Large Question Mark and a Questioning Man
The Church, The Home and The Nation

What Is the Home?

Author: Ray C. Stedman

A number of years ago there was a special act of Congress passed unanimously by both houses of Congress which created a special body of men, a delegation who were sent over to France. There they searched through several cemeteries in France until they found a grave that had been unmarked, but they established whose grave that was and gained permission from the French authorities to disinter the body and they brought it back to the United States. And when the body of that man was landed in New York City it was welcomed by a special band, the body was carried in state and the casket was displayed to open public for a day. Then it was re-interred in the United States and a monument was erected over that man’s grave.

The name of the man was John Howard Payne. The deed for which all this honor was given was that that man had been the author of the song Home Sweet Home. By this means the United States Government paid honor to the concept of the home in our national life. That story reflects the importance of the home. The home was designed by God Himself and it was intended by Him to be the basic unit of government in life and the source from which all human values would spring. As such, it is of tremendous importance for our consideration. And so in this series on the church and the home and the nation we want to spend this time considering what is the ideal home.

There is an experiment going on today in communist countries, especially in Red China, to destroy if possible, the home. Russia tried this, and China is presently trying it with the idea of doing away with family ideals and ideas and putting people into communes where children are raised from infancy by the state and the family life is broken up. There is no experiment quite so thoroughly doomed to failure as that one. The Russians, when they tried it, found it wouldn’t work and they had to retreat from it, and even the Chinese are already discovering that it cannot be made to work. The ties that make a home, and that make men seek for a home are imbedded in human nature by divine fiat of the Creator and none of the rules and legislation of earth can change that.

And so in view of this tremendous importance of the home, I don’t think it is any exaggeration to say that the weakening of the American home is the most serious problem that we face as a nation. We are facing some serious problems today but more serious than Cuba or Berlin or Vietnam or any other international relationship is the problem that is widespread in our country today. It is the disintegration, the weakening of the American home.

I know that we all recognize that it is easy to come by the outward essentials of the home. I saw a cartoon one day in which a young couple said that they were just starting out their life with the bare necessities, a bedroom, a sink, and a television set. There are of course more outward essentials to a home, but they’re not too difficult to come by these days. We need a house, we need furniture, we perhaps need a car, and we need clothes and food. And having these things we think we have a home. Unfortunately this has been the basic concept of a home in many people’s minds. I find that many families spend their whole lives simply trying to improve the quality of these things, lift the level of house and furniture and car, clothes and food, and think by that they are improving their home, but they are not at all. They have done nothing for the home. A home with poor quality house and furniture, clothes and food could be just as much a home as that with very expensive types of things. If this is all a home is then the communists of course are right because you can do all of these things more efficiently in a dormitory than you can in a home.

No, we learn from scriptures that homes are not homes unless they involve at least three tremendously important factors. This is what I’d like to give our attention to this morning because the more you have of these three qualities, the more of a home you have. These are the ingredients that make a true home: love, truth and struggle. I’d like to look at those with you this morning.

I don’t have any passage of scripture to expound because all of scripture must bear upon this subject. But as we let our mind run through the teaching of the word of God is must become immediately evident the basic quality of a home is love. A home without love is no home at all; it’s just a place to live, a place to change your clothes and catch a bite to eat and get ready for the next outing. If this is all a home is then a communist dormitory or commune might do just as well. But homes are places where love reigns; otherwise they’re not homes.

Now it begins of course with the love of a man and his wife for each other. That’s the essential of a home. I had the privilege yesterday of standing at a wedding altar and joining together two young people beginning a home. It was obvious they were in love with each other. You could see it in their eyes, you could see it in their faces as they exchanged vows. You could see it reflected in every word they said. This is the true beginning of a home and as the children come along in homes, that love broadens out to include every single child. There seems to be no limit to the degree that love can be expanded to include a child. One child gets all the love of the parents, two get all the love equally, three get all the love. Each one gets all the love, and like God’s love for us it seems inexhaustible. I was amazed this week to run across a newspaper clipping that told about a woman who had had two hundred and seven children in her home, and she evidently had love enough to encompass all of them.

