When my neighbor, Jake, who was also a member of our church, passed away, it was 1:00 in the morning. I was called to the hospital and found many of the family members there. We sang a few songs and prayed together and although sorrowful, it was a blessing. As the days went by leading up to the funeral, the family was together at their mother’s place quite often. A few times we joined them and they had times of singing, reminiscing and encouraging each other. That is the blessing of family.
When our grandson was born, we went to the hospital to visit our son and daughter-in-law and Joshua. There we were, her parents, us, and our children and their new child. That is the blessing of family.
I remember supper time when our children were teenagers. Some of those times lasted long after the food was finished. Stories were told of what happened during the day and sometimes those stories were even acted out. We played little games at the table and simply enjoyed being together. That is the blessing of family.
The Bible gives us many images of the church. It is a building(I Peter 2:4,5
), it is like a marriage (Ephesians 5:25-27), it is like the sheep and their shepherd (John 10:14-16), like a body (I Corinthians 12:12-14) and like a nation (Ephesians 2:19),
In Ephesians 2:19 the Bible speaks about being “members of God’s household” and Galatians 6;10, says we are “the family of believers”
We are talking about the purpose driven life and we have been encouraged to read the book “The Purpose Driven Life.” As we examine God’s Word, we discover that a second purpose for which we have been created is to be a part of God’s family. The author says, “You were formed for God’s family.”
This morning, we want to look at the blessing of that invitation and at some of the implications of that reality.
Last Sunday, we celebrated child dedication. It was a joy to see those parents up there lovingly holding their children and to see the loving intention that those parents had for their children. I remember how each of our children was a loved and desired child. Some of you are adoptive or foster children. One day, your parents made a choice that they wanted you in their family. They care for you and love you and you are fully a part of their family by choice.
God has done a similar thing. God does not need us. Some people have children to meet a need within themselves for relationship. Sometimes that is not a good thing, but God did not need us. However, God is relational, as we see by the fact that He is a triune God and He wants us as His children. What a blessing to realize that we have the possibility of being children of God. Out of His self-giving love, God has chosen us to be His children and has invited everyone whom he has made to become a part of that family.
In Galatians 3:26 we have read, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…” God has created everyone on earth and in one sense we are all children of our creator, but every one of us has rejected God as our Father. We don’t want to be a part of His family and we have sinned and so rejected God. We don’t trust Him and we don’t want Him in our life, but God is not easily deterred. He has created us for a relationship with Himself. Ephesians 1:5 says, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” Because of this original intention and because of His love, He sent Jesus to earth to die on the cross and to invite us once again to be His children. When we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again and when we receive Him into our lives by faith, then we become sons and daughters of God. That is what it means when it says, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ.”
Perhaps you are not now a child of God. What a wonderful invitation this is and it is made to each of us. If you are not now a child of God, but would like to be, then I want to invite you today to accept Jesus Christ by faith and so allow God to embrace you as His son or daughter.
Being a part of a family has certain privileges attached to it. When we become children of God, we receive a family name. I Peter 4:16 says, “…if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” We also receive a family likeness. I John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We have the privileges of being part of God’s family and having access to God. All of Ephesians 1 is loaded with a description of all the privileges and intimacy of being part of God’s family - “blessed with every spiritual blessing…chosen…redeemed…knowing God’s mystery…and so on. Included in those blessings is the family inheritance, as we read in Galatians 4:7, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”
If you have become a child of God, it is important to demonstrate that relationship by baptism. I Corinthians 12:13 says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Warren says, “Baptism shows you are part of God’s family.”
So I want to invite you to become a child of God if you are not, to demonstrate that by baptism if that is the right thing and, if you are a child of God, to rejoice that you can call God your Father.
When a child is born, it is first of all in close relationship with its mother and then with its father. As it gets older, it suddenly realizes that there are other beings out there - a brother, a sister and as time goes on, this child realizes that it is not an only child, but that it is part of a family.
When I do pre-marriage counselling with couples, one of the things we talk about is the reality that when you get married, you become one with a wonderful girl or boy, but already when you make the guest list for the wedding, you realize that you are not just marrying another person, you are getting linked up with a whole family.
When we become a son or daughter of God through faith in Christ, we suddenly realize that we are part of a family. If we are sons of God, we are part of God’s family and that is God’s intention.
The world in which we live has promoted the individual to such an extent that we have forgotten what it means to be part of a community. There are many people who are sons and daughters of God, but do not want anything to do with the rest of the family. Warren says that some are “bunny believers,” hopping from church to church. We need to understand from Scripture, this is not what God intends. The entire New Testament is not written to individual Christians, but to a community. The concept of belonging to a community, to a local church, is deeply a part of Scripture because it is deeply a part of God’s intention. Ephesians 4:16 says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” I Corinthians 12:12, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” Ephesians 2:21, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”
Why is it so important to be a part of God’s family? Warren identifies a number great reasons. Some of them are:
1. John 13:35 says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The loving relationship we have with one another in the church identifies us as belonging to God.
