It’s been said that the world at its worst needs the church at her best. That it’s when the culture goes dark that God’s people can shine bright by contrast.
Why? Because the gospel of Jesus Christ, upon which the church is built and from which it is spread, is the antidote to the poisons killing the world around us. Poisons like doubt, insecurity, worthlessness, exhaustion, and identity crises. In addition to salvation, the gospel offers remedies to these maladies as well.
A Disease in Need of a Cure
Today there seems to be one disease that’s spreading quicker than most. This is a sickness that masquerades as a virtue and sign of strength when, in actuality, it weakens and immobilizes the infected. It goes by many names: Loneliness, disconnectedness, and isolation.
While modern technology has connected humanity in unprecedented ways, many experts would suggest that there has never been a time in human history that people feel more alone, detached, and insignificant.
That’s dark. But it’s into that darkness that the church has an opportunity to shine brightly. To demonstrate togetherness to a world that is fractured. We know the gospel offers unity, significance, belonging. It offers this in the family of God, a family that stands as the antidote to the poison of loneliness.
An Invitation to Become Family
When someone becomes a citizen of Canada, whether by birth or immigration, the government of Canada invites that individual to enjoy all the benefits and freedoms that comes along with living in this nation. A citizen that makes the decision to never leave their basement, never go to a hospital or park, never vote in an election, and never practice free speech is not less of a Canadian than someone who does all of those things. They have simply forfeited the opportunity to enjoy the privileges that have been extended to them.
Similarly, when an individual becomes a Christian they become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, part of the family of God, and by virtue of their relationship with Christ are invited to enjoy many blessings. But we must decide whether or not we will accept that invitation or just sit in our metaphorical basements.
to a lasting legacy
In Ephesians 4, Paul highlights at least four privileges associated with the divine invitation to ‘become family.’ First, there’s an invitation to a lasting legacy.
And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (4:11–12).
Being part of a church family means we’re invited to be trained to contribute something specific for something that will never perish. We’re invited to leave a lasting legacy.
So many people in this world want to be remembered. They want to contribute to something that will stand as a monument to their existence and worthwhileness.
This has been done before. Remember Solomon? With the resources of the known world at his disposal, the king of Israel set out to build a legacy and experience fulfillment. He tried learning, experiencing, owning, and building. But he found it all lacking and in Ecclesiastes 2:18–19, he concludes: “Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor … for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor … . This too is vanity.”
All the earthly attempts at building a legacy will fade and disappoint. But being in the family of God is an invitation to be part of something that will never fade. In Matthew 16, Jesus promises he’s going to build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
It’s a sure thing. It’s going to happen. It’s going to last. It’s going to succeed. You want to be part of something significant? Here’s your chance. We’re invited to have a lasting legacy, to be trained by God for the work of God.
to full maturity
… until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (4:13).
A 2008 study found that the self-help industry in North America was taking in 11-billion dollars a year. People want to get better. They want to show growth.
Paul here says the church is the answer. It’s here that we grow in our knowledge of the son of God and mature to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. And we’re invited to grow and to mature and to thrive as disciples of Jesus within the family of God.
to experience protection
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (4:14).
There is a mountain of false teaching out there today being peddled by what our Lord called ‘ravenous wolves seeking to devour.’ However, in the family of God we’re afforded protection.
Remember the Bereans in Acts 17? The church was just taking root but along with the gospel were countless other claims as well. How did the Bereans deal with that? Verse 11: “for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
They came together around the Bible, and examined the lies. The chances of me getting duped by a silver-tongued teacher is much higher than the chances of all of us together being duped. The chances are even lower when we’re together with open Bibles. Becoming family gives the benefit of protection.
to true community
… but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (4:15–16).
We are invited to be part of a body in which we are all necessary, important members. We are invited into a community in which our diversity is our strength. We are a community that God has fit and fastened together with his good hand, interdependent and loving.
In a world that struggles with loneliness, Christians are given a divine invitation to ‘become family.’ While some may feel insignificant, God invites us to be part of something eternal. While some may feel powerless, God invites us to mature to perfection by his power. While others may feel vulnerable and alone, God invites us to experience protection in a true community.
