Acts 2:39 says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” This verse encourages us to develop families that reach both near (our own households) and far (those outside of the faith). I call this the Grover principle because of the skit above. Here are three biblical foundations to keep in mind as you mobilize your family for far and near.
(1) The universe is an orphanage. From the instant that Eve took her first taste of forbidden fruit, we have all been turned into orphans, abandoned by a deadbeat dad of the most devilish sort (John 8:41-44). There are no natural-born children of God among us; there are only ex-orphans, brought into God’s family through divine adoption (Gal. 3:26; John 11:51-52; 14:18; 1 John 3:1). For that reason, every child of God is called to care for orphans–including “spiritual orphans,” children whose parents are not yet believers. To bypass the spiritual orphan in favor of whole and healthy families is to neglect a heartbeat that has long marked the rhythms of God’s redemptive plan (Exod. 22:22; Isa. 1:17; James 1:27). If we forget that the universe is an orphanage, it’s easy to neglect those that are far away.
(2) Every child, beginning with your own, is a potential or actual brother or sister in Christ. The Gospel calls us to see every person as an orphan because of humanity’s fall and as a potential brother or sister through Jesus Christ (Matt. 12:49-50; Rom. 8:14-17; Heb. 2:11-12). The work of the Gospel begins with those nearest to us, in our households and neighborhoods, but then moves beyond our present circumstances to reach the uttermost parts of the earth (see Acts 1:8; 2:39, 46; 26:20). That’s what the church father Augustine of Hippo was hinting at when he suggested, “Since you cannot do good to all, pay special regard to those who, by the opportunities of location, time, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you”—knowing that God himself is at work in placing these persons near to us. For Christian parents, the nearest unbelievers or young believers are typically their own children. And so, Christian parents are called to engage actively in their children’s spiritual formation–but this engagement does not end with their own children. Every child is a potential or actual brother or sister, not only the children of believers but also of unbelievers. Until we grasp this truth, we will miss opportunities with those that are near as well as those that are far.
(3) The Christian home is a training ground for mission. The Christian home is a context for training in God’s ways (Eph. 6:4); it is “a school for character,” in the words of Martin Luther. Because the home is a divinely-designed training ground, Christian parents must function as primary faith-trainers in their children’s lives. But the goal of this training must be clear. Families must be outposts of God’s mission in the world. Parents teach their children the gospel with hopes that their children will know the Lord, be changed, and then tell others, including the next generation after them, as the Psalmist says, even children not yet born (Psalm 78:1-7). Well discipled homes are not the final goal of God’s work in Jesus Christ; if your children stand beside you in the heavenly realm, they will not do so as your children but as sisters and brothers in a new family, the family of God. Since the Christian home is not the final goal of God’s plan, family ministry in our churches remains incomplete until it results in the proclamation of the Gospel beyond our homes. Family ministry that never reaches beyond our own households is like an unending regimen of spring training that never results in a real game. When families are mobilized “for you and for your children and for those who are far off,” the goal becomes far bigger than healthier families. The goal is for God’s truth to be rehearsed in homes and reinforced at church so that the Gospel is revealed in all the world.