The Family of God
Paul was in a dilemma. While being proof of his apostolic ministry, the church in Corinth, which had resulted from his visit, was proving divisive, opinionated, critical, and carnal in every way. Even then, he still addressed them as ‘My beloved children’. Through the gospel he became their ‘father’, not simply their leader (1 Cor. 4:14-15). Now his beloved children needed some admonition. How was he to proceed?
Interestingly, he chooses to send them an exemplary son, ‘I have sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord’ (1 Cor. 4:17). He follows the magnificent example set by God himself who sent His wondrous Son to model sonship for us. John says of Jesus, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us’ (John 1:14). This life embodied a revelation of God. The family likeness could not be hidden. ‘He that has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). John later stated, ‘… the life was manifested … what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the word of life …’ (1 John 1:1-2). As Jesus only did what the Father was doing, now it was Timothy’s turn. Paul had served Timothy like a father with a son. Paul knew Timothy’s strengths and weaknesses but commended him based on his personal, intimate knowledge. Timothy was Paul’s ‘faithful child in the Lord’, able to remind them of Paul’s ‘ways in the Lord’.
Family atmosphere vs. “Doing the business”
The New Testament is full of family references. Churches were addressed as ‘beloved’. They were Paul’s personal joy and even his heartache! He had become a father to them. As brothers and sisters they were to encourage one another, pray for, confess faults, admonish one another.
Intimacy characterized the church. The language of family relationships pervaded the whole. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, full of theology, concludes with heartfelt, personal greetings to individuals (Rom. 16). Over 40 ‘one another’ verses speak of a relational depth of fellowship, modeled by elder teams who led the churches. Biblical Christianity knows nothing of the pastor who is isolated, friendless, and professional!
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul claims his gospel came to them not in word only but also in power and the Holy Spirit. He also adds, ‘You know what manner of men we prove to be among you’ (1Thess. 1:5). He is unashamed to call their attention to his lifestyle and unashamed to say, ‘the things you have … seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace will be with you’ (Phil. 4:9). Sadly, modern evangelicals know little about such relationships, aiming to develop their father/son relationship exclusively with God Himself by studying the Scriptures in seclusion. They are not looking for the personal and intimate relationship so evident in New Testament times. Nor is this often being provided.
Independent individuals retain their personal devotions, do personal evangelism and sustain their personal walk with God, but where is the family?
Where is intimacy? How can we see the kind of development John refers to when he writes to the fathers, young men and children (1 John 2:12-13)? Maturity doesn’t come simply with age; growing old comes with age. Maturity comes with taking responsibility and we need fathers in the church who will help raise up the young men John describes, namely those ‘who have overcome the evil one’ (1 John 2:13-14). This is true for women also. Young wives and mothers desperately need older women who will teach them how to love their husbands and raise their children with real, hands-on insight and tenderness (see Titus 2:3-5).
The church atmosphere has become increasingly shaped and influenced by a business model, demonstrating nothing of the intimacy of the New Testament church, where brotherly love and strong personal relationships are not incidental but fundamental! Nor did this insistence on personal bonds of love produce an inward looking, cozy, domestic kind of church. Paul’s companions, like him, were on a mission, risking their lives for gospel advance.
Spiritual Parents Don’t Have to be Very Old
I thank God for a guy who took me under his wing when I was about 20 and he was about 26. I was a new believer but he had walked with God for years and ‘fathered’ me. He cared for me, admonished me, modeled a life of faith and brought me into some maturity. Had I only sat in church, listening to preaching and attending meetings, I would never have grown like I did under his significant influence.
Family integration and the interweaving of lives that draw strength from one another and impart life and help to one another should characterize the local church. New converts need to encounter not simply meetings and events but a family dwelling together in love and light where grace is in personal relationships which communicate life, support and strength.
I still long for a glorious church, the joy of the whole earth, strong in truth, flooded with God’s presence, a truly phenomenal alternative to a fragmented, alienated, impersonal society.