Family. Love it, hate it. Want it, can’t stand it. Family is messy because family is made up of, well, people. The family of God is messy that way too. But the family of God is actually our real family. That’s important regardless of relationship status, but perhaps especially important for those who are not married or who are in an unhappy marriage. What does that look like?
God created each human being with the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy. Evil has hijacked that need in so many destructive ways, including confusing sex and intimacy in our culture and in our minds. We’ve been harmed by intimacy gone wrong, and we’ve tried to fill those holes in our souls with all manner of hurtful and unsatisfying behaviors and relationships.
This plays out in sad and destructive ways. A retirement community near where I live is known for having an astonishingly high rate of sexually transmitted diseases among its unmarried residents. That’s people going to sex to meet intimacy needs. The need for intimacy doesn’t expire at a certain age.
For those experiencing same-sex attraction a common complaint about the standard Christian sexual ethic of marriage between one man and one woman is that without marriage, who’s going to take care of me when I’m sick, or old? Why should who I’m attracted to limit my options for love and care? Am I to forever be lonely?
Those kinds of needs should be met by the family of God. Sadly that’s too often not happening. Our western evangelical church has not generally done well at helping address people’s need for intimacy beyond idolizing marriage (which helps neither singles nor marrieds).
So what could the family of God look like if it were functioning as God intended?
Siblings in the Family of God
In When the Church Was a Family New Testament professor Joseph Hellerman describes how in the ancient Mediterranean world the sibling relationship was seen as the closest and most affectionate bond, even above marriage. That’s the kind of connection the New Testament is talking about when it described the church as a family.
If you grew up with brothers or sisters you know sibling relationships are messy. Sometimes you fight. It may be a love/hate relationship. If you’ve got several siblings you feel closer to some than others. Sometimes you get enmeshed in unhealthy ways. You may become estranged or angry, not speaking to each other for long periods.
But your siblings are your siblings; you can’t divorce your brother or sister. You may not have siblings, or never developed any real bond with those you do have. There may have been so much trauma between you that you have set up necessary boundaries between you just to stay safe. Most of us need to learn healthier ways to relate to our siblings, but you’re stuck with the siblings you have, for good or for ill.
The New Testament speaks of household and family frequently. A household was a group of people living together, perhaps blood related but not necessarily. And this concept has absolutely nothing to do with going to a building once a week for a worship service. The cliché “doing life together” has been thrown around a lot, but that’s not an hour or two once or twice a week!
Siblings in the family of God would mean a FEW people who know where you are in the world at any given time. You eat together often, and do holidays or vacations together at times. You can truly call on each other if life goes haywire.
The Call for a Spiritual Family
So, are you experiencing intimacy like this within the family of God? Are there two, three, four Christian brothers or sisters who truly know you?
Dr. Christopher Yuan is a professor at Moody Bible Institute. He lived a gay lifestyle before God got ahold of him, and now lives celibate while speaking, writing, and teaching about the gospel and sexuality. In Holy Sexuality and the Gospel he writes about our need for intimacy as human beings regardless of relationship status.
The New Testament has already created a new community through which our primary needs for companionship and intimacy can be met. Yet the problem is that we really aren’t living as family. We aren’t living as true spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ, and as a result, many singles – particularly those with same-sex attractions – experience feelings of confinement and isolation. . . . Spiritual family means that if the church were actually the church, if the body of Christ were actually the body of Christ, if the family of God were actually the family of God, then not having a physical family wouldn’t really matter! Because we’d have real family. A family that is eternal.
Contemplating this kind of connection with a FEW others often feels messy or impossible. And our culture has also sexualized this level of connection. That’s not what we’re talking about. As God intended it, these family-of-God sibling relationships would be the place you work through all kinds of issues including your sexuality as needed. And everyone needs these kinds of connections, including married people!
Just like blood family, the family of God is messy. But that doesn’t change what Jesus intended – and still intends – things to be.
We’ll continue to talk about this in weeks ahead. But here are a few initial steps for you to take.
- If you’re married, as a couple invite one or two unmarried people to connect more deeply with your family. Share meals, holidays, and all the other messiness of life.
- If you’re not married, stretch yourself to connect more deeply with one or a few other believers, regardless of relationship status. Just reach out – not to get something, but to connect. Try it!
- If you’re a Christian leader, talk about this aspect of the family of God. Lead by example, and share stories of those who are moving toward living this out well.
I find this difficult myself, and have to stretch myself in nurturing these kinds of connections. But the only way to address our God-given need for intimacy is to stick around, as Jesus did with His closest friends. Who are your Peter, James, and John? It was messy for Jesus, and it will be messy for you too.
Don’t wait for someone else to make a move toward you.
Just start being the family of God.
Your Turn: What has “family of God” looked like for you? If you’re like most people and it hasn’t been particularly “family,” what next step are you going to take to move toward this picture that Jesus intended? Leave a comment below.
Want more? This week on the podcast I talk with Danielle Treweek about the meaning of singleness in the body of Christ. It’s good stuff!
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- What Jesus intended the family of God to be is nothing like most of us experience in church today. Family means a few siblings you’re doing life with. How can we do that more in the family of God? Tweet that.
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