The Family of God and How We Get It Wrong
by Deb Thompson (Captain)
While growing up, in rural Iowa in a home that served Christ, I always believed I had two families: one was my natural family and my second one was my Church Family. I believed someday my family of origin would be replaced with a husband and kids. Then I grew up, remained a single woman past our culturally acceptable age, and was convinced by others that I was off balance. None of this was taught from a Bible passage, a sermon, a Sunday School class, nor from everyone I met. Rather, this was taught through socializing in rather indirect ways, from some people inside and outside The Church.
Last October, I discovered a sermon on Youtube entitled, “Singleness and the Next Generation” given by David Platt. From this sermon, my whole concept of Church Family was completely redefined, reworked and was reborn out of Bible passages instead of the stereotypical Christian culture. For the rest of this blog, a small cased “family” will mean earthly family, whether biological or by legal documentation, and a capitalized “Family” will mean Church Family (just to save on some verbage).
The concept of family is introduced to us from the very beginning. Shortly after Adam and Eve were created, God commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). From here on, family lineage and family heritage were vital throughout the Old Testament. God’s chosen people were Israelites, which is lineage and heritage. When a woman’s husband died, she was to marry the younger brother and have children so that she would be taken care of and because of the significance of inheritance (hence the importance of the stories of Tamar, Naomi and Ruth). Abraham was told he would be a father of many nations, which is lineage. If a woman was barren she was considered an outcast and cursed (hence the significance of Sarah and Isaac). From the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were born the 12 Tribes of Israel which is lineage. The high priest was to be born of Aaron’s lineage. Kings were decided by lineage. Jesus was to be born from the root of David, the Tribe of Judah, to a virgin, which all signify lineage. Then we come to the Book of Isaiah…
Isaiah 53 is a popular passage. It prophecies of Jesus being pierced for our transgressions, how we, like sheep, have gone astray, and of how Jesus, like a lamb was led to be slaughtered yet did not open his mouth. In the midst of this passage, in verse 8, it reads, “For He was cut off from the land of the living”. What’s important about that? Jesus would not marry nor would he father any children. To us, it’s an overlooked fact, but thinking about how important lineage was in the Old Testament, and then to learn, the Savior of the world was NOT going to pass on any lineage or inheritance is a shock! Then in verse 10 we read, “When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will succeed by His hand.” Wait! We just read two verses ago that Jesus would be cut off, and then we read about His seed? That is a complete contradiction!
Christ will have a seed, but it’s not what the tradition of what The Old Testament holds dear. In John 1:12-13 we read, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” In I John 3:1 we read, “How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God. And that we are!”
In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was a physical place of worship. In Hebrews, we see the Tabernacle expands to mean Jesus. Then in Revelation, we become the Tabernacle. This concept of worship goes from something physical, to Jesus fulfilling it, to something we will all live together as one day! I see the family evolving the same exact way! The nuclear family is created in the Old Testament, Jesus then fulfils the concept of Family to include all people (Gal. 3:28-29) and someday we will all live and reside together as one Family (Rev. 19)! So what does this mean? This means, I have a family: Mom, Dad, sisters, brothers, sister-in-laws, brother-in-laws, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles and grandparents, and then expanding from there is my Family. I don’t have two distinct families; I have one gigantic Family that someday will all reside together in Christ’s presence and made whole!
The purpose for the family is to populate the earth and to teach about what it means to be a Family. There’s a saying that goes, “I have my family, and then I have my second family” but I disagree. Because usually this means we look at people who we get along with and label them as our second family. The problem is that how well I get along with someone doesn’t determine whether they are Family or not, the blood of Christ does, and F/family sticks together through the good and the bad!
When I was in my first appointment, I had a volunteer approach me and tell me about a dinner she had attended, “…and guess who I sat by? Your Aunt Opal! She told me all about your dad and you when you were little.” I replied, “Oh yes… Aunt Opal…” Then I went home later that day and phoned my dad, “Do I have an Aunt Opal?” I asked. My dad said, “Yes.” I give this illustration to say, not knowing someone very well, or not at all, doesn’t make someone any less blood related than someone in our family we know well. Same goes for the Family. There are millions of people in my Family that I have yet to meet, and they are not any less my Family than those I know well and have met.
There is a Bible passage I now claim, hold close to my heart, and brings me comfort. It is Matthew 12: 46-50, where Jesus is teaching the crowds and someone gives Him the message that His mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak to Him. Jesus replied, “Who is My mother and who are my brothers?” then he motions to His disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, that person, is my brother and sister and mother.” When I was a kid, I always thought it was horrible Jesus didn’t just go running to His family. Now I understand, He wasn’t neglecting His family, but rather, He was being inclusive to all who follow God’s will, and was teaching them He came to expand the Family, not to limit it.
We also see in John 19:25-27, as Jesus was on the cross and John and Mary were standing next to each other, Jesus says to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then Jesus says to His disciple, John, “Here is your mother. And the passage concludes with this sentence, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” Why? Because they were Family, that’s why.
If we go back to Isaiah 54, we read this in verse 1, “Rejoice, barren one, who did not give birth; burst into song and you who have not been in labor! For the children of the forsaken one will be more than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord” and then it continues to address barren women. Although, this is speaking directly to one group of women, I think this applies to anyone who is “lacking” in their family. In the Family, the fatherless find their fathers, the motherless find their mothers, and the childless find their children. The abused family members find Family members who want to cherish, and where the abandoned family members find committed Family members, etc… The Family of God is inclusive and everyone fits in perfectly!
My shift in understanding my Family has changed my ministry. In Church, I do not sit alone in the front pew, as many probably perceive, instead, I sit with Family. I am not childless; there are kids I work with in ministry at camp and in youth programs. I have a limitless amount of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who need my support. I have a limitless amount of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters that I need. It has brought me closer to others, and it has made it easier for me to love those who I share differences with and see the vitality of agreeing to disagree.
The biggest change that has come for me is, once again, I’m reminded of the importance of everyday. I do not have family that I get to take from appointment to appointment. With each move, I am required to leave Family behind to be nurtured by someone else, while I go to a new place to meet more of my Family and start all over again. As a single, I feel it is necessary that I take every opportunity to create memories with my Family, because I will only be allowed to create memories with them for so many years before I move on to minister to more of my Family. That may be the down side of things, but the exciting part of it is I will never run out of Family! With each new appointment, with each new group of people, with each new corps, with each new community, my Family will continue to expand. I will not die alone, as people like to say to singles so often, I will die with an amazingly large Family that I will not be able to count all the members of, and that my dear Family, is awesome to know!