I’m sure you’re wondering why, on a Christian Apologetics blog, you are reading a post about Steve Urkel. No worries–I find myself wondering why I am writing it, even as I type the words!
That said, my family and I have been re-watching the hit 90’s show Family Matters, and we are simply awe-struck at how different times were–what seems like only a few years ago.
We will return to apologetics-based content next week, but I wanted to take last week and this week to reflect on the personal, private side of Christian apologetics: Christian life and character.
I truly believe, as crazy as it sounds, that Christians today can learn a lot from the fictional life of the wacky and lovable, Steven Q. Urkel.
I’ll aim to present each of my thoughts, provide biblical context and precedent, and make a relevant application to our lives both as Christians and defenders of the faith we hold precious.
1. Family Matters
In The Private Life of the Preacher, Dr. Kenny Kuykendall argues, “The greatest responsibility you have as a man of God is to be the best husband to your wife, and the best father to your children you can possibly be.”
The show, Family Matters, is titled this for a reason. The writers of the show were smart enough to see the impending detriment to the home the turn of the century would bring.
Today, according to this site which cites the US department of census, 43% of U.S. children live without their father. And, the divorce rate is 50% and climbing (this can be seen with a quick Google search, and should be no surprise).
Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” Arguably, this verse refers to a spiritual inheritance–a heritage of godly influence and upbringing.
Are you giving your family the time and attention they deserve? Has ministry to others become more important than ministry to your own family? This is not the intended order of things, and will–as history has proven time and again–end in disaster for you, your family, and your ministry.
God’s order is clear–steward your home, then steward your ministry. “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5).
2. Character is Key
If there is one thing Steve Urkel had, it was character. Many times, especially in earlier episodes of the show, the writers would use Steve to help someone work through a difficulty or help them realize a character readjustment was needed.
For example, in one early episode he helps a young lady to realize she need not be “easy” in order to find guys to go out on dates with, but rather, that she was valuable—for the person she was—not for what she did. This lesson came directly after Steve himself turned down a date with her, on which she promised he would be “rewarded” for helping her study for a test she passed. This clearly demonstrates character.
This is a biblical principle! The Lord, in instructing Samuel to find and anoint King David said, “…Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
The phrase, “the Lord looketh on the heart” deals with character. Or as I’ve often heard it defined, “who you are when nobody—except the Lord—is looking.” God can see this attribute, and it is on this attribute that the “judgment” (i.e., “looking”) of God works.
Keep in mind—the only reason we can have good character to start with is because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)—something Steve Urkel, refreshingly, is not ashamed of (more on that in a bit).
3. We All Need Grace
In this sense, I am referring to God’s grace, but also the grace of others. Arguably, Steve Urkel is known for nothing if not his clumsy antics, outlandish sayings, and ability to stir up “trouble” at every turn.
Nevertheless, the Winslow family always demonstrates grace with Steve—even if it takes time.
It’s very important to remember that we have no hope, in this life, of being perfect. There will be days when all we do is mess up for seemingly all of our waking hours. Growing up, a buddy of mine used to say, “Well, I reckon’ since today’s not going so well, I’ll just try again tomorrow!” He always said this laughingly, but if we’re honest, we can all identify with that statement.
I can think of many times when I’ve needed heaps of grace from those around me—various teachers, employers, friends, family members—it’s a never-ending list, really. I am thankful for those who have been patient enough with me to teach me something and have given me grace in their sight.
But then, there is no more refreshing grace than that is to be found in the Lord Jesus. I think of Noah. Genesis 6:8 records, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It is this grace that kept Noah and his family while the waves around him destroyed everything alive on the earth.
It is the same grace that was upon the Lord Jesus as He grew “strong in spirit” and was “filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40). And, of course, it is this grace by which we are freely justified “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). As the songwriter rightly called it, “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.”
4. Culture has Changed
The trend of “binge-watching” made possible by companies like Netflix and Hulu, which is what our family is currently doing with Family Matters, gives today’s Christians (and anyone attuned to the cultural climate) a unique glimpse into culture. It was an eighteenth-century Scottish political thinker, Andrew Fletcher, who said, “Give me the making of the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.”