We simply have to ask ourselves, am I taking advantage of those invitations as much as I could be? Or am I leaving some of the blessings on the table?
A Strategy for Becoming Family
With that in mind, I want move from the divine invitation to ‘become family’ to a practical strategy for ‘becoming family’. And to do that, we move to Romans 12.
Paul here is writing to encourage growth in the family life of the church. And I want to point out three practical steps provided for us. These won’t surprise you but perhaps the Lord will lay a fresh conviction on our hearts regarding one or more of these steps.
Speak well of one another
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honour (12:10).
One way to increasingly ‘become family’ is to commit to holding one another up in honour. The second half of that verse could be translated: “showing eagerness in honouring one another.” The picture is almost that of a race to hold one another up high. To celebrate one another.
I like this step Paul provides because it isn’t just the absence of slander (which is a good thing!). But this goes the next step. Go out of your way to speak well of your family members, both to them and to others.
Serve with one another
… not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord (12:11).
If you have ever been on a mission trip, there’s a good chance that the people you went with came back closer to you than they were when you left. Why is that? Because serving the Lord together aids in becoming family.
Seeking ways to serve along with brothers and sisters helps us become family.
Share with one another
There’s something about knowing another believers story that breaks down walls.
… rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality (12:12–13).
Look at all Paul calls us to share with one another in pursuit of becoming family: “rejoicing in hope.” Share your joy together. Share what God has been doing! Share how he brought you to himself. Share stories of grace.
“Persevering in tribulation.” While you’re at it, share tribulation. Be vulnerable. “Devoted to prayer.” Share times prayer. Praying for people is crucial, no doubt, but there is something binding about praying with others. “Contributing to the needs of the saints.” Share needs and meet those needs. “Practice hospitality.” Share meals. It’s been said that “hospitality doesn’t change people; it creates a space in which transformation can occur.”
Romans 12 doesn’t give us an exhaustive list of practical steps we can take to become a closer family. In fact there are dozens of one another statements through the NT that are all very practical. But this is a good place to start.
If we want to grow as a body of Christ, as a community, as a family, we can focus on speaking well of one another, serving with one another, and sharing our lives with one another. When we do this, we will become family.
A Gracious Result of Becoming Family
What happens when the people of God grow together? What impact can we have on the world? In John 17, Jesus has just had his final meal with those he’s closest to and he’s about to go to the cross. And now he’s praying and we get to eavesdrop in on this conversation between two members of the eternal godhead.
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in me through their word (17:20).
Here we find that he’s praying for you and I, which is incredible. Those who will hear the gospel through those who were sitting with him at that moment. That’s us! And what does he ask the Father for on our behalf? Unity!
that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us … that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity (17:21, 22, 23).
That’s some closeness! Christ, in his last moments on earth, prays for our becoming family. Our growing as a body. Our unity. Why would he do that? Because it’s a supernatural unity that leads to an undeniable testimony, that’s why.
… so that the world may believe that you sent me … so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you have loved me (17:21, 23).
There is a direct, inescapable, undeniable link between our unity, our closeness, our becoming family and our reaching lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because a group of believers like us that, in spite of our differences, loves one another sacrificially, serves one another, protects one another, encourages one another, is irrefutable evidence that something supernatural is occurring.
The world looks at us and says, “No, you’re too different to get along like that. There’s too much to argue about. There’s too much that divides.” We say, you’re right. Left to ourselves, we would divide. We wouldn’t bother enduring the annoyances and the wrongs. We wouldn’t bother with forgiveness and the like. But, when we display a love for one another, a concern for one another, in spite of those differences, that’s evidence, says Jesus, of the supernatural, unifying love of the gospel. It is an undeniable testimony. What a gracious restful of booming family.
Our world is hurting. They are lost and lonely. But the world at its worst needs the church at her best.
And the church is at her best when it is accepting the invitation to become family: building into one another, protecting one another, maturity together, and experiencing that true, lasting community. And God has given us some practical steps to move in this direction: speaking well of one another, serving with one another, and sharing our lives with one another.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that becoming family is just for us. That we get to enjoy the benefits. And we do! But as we’ve seen, becoming family, by the power of God, is to put the antidote to the poisons killing this world on display.
Who would have thought that becoming family could change the world?