I used to think of my university days as my ‘golden age’ of evangelism. I was soaking up great Bible teaching and meeting with other young Christians. I was all fired up to tell people about Jesus. And I did.
I was (perhaps stubbornly) opposed to ‘walk up’ evangelism, so I used to practise ‘sit down’ evangelism instead. I would sit down on a bench or on the train home from Uni and pray for opportunities to talk to friends and strangers. Every week I would have at least one conversation about the gospel; every few months I would find myself giving away another Bible.
When I became a mother twelve years ago, my world shrank considerably. My focus was now primarily on the people within our household. I wasn’t out and about crossing paths with strangers; I certainly wasn’t catching the train and handing out Bibles. It felt like I had stopped doing evangelism.
But as I’ve reflected more on the Bible’s teaching, I’ve realised that, actually, loving my family is not taking me away from evangelism. Loving my family is evangelism. Living in right relationship with the people in our household shows a watching world how good it is to live in right relationship with our Creator.
Jesus said: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:16) God sets his people apart to live his way so that others might be attracted to God and the gospel. Evangelism—convincing others to glorify their Creator through Christ—includes not just our words but also our deeds. And this starts in the home.
Living in right relationship with the people in our household shows a watching world how good it is to live in right relationship with our Creator.
The following reflection on the Ten Commandments is based on a study from my new digital resource, Families in God’s Plan: 12 Foundational Bible Studies, available now from Youthworks Media.
A Kingdom of Priests
When the nation of Israel was born, this is what God said to his people:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exod 19:4–6)
Israel would be holy to God, and, as priests, represent him to the rest of the world. God went on to give Israel the Law, beginning with the Ten Commandments, which spelled out exactly how Israel were to live as those set apart. While Christians are bound by only two laws—to love God and neighbour (Matt 22:37–40)—the Ten Commandments were reaffirmed by Jesus and the Apostles as an enduring application of these laws (see Rom 13:8–10).
Being God’s holy people begins with right worship of the only true God who created the world and saved his people: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3) God is jealous for his people’s undivided worship—he cannot be worshipped through finite images (Exod 20:4–6). The only worthy “image” of God is his people; we are meant to reflect him in the world so that eventually all people will be blessed. This is reinforced by the third commandment, which, when translated literally, describes God’s people as his name bearers: “You shall not bear God’s name in vain”. (Exod 20:7)
So how do families fit into God’s plan to be glorified in the world?
Glorifying God by Household
According to the fourth commandment—“Remember the Sabbath day”—representing God includes following the pattern of work and rest he set at creation. But notice who is meant to stop work: “Neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals…” (Ex 20:10). Work is not just a solitary, individual pursuit. Rather, in biblical times (and throughout most of history), the primary economic unit was the household, with all members (including children) working together and resting together, to the glory of God.
Being God’s holy people also means having right relationships with others, beginning with our family. The very first commandment that concerns human relationships is “Honour your father and your mother.” (Exod 20:12) Parents represent God—his life-giving provision, his love, his word and his authority—and so they deserve their children’s honour. Honouring our earthly parents points to our heavenly Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” (Eph 3:14–15)
The seventh commandment—”You shall not commit adultery”—protects the human relationship at the heart of every family: marriage. The ideal foundation for the family is a lifelong, exclusive commitment between a man and a woman, which represents to a watching world God’s covenant with his people.
The remaining commandments demonstrate the values that are to characterise God’s holy people in their households and society: respect towards the life and property of others; truthfulness; and contentment (Exod 20:13–17).
Families are the primary vehicle through which these distinct values—right worship and right relationships—are passed on from one generation to the next. Moreover, the second commandment warns if parents chose to “hate” God by neglecting to worship, trust and obey him, it would affect any living descendants (up to four generations) who followed their parents away from God (Exod 20:5). But God’s grace is greater: he promised to show love to a thousand generations of those who would love and obey him (Exod 20:6).
Families are the primary vehicle through which these distinct values—right worship and right relationships—are passed on from one generation to the next.
Households in the Church
The Ten Commandments show how godly family relationships are meant to bring glory to God in the world. Honouring your parents, being faithful to your spouse and teaching your children to honour God is evangelism to a watching world. But this principle is not confined to the Old Testament. Notice how Peter picks up the language and themes of Exodus 19 in describing the Church:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Pet 2:9–12)
And what does this look like in everyday life? Right relationships in the family and household (1 Pet 2:13–3:7). 1 Peter and the other ‘household codes’ of the New Testament (Eph 5:21–6:9 and Col 3:18–4:1) help us see good family relationships adorn the gospel and bring glory to God in the world. On the contrary, “anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8)
Good family relationships adorn the gospel and bring glory to God in the world
A New Evangelistic Mindset
At the end of last year, my husband and I made the difficult decision to move our three eldest children to a new school. We moved them out of a church school where most families—and increasingly the school executive—did not share our values, and into a Christian school which has the stated aim of partnering with Christian parents to raise their children in Christ.
As we met with the friends we were leaving behind, I wasn’t sure how they would respond. How would changing schools impact our witness? Would they be turned off the gospel by our ‘intolerance’ of the school’s increasingly secular values?
The opposite was true. In fact, the families we had got to know over the years deeply respected the way we were raising our children in line with our values. They expressed admiration for our decision and the thoughtful and transparent way we had made it. One mother even told us she had deliberately encouraged her son to remain friends with ours, because she felt our son was being “raised right”.
In a world where many families are pulling apart at the seams, Christian families have an opportunity to stand out like a beacon on a hill. By honouring God above all and teaching our children to do the same; by working and resting together; by cultivating honour towards parents; and by displaying respect and faithfulness in marriage, we can show the world the beauty of the gospel.
It isn’t talking to strangers or handing out Bibles. But developing godly family relationships is evangelism. As we persevere in loving our families, let’s pray the people around us “though they accuse us of doing wrong … may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet 3:12)
Postscript. As some commenters have noted, this article does not offer a comprehensive doctrine of evangelism, but rather emphasises one aspect of it—the witness of our home lives—as an application of the Bible verses examined above. As we love our families, we should also “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, this is what I have experienced, and sought to describe, in my closing example.
To explore more of what the Bible says about family life, download your copy of Families in God’s Plan: 12 Foundational Bible Studies.