So often we see people enter into a relationship with the mindset of “if it doesn’t work out then I can just leave.” This is not God’s design for relationships though. It is not His will for spouses to divorce, children to become estranged, friendships to end, or churches to divide. But, if we do not go into relationships with a mindset of commitment, this is what will happen. God’s love for us is unconditional, unfailing, and unended. There is nothing we can do to take away His love for us, and in response to His great love for us, we should try to love others in the same way.
*Note: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. While it is not God’s design for relationships to end, it is in no way His desire for someone to stay in a situation that is unsafe.
Other Ways to Cultivate Family Love
Respect one another.
Respect within a family can mean many different things. A child shows respect to a parent through obedience. Parents show respect to children by providing clear, consistent rules and discipline, as well as by creating a safe place for their children to voice their concerns, hopes, and fears. Respect can also look like setting and abiding by boundaries. There are things the family will do together, and things they will do separately. There are times to say ‘yes’ and times you need to say ‘no’. Setting boundaries is necessary within your immediate family, extended family, church, and community.
Show an interest in their interests.
Showing an interest in the passions and activities that our family members enjoy displays our love for them. I don’t care much about Baby Shark or enjoy spelling out every other word I speak, but because that what is interesting and important to my children, I sing and spell along with them. Taking the time to go to a family member’s game, listen to them talk about their job, or share their dreams and passions shows you care about what is important to them.
A huge obstacle to quality family time and building real relationships is technology. How often do you text a heart emoji instead of actually verbalizing the words ‘I love you’ or “like” a picture on social media instead of talking to your friend about their experience? Social media and technology have led to watered-down versions of relationships where our love cannot reach its fullest potential. A note to parents – if you want your kids to put down the screens, make sure you put yours down too!
Effective communication actually involves more listening than speaking. Active listening is listening for understanding with genuine concern and interest in the conversation. Effective communication is key to conflict resolution and learning to disagree in healthy and respectful ways. Family meetings, voting, and prayer can all help your family communicate more effectively.
Loving Your Family During Difficult Times
A family that is full of love is not exempt from difficult situations. There will be times you sin against one another and external circumstances that make life hard. If your family is rooted in love, you can make it through those struggles and grow closer to one another.
COVID and Other Trials
This past year, we have seen how the quarantining and isolation required due to the Coronavirus had a huge impact on families. Many families found themselves together all the time. There was no longer the buffer of school and work, but instead they were locked in the house with each other all day, every day. Other people were separated from their family for months due to quarantining, travel bans, and visitation restrictions at nursing homes and medical facilities. During the pandemic there was a world-wide increase in the risk for divorce, child abuse, and depression. It became evident that a strong foundation was vital for a family to survive in the wake of catastrophe.
Even when a global pandemic isn’t threatening your family, there are always obstacles to overcome. Financial struggles, death, disability, mental illness, and so much more can cause stress within the family. It is in these times that the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13 are all the more necessary to help your family not only survive but thrive during difficult circumstances.
One for All and All for One
Whether it is a child struggling with their math homework, a parent who has lost their job, a cousin with a drug addiction, or a friend battling cancer, when one member of the family faces an issue, it impacts everyone in the family. When these things happen, rally around the family member who is struggling to encourage them and remind them that they are loved and cared for. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” In other words, encourage each other so no one would believe the lies of Satan that they are not loved, not worthy, and should give up. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work! Working together not only helps the family member in need but also strengthens the family bond and lessens the burden of each person.
When It Feels Too Hard
If it feels like cultivating love in your family, church, or community is too challenging or if you feel like your love has become stagnant, consider addressing these issues with a counselor. Family counselors can help with conflict resolution and communication, as well as help family members prepare for or cope with changes that come as families mature, grow, or suffer loss. It is important to have a strong support system because cultivating family love can be difficult. If you are looking for help to grow your family love, take the first step and start talking with a JournalOwl Online Counseling Therapist today.
Family love can be cultivated in our immediate and extended families, our churches, and our communities. While this isn’t always easy, it is worth the work to have healthy, fulfilling relationships that reflect the love God has so graciously given to us.
What is Love?
God says that He is love, so it is by His character that we learn the attributes of love. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, we see that love is illustrated by patience, kindness, humility, sacrifice, compromise, forgiveness, hope, and commitment. Love binds us together and rooted in mutual respect and service of one another.
What is a family?
Genesis 1-2 shows that God created families to be comprised of one man and one woman, united in marriage, and their children. This is how the family functions at its best, because it follows God’s design. However, sin, cultural influences, and our own freewill frequently disrupt this design. Divorce, the death of a spouse, infertility, children out of wedlock, the choice to remain single, and the choice to not become a parent all impact what our families look like. God has graciously given us extended family, friends who become like family, the church, and our communities so that we don’t have to go through life alone. Although some of our families may not look like God’s ideal, there is beauty in the creative ways He has provided us with relationships so that we can experience the love of family.
