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When You're Here, You're Family (I Timothy 3:14, 15)

August 1, 2010 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Coming Home

Passage: 1 Timothy 3:14–3:15

Coming Home

When You’re Here, You’re Family
I Timothy 3:14, 15
August 1st, 2010
Way of Grace Church

I. The Importance of Family

Is there anyone you know who would say the family is NOT important? Even though many people find themselves in terms of defining “family values”, no one seems to be divided over the fundamental value of family.

The British leader Winston Churchill once said, “There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained.”

How important is family to you?

 

II. The Passage: "In the Household of God” (3:14, 15)

As we turn to God’s word this morning, let’s take a look together at I Timothy 3:14, 15. Let me read: [Paul tells Timothy]

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

Chapter 1, verse 3 tells us that Timothy was serving in the city of Ephesus. And from the verses I just read, Paul is clear about his intentions for this letter. Even though he is hoping to come and minister in person to those in Ephesus, if he cannot, if he is delayed, then what he’s written down should guide and direct Timothy and everyone in this church about what is appropriate in terms of conduct for God’s people.

We know from the first chapter that Timothy’s primary mission in Ephesus was to keep the church on track in the face of certain men who were teaching strange ideas to these followers of Jesus, men who were trying to undo the good work that Paul and his team had already done.

But notice specifically in 3:14 and 15, notice how the church is described. It is described in three ways: 1) as the household of God, 2) as the church of the living God, and 3) as a pillar and buttress of truth.

But, if you look closely, the last two descriptions are given to further describe the first. It is the first description that has the place of importance here.

What is the church? It is the household of God.

Now, we are faced with an interpretive challenge here. On the one hand, the word Paul uses in verse 15 could be translated simply as “house”, and if that’s the correct translation, then “the house of God” would be referring to some kind of church building or to the Temple in Jerusalem. But that doesn’t really fit the context here, does it?

So what does the context tell us about this term “house” or “household”? Well, look first at verse 12:

Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.

There’s the same word. If we keep moving back through the chapter, we find this in verses 4 and 5 about potential overseers, that is, potential elders:

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?

Well it’s very clear from the context that we are not talking about literal “houses” here; Paul’s not talking about buildings. No, he’s talking about “households”. And a household is not a house, is it? A household are the people who live in a house.

And in verses 4 and 5 of this chapter Paul is clearly drawing a parallel between the household of a particular family and the household of God.

But why is this so important to what Paul’s trying to communicate? Well, if you look again at verse 15, you’ll see that what Paul understands about right conduct is directly connected to what Paul understands about the relationships between the believers in Ephesus.

And how does he define those relationships?

He describes the church as a family. A family.

 

III. What the Bible Teaches Us about the Family of God

Now the Bible uses a number of analogies when it describes God’s people. In the Old Testament, Israel was compared to a flock of sheep, to a wild donkey, and even to a prostitute. In the New Testament, the church is compared to a temple, a human body, and even a bride.

But by far, the most common image used to describe God’s people in the New Testament is rooted in the concept of family. Let’s take a few minutes and look at all of the ways in which God’s word points us to the reality of the church as family.

1. The reality of the church as family is clear from Jesus’ own teaching about the redefinition of kindred relationships.

Listen to Mark chapter 3:

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Now, wait a minute. What is Jesus doing here? Talk about disrespectful, especially in this first century, Jewish setting. How can he say this about his family?

Well notice that he’s not necessarily saying anything negative about his family; he’s not saying what he’s saying because his mom forgot to send him a Hanukah card. He’s simply using the opportunity to point to the radical newness that he himself is bringing about. This new way to be human is redefining relationships.

No longer will flesh and blood connections be the most important ties in human existence. No, the bonds created by God’s Spirit will be so much stronger because they are bonds that are redefined by and in God. They are bonds created in new life. Thus, they are bonds that will last for eternity.

