In my family, I am a father, a husband, a grandfather, a brother, a son and an uncle. If I choose to cut lawns for a living, the functional description of my job is 'lawn cutter' but my relational description within my family doesn’t change, no matter what my job is. I will never be a lawn cutter to my kids. I will always relate to them as their father.
When they were little, my role was different than it is now that they have become adults. As they grew up, the dynamics of our relationship matured and friendship became more prevalent. Yet even in the maturing of our relationship, I am still their father and they are still my kids.
In the natural, my children may be dental hygienists, marketing directors, and sales coordinators by profession, but to me, they are and will always be first and foremost my beloved little ones. They may change careers, which is neither here nor there, because our relationship will never change.
However, if healthy family love does not overshadow our functional descriptors, then we will become more mechanical in the way that we relate to each other. If heart intimacy is not present, we will look to find another way in which we try to relate to each other.
It is ludicrous to think that I could possibly relate to my mother as a 'lawn cutter'. I may cut lawns for a living, but to my mom, I will always be her son. The same goes for me being a husband to my wife, a father to my kids, a grandfather to my grand kids, a brother to my brother and an uncle to my nephews and nieces.
Yet in the Christian life, we seem to place a higher priority on our functional descriptors than our relational ones. We see ourselves as disciples, servants, workers, pastors, apostles, prophets rather than sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.
We may even confuse our personal identity to God as His beloved kids with our corporate identity as being a small part of the Bride of Christ or a soldier in God’s army. I think that is why we find it so easy to part ways in church life when we disagree. The thing is, families don’t have that same option. Whether we agree or not, my brother is my brother for life.
If we don’t relate to each other in church life through a family model, there is a good chance that we may see some form of abuse of spiritual authority at one point or another. Jesus addressed this issue with His disciples when He reminded them in Matthew 23:8 that they were to treat each other as equals when He said… “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. (NLT)
While Jesus also told His disciples that they were not to take the place of authority reserved only for the Father in people’s lives (Matthew 23:8), it only stands to reason that the more we become like the Son who is exactly like the Father, the more we will begin to exude the same kind of family love to others. As Jesus said in John 15:9... Even as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain in my love. (WEB)
It appears that Paul saw himself more as a father than an apostle in the way that he related to the church plants that he was connected to. In 1 Corinthians 4:14-17, Paul describes the Corinthians as his ‘dear children’ and Timothy as his beloved son. And in verse 15, he writes... Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. (NIV)
We also read a further unpacking of Paul’s heart in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 when he writes… But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children. (WEB) And in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul encourages Timothy to relate in a family model rather than an organizational one.
1 Timothy 5:1-2 ...Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (NIV)
Family love is what the Christian life is supposed to be all about. At the very core of the Godhead is a Father and a Son united in Spirit, bonded together by their complete and absolute love and devotion for one another. And the good news of the gospel is that we have been invited into the very center of their family love by virtue of our union with Jesus (John 17:23).
In the Old Testament, God was described by over 300 names. In the New Testament, Jesus revealed the summation of all His names by calling God, His Father. Creator is a functional descriptor of what God does, but Father is who He is. There is only one way in which we can relate to God as Father… and that is as His son or daughter. If earthly fathers don’t relate to their children at a heart level through their functional roles, I can't imagine God does either.
I believe that God loves it when we call Him our Abba! (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) Though we may wear many different hats in every day life, He always sees us through the lens of being our Papa (Ephesians 5:1). He chose us before the foundation of the world to be adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:3-6). He was delighted to make His only begotten Son the Firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29) and He has made good on His promise to become a real Father to us (2 Corinthians 6:18).
While Jesus Christ is our Lord, Savior, King and our all in all, in a family context, He is also our big brother (Hebrews 2:11-12) Because of His great love for His Father, Jesus became the way (John 14:6) for us to be fully reconciled to His Father (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
In John 8:35, Jesus declared the heart of family love when He said… Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. (NIV) And in His first post resurrection message to His 'brothers', Jesus summarized the very purpose of salvation when He said... I am returning to my God and your God, to my Father and your Father! (John 20:17)
While our conversion from darkness to light can be described in many ways, at the very heart of our salvation is a homecoming to our Father and a new birth into His wonderful family. Through the cross, Jesus became the way to bring many children to glory (Hebrews 2:10) and that glory was His Father's love (John 17:24).
In Luke 15, we read about a father who lost both of his sons and all he wanted was for them to come home. Jesus spoke about the home that we are all looking for in John 14:1-3 when He said… 1 “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also. (NIV)
At the very core of the gospel message is a family love that brings us home to where we belong. When Jesus took upon Himself the cloak of humanity, He showed us what His Father was really like and He dismantled every misconception that religion and poor fathering had constructed of what God was like. His death, burial and resurrection paved the way for us to be born into the most amazing family in the universe!
My prayer is that we would all see the Kingdom of God through the lens of family love. We are not worker bees toiling in our Master's field, but sons and daughters of the Kingdom. I pray that the family love of God would set our hearts at rest so that we would know that our place in our Father’s family is safe and secure forever.
I pray that our functional identity would take its rightful place in submission to our true identity as our Abba’s beloved kids (1 John 3:1). May the revelation of God's family love bring healing to every bit of family dysfunction that we have experienced here on earth. May every person who has experienced a disconnection because of parental rejection, receive a homecoming in the arms of a loving Father today (Psalm 27:10).
And may we all learn to speak the language of family love to a world full of orphans that don't even know what they are looking for. May our Father gives us the wisdom to know how to point people to our Big Brother who is in Himself, the answer to the foundational longing of the human heart which cries out... Show us the Father and it will be enough’ (John 14:8)
11 He came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him. 12 But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (WEB)