Now here’s the problem in many, many homes today. Love basically is gone, or it was never there to begin with. And each party in the home is concerned with their own interests and has forgotten that the basic ingredient essential to home life is to be concerned with each other’s interests instead. Many homes exist on the basis of trying to preserve order if nothing else. And many people I’ve had the occasion to talk with along this line in counseling have reflected the idea that if we just provide the essentials, that is in terms of food and clothing and furniture and so on, and trying to keep order so there is a form of government that exists, this ought to be enough for a home. It never is.

I think of the man who had a military background and he formed a habit of getting his family up every morning and dispensing orders, lining them up and giving them orders for the day. He would give them out and say, Any questions? And for the most part no one dared ask any questions. But after several long years of this finally his eight-year-old boy raised his hand when he said Any questions? The father said to him, All right, what do you want to know? The boy said, How do you get out of this outfit? (Laughter) You can’t blame him for asking that!

No the problem you see with many homes is that they think there is love but it’s only self concern, and love, or what makes up love, is a misunderstood quality. Unfortunately under the perverted impact of much of Hollywood’s production we have very false concepts of love. We think that love is sort of a warm feeling, an itchy feeling around your heart that you can’t scratch or something like that. As the little jingle has it, Love is such a funny thing, it works just like a wizard, it winds itself around your heart and nibbles at your gizzard. And this low concept of love can hardly be equated with what scripture talks about.

Love is self giving, and every manifestation of love on the part of God is a manifestation of the giving of Himself without reserve. That’s what love is. If we’re not giving ourselves, we’re not loving in terms the scripture uses. I think the most frequent and common and most easily recognized form of that kind of love is simple courtesy. I’m appalled, frankly, as I do marital counseling from time to time, at the basic lack of simple courtesy in homes today, just being kind to one another, courteous to one another.

The most deadly enemy of love in the home is the attitude that so frequently is found, Well I’m home now, I can do as I please. I can relax and let down my hair and everybody has to put up with what I am. Now you wouldn’t do that with your friends, you wouldn’t do that with strangers. But strangely enough we reverse all our values with our loved ones, the ones who mean the most to us. We think they have to put up with our unseemliness and our irritability, and all our little habits we don’t show to others. And this is what destroys many homes.

Love in the home is that thoughtfulness of someone else that manifests itself in being courteous to them. I’m amazed sometimes at the way husbands and wives talk to each other, the sarcasm that drips from their tongues as they speak to each other, and also with children. And this is one of the major causes of failure in the manifestation of love in the home.

Now this doesn’t begin by making demands that everybody else be courteous to you. It begins by trying to be courteous to others and if you are going to go home now and set your home in order by insisting that everybody be courteous to you, you’ll never get anywhere. You have to start showing courtesy to them and keep it up regardless of what they do. That’s the activity of love; it’s true to itself regardless what the other person does. Love always manifests itself in that self-giving way. Love is also acceptance of another person regardless of certain irritating habits that they have. And all of us have these, you know. It isn’t a question of some of us being pure and free; we all suffer from the same faults. We see them clearly in other people but we don’t recognize them so easily in ourselves.

I think of that story Dr. Ironside used to tell of an English bishop that was travelling by boat from England to America. He went down to be assigned to a state room, got the number from the purser and went up to the room. In a few moments he came back and said to the purser, Purser, I’m sorry, I’d like to ask to be assigned to a different room. He said, I’ve just been up there and I’ve seen the person you put me with and frankly, if there ever was a man with a criminal face, it’s that man! I just don’t see how I can spend this voyage with a person like that. Would you assign me to another room? The purser said, Why yes. bishop, we’d be glad to because you see the other man has just been down and asked to be changed for the same reason. (Laughter)