2. It moves us away from self-centred isolation. I Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” The caring community is such a wonderful part of being identified with a body of believers.
3. It helps us grow strong in faith and obedience. Ephesians 4:16 says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
4. It helps us keep from backsliding. Hebrews 3:13 calls us to “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Just as every child born needs a family, so every child of God needs the family of God.
Some people don’t want the commitment to others that is required, but Biblically there is no choice about that. If you are a child of God, you are a part of the family.
But family living is not automatic or easy. We all have them in our family - the uncle who plays too roughly with your children, the mother-in-law who meddles in things, the cousin who gossips about everyone, the black sheep of the family who is just different. What happens? Do we throw them out of the family? No! We are still family and so we are kind to them, we encourage them and we continue to accept them. The same is true in the church family. We will not always get along, there are times when it is hard to get along, but we are still family.
The healthy church survey has revealed that at this time this is the thing that we need to work on most in order to become a healthier church. There are eight essential elements of a healthy church. If we work on the weakest one, we will gradually become healthier. It is loving relationships that most need work in our church at this time, so I am glad that “The Purpose Driven Life” is giving us an opportunity to talk about it once again. How can we grow in love for one another.
Before we look at some specifics, let us remind ourselves of the Biblical importance of loving relationships. Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Love is the character of God and He wants all people to love each other. But, interestingly, he especially wants his sons and daughters to love each other. Why is this so important among us? Perhaps the answer is found in John 13:35 which says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The love required among us is a love that is unusual. It comes from God, it is God like and when it is seen in God’s people, it reveals God. Love is the distinguishing mark of God’s family, so we need to think about how we can love one another.
How do we live in this family? There are a lot of good ideas in chapters 18-21 of “The Purpose Driven Life.” The following ideas come from chapter 19 and talk about cultivating a loving community.
Why is it so hard to tell someone else the truth? I have a lot of fears about telling the truth. I am afraid that if I do, the other person will be hurt. I am afraid that if I do, the other person will become angry and defensive. I am afraid that I will be judging another person and that my judgement will be wrong. I am afraid that I will be seen as critical and accusing. So what do we do? We hide the truth from the person who really needs to hear it but instead we begin to talk to others. Have you ever thought that failing to speak the truth actually promotes gossip? What happens when we gossip? People don’t trust each other any more. We know that a person who gossips to us, will also likely gossip about us and so we stop talking to one another honestly and community is destroyed. We end up building a community in which people hide the truth from each other and don’t trust each other and then it is no wonder that loving relationships suffer.
Ephesians 4:15 talks about “speaking the truth in love.” That is the way to build community, not by hiding and gossip.
Honesty will not always be easy, but deep relationships are never built by hiding the truth. If a relationship is worth building, we may need to go through the tunnel of conflict because that is the passageway to intimacy.
Another relationship breaker is pride. If we think that we don’t make mistakes, or if we have the only way or the only answers, we will destroy community. If we are willing to admit that we may not have it all together, then we build community. If we are too proud to recognize that we need each other, we will never look for help. We will continue in self sufficient arrogance and we will not build community.
I Peter 5:5 says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “’God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
Warren says, “No perfect people need apply. This is a place only for those who admit they are sinners, need grace, and want to grow.”
Furthermore, it takes grace in our relationship with one another. Grace needs to be extended in many different ways. I saw a cartoon once of a church that was trying to achieve doctrinal purity. The pastor was announcing to the one person left in the congregation that they had finally made it. We are different from each other and we see things differently. Extending grace means that we need to accept those differences and love each other in spite of differences.
Grace is also required when we recognize that there will be people in very different places. Some just have a personality that is different. Some have a long way to go towards maturity. All of these differences require patience and grace.
Scripture encourages us in such a gracious response to one another. Romans 15:2 says, “Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.” Titus 3:1, 2 encourages, “Remind the people to … slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”
Grace also needs to be extended to those who are new. Have you ever been on the outside of the circle trying to get in? Unless someone from within opens the way for you, you feel very lonely. How can we find ways to extend grace to newcomers?
Furthermore, it takes time to build community. Hebrews 10:25 commands us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
You can’t build community by avoiding each other. We need to take time to be with each other. I have sometimes heard the lament that we don’t just drop in and visit any more. With fewer chores to do, and many more labour saving devices, it is strange that we have less time to spend with people. Are relationships a priority for us? How can we develop relationships in the modern context?
Building community “means giving up our self-centeredness and independence in order to become interdependent.”
I heard the story about the person who was being introduced to heaven. He was shown different rooms and introduced to the people in those rooms. At one point in the tour, they passed a door which was closed and it was obvious that there was no access to that room. The person asked about this and was told that it was a group of people who thought they were the only ones in heaven.
What is God’s reality? It is that when we get to heaven, we are going to get along with all kinds of people from all kinds of churches. People whom we ignore, don’t like and don’t even know will all be there and they will be our brothers and sisters. But this is not only what will be, it is what is today. We are brothers and sisters with all those who call God Father. God has called us to a family. How are you relating to all your eternal relatives?