Family! Some would say, “You can’t live with them!” And others would say, “You can’t live without them.” And then there’s another group who says both statements. This is in reference to our earthly families, but it is also applicable to our church family.
While some are trying to change the definition and makeup of families, God designed fathers and mothers to have children from the beginning. These children were brothers and sisters to each other. Then there were grandchildren, nieces, nephews, uncles, and aunts. We see this physical reality displayed in a spiritual reality as well.
Throughout the Bible, there are many references to a family. God is the father (Matthew 6:9), and Abraham is the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:5) Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 1:11), and those who receive and believe (depend upon) Him are called children of God. (John 1:12) In the Old Testament, God’s people are described as the “sons (children) of God.” (Exodus 2:25). Those who believe in Jesus are known as brothers and sisters to each other. (1 Thessalonians 5:12 and Romans 16:1)
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, Paul gives us some instructions regarding how to embrace the church family. It is good advice for embracing your earthly, physical family as well. In this passage, we see the father/child relationship exhibited through the pastor/congregant relationship, and we see how the church should relate to one another as siblings.
God sovereignly places us in our families, and He also sovereignly places spiritual leaders to shepherd His church. These leaders are to be respected, appreciated, honored, and loved. They are like fathers who watch over and care for their children. The fifth commandment says, “Honor your father…” (Exodus 20:12), which should be done for those spiritual fathers. In a like manner, as a father provides safety, security, and blessings for his children, spiritual leaders are to provide guidance, sound doctrine, and blessings for the “children of God.”
No matter how good of a family you have, there is some amount of dysfunction because we live in a sinful, fallen world. The best families have difficulties, struggles, and hardships. Sometimes parent/child relationships are strained, and sometimes siblings fight like cats and dogs. Therefore, Paul gives us four commands to practice in our earthly and spiritual families.
First, he says, “admonish the idle.” Idle is best defined as unruly or disorderly. If we have a family member out of line, we warn them to get back in line. We are to seriously advise them to abandon their current conduct and become disciplined. When my children were in elementary school, they talked about walking down the hall “single file, second tile.” If someone wasn’t walking the way they were supposed to, they were admonished to get back in line correctly. Stating the truth helps family members to see where they have strayed from God and warns them to return to His ways.
Then, Paul says to “encourage the fainthearted.” It is easy to grow weary with everything happening in the world and individual lives. Doubts arise, and fears increase. However, we are to encourage the fainthearted to be bold and courageous in these difficult times. Some in our family are exhausted and worn out. They need someone to cheer them on, as Hebrews 12:1-2 states. Share a Scripture that gives hope and a promise they can hold on to.
“Help the weak.” Not everyone is as spiritually or morally strong as you are. Help them to develop these muscles. In 9th grade, I remember I could not bench press that much. I wasn’t very strong, but some older, stronger guys helped me “bulk up.” They would work with me, and we had a routine designed to increase my bench press. Although I never could bench press 300 lbs, I grew in strength because someone helped this weakling.
Finally, Paul states, “be patient with them all.” It would be great if we could snap our fingers and the unruly were back in line, the weary had the courage to press on, and the weak were strengthened. However, that isn’t how it works. It takes time. Sanctification, the process of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, does not happen instantly. If we reflect on our life, we know it has been a long journey. We did not get to where we are overnight. Therefore, we should not expect others to either. Be patient with them. Display grace and forgiveness as we spur them on to be more conformed to the image of Jesus.
So if you feel that “you can’t live with your family” right now, be patient with them. Trust that God is doing a great work – if not in them, then in you. Because the truth is “you can’t live without your family.” We need our family to be the people of God that He has called us to be.