Jason Mandryk – The Family of God, May 18th, 2014, Trinity Baptist Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
What are some images the Bible uses to describe the Church? The Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Family of God, the Temple of the living God, the Army of God, the branches, the sheep, the flock, the field, God’s house, God’s household, living stones.
All these images of the people of God speak about our “joining together”. The dynamic of togetherness.
This demonstrates to us how sinful individualism is and how it runs counter to all the images of the Church and all the purposes of God for his people.
We need to share ourselves with one another, our resources, be accountable to one another, not hiding our struggles from each other but living out our challenges together, putting the needs of others before our own, to think of our success in different terms and even our identity in different terms.
God in Trinity is relational, family, in His very nature.
What defines a healthy family?
Care, trust, sharing, acts of love, mutual service.
In a lot of families today there is a lot of brokenness. Whether it is in your city or in Mumbai or Beijing or some rural village in Afghanistan, many families are so broken that they do not know how to relate healthily anymore with one another as a family.
What is the role of a family? What purposes does a family serve?
1) A place of protection and provision, not individuals struggling on their own. A family is a unit of members that care for one another. A place that provides the basic needs of survival, from outside harm, from our own ignorance. A place of sharing resources together.
2) A place of procreation. The extension, reproduction of ourselves into future generations.
3) A place of identity, who you are, where you belong. Our identity is tied up with our family. We have a last name, our personalities, our values, family shapes our identity profoundly.
4) A place of socialization. Learning how to be a good, responsible, useful person.
Our family: God is our Father. Jesus is our older Brother. We are brothers and sisters together united by the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 6:18
I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.c Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Once you are born again, you are born into a new family, a spiritual family, the family of God.
So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
1 Peter 1:22-23
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
This new spiritual family cuts right across the lines of flesh and blood dynamics. This is a radical redefinition of what constitutes family.
There are more than one hundred references in the New Testament epistles alone to believers being referred to as brothers or sisters.
This concept of fellow believers as family took root very quickly in the New Testament Church to the point where Christians were identifying one another as brothers and sisters, it became the normal term of reference.
Even as we are born again into a new life, we are born again into a new family. Jesus asks all of us to prioritize the value of our spiritual family, to make them a priority. And this must be demonstrated.
In the book of Acts we see this new spiritual family, born on the day of Pentecost, being formed.
Acts 4:32, 34-35
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Sounds pretty socialist doesn’t it? Sounds pretty radical.
What is the number one thing we can do to be there for our family?
1) Pray. [Pray for everyone at your church and get to know everyone at your church more than just superficially so that you can pray for one another effectively. Pray daily for brothers and sisters around the world using Operation World. Pray for churches, ministries, missionaries.]
2) Expand the spiritual family. The Great Commission. Be fruitful and multiply. Spiritual procreation.
3) Socialization. There are a lot of ways in which we in the church learn about how to live together, about how to be a full person, about how to move from being a spiritual infant to being a spiritual adult.
1 Timothy 5:1-2
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
What makes a good family in the real world also applies in our spiritual family as well: respect, honor, care, protection, mutual love. Clearly many of these principles translate from flesh and blood to spiritual existence.
Family is a safe place where people grow from being helpless infants into responsible adults, from immature to mature, from mentored to mentor.
The word that is used in the New Testament for this idea is the word “telos” [τέλος], sometimes translated as “perfection”, other times as “maturity”, other times as “completeness”.
That is what God desires of us [to be made perfect, like Christ was made perfect, Hebrews 5:8,9].
Sadly this doesn’t often happen in our churches even though there are so many opportunities to learn to be a family together.
A lot of churches become social clubs where people seek out cozy, fun, peer groups of like-minded and similar people in age maybe, or in style, sub-culture, marital status, or hobbies and interests. You get your college and career group, young married group, mums of young children group, senior citizens group, floor hockey team, worship team.
But that is not how family is in the real world. Family is learning how to live together in our differences, across these boundaries.
Our spiritual, eternal, global, family is a messy business. It is not simple, it is tough work. And just like in any family, there is heartbreak, stress and grey hair, or lost hair.