2. The reality of the church as family is clear from the New Testament’s emphasis on a “new birth”.

Here’s just a couple of examples of this: Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Listen to what Peter writes: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (I Peter 1:3)

Now in and of itself, this idea of a “new birth” does not lead us directly to the concept of family. If we isolated these verses, we could look at this in very individualistic terms. But we cannot isolate this theme from the rest of Scripture. And in light of the rest of the New Testament, the idea of a new birth has to be understood in terms of our third point.

3. The reality of the church as family is clear from the many references to believers as adopted children and to God as our Father.

Here’s just a smattering of the countless verses that use this kind of language:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:31, 32)

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… (Romans 8:15, 16)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (I John 3:1)

In the Old Testament, while the salvation of God was open to all sorts of people, the story itself revolves around God’s choice of and relationship with the family of Abraham, and then the family of Isaac, and then the family of Jacob, who was also called Israel. Thus the majority of the Old Testament focuses on the children of Israel.

But in the New Testament, that earthly reality of family gives way to the spiritual reality of God’s family in the church. Because of what Jesus, the Son of God did on the cross for us, we can become sons and daughters of God through faith. We too can cry to God just as Jesus did, “Abba. Father.”

And it’s this reality that forms the foundation for our last point.

4. The reality of the church as family is clear from the extremely common language of brotherhood in the New Testament.

Because followers of Jesus Christ have been born again through faith, because, by the grace of God, we have been adopted by God, and can now call on God as Father, because we are, in fact, sons and daughters of God, we are therefore brothers and sisters because of Jesus.

Jesus himself said as much in Matthew 23:8, 9: But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:8, 9)

In the New Testament, the word “brother” is 174 times to describe the relationship between Christians. This radical reality of new family relationships between people who came from all sorts of different ethnic, cultural, generational, and economic backgrounds, this reality was to affect their basic perspective in regard to one another. That’s why Paul can tell Philemon this about his runaway slave Onesimus:

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother… (Philemon 15, 16)

This is why Paul and Peter and the author of Hebrews describe our commitment to one another with the term philadelphia. Paul writes: Love one another with brotherly affection. (Romans 12:10)

This language of brotherhood extends even to Jesus, who because of his Incarnation, because He came and took on flesh, can be counted as our brother. Hebrews 2 makes this clear, but we also read this in Romans 8:

For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

If we belong to God through faith in the gospel, Jesus is our elder brother. He holds this position of firstborn, not because he was in some way created first, but because of His resurrection from the dead and His authority as the Son of God.

If we look up and pray to God as “Father”, we also need to look around and realize that we are brothers and sisters, because of God’s infinite grace.

 

IV. Changed by This Radical Reality

Now, why was it important that we spend all that time looking at these different verses? Well, I wanted to do that in order to convince you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that not only does the New Testament speak about the church as a family, but that this imagery is pervasive and extremely significant. It is not the only image used in reference to the church, but it is the dominant image.

I stress that because I believe, in light of God’s word, that this reality must also have the dominant place in our relationships.

How do you think about the church? That’s an extremely important question. That’s a question that is shaped by our culture, as much as it is by our upbringing.

For some, the church is primarily an institution, maybe similar to a government. Those raised in mainline or Roman Catholic or Orthodox settings might primarily think about the church in this way, as a sacred hierarchy of authority.

For others, the church is a movement. Whether the imagery employed is based on military language or athletics, many people primarily think about the church in terms of a mission to be accomplished, things like distributing materials door-to-door, picketing an abortion clinic, feeding the hungry, planning a peace march or a political letter writing campaign or a corporate boycott.

For still others, the church is simply a consumer choice. In a world where we are so often taught to see ourselves through the lens of economics, in a land where we are daily bombarded by advertisements, in a culture where we are consistently set on a pedestal as consumers with the almighty powers of choice and cash or credit, it is very hard not to think of the church as simply one more consumer option.

And of course, churches today are tempted to appeal to this very mindset in order to grow. We trumpet their programs. We detail all of our benefits. We advertise in way that connects with the felt needs of the consumer.

And so when many people come to church, they come, as a consumer, in order to receive spiritual goods and services. Church is viewed as something like a community college course combined with a therapy session mixed with a bowling team, with an after school activity thrown in on top.

