One of the great blessings we enjoy as people who believe in Jesus is that we are incorporated into God’s family. Paul says we are adopted by God (Eph. 1:5), and John declares that all those who believe in Jesus are given the right to be children of God who are born of God (Jn. 1:12-13). This is truly a privilege given to us by grace, which is why John says “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1).
While we should never stop delighting in our relationship with God as individuals, the Bible also draws our minds to God’s other children around us—people who have believed in the same gospel and have been adopted by the same Father into the same family. In Jesus’ opinion, this family that we are now a part of is as real a family as our biological families, if not more. We see this in Jesus’ words, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children” (Mk. 10:29-30). This amazing new family is the universal church of God. As Christians, we are brothers and sisters with all believers around the world and even across history because all those who believe in Jesus are adopted by the same Father in Heaven.
But in God’s wonderful plan, God has provided his children local churches, where we can live day to day lives as brothers and sisters in God’s family. This is why Paul describe the local church as “the household of God” while giving Timothy instructions about how to pastor the church in Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:15). This idea of the local church being God’s household is also seen when Paul teaches on the qualifications of elders “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5). In Paul’s mind, being able to manage one’s household competently is important for someone aspiring to be an elder because the local church is also a household—the household of God.
While this is certainly a truth for us to grasp and a privilege for us to enjoy, it also carries practical implications. Here are some ways in which the truth that each church is a “household of God” should play out:
1. Genuine Relationships
Try and imagine a family in which siblings don’t know anything about each other except for their names. Such a family would be a dysfunctional family and not a healthy environment for growth and development. This is what a church in which people don’t have genuine relationships with each other would amount to. How lovely is a family in which relationships between parents and children and among siblings are genuine and deep! How lovely would it be if our churches were truly families in which we loved each other as brothers and sisters!
Do you really know and love people in your local church? Do your brothers and sisters in your local church really know you? What are you doing to grow deeper in your relationships in your local church?
2. Encourage Growth
Families are God’s ordained means for human beings to grow up in. Fathers and mothers help children to grow and develop, and older siblings help younger siblings to learn what they themselves learnt. Similarly, when God gives a person new life (Eph. 2:1-10), he places them in churches to continue growing as Christians (Eph. 2:11-22). Churches are God’s ordained means for Christians to grow up in. That’s why Paul tells the Thessalonians to “Encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11), and why he teaches that “Older women are to … train young women … that the word of God may not be reviled” (Tit. 2:3-5).
Do you help your younger brothers and sisters in your church to grow towards increased Christ-likeness? Are you open to your older brothers and sisters in God’s family to help you learn about living as God’s children?
3. Care for One Another
Something we can observe in society is that families come together in times of crises. People often go beyond their means to help a family member who is in need. This is such a universal phenomenon that Paul says, when talking about family members being responsible for taking care of widows, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). This is also true of our church family. How sad it is when our brothers and sisters face struggles of various kinds without any help from family members adopted into God’s family through the blood of Jesus. But how fitting is it when church members rally together to help and support fellow members who are in crisis.
Do you care for people in your local church? Would people think of calling you when in a tight spot? When was the last time your care for brothers and sisters in your church was expressed in money spent from your wallet?
4. No Room for Groupism and Discrimination
How tragic are families plagued by favouritism. Knowing that a parent gives one child preferential treatment is heart-breaking for the other children, and contrary to what God intends for families. Sadly, we see this illustrated in the family of the patriarch Isaac (Gen. 25:28 and the resultant disharmony). Such favouritism and conflict plagued the New Testament church when it came to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, and was dealt with by the apostles. Isn’t it sad that our churches are often characterised by petty divisions? There is a worldly tendency for groups to form within churches along lines of things like caste, class, income, and education. Sometimes this tendency shows up in churches which are made up of people all belonging to the same caste, class, income, and education. In either case, the church fails to display the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10, read in context from 2:1 to 3:11).
Do you have genuine relationships with people in the church who are different from you? Do you care for your brothers and sisters regardless of what their background is? Does your church display a diversity which will be perfected around the throne of God?
May God be merciful to us and enable us to grow in our love for our brothers and sisters, and may our churches be families that nurture growth and display God’s glory to the watching world.
Jonathan George serves as an elder at Satya Vachan Church, Lucknow. He is married to Hina, and they have a son and a daughter