Messed Up Families: There Is Hope

By Mark D. Roberts

January 12, 2016

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Ephesians 5:1-2

Hands surrounding each other forming heartsIn yesterday’s devotion we examined the sad case of Jacob’s family. He who had experienced the divisive power of favoritism in his family of origin ended up playing favorites with his own children. As a result, the majority of his sons hated their own brother, Joseph, and resented their father, Jacob (who is also called Israel).

I ended our last devotion by asking: Is there hope for families? Can families break out of the cycle of dysfunctionality and learn to relate in healthy, holy ways? I noted that I believe the answer to these questions is “yes.” But I would hasten to add that the road to health in our close relationships is not a level, straight one that is easy to travel. It’s more like driving on a turning, twisting mountain road. It takes time, patience, commitment, and, above all, God’s grace.

An essential element of healing in families is acknowledging where things are broken. Often, this is one of the most difficult parts of the healing process. We can have a hard time seeing where we are wounded or how our behaviors wound others. Even if we know where we need healing, sometimes we are reticent to name the problem and get help. Pride can keep us from growing toward wholeness.

One of the greatest gifts God has given us to promote well-being in families is the family of God. Yes, I know that sometimes this family can be pretty messed up. But, when we live in genuine community with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can find healing that eludes us when we live apart from the family of God. Biblical instruction on family life, such as is found in Ephesians 5, assumes that we are deeply engaged with the family of God both as individuals and also as families.

In God’s family, we come to know his transforming love. Ephesians 5:1-2 tells us to “be imitators of God” and “live in love.” Notice, however, that this command is based on the love of God for us. We are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” We are to “live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” God’s love for us in Christ provides a model for us to imitate. It also offers an experience of grace-filled, sacrificial, self-giving love that transforms our hearts. Renewed by God’s love for us, we become people who imitate God by loving others.

Everything we read about family life in Ephesians 5 and 6 depends on the first two verses of chapter 5. We can have hope for families because of God’s love in Christ. We can break the cycle of dysfunctionality through “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). We can form healthy families as we experience the love of God in the family of faith.

Of course, much more could be said about this and needs to be said. For now, however, let me encourage you to reflect on how God’s love in Christ is transforming you and your closest relationships, including those of your family.


So, how is God’s love in Christ transforming you? Can you think of any ways in which you are more loving because God is at work in you?

How is God’s love in Christ transforming your closest relationships, including those in your family?

As you reflect on the cross of Christ, what is God saying to you about your relationships? How might you live as an embodiment of the cross?


Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us more than we can fully grasp. Thank you for revealing your love through Christ, through his death for us on the cross. Thank you for inviting us to receive and live in your love. Thank you for transforming us and our relationships as we experience your love for us in Christ.

Help us, Lord, to make your love the foundation of our family life. By your grace, may we learn to imitate you by living in love for our spouses, children, parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

Help us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to share your love within the family of God. May our relationships, including those in our individual families, be shaped by our life together in your family. Amen.


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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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