For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
“I love the family aspect it brings to everyone on the team.”
“Your teammates will always be there for you when you need them.”
“Working together toward a common goal…friendships…lifelong memories.”
When teams are functioning at their best, they can be a source of encouragement, friendships, and inspiration. A team collectively is better than the sum of its parts. A team can and should feel like family.
But what about when it doesn’t work that way? I asked the teens what they liked LEAST about being on a team. Here are some of their responses:
“Having to deal with people who do not work and people who think they are better than you.”
“The people who are mean and bossy, but I guess I have to like them.”
Yep. We’ve all been there! The best part about being on a team is the people. The worst part about being on a team is….the people. Isn’t that interesting?
But that’s life. Throughout the course of your life you will form some amazing relationships that are life-giving and comforting. But you will also have people around you who just suck all the joy out of the room. Learning to deal with difficult people is part of growing up.
I wanted to take this a step further, so I asked the teens what they liked most about the Church. Check out their answers:
“I like the community aspect, and I love all the awesome people who are there no matter what.”
“I have a place where I don’t feel stressed.”
“The relationships and the love from everyone.”
That’s what church should be about! (By the way, I didn’t give them any prompting for these questions.)
When the church is functioning as we should, this should be a group of people who love and accept each other, who have each other’s back no matter what. This should be a place where everyone belongs and feels welcomed.
But we know it’s not always that way. I also asked them what they liked least about the church. Their answers were telling:
“Feeling judgment from some people.”
“The illusion that we have to show up perfect.”
“People who act one way in church and different out in the world.”
Like with teams so it is with church. The best part of church is the people. The worst part of church is…the people.
PEOPLE ARE THE WORST/BEST
There’s a saying that all preachers will understand: “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for all the people.” We say that tongue-in-cheek because we know that’s impossible. The church is not a building. The church is people. And if you think that getting along with everyone in the church is difficult, congratulations – you’re normal. If everyone always got along in the church, then we wouldn’t have most of our New Testament! Most of Paul’s letters were written to churches who were going through some internal conflict among their members. Much of the book of Acts is about integrating the Gentiles into this way of being Christ followers.
People are the worst. But people are also pretty great.
That’s why Peter includes this next virtue in the list: MUTUAL AFFECTION.
That’s really just one word in the Greek, and it’s one we’ve all heard – philadelphia. This word means “love of brother or sister,” or more generally “the affection one has for family members.” The New Testament authors used this word to describe “the love that Christians have for one another in the Body of Christ.”
Think of it this way. If godliness = loyalty and devotion to God, then philadelphia = loyalty and devotion to each other.
But aren’t we supposed to love everyone? Yes, but that’s the next virtue. Let’s not skip over the importance of this one. Mutual affection is specifically about the love we have within the community of believers.
WHEN YOU’RE HERE, YOU’RE FAMILY
One of the primary ways this God-centered community is described is as a family. From the very beginning God has been forming a global family connected by faith in him and love for each other. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick journey through the Bible from beginning to end.
Genesis 1:26-28 // Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
From the very beginning the Scriptures are clear. All humans are created in the image of God. All humans share a common ancestry. All humans are part of one global family. But as the story goes on we see sin, violence, and division take root in the world. Humans grew apart. Civilizations cropped up and went to war against each other. It’s in the midst of this downward spiral that God begins again with a man named Abram.
Genesis 12:1-3 // The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Abram would go on to be renamed Abraham and eventually become known as the Father of the Faith. From Abraham comes the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people who would be one special family. I think this gives a really good picture of what Israel was supposed to be:
Psalm 113:7-9 // He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.
Among God’s people all his children are equals. The poor and the princes are on level ground before God. The childless woman becomes a mother to dozens. The orphans have parents. We are all family, all equal in value and love. But as we know, things don’t always go as planned. By the time Jesus comes on the scene, the Jews are rife with divisions and prejudice. There’s one instance when Jesus’ own family shows up while he’s preaching and tries to stop him and bring him home. Check out his response:
Mark 3:31-35 // Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus redefines family. He challenges us to place a stronger loyalty on the family of believers than our own flesh and blood family. The community of faith should be a higher priority in our lives than most of us are willing to make it. But if we follow Jesus, we have a new family now, and we need to reprioritize. Don’t believe me? It keeps going:
John 1:11-13 // He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Romans 8:14-17 // For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
1 Timothy 5:1-2 // Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
I could go on and on. Scriptures are packed full of familial language. That’s why we can’t be a Christian and not be part of the church. When you follow Christ, you are automatically added to this community of faith, this family, that stretches across the globe. Not everybody is going to look like you, talk like you, think like you, dress like you, worship like you, vote like you, or whatever else you may think is important. The only thing you may have in common with other Christians is your belief in Jesus – and that’s enough. That’s kind of the whole point. That’s where this is all headed!
Revelation 7:9-10 // After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
DISCIPLESHIP IS A TEAM SPORT
So if we’re all one big family, how then should we treat each other? Just as we started by talking about teams, I think we can learn a lesson about becoming a family from one of the greatest sports movies ever, Remember the Titans.
Discipleship is a team sport. Faith in God was never meant to be a solo endeavor. God had always intended for people to form a community centered on faith. So often, though, we have the same bad attitude as Julius and others in Remember the Titans and focus only on ourselves. We are concerned about our “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” (a phrase that is nowhere in Scripture), and we think that church is optional.
If you want to play soccer, you need a team. If you want to play basketball, you need a team. If you want to play football, you need a team. If you want to follow Christ, you need a team. Discipleship is a team sport! Church is not optional.
Just as the best and worst thing about teams is the people, so it is with church. The best and worst part about church is the people. And guess what? You’re one of the people. You’re not always the easiest to get along with, either. You can also be judgmental and hypocritical. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need you.
This is why philadelphia/brotherly love/mutual affection/family loyalty is so important. The greatest witness to God’s love for the world is our love for each other.
BROTHERS DON’T SHAKE HANDS. BROTHERS GOTTA HUG!
So I asked the teens last night what we can do to make the church feel more like a family. Here are some of their responses:
“Love people where they are, not where you think they should be.”
“Make an effort to know people better.”
“Put past things in the past and move on to better everyone around you.”
“Support and help anyone in need of help.”
“Try to be here as much as possible so no one thinks you’ve given up on them.”
“Love and support everyone.”
“Talk more and be you.”
Church is not somewhere you go. Church is a family you belong to. Don’t go to church, be the church. These teens are exactly right in their ideas of making the church feel more like a family. This sounds like a group I want to be a part of. This feels like family.
I’ll leave you with a two more passages. May we be “doers of the word and not merely hearers.”
Colossians 3:12-15 // Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Romans 12:9-18 // Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.