But these are not analogies we find in the New Testament.

When it comes to the church, God’s word tells us that the primary way in which we are to think about our relationship to one another, the primary lens through which we are to see our fellow follower if Jesus is the lens of family.

If “here” is defined as the place of faith in and forgiveness from God because of Jesus, if “here” is defined as that place of knowing and living in the grace of God, then, to borrow a recent restaurant slogan, “When you’re here, you’re family”.

Think about it for a minute. Why did God choose the family as a concept through which to tell us something about our relationships with one another?

I think He did this because the family is a universally understood and universally accepted baseline in terms of love and commitment. (2x)

An old Spanish proverb puts it this way: An ounce of blood is worth more than a pound of friendship.

Our figures of speech betray this instinctive understanding. “He’s like a brother to me.” “She’s just like one of the family.”

You see, even in a day and age where so many family relationships are completely damaged and deformed, our recognition of the problem and our palpable sense of loss all confirm our instinctual understanding of the ideal of family love and commitment.

The poet Robert Frost once said: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Love and commitment.

Therefore, the radical reality of the church as family should channel this understanding and acceptance into love and commitment among God’s people.

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

How should one behave in God’s family? Listen to what Paul writes two chapters later:

[Timothy…] Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity. (I Timothy 5:1) And Paul goes on to write about how the church should care for widows who are truly widows.

Is this how we see one another? Is “family” the lens through which we look when it comes to the church?

Think about your blood relatives for a minute. Think about your mother and father and brother and sister and spouse and children and grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles.

How do you think about your commitment to them? What would you give for your brother’s good? What would you say or not say to someone else about your very own sister? If you were offended by a family member, how would you handle it? What commitments should family members have toward one another? What obligations do we have toward our family…in terms of time, in terms of needs, in terms of forgiveness?

How do families work together? How do families talk about finances? How do families communicate? How do families handle things when one of their own is living a dangerous and destructive lifestyle? How do families celebrate together?

Most of us know how to answer these questions in regard to our own flesh and blood, but shouldn’t we also be asking these questions about the church?

And let me stress that all of these questions have to be answered in light of Jesus Christ. He is the one who defines the love we are to have for one another, the humility we are to exhibit, the service we are to render, the forgiveness we are to extend to our brothers and sisters.

Sadly, many today have a very warped view of what a family should be like. That’s why we always have to come back to Jesus, and that newness of life that is defined by Christ’s own character and example.

Way of Grace, if we are God’s family, members of his own household, sons and daughters, together, then what steps should we be taking in order to nurture the family ties that already exist among us?

Shouldn’t we be looking out for one another? Shouldn’t we be serving one another? Shouldn’t we be committed to one another and to spending time with one another: family gatherings? Shouldn’t we be opening our homes up to one another? Family does that. Shouldn’t we be talking with one another about what’s going on in our lives? Shouldn’t we seek to be reconciled with one another when a relationship is strained? Shouldn’t we go after brothers or sisters who are headed down the wrong path? Shouldn’t leaving a church be more like leaving your family than leaving a school or softball team or social club?

God forbid that this ever becomes a group of people who just get together on Sundays to sing some uplifting songs and hear a semi-decent sermon.

We do not live as a family in order to become like a family. We live as a family because we are a family. The family of God is the only family that will endure throughout all eternity. Some our earthly relatives may be lost without Christ. And even those who do inherit eternal life, those earthly connections will melt away. In the presence of God, the only thing that will connect us, forever and forever, is the blood of Jesus Christ…the grace of God.

Do you know that grace personally this morning? All of us have a desperate desire to belong. But even though we may and should cultivate strong families and strong family connections with our relatives, that longing for belonging will never fully be satisfied in us until we first belong to THE Father in heaven, and second, until we belong to His family the church.

How do you think about the church? If you belong to Jesus Christ in faith, then ultimately, come into fellowship with God’s people should always be like coming home. Let’s pray.

More in Coming Home

August 15, 2010

Our Family Business (Ephesians 4:11-16)

August 8, 2010

Meet the Family (I Timothy 5:1, 2)