In our first post, we said the Church’s core job description is to be the expression of Jesus Christ upon the earth. We also talked about the meaning of ekklesia, the Greek word which is translated “church.” It is an assembly of called-out ones.
The Church is referred to in the Bible using several different metaphors, but I believe the Scriptures reveal that the Church’s primary way to function is as a family. This is true of the universal church, but its best practical application is within the local congregation.
God’s people as family shows up already in Genesis, beginning with Adam and Eve. We see the idea woven throughout Noah’s, Abraham’s, and Israel’s story. It is a continuous, consistent thread flowing through centuries of Old Testament history.
Mankind was originally created in the image of God. “And God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness'” (Genesis 1:26). Family is God’s very nature, with two of the Persons of the Godhead being Father and Son. Since we have been made in His likeness, it should not surprise us that functioning as family is part of the Lord’s plan for His people.
In the New Testament, it becomes still clearer that God’s people are to follow the pattern of family. Believers in Jesus are referred to as the “sons of God” six times, including 1 John 3:1: “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God….”
Romans 8:15-17 explains that we have been adopted by God the Father. As His adopted sons and daughters, we enjoy the same privileges and inheritance that Jesus does:
For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.
Throughout the New Testament epistles, members of the Church are referred to as “brethren,” “brothers,” and “sisters.” Those terms are used approximately 190 times in the apostles’ letters to the churches. Paul reminded the Corinthian church, which he had founded, that he was a father to them (1 Corinthians 4:15). He called Timothy and Titus his sons, although they were not biologically related (1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). John repeatedly referred to the Church as “little children” in 1 John. Paul also instructed Timothy in how to treat fellow believers: “Do not rebuke an elder, but entreat him as a father and the younger men as brothers; the elder women as mothers, the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2). The portrayal of church as family is clearly primary.
You may already be thinking, “My church experience is not very much like family. I wish it were.” Sadly, that is often the case. It is one of the things which needs to shift, in order for our congregations to be healthy.
Or, perhaps you are thinking, “My family life growing up was a total mess! Why would I want my church experience to be like that?” You wouldn’t. None of us would. But, because we are made in God’s image, each of us has some understanding of what family should be, even if we have not had the opportunity to enjoy it growing up. There is a knowing in your heart what family done right should look like, and you long for that. And that is what God wants His church family to demonstrate to each other and the world.
In a properly functioning family, children are not valued for what they do, but for who they are. All the sons and daughters have equal value in their parents’ eyes. Younger children do not have the same responsibilities and options as the older ones, not because they are less important than older siblings, but because they do not yet have the maturity to handle those responsibilities or choices well. In larger families, older children often help care for the little ones, even teaching them some of the basic skills they will need to possess.
In the same way, God values all His sons and daughters, not for our deeds, positions, or functions, but simply because each of us is His own dear child. In the Church, we must learn to see each other as God sees us. Yes, there will be mature members who pastor or mentor newer believers. Some will have more visible ministries than others. But their position is not a measure of their importance. Neither maturity nor individual function within the congregation has anything to do with value, so may God help us to stop acting as though they do!
In our coming posts, we will examine other biblical aspects of what the Church should look like. We’ll also see how each of them can, and should, fit with the family model.
Growing in the Prophetic,
Audio teaching by Lee Ann Rubsam
Before Whom We Stand,
by Lee Ann Rubsam