It’s a healthy thing to remember that the habits we see in someone else that irritate are also reflected in us. And love is simply accepting another person, being willing to live with them and love them and like them despite the fact that they occasionally irritate or don’t do things the way we like. It’s this readiness of love to accept another that is its basic quality. This is why I think Christians have, of course, the greatest possibility for a happy home, at least they should have. Because Christians are continually experiencing this kind of love from God. He accepts us, doesn’t he? He loves us; he doesn’t get sarcastic with us or wax philosophical, nor treat us with disdain. He loves us even though our behavior doesn’t meet with His approval, but His love is very real and we know it and sense it, and this is what love is. It’s not always approval, it can’t always be that, but it’s always acceptance regardless, and this is why the scriptures say, Husbands love your wives even as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it. Accept her, and treat her as honored and precious. And wives are also to love their husbands in the same way, not because they always act lovely or lovable, but because they are accepted as such; that’s what love is.

Love is making time to be with one another, to talk to one another, to share one another’s interests, otherwise how can love be self-giving? Self-giving requires time, and in our modern homes this is one of the major problems. There’s so little time to be together. And I think if the home begins to suffer in this respect then time must be made to be together in order that love may have its healing effect. We need to talk and share and work together, and the happiest homes are always homes where the family makes the effort to be together and to share together. Now again, this doesn’t come by demanding time, it comes by starting it yourself, giving time. As you begin this in your home, it makes it easier for the rest in the home to share, as well. So love is the first ingredient of an ideal home.

The second is equally important: truth. The basic element of happiness, as you have discovered in your own lives, is honesty. And that’s why hypocrisy, deceit, two-timing, and lying; all of these are the great enemies of the home and ultimately will destroy a home if permitted to continue over any length of time. This is why our homes ought to be places where we look at life as it really is.

The Bible declares to us and life itself confirms to us by experience that the society in which we live, the world in which we carry on and live, is based upon certain fundamental concepts that are false; they’re lies. Scripture declares over and over again, that the philosophy of life which we pick up from our schools, educational facilities of our day and just general living, are based upon lies. We have to learn that they are lies. We don’t learn that at school; much of school is based upon a lie, though not all of it, by any means. Education is the search for truth. But nonetheless, the basic concepts are lies and we must learn this. The world around us is continually trying to squeeze us into its mold and that mold is based upon a fantasy, an illusion. The function of the home, under God, is to expose this fantasy, to unveil its falseness and set the record straight for everyone. The home can be very effective in this regard.

I read recently of a father whose teenage daughter was afflicted with one of these modern hairstyles, (laughter) and she felt under pressure to wear it this way because everyone is doing it. The father lived with this situation for some time and then one day as his daughter was seated at the table, he took her hair and began to rearrange it with a comb, set it a certain way, tied it up in the back and put in a bobby-pin or two, then had her look in the mirror. She was very wary, and said it would never do. But he said to her, Well I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you will wear that hairstyle to school for a week and never say anything to anyone about it, I’ll give you ten dollars. Well, the girl went to school with it and confessed that she was embarrassed almost to the point of tears on the first day and could hardly stand to look around her so embarrassed she was. On the second day she noticed that others were beginning to notice her and she didn’t seem to be ostracized. By the third day she realized she received a couple of compliments on it. On the fourth day, two or three other students showed up at school with the same hairstyle. And by the end of the week it was the rage! (Laughter) That father had taught his daughter by that simple act to set her free from the tyranny of the crowd and the lie that popularity demands conformity. And he was a wise father.

Now this is what the home is for, to expose the falsehoods by which society lives and which perverts it and distorts it and ultimately destroys it. The home should be the place where fuzzy values are set straight, false outlooks are corrected, and shoddy practices are exposed. I’ll never forget the anguished look in a mother’s eye who brought to me her teenage daughter’s diary that she had accidentally opened and read. (Laughter) She found in it the account of some terrible immorality in her Christian daughter’s life, and she was in a morass of agony over this. She said to me, How could this happen? We didn’t want to pry into her life, we didn’t want to ride herd on her, we trusted her! I said to her, Yes I know you did, and it’s right to trust young people. They need to be trusted, but the trouble is you didn’t lay a basis for the trust. Trust must be established, a basis for it must be laid first. There must be smaller tests that precede it that make it possible to trust. You were trusting blindly without any reason for doing so. Trust must be laid in advance, and it’s the job of parents to put their children into situations by which they can test and build up a basis of trust so when they come to teenage they can then be trusted. She learned that lesson the hard way.

