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Simply Church: Family

One of the things the New Covenant under Jesus does is to expand and change what it means to be family. I don’t know that he completely revolutionizes it, but I find the way Jesus in the gospels talks about it to be compelling. The way that the letter writers who were a part of the body of Jesus talk about people in the gathering of believers. The main relational indicators used by all the epistles are those used to describe a family.

In Mark 3, Jesus’ mother and brothers are trying to reach him when he is in the middle of a crowd in a house, teaching people. The context from a few verses prior to this event seems to indicate that they might be trying to get to Jesus in order to quiet him down because sometimes he talks crazy and makes life inconvenient with big crowds. Jesus’ response is that his mothers and brothers and sisters are all who do the will of God.

Among other things, this sets the stage for being a family being about far more than being blood related. Jesus implies that those present who are seeking to listen to Jesus in order to learn to do the will of God are the family members of Jesus. It has nothing to do with who their parents were. Given Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 about setting families against eachother, I think it is a safe inference from these passages, as well as others, that the family of believers is more central to the life of a believer than their blood families.* I think Paul picks up on some of this, making the point that under Jesus Messiah being blood related to Abraham is not the same as true descendence from him.

Jesus later talks a little bit about the nature of this familial relationship. After describing how the scribes and Pharisees seek out glory, honor, fame, and power over others, Jesus says this to his disciples and to the crowds:

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.
And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt 23:8-11).

I love this. First Jesus affirms this family relationship that we are to have with one another, then he describes the nature of this relationship.

Jesus wants us to treat eachother like siblings. Jesus is very clear that one person being the teacher and the rest being his followers isn’t what he’s looking for. Jesus is very clear that he doesn’t want us trying to be a father to someone or looking to someone as a father figure other than the Father in heaven. I believe the aspect of the father relationship Jesus does not want us to have is a hierarchical one.** I’m glad Jesus said this to more than just his disciples, he said it also to the crowds. As the disciples become the first with the Holy Spirit’s power and those who become spiritual fathers by spreading seed that grows, it would be tempting to use those things to gain a position of superiority. Jesus makes sure his disciples know that, even though people have different roles***, they are to be brothers and sisters to eachother.

Disciples of Jesus will be recognized by their love for one another. Our familial love for one another. YHWH is our Father; Jesus is our older brother. Belonging to this family is an essential element of the good news of Jesus. It defines us. The gospel without the invitation into a new covenant family marked by love is only a partial gospel.

This invitation is a beautiful one because this family is a beautiful one. In this family, we forget the sins of someone’s past because our dad forgets them. We have the ability to see daddy in everyone and that similarity makes everyone worth loving. We believe everyone is redeemable, because we’ve been redeemed. The central purpose of our family is to help one another to become like our Father: thinking like he thinks, feeling like he feels, doing what he does, and loving like he loves. Our older brother is teaching us, helping us, empowering us. He is the spitting image of His father. We hopefully and actively await the day when all of our family is reunited in the home our dad has is fixing up for us. Everyone finds love in this home. Everyone finds hope here. Everyone belongs here.

We’re not quite like our dad yet. We fight. We argue. We get angry. We get bitter. We hurt each other. We fail at loving each other. We run away from home. We gossip about each other. We criticize one another. But we’re a family. We can’t choose our family, but we can always choose to love them. When dad comes home and finishes the work we’ve been doing on our home, let’s make sure we have stories of love to tell Him and not try to get him to settle our disputes.

* I want to make sure I say that immediate relatives don’t become an insignificant category when we are in the covenant family of YHWH, just relatively less significant than being in a family with Jesus. There still are multiple places in the New Testament where we are taught about the importance of roles in one’s blood or earthly (for lack of a better term) family.

** I’m not saying that by using the term “Father,” the Catholic church is disobeying Jesus. Paul describes his relationship in different places as a father to a son. He is describing roles, not position. He is not exalting himself over others, but talking about being their spiritual progenitor or how intimate he is with a particular person and using metaphors to describe how meaningful their relationship is.

*** Different roles in the family are divested with different amounts of authority, but these callings do not obviate the sibling relationship.

**** These asterisks are just for fun. You’re welcome.

  1. January 4, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Too much to say. This really should have been 10 posts. This series is already gonna be really long.

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