The arts will always—sometimes blatantly, sometimes subtly—reflect the reigning dogmatic philosophy of the day. It is interesting to watch shows like Family Matters which starts in the late 80’s and runs for a decade, because you really see a fast-forward picture of how times change. We are in season five at the time of this writing, and there is already a dramatic difference between seasons five and one.
In the first episodes of the show, I heard “The Lord” mentioned multiple times, prayer said multiple times, and in one particular episode, Steve even goes to church and announces that “He has prayed, opened up his heart, and invited the Lord in.” In these episodes, the name of Jesus was even mentioned a few times. In the last season or two, while good values are still celebrated, God is nowhere to be found.
The Apostle Paul warns Timothy, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).
That this happens is no surprise—indeed, we should heed this same warning Paul gave to Timothy. The key is that we must respond by faithfulness to the Great Commission (Mark 16:15).
5. Values Still Matter
As alluded to in my last point, the show still places a high emphasis on values—despite the downfall of culture all around. And, in a way, its hard to fault Family Matters for portraying cultural downfall. The reality is that it was simply reflecting the real downfall that was happening!
Uniquely, though, characters like Steve Urkel and Carl Winslow, for example, still stood up for living and operating by a higher standard. They messed up on occasion, but for the most part, their characters were known for taking the high road and were able to be instructive towards others.
I’m sure this is an invention of my own mind, but I’d like to believe that the reason Steve, for example, holds ethics and values so high is because of the time when, in the earlier episode I mentioned above, he gave his heart to the Lord.
Family Matters is not a “Christian” show—so we should not expect any sort of overarching Christian theme. Nevertheless, the high emphasis on “good values” leads me to believe that, perhaps, the writers kept his conversion in mind when writing later episodes and developing his character.
Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world…”
It seems that Steve has accepted this gift of grace, and can be seen in the show “denying ungodliness” and living “soberly, righteously, and godly” in his present world, despite no special attention being given to the fact that he is doing so.
6. Life can be Frustrating
If we can draw anything meaningful from the fictional life of Steve Urkel, it is that life can sure be frustrating.
In nearly every episode the viewer is treated to an unfortunate happenstance at the mercy of Steve’s graceless disposition, followed by his classic, rhetorical admission of guilt–“Did I do that?!”
Myriad responses then follow–sometimes, Steve is met with grace; other times, the familiar sound–“Go home, Steve!” Naturally, Steve would take this differently–sometimes, boldly proclaiming, “I don’t have to take this anymore, I’m going home!”; other times, hanging his head in shame with the remorseful reply, “All right…I’ll go home…”
As defenders of Christianity, we face frustration often. How many times have we answered the same arguments and questions over and over, only to be met with the same tired responses of those with hardened hearts.
Nevertheless it is our calling–as Christians–to be apologists, and we must be ready and willing to share and defend the faith one more time in prayerful hope that this time, the Spirit will speak to the heart of the listener.
No matter the source of your frustration–whether it be in evangelism, personal life, professional life–God’s Word has given us a clear directive: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).
We are also instructed not to “be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galations 6:9). God can still use us during times of frustration and sometimes uses our testimony through times of frustration.
The key is to trust that nothing takes God by surprise, and that He can use your circumstances for your good and for His glory.
7. Parents Have a Tough Job
This lesson is one my wife and I are learning from personal experience. With two little boys (one nearly two and one just over nine months at the time of this writing), you can imagine how needful we are of God’s grace with our children.
This theme is seen in nearly every episode of Family Matters. The show follows Steve Urkel and the Winslow children from very early teen years all the way through young adulthood, and the writers did not refrain from portraying the glory and the grim associated with the development of a child.
Scriptural admonition such as “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) and “ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath” (Ephesians 6:4) echo in our ears as we attempt to raise our children in a fashion which honors and pleases the Lord.
There are two verses of Scripture which directly speak to the “balance” required in godly parenting–a struggle echoed by the Winslow family: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24) and “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
It can be hard to offer godly reproof and correction while not discouraging your children. This is something I learn daily even though my two boys are still very young.
One thing is for sure–God is concerned with the lives of children. The Lord Jesus Himself warned, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”
This is a stern warning which highlights the gravity Christ places on properly educating children–and one that speaks plainly for itself–no commentary required.