Now here’s the trouble again, I think. Instead of using our homes to expose falsehood and to set values straight, in many homes we allow the world’s lies right into the home with no effort at correction. I know you are thinking of television and television is one way by which the continual falsehoods of society come flooding into our homes. By that I don’t mean to imply we should throw our television sets out. I find television is a valuable tool to teach what the falsehoods are and if used rightly it can be a very valuable means of instruction along this line. Rather than turning off a program that you don’t like or that you feel offensive and not permitting your children ever to see it, I would suggest that perhaps you call them to it, show it to them and help them to see what’s wrong with it as you go along. One of the great problems in this respect is the tendency on the part of Christians to over protect, to hide children from exposure to the way the world is and therefore they have no basis for correction or defense.

Now I think it needs to be said that because the home is the place of truth then responsibility for education along this line rests with the home, not with the schools. Schools are a convenient pooling of resources by which parents by and large have gotten together and established a system for the children to be taught, and I would in no way recommend we do away with schools. They are a valuable part of our lives. But if the school either can’t or won’t teach the truth of life as it is then it must be meant for the home. The ultimate responsibility for unveiling falsehood lies with the home, not with the school. If we can change the school, fine, let’s do it, but if it can’t be done it still remains the parent’s responsibility. I ran across this quotation from Edgar Guest some time ago that I thought was very wonderful. He said these wise words:

If I don’t help my boy to grow up right I’ll call myself a failure no matter how much money I make or how big a reputation I get. I have a number of tasks to do all of which I should like to do well; to be a failure in any one of them would be disappointing. Yet I could bear that without whimpering if I were sure I had not failed my boy. Not so much of me in the bank and more of me and of my best for the lad is what I would like to have to show at the end of my career. For me to succeed as a father he must succeed. Unless my boy comes to manhood fit for the respect of his fellow man, I shall have been a failure. The glory of our handwork lies not in ourselves. but in our children.

Now in the emphasis on truth, the Bible of course plays a tremendous part because in this book and in no other place in the world but this book. We have truth undiluted, unsullied in its pure form. Here we see things exactly as they are and to me it’s a great and exciting value of this book that it’s continually tearing away the veil from some alluring thing that looks good but on the inside is wrong. The scripture is taught by the Holy Spirit. It’s the only thing I know that speaks the truth in every situation and as such belongs in the center of the home. The Lord Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. That is, I am the absolute unsullied representation of things as they really are, as God is the ultimate reality. I am the ultimate expression of all that He is. Therefore Paul says in Colossians: In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is why the scriptures, the Bible, must be central in our home, not in some mechanical way of reading, but in genuinely laying hold of its values and putting them to work in the home. The purpose of truth is to set free. Jesus said, You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. And if the Son shall make you free it will be a superlative freedom. You shall be free indeed.

Now the third element that is necessary for a proper home is struggle. And here again one of the most deadly enemies of a successful home is the attitude that parents often take, I don’t want my children to go through what I had to go through. I’m going to make things easy for them, I’m going to let them have things that I never had. Now no one is suggesting here that we return to the extreme hardship that some of us perhaps had to go through in our younger years, but to go to the opposite extreme is even more deadly. It’s far better to endure extreme hardship than it is to make life so easy that there is no struggle at all, for nothing destroys character like the absence of struggle in human life. I’m strongly convinced that the major source of weakness in our Christian homes is the desire of parents to keep children from making mistakes. We think that if we can keep them from making mistakes until they are grown up, they won’t make any mistakes at all, but this is a fallacy. What happens is that they grow up and they have no defenses at all with which to meet the temptations to make mistakes, and they make them all around, every day, and they have no way of overcoming.