One implication is that we need to get diversity training. Learning how to respect people of other backgrounds. Whether that is their age, culture, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Learning how to act responsibly and respectfully.
But in the Church we need a much bigger sense of diversity training because we have brothers and sisters all over the world of every stripe.
Think of it, how big is our family? If we are talking about those who would self-identify as being born-again Christians, then you are talking about close to seven hundred million people around the world.
If we are talking about those who simply identify themselves as Christian, it’s over two billion people in our spiritual family. And that is only those who are alive today, never mind the past nineteen centuries before us.
That is a big family. There is a lot of diversity there and so there is going to be a lot of people that we disagree with, that we don’t get along with, that we have personal issues with. But that is what happens when you are in a family.
The family metaphor of the Church is a beautiful, profound and demanding metaphor.
In our culture today, however, the imagery we have of family may have some intrinsic problems. This concept of the nuclear family where the father is the breadwinner, the mother is the house maker, and one or more children, this concept is rare in human history and across cultures today.
We see the changes happening in the West to indicate that this is so. We have single mother households where the father is absent, whether through loss or through necessity or through irresponsibility.
We also have multi-generational families, and this is more of the biblical concept, where you have grandparents and parents and children and grandchildren and uncles and cousins all living together under the same household.
We have mixed families in our complicated societies today, a couple has kids, they get divorced, another couple has kids, gets divorced, these parents meet each other, get married and they each bring their kids, then there is step-children and there is half-brothers and half-sisters.
What about polygamy? It was normal in Bible times, it exists in many parts of the world still today. With changes that are happening in our society, maybe that’s the next taboo our legal framework is going to have to adjust to.
These are all expressions of family today. Sometimes we can paint the portrait of family in the church in a way that makes a lot of people feel inadequate, isolated, not belonging.
Our human model of family is not enough. In Scripture we see that the outcasts and the misfits are welcomed into the community of God. Single moms, remarried couples, lifelong singles, foster families, polygamous families in other cultures, widows, orphans, eunuchs, God has a place for all of them in His family, and we should recognize that and respond to that.
The Church in the New Testament was known as a place where outcasts and misfits were welcomed, where they belonged, where they were cared for and loved. They had the reputation for taking abandoned children, adopting them and raising them. A place for widows and single women who were societally and economically vulnerable.
That was a testimony the Church gave to the world, the family was renewed, regenerated, transformed, by the reality of Christ. This is good news.
This is good news for unmarried people, for couples who deal with the challenge of infertility, for single parents, for parents who have lost their kids, for parents dealing with rebellious children, the list goes on.
The term family can sometimes communicate to people pain, for those who don’t fit. “Our church is a family,” can sometimes be more, “our church is for families.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
A final point is not lettings the values of the world impact the way we understand our spiritual family.
One example is becoming inward focused, exclusive, only caring about the family within our four walls, rather then the outward focus that our faith demands of us.
Focusing only on the comfort and satisfaction of our members and keeping them happy rather than the hard task of discipleship, transformation, self-sacrifice in serving others.
No hard questions are asked and there are no mature adults as a result. The kids in those kind of families usually become spoiled brats, spiritually speaking.
Another challenge: being too nice. Too conscious of what people perceive of us. A nice family will keep up appearances, cover things up even though on the inside there can be a lack of accountability, or in the worst cases, dysfunction and abuse.
Finally the concept of the family being too small. Congregations can forget that it is not only about their iteration of family but that they are part of the whole family of God, within their denomination, within their country, within planet earth.
These are all areas that are challenged. The idea of family is crucial for the future of the Church. Let us pray.
Our Father, thank you for adopting us into your family. For making us your children. Thank you for the brothership of Christ Jesus our co-heir, our big Brother, thank you Lord for the brothers and sisters spiritually around the world, help us Lord to see that is where our belonging is. For those who are hurting, struggling, Father may your grace, your truth, your love, and as we as a Body together, may we work out these challenges together, being true fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters to one another. May we model this reality to one another and to the world so that they may see your eternal nature Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.