8. People can be Annoying
If any character in television history had a “nagging” sense about him, it was Steve Urkel. And although this “lesson” seems a bit facetious, can we not all relate?
We all have those in our lives who cause us discomfort, to put it nicely. This is a reality of life we all must deal with–even Jesus. Yes, even Jesus got frustrated and annoyed with others around Him.
Consider our Lord’s diatribe in Matthew 17:17–“O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” In context, Jesus was frustrated by the faithlessness demonstrated on the part of his disciples when they were unable to cast out a demon from a boy.
Granted, I doubt your last bout of frustration was anything in comparison. Nevertheless, this is yet another demonstration of Christ’s identification with our humanity.
The key lesson to be learned here is summed up in the word “patience.” Notice the exhortation in Romans 15:5: “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.” Romans 5:34-4 teaches, “…but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”
Patience is not easy to develop, but through trial, tribulation, and trust in Him, patience can begin to work itself out in our lives–ultimately leading to the blessed hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Truly, the effect of the gospel will invade and reorganize every fiber of our being–even in seemingly small circumstances like being annoyed with others.
9. You Have to Love Yourself
Fans of Family Matters know that in season five, Steve invents a formula which amplifies the “cool genes” in his body and for a period of time turns him into “Stefan Urquelle.” At the end of the season, he invents a machine which allows him to make this transformation at will. In this state, he is smooth, classy, and has no problem getting the attention of the woman he loves—Laura Winslow.
But early in season six, Steve realizes he’s got a real problem. Despite how “cool” he is when he is Stefan, he simply doesn’t love himself, or even like himself. He likes being the happy-go-lucky, nerdy, annoying, and tenderhearted Steve Urkel.
Steve realized that there were things in life more important than even what you think are you deepest desires. Are you sacrificing yourself on the altar of your own dreams and ambitions? Are you so concerned with how others see you that you’re lost in the weeds of your own identity?
In a Christian context, you are who you are not because of what you do, what you’ve done, or even what you’re going to do. It’s your identity in Christ that makes the difference. 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
Is your life marked by those things? Are you sacrificing any of those things to become someone you don’t even like, but falsely think you should be? When I speak of loving yourself, I am not talking about pride. It’s easy to love yourself pridefully—I’m talking about identity. If you’re a Christian, your identity is in Christ (1 John 3:1) and your citizenship in another world.
“For we are his workmanship,” says Ephesians 2:10, “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” You and I are a new creation in Christ. We should love ourselves because Christ loves us and bought us with a price. We are valuable in His sight—therefore, we can love ourselves by rejoicing in our identity in Christ.
10. The World Needs Jesus
I’m sure you’re wondering how I gathered this just from watching Steve Urkel. The fact is, the arts, as mentioned earlier, will always reflect the state of culture. Above, I listed out nine things we could learn from watching Steve Urkel (and Family Matters). If you look closely at those nine things, it becomes clear that they are mostly Christian ideas.
This is not because the writers of the show made it this way. Rather, it’s because God knows our heart. The Christian life is the ultimate fulfillment of humanity’s deepest desires—love, companionship, grace, gratitude, contentment, rescue, redemption, value—these are all Christian ideas.
Steve Urkel is a very humble example, but an example nonetheless. See—none of the values he stands for exists outside of a Christian context. This is why I mentioned earlier that in my mind, though I’m sure this was not the writer’s intent, the only reason Steve Urkel is the way he is stems from the conversion experience he had early in the show.
We have been tasked with a mission. We are to take the gospel to this lost world and offer them the hope that is available only in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this will open up a door you haven’t considered. Have you ever thought about using a TV show, movie, song, etc. in evangelism?
In Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out, author Alvin Reid argues that within the arts, there are only a few overarching storylines, and each of these can be used to point to the gospel. Once you realize this, you can’t even watch Superman without making the connection!
The human condition is that we all long to, ultimately, be rescued from ourselves. The reason we long to be rescued from ourselves is because of what happened in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is the rescuer, and we are all part of the Story. The world needs Jesus—are you doing your part to tell them about Him?
Recommended Further Reading:
- Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It by Alvin Reid
- The Private Life of the Preacher: Building a Life and Ministry from the Inside Out by Kenneth Kuykendall
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!