The church is a family. All throughout the Scripture, we read references to family terminology to describe Christian relationships. The local church is the visible and active manifestation of this family life. If it’s true — if Christians are really spiritual family — then how should we behave?
Taking our cues from contemporary family life is not the best place to start. Sadly, some families today are fragmented, torn by strife and sin. What we should do is to take the teaching on spiritual family in the Bible, and apply it to actual biological family relationships.
A Word about Words
Many of the Bible references to the family are translated in English with the word “brothers.” The underlying Greek word adelphoi, although grammaticaly masculine, actually refers to both brothers and sisters. Thus, depending on the context, in New Testament usage the word is better understood as siblings, both men and women. One Bible translation (ESV), explains: “adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God’s family, the church.”
So, how does this family behave toward one another? Here are just a few ways.
This family acts in unity.
The early church was mobilized. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were very recent history. Many Christians had actually seen and heard Jesus Christ. Others had even talked with the resurrected Christ. They knew their mission — to go and make disciples. The book of Acts explains their battle plan, and how they were mobilized for mission. Scripture tells us that immediately following Christ’s ascension, the disciples were gathered in a room for prayer (Acts 1:14-16). What followed was an explosion of miraculous power and a massive rally that introduced thousands into the church of God. The Scripture uses the word “brothers” or “family” to describe this unified mobilization of mission. Later, we read how the brothers unified to protect of the church’s greatest missionary, the Apostle Paul. This was an act in which “the brothers” participated (Acts 9:30).
The family of God is just that — a family. When we view other Christians first of all as members of a different church, another denomination, or another variety of Christian, we do a disservice to God’s plan for the unity and family nature of the church. Furthermore, we do a disservice to our own brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a family. We are unified.
This family helps each other out.
Different family members have different needs. In Acts 11:29, we discover that the disciples held a meeting for helping to meet the material needs of the chuch in Judea. In another part of Scripture, Galatians, Paul writes to the brothers to “bear one another’s burden” (Galatians 6:2). Burden-bearing is part of a family responsibility.
This family encourages one another.
The Christian family serves to encourage one another. We all face discouraging times, and when the pinching pain of discouragement hits, we can turn to a supportive family for encouragement. This is exactly the kind of encouragement that Paul described in the oppressive environment of the early church: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord (Philippians 4:1). Paul, the stalwart missionary, derived encouragement from his brothers in the churches he planted. It worked both ways, though. The brothers in the Philippian church were encouraged by the things that Paul faced (Philippians 1:14). The Christians in distant Thessaloniki had compassion on and camaraderie with their Judean family members who faced difficulty. The Christian family is a caring environment where we actively encourage others (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
Remember that your brothers and sisters in Christ are not just other people with whom you attend church every week. You have brothers and sisters in Christ who live under oppressive and anti-Christian government regimes. You have brothers and sisters in Christ who live in extreme and debilitating poverty. You have brothers and sisters in Christ who must stand up to the antagonism of false religions. Intercede for them. Help them in ways that you can.
Remember, also that we don’t attend church as disparate and distinct human entities, each with a private set of problems and concerns. We are part of a living body, not just a gathering of people. This is your family. As a family member, we have the responsibility and privilege of caring for our fellow family members.