Family. It is the word that I think best describes what it means to belong to a New Testament church. When Jesus said, “Never will I leave you, Never will I forsake you,” (Heb. 13:5), I believe He meant more than just His personal presence. He also meant He has surrounded us with Himself in other believers.
As the Christ in me meets the Christ in you, our family is strengthened. We are not a perfect family; we are as flawed as the day is long. We love, we fight, we laugh, we cry. Some days we can’t get enough of each other and other days we only tolerate each other, but in the end, we are family.
The word “family” flows outward like the ripples in a pond. We have our immediate family: Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters and grandparents. We are family because of blood; we share a common DNA. Like all families, we have several things in common. We all have the crazy uncle whose clothes don’t match and who wears his pants two inches too short. But he drives a vintage Cadillac and is kind of cool in his own way. We also share the scary aunt—the loud, boisterous one who has to come up and kiss you. The only thing louder than her voice are her clothes, jewelry and perfume. You have nightmares of her bursting through the door, arms open wide and fiery red lips ready to smooch. All you can do is scrunch your eyes as tight as you can and hope it will end soon. As if all this isn’t embarrassing enough, she always leaves a little lipstick on your cheeks. The rest of the day, you smell more like a niece than a nephew, but we are family.
From there, the circle of family extends out. Next come the people we work with and live near. This is a strange family; in fact, if we had to pick them from a line-up, we might choose someone else. Most of the time, we don’t get to choose our neighbors or coworkers—but remember, they didn’t get to choose, either. This family is molded by time and proximity. When you work beside someone for hours, days and sometimes even years on end, you develop a sense of family. Most of the time this family isn’t as close as our immediate one, but we are family just the same.
Then there is the family bound together by the blood of Christ. One life, one death, one resurrection has brought together people from every tribe, every tongue, every nation into one family. Do you know how incredible that is, my friend? No matter how far I go on this planet, when I get off the plane, family greets me. Even though we wear different clothes, speak different languages and eat different food, it doesn’t take long for the love of Christ to show up. The Jesus in me recognizes the Jesus in them, and we celebrate being family.
I have the great joy and privilege of visiting my brothers and sisters around the world and staying with them in their huts in Panama, high-rises in Hong Kong or pueblos in Mexico. But when we gather together, we are family. I can’t begin to tell you how many children around the world call me “Uncle Walker” because I’m part of their family. In Hungarian, I am known as Nagybácsi Walker, which I think translates as “the fat old man.” Yes, in Hungary, I am the crazy uncle from America.
I fear that sometimes we get so caught up in the busy-ness of the church that we forget we are family. In the second chapter of Revelation, we see the first letter sent to the church of Ephesus. This was a wonderful church known for its deeds and diligence. They were commended on their knowledge of the Scriptures because they could discern between those who taught the truth and those who were false prophets. Yet, Jesus said He had this against them, “… you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4 NASB).
I know many sermons have been preached on the identity of this first love, but I believe the Ephesians forgot to be family. In his letter to them, the Apostle Paul wrote from prison, “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you” (Eph. 1:15-16). I am glad that you, my Baptist Messenger readers, are my family. In the end, faith always leads to family, and you can’t separate the two.
“By this, all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).