Summary: The church is called "The Family of God" because it is all about relationships, those with our Heavenly Father, and our brothers and sisters.
Families are funny things, and I don’t mean funny in the sense of humorous. Families are a strange and wonderful and dangerous thing. The people that we love the deepest are probably part of our family. In a family unit there is the potential for the most fulfilling and closest relationships that are possible here on earth. But with that closeness there is an inherent danger. If trust is broken or if some bitterness arises, those relationships that have the greatest potential for love also have the potential to inflict the deepest wounds. Nobody can hurt you like a member of your family. Because you entrust them with a part of your heart, you are most vulnerable to pain from those who are closest to you. I think that might have been why George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
I say those things out of my own personal experience. The people in my immediate family are the closest people to me on earth. My wife, children, mom and brother are people I would do anything for, and who would do anything for me (well, sometimes I struggle to get the kids to clean up their rooms or bring in the garbage cans, but you know what I mean). My most fulfilling relationships are with my family. On the other hand, the aunt who recently died and the uncle who is in the hospital, our relationships have been estranged for years. Except for a few isolated occasions, we haven’t seen one another for about 15 years. It all traces itself back about 25 years and I don’t even know what it was all about, but for some reason my father and his brother and sisters quit talking. As a result, last week at my aunt’s funeral my family gathered with that part of the family for the first time in 15 years. We were cordial and polite, I don’t even know if there are hard feelings any more. I do know that at some point some pretty deep wounds were inflicted, and the repercussions and scars are still evident.
Our family isn’t unique. There are probably skeletons in your family history also. Just open up the Bible and there is all kinds of family strife going on. Cain killed his brother Able out of jealousy. Jacob bargains with Esau for his birthright, then tricks his dad, Isaac out of Esau’s blessing. Joseph’s brothers are jealous enough that they want to kill him, and their compromise is to sell him as a slave. Jeremiah’s family deserted him because of his unpopular message. Even Jesus’ family one time thought he was crazy, and came to take him back home to get him to come to His senses. Nothing is more challenging than maintaining peace within any family affair.
That’s why it is somewhat surprising that when God is looking for an image to use to describe the church here on earth, the one he uses most is the image of a family. The New Testament is cram packed with the idea that the church is a family. In Ephesians 2:13 Paul tells us that we are members of God’s household. In Matthew 12:46-50 it says, 46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
The image is woven so deeply into the fabric of Christian thought that you almost miss it. God is constantly thought of as a “Heavenly Father” who provides for the needs of His children. We often refer to the people of our church as “brothers and sisters in Christ” or our “Church family.” Quite honestly, there are so many references in the New Testament to this idea that I couldn’t even begin to touch them all, and the idea has so many implications that I could talk all day and still not get to all of it. (Pause) You will be glad that I love my brothers and sisters too much to do that to you.
Instead of pouring out a bunch of random Bible verses, I hope to focus our attention on the family relationships that are so important. You see, what this idea of the church as a family tells us, is that DNA or genetic lineage doesn’t determine a family. Family is determined by relationship. The New Testament uses a Greek word “Koinonia” that most English versions translate “fellowship.” But fellowship is more than a little chit-chat over coffee and donuts. In the Bible, fellowship is all about sharing yourself with others. “Koinonia” involves being involved in life with one another, knowing what is going on, holding each other accountable, helping out where help is needed, working side by side and even sometimes covering someone else’s back. Now there are two types of relationships that are going on in the church that you have to understand if you are going to flourish in the family of God.