Jesus had some difficult things to say about family. When He was so pressed by the crowds that He and His disciples could not find time even to eat, Jesus’ mother and siblings came to His rescue. But Jesus didn’t accept their reprieve as expected. Instead He asked, “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ Then he looked at those seated around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:33-35, NIV throughout). These were not words of metaphor or hyperbole; Jesus meant what He said.
Still, Jesus didn’t discount His earthly family, especially His mother. As the oldest son and in the absence of Joseph, He had the responsibility of caring for Mary. On the cross Jesus called His mother and the apostle John together: “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26, 27).
Interestingly, Jesus had biological brothers and sisters, but He didn’t ask them nor did he leave it to any of them to care for Mary. The apostle John did so the rest of her life. Jesus chose the believer at the foot of the cross over siblings who suspected He had lost His mind.Blood, it is said, is thicker than water, meaning biological relationships are stronger than friendships. Faith, Jesus says, should be thicker than both.
What are the characteristics of a church family? Acts tells us that new believers in Jerusalem held all things in common and broke bread from house to house together as they soaked in the teaching of the apostles. We should readily see from this that church is to be a joyous family. When the author of Hebrews instructs us not to forsake assembling together, we realize the church’s priority. And Paul uses the analogy of the body to describe the church, noting the interdependence of each part on the others. This communicates the church’s necessity to the maturation of any believer. It is to be the hub of human relationships and of our service to Christ our Savior.
Many early believers came to Christ at the expense of biological family. They were disowned and even betrayed for imprisonment by their biological families. For support, they looked to the assembly of believers. Some in this assembly opened their houses to them; others sold property to provide for their needs. What these new believers found was a new, stronger, and eternal family. What they found was the church.
Note these words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth . . . no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospelwill fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29, 30).
Based on what Jesus said, it is inexplicable to me that so many value church so little. It’s as if some are convinced that they can function without half their bodily organs, or as if the teaching of Christ (or Paul) are not authoritative, or that Jesus’ promise of a greater family isn’t wanted. It would also seem that such people don’t understand that we need them, that their absence deprives the church of something significant God uniquely called and enabled them to provide.
What’s even more mysterious is that family is so often cited as a reason to miss church: school activities, recreation, vacation, and other “family” times, resulting in only sporadic attendance. Jesus demonstrated His commitment to God-ordained biological family responsibilities, but He also made it clear that true family was inextricably interwoven with the fellowship of other believers and that if one must supersede the other, faith came first.
Not many in our American experience have been forced to choose between family and faith. We do see all around us, however, the systematic destruction of the family. As a result, many of those coming to the church from the community come hungry for the love, nurture, and guidance absent in their biological family. Some come as single parents struggling without role models, with broken hearts from broken relationships. Still others come without the emotional, social, or financial skills needed to enjoy any kind of stability. So much of what they lack stems from the absence of parental or familial support and instruction.
Are we, the church, ready to be the family such people need? To be role models and provide practical instruction for successful parenting? To teach and coach the coping skills required to hold a job or to have healthy interpersonal relationships? Are we prepared to be parents, aunts, uncles, and siblings to those who have no functional biological equivalent? We need to be committed and consistent in our church involvement so we can provide the kind of stable support these new believers crave.
Maybe no one we know has had to choose faith over family, but it is an important question to consider. If someone did choose faith over family (or had no real family at all) and came to our church next Sabbath, what would he find? I pray he would find a family whose bond is faith, as thick as the blood of the Lamb.