You see, we must make mistakes, and the glory of the scripture and the way of our Lord’s treatment of the disciples is to see how He let them make mistakes. He let them go into difficulty. Do you remember He said to Peter one day, Peter, Satan has desired to have thee that he might sift thee like wheat. Evidently He had granted permission for Satan to have Peter and to sift him, tempt him, test him and try him. And He said, I pray for you, Peter, that your faith fail not. He stood by, figuratively, with His arms folded and let Peter go down into the crushing mill of temptation and experience the awful pressure until he denied his Lord and cursed and swore and fled into the night. But when he came back, he came back repentant and ready to listen. And our Lord was able to give him all that He wanted to give.

I have been impressed anew by that marvelous story our Lord told of the prodigal son, how that father represents God our Father. When his boy came to him and said, Father, give me my inheritance, he did not even argue, but said, All right son, here it is. The boy took it and went off into the far country and the father didn’t even try to keep him from going. He knew that he had to go, and to try and keep him from going, would have destroyed the boy’s love for him and would have made it impossible for him ever to come to truth. Now we must let our children make mistakes. The secret is, let them make them when they are young and small. The principles they learn do not destroy their lives when they’re not involved in such a wide area of activity and relationship with others that they upset the whole apple cart. Let them make them when they are young, when the situation is small. You can learn the same principle out of a small situation as you can out of a large, terrible, troublesome one. We make a great mistake when we keep our children from making mistakes. Don’t try to keep them from tears or from disappointment or from heartbreak. Help them through these times, prepare them for life, because life is going to be rough and it will pull no punches and the whole purpose of a home is to prepare children for life. This is why discipline is so necessary.

What is discipline? It’s programmed struggle, it’s planned struggle. An athlete disciplines himself by setting up certain obstacles and opposing to his body certain forces, struggling against odds that he might discipline his body and make it therefore more effective. That’s what discipline is. Therefore a parent that withholds discipline, wise, loving discipline from his child, is destroying that child, weakening him, tearing away his foundation making it impossible for him to grow in strength. As we know, character is only built by struggle. The scripture says that. It says that tribulation produces patience, and patience, experience, or another translation says character. Patience works character, and character, hope, and hope doesn’t make ashamed. That is, when you come to the end of the process there is something to be proud of, something to be glad over and that’s what tribulation is for. Struggle is part of life and though it needs to be controlled in the home it ought definitely to be introduced in order to develop character. And therefore one expression of love will be wise discipline.

You know part of the problem of our modern homes is the application of a little bo peep philosophy to raising children. Leave them alone and they’ll come home — but they won’t. In contrast a teacher has written this little rhyme:

I must not interfere with any child I have been told, to bend his will to mine, or try to shape him through some mold of thought. Naturally as a flower he must unfold, yet flowers have the discipline of wind and rain, and though I know it gives the gardener much pain, I’ve seen him use his pruning shears to gain more strength and beauty for some blossom bright, and he would do whatever he thought right to save his flowers from a deadening blight. I do not know, yet it does seem to me that only weeds unfold just naturally.

It’s recorded in the Gospel of Luke that the boy Jesus grew strong in spirit and in favor with God and man. What a wonderful word. He strengthened out in Spirit is the literal rendering, and in favor with God and man. Why? Because He was the Son of God? No. His deity was laid aside; that is the manifestation of it or the value of it, in His coming to earth. It was because God had picked a home where love and truth and discipline were present. And in the growing of that lad in Nazareth, these things being brought to bear upon His life had their inevitable effect upon His perfect human life. He strengthened out in spirit and was made strong and thus won favor with God and man. This is what our homes should be.


Our Father, we thank thee for the privilege of having a home where all of us belong, a place of love which calls back to mind the tenderest dearest memories of our lives because there we were loved. We thank thee for the privilege of establishing homes, we pray that we may fulfill all that you desire for them, that our home should be such a place that we talked about this morning where love dwells, where truth is found, where struggle is introduced, that there may be strength and favor with God and man. We thank thee for this look together at this. We know as we walk in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit these very things are introduced to us and we pray that we may be ready to receive them and put them to practice, in Jesus’ name, Amen.