What is the function of the family?
Colossians 3:18-21 sums up familial relationships, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” From this verse we learn the following:
- Wives are to submit to their husbands.
Sometimes we can get hung up on the word “submit”, but Ephesians 5 paints a beautiful picture of the husband-wife relationship. In verse 23-24, wives are instructed to submit to their husbands the way the church submits to Christ. This does not mean that wives have no say in family matters or that they are considered weaker or inferior to their husbands. Genesis 1:27 tells us that both male and female were created in God’s image, therefore one is not superior to the other. In Genesis 2, we see that wives were created to be helpers to their husbands, and this is what submission within the Christian marriage is all about. As a helper, wives should respect their husbands and trust, support, and encourage them to lead their families to lives that are glorifying to God.
- Husbands are to love their wives.
Ephesians 5 continues to explain how husbands should love their wives. Verse 25 says husbands should love their wives like Christ loves the church, even willing to give themselves up for their brides. Verses 26-27 continue by saying husbands should lead their wives to sanctification, meaning they help their wives in their pursuit of Christ and encourage them to be in the Word. If this is how a husband is to love his wife, then it is easy to see how a wife would “submit” to and respect her husband.
- Children are to obey their parents.
Even Jesus, who is God, obeyed His earthly parents (Luke 2:51). A child cannot grow up to be a functioning, law-abiding member of society, if he or she does not first learn obedience at home. Obedience can only happen when there are specific, realistic rules that can be obeyed. Parents must be clear in their expectations and consistent in their discipline of their children.
- Parents should not provoke their children.
Discipline should be fair and done out of love. The discipline of a child should not provoke him or her to anger, shame, or fear for their safety. Discipline should never cause a child to wonder if they are loved by their parent. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Discipline should always lead a child back to Christ.
How do you cultivate love in your family?
We can cultivate love in our families by establishing respect for one another. With respect as a foundation, we are able to engage in effective communication, set boundaries, and cooperate with one another. We can show love to our family members by showing interest in their passions and interests and setting aside time to spend together. Today, one of the biggest obstacles is technology, so it is important that family members make each other feel more valued than their screens. Respect and presence are vital in cultivating family love.
What is the church?
The church is not a building, it is the body of believers who are united through the death and resurrection of their Savior, Jesus Christ.
What is the function of the church?
The church exists for Christians to participate in corporate worship and to receive edification and encouragement. The church is also the means in which God reveals Himself to nonbelievers through evangelism. Though we may have many friends within the church and the church is often involved in serving the community, the primary function of the church is not a social gathering or a charity.
How do you cultivate love in your church family?
We can cultivate love within our church family by encouraging one another, providing for the needs of church members, and through fellowship. We must spend time with the people God has placed in our lives if we want to grow an affection for them. The first step in cultivating love in your church is making a commitment to show up. Make it a priority to be present at worship services, bible classes, and events. Spend time with your church family outside of the church walls. Check in with the elderly and shut-ins who are unable to make it to services. Care for the youth in your congregation by teaching them and being a trusted adult they can turn to with their problems. Cultivating love in your church family greatly depends on your willingness to be present.
What is community?
We typically describe our community as our neighborhood or the city we live in. But in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes it very clear that our neighbor is everyone and our community is everywhere.
What is the function of community?
Communities have five main functions – the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, socialization, social control, social participation, and mutual support. In other words, a community meets the physical and safety needs of its members and provides a way to develop relationships.
How do you cultivate love in your community?
We can cultivate love in our community by seeking justice, standing up for those who are oppressed or marginalized. Providing for the needs of the widows, orphans, homeless, and disadvantaged. We can show love to our neighbors by sharing the gospel with them and imitating the love God has shown us. Cultivating love in your community is dependent on your willingness to serve others and seek justice.
Why is family love important?
Family love is important because it is the way we share the gospel with others. We want to be obedient to God’s call to love our neighbor and to let our light shine so that others may come to know and glorify His name. Love is also how we create bonds with others and develop intimacy and trust within our relationships.
About Kailey Lentsch, MSW
Kailey Lentsch is the Chief Editor of JournalOwl. Her goal is to incorporate her knowledge of mental health and evidence-based techniques with sound biblical theology to provide readers with well-rounded, Christ-centered information and advice.
Prior to becoming a writer, Kailey worked as a community social worker providing counseling and case management for clients at a disability wellness facility. She also taught special education in the autism unit for two years. Kailey stepped away from the classroom to focus on her growing family and to better serve her church and community through volunteer work.
Kailey is a graduate of The University of Central Florida with a master’s degree in Social Work and a certification in Children’s Services. She currently is enrolled in theology courses to expand her Bible knowledge and follow 2 Peter 3:18 by growing “in the grace and knowledge” of Christ.
Kailey and her husband are Florida natives and enjoy spending time with their three kids. They love being outdoors or doing anything sports related.
JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.