I often use the phrase, “church family.” With all of the Biblical references of the church as a body, and as believers being children of God (brothers and sisters in Christ), it seems to be a fitting description for the believers of a church. And while believers readily accept this designation without question, I wonder if those from outside the church, if they were to observe the interactions amongst church members would describe what they see as a family?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, ESV).
As part of a recent message on the Good Shepherd from John 10, we saw that Christ knows us, and He laid His life down for us. It’s a simple enough concept, but profound in its implications. Christ knows how sinful we are. He knows how broken we are. He knows how many times we mess up and fall short. And even knowing all of this, He still laid His life down for us. That’s love. It’s a love so immense that I cannot help but be in awe, overwhelmed with gratitude and a desire to praise Him. It is with this model of love that we are commanded to love one another.
That idea of love combined with the idea of a church family makes sense. The world is supposed to recognize that there is something different with Christ in us with our love for one another. But is that what is actually put into practice in our churches today? And if it isn’t, how do we change that? It begins by looking at our own hearts and actions, and spending less time focusing on the faults of others.
Growing up, I confess that I messed up a lot (and unfortunately, still do, but growing), and repeatedly did things that my parents told me not to do. I’m certainly thankful that my parents didn’t say, well that’s it; it’s time to trade him in because he’s messed up too many times. They loved me. My shortcomings were not reasons for them to hold a grudge. It was met with discipline, encouragement, and love to help me grow. My differences in who I am and how I did and saw things were not reasons to alienate, but a recognition of the uniqueness of God’s creation that brought a diversity that made us stronger as a family. The church family is similar. Our differences, created by God as unique members and each blessed with different gifts, brought together by our passion and love of Christ, help us as a church family to grow and in our mission to reach out to others and be a light in this world.
However, in churches, it seems the practice is often love someone until you find something wrong with them. The problem with that is that if we’re actually doing church properly, you will undoubtedly find faults in one another. We aren’t perfect. But instead of being something to divide us, it should be something that helps draw us together because of our love for one another. Family is a place where we are open and trusting enough that we can be honest and vulnerable with one another. And even when we have shortcomings, we are quicker to love than to dismiss one another. We cannot forget what Christ did for us. Even with who we are, all our faults, and all the sin in our lives, He still loves us, and laid His life upon the cross. Where would we be if Christ forgave in the manner than we actually do with one another? Lack of forgiveness hurts ourselves. It creates bitterness and hinders our own growth.
There are too many things that matter that we don’t take seriously enough, and too many things that really don’t matter that become too much of a focus in our lives. Loving one another as family means that we will approach and see things differently but we still stick together. We’re ohana.
My hope is that we are quicker to forgive than to hold a grudge, and that church is a place where we really do love one another as family; a family that is open, trusting, and loving. I want to close by sharing just how grateful I am for my church family. Especially after my recent surgery, I want to say thank you for all of the prayers, encouragement, meals, and love shown to me. It warmed my heart, and I am very thankful for my church family. Mahalo nui loa.