Throughout Scripture, various motifs are given to describe the Christian life. These motifs can help us understand the way we should act as those who are called by God, called by God to be on mission in the World but not to be conformed to it (John 17:14-19). The radical freedom given by the Christian’s new identity extends beyond the redefinition of political or national identity; it redefines even the closest of human relationships. The fourth and final motif I want to consider is that of Christians as members of a new family.
Jesus, in His preaching, called for a radical re-orientation in the lives of his followers related to a radical re-orientation in their relationship to God. Though the language of God as Father is not unique to the New Testament (Deut. 32:6; 2 Sam. 7:14; Isa. 9:5, 63:16), it becomes central to the identity of Christians. Jesus teaches believers to pray to God as their Father (Matt. 6:9), calls God the Father of His disciples (Matt. 5:16; 6:1, 18). He even identifies His true family not as those who are biologically related to Him but those who obey God (Matt. 12:46-50). Throughout the New Testament, we also see believers frequently identified as “brothers”1 and exhorted to grow in their familial love for one another (in “brotherly love”) (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22, 3:8; 2 Pet. 1:7).
The Church becomes, in the New Testament, the closest unit in society. The Church becomes a new society in the midst of, yet different from, the surrounding society. At a time when family obligations where much stronger than they are in North America today, Jesus told His followers that following Him would mean being hated by their families (Matt. 10:21-22, Mark 13:12). He told them that they would have to, at times, lose their families for His name sake (Matt. 19:29). The extent to which Christianity reshapes family loyalties is seen in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, where Paul tells believing spouses of unbelievers that they are free—they are to be at peace—if their unbelieving spouse leaves them. (They are not, however, to initiate a divorce, for God might use them to save their spouse.) Because of this relationship believers have in Christ—brothers and sisters, bound by the Holy Spirit with a relationship closer than any other human relationship—Christian ethics (good works) takes on a radically internalized nature.
The Romans are called especially to give to the needs of the saints (12:13). In Galatians, Paul instructs the beleivers to do good to everyone, “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10, cf. 1 Thess. 15:15). The Christian’s motivation for working becomes taking care of one another’s needs and not being a burden to the Church, implying that the church takes up the obligation to take care of the needs of its members (Eph. 4:28, 2 Thess. 3:7-12; 1 Tim. 5:16; Heb. 13:16; 1 John 3:16-18). Furthermore, hospitality becomes a key Christian virtue (Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 5:10; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9; 3 John 5-8). This focus on the saints is not at the exclusion of the outside world but ultimately for the sake of the great commission. The church is called to focus its ethics inward in order that the body might be built up, equipped, and ready to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth and that it might shine in this dark world as a community shaped by God. Doing this, it will exemplifies the New Creation in the midst of the Old (Eph. 4:11-16, 25-32; Matt. 5:14-16; Eph. 5:7-16; Phil. 2:15).
This could take many different forms, but consider some of the implications living with this mindset might have: when we chose our job, do we chose one that benefits us or the local church in which we are involved? Do we fit our commitment to the church—serving, participating in worship on Sundays and throughout the weeks—into our work schedules, or do we choose what job we will take and hours we will work by how well it will accomadate our church commitments? Will we give up our favorite activity to serve a brother or sister in need—brining a meal to a family with a newborn?
1 The significance of the male term is not the exclusion of females but the specific rights of a male heir, a son, that are given to all believers—male and female. The word for “sister” is used occasionally, but the usual practice in the NT is to use the word “brothers,” it being understood that both men and women are included.
(adapted from the paper, “Appendix 2 – Christ and Culture“)