The family has been described as “the laboratory for soul work.” 1 In truth, the mundane routines of family life make up the informal curriculum that shapes our children’s values and beliefs, and reinforces their habits and behaviour. If adults “blow their top” in frustration and anger, then the informal curriculum states that such behaviour is permissible when we don’t get our way. If parents show love and affection to their children only when their academic performance hits the mark, then the informal curriculum states that love is conditional on performance. If parents treat a domestic helper or service staff rudely or unfairly, the informal curriculum states that it is permissible to take advantage of those who are weaker. If what is being lived out in family life is clearly at odds with Christian teachings, then “Christianity” will be perceived as being a “Sunday programme” and irrelevant to daily life. This would similarly apply in the context of our spiritual family, that is, our ministries, small groups and the church. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart, “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)
On a hillside, near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, Christ’s “ideal for every citizen of God’s kingdom.” 2 In the Beatitudes, Jesus announces that true blessedness is found when we learn to live closely aligned to God’s character and truth.
What would it look like to be a Beatitude-centred family?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3).
Beatitude-centred families are acutely aware of their desperate need for Christ. After all, what is the point of gaining the whole world, and losing our soul (Matt 16:26)? Only Christ can fill the deep longings of the human soul. Instead of allowing material and educational aspirations or human wants and desires to dictate the priorities and patterns of family life, parents of Beatitude-centred families intentionally nurture their children to satisfy their spiritual hunger in Christ (lest they seek satisfaction in unholy sources). Beatitude-centred families establish family traditions, such as family devotions and prayer, that reinforce dependency and trust in Christ. Beatitude-centred families do not compromise on active participation in the worship and community life of the church. Instead of simply “attending and leaving” church services weekly, they view themselves as being an integral part of the church, the body of Christ, and they seek to edify and serve the other parts.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matt 5:4).
The “mourning” here reflects the cry in Psalm 51:17: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Beatitude-centred families cultivate a culture where recognising and confessing one’s flaws and failings in repentance is encouraged and affirmed. Parents model this by being willing to admit their shortcomings and reflect repentance before their children. Further, when the child makes mistakes, instead of reacting in harsh anger or punishment, parents patiently help their child understand where he or she has fallen short of God’s standard, and then discipline them lovingly. Through this, children become more open to sharing their stumbles and struggles, as they take ownership of their own faith journey. Beatitude-centred families also mourn in solidarity with the hurting, wounded and vulnerable of the world through prayer and also through acts of kindness, generosity and compassion.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).
Beatitude-centred families treat each other with gentleness and humility, even in times of great trials, anxiety and stress. They take special care to avoid being curt, harsh or impatient, especially when relating to elders (with deteriorating health), distracted children or domestic helpers, who may be slower to understand and respond. Parents refrain from “talking down” or “dictating orders” to their adolescent children to avoid causing resentment and rebellion. Instead, they seek to coach them within the context of a loving relationship and through role-modelling. Beatitude-centred families are resilient because they can express ideas and feelings openly, gently and lovingly in a safe environment (without fear of reprisals or judgement), and hence are able adapt to life’s challenges and interruptions.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matt 5:6).
Beatitude-centred families believe that it is more important to cultivate one’s inner qualities and attributes to be more like Christ than pursuing, at all cost, career success, academic excellence, material wealth or the affirmation of others. Hence, parents make it clear to their children that they value Christian virtues such as love, diligence, faithfulness, integrity, self-discipline and graciousness more than grades, awards or achievements (not that these are not important or shouldn’t be celebrated).
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matt 5:7).
Beatitude-centred families show mercy because Christ mercifully forgave all of us. Family members do not hold on to unforgiveness or resentment against one another by readily practising mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, being fully aware that no one is perfect except God. Beatitude-centred families also look beyond their own self-interests and make space to extend mercy and compassion in tangible ways to serve and bless others through hospitality and acts of kindness. This can begin by caring for the seniors and sick in the extended family. The family can also serve together by blessing the weak and vulnerable in their neighbourhood or serving with Wesley’s COSC ministry.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matt 5:8).
Beatitude-centred families intentionally read and study the Word to be sanctified by the truth (John 17:17), thereby growing in discernment as to what is pure and what is not amidst today’s fast-changing and entertainment saturated world. They do so at family devotions and also informally (such as over the dinner table) as and when real-life issues arise. The practice of holiness in daily living by family members is encouraged and supported through prayer, affirmation and accountability.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt 5:9).
Conflict to one degree or another is a daily fact of life among children growing up in a family home. Beatitude-centred families believe in settling differences peacefully. Members play a proactive role in facilitating the blessed process of peacemaking and reconciliation: when friction occurs, smooth it over; when tensions mount, help them dissipate.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (Matt 5:10-11).
The intergenerational transmission of Christian beliefs and values in the family is being sabotaged by materialism, secularism and negative media influences, amongst other deadly threats. Much of secular culture is not only contrary but in direct opposition to Kingdom values.
Beatitude-centred families will not compromise Christ out of fear of rejection, reprisal or persecution. Holding on to God’s unchanging and unshakable Word, they seek to be salt and light, a city on a hill that will never be hidden, for the sake of the glory of Christ.
The above is by no means comprehensive. It simply seeks to paint a vision of what a Beatitude-centred family might look like. Every family needs to take hold and apply the Beatitudes for their own unique journey. Discipleship begins at home.
In conclusion, the journey of growing to be a Beatitude-centred family is not a “silver bullet” to raising the perfect children or having the perfect family. Life is messy, and family life is messy. However, when you choose to follow Christ, rest assured that “Jesus is with us always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). His peace will be with us, for peace is not the absence of problems but the presence of Jesus.
1 Marjorie J. Thompson, Family the Forming Center (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1989), 23.
2 John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Leicester, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 31.
Read also: A Family Set Apart