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Sep 16, 2018

A Beautiful Church Family

A Beautiful Church Family

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Anatomy of A Beautiful Church

Keywords: beauty, church, family


This message looks at one of the most frequently used metaphors for God's people--family. No human family is perfect, but the family of God can be truly beautiful if we follow God's call.


A Beautiful Church Family

#2 in The Anatomy of a Beautiful Church series

September 16, 2018

Get Acquainted Question

  • What qualities or characteristics do you most appreciate about your family or family in general?
  • What do you least like about family?

INTRO:  As dysfunctional as this sinful world is, God has programmed into humanity and human experience some deep evidences and echoes of His nature.

EX:  Just this last week, Daniel and I were able to get away for 3 days and go backpacking in Glacier National Park.  It was exhausting, somewhat painful, sweaty, freezing cold, wet and… WONDERFUL!  Because what we saw was further evidence of the unseen God.

  • So what do these next two pictures potentially tell you about God? [Majestic, beautiful, light, continually creative, abundant, generous, powerful, everlasting, etc.]

One of the most obvious stamps of God’s image on humanity has to be the institution we call FAMILY.  Like anything in God’s creation, family can either do a great job of reflecting God or a horrible job…or something somewhere in between…all depending on how near or far the family members are from God’s character and nature. 

Just think for a moment what characteristics of God’s nature can be reflected in family (when it’s not too sin-stained or dysfunctional)?

  • Relational nature of God
  • Trinity (distinct persons but same essence—husband, wife, children)
  • Forgiving
  • Patient
  • Grace-filled
  • Loving
  • Kind
  • Generous, long-suffering, etc.

That may be one reason that FAMILY is one of the most frequent metaphors the N.T. authors chose to speak of life in God’s churchJust what kinds of descriptive words are used of us, the church, that are used of family members?

Relationship to each other:

  • Brothers:  over 135 times in the N.T.!
  • Sisters: almost an equal number (125+ times) used in the N.T.
  • I Timothy 5:1-2--Do not rebuke an older manharshly, 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.

Spiritual sons/daughters in the faith (sp. parenting):

  • Paul & Timothy: True son in the faith (1 Tim. 1:2—Timothy of Paul; Phil 2:22—“like a son with his father,” served P. in the work of the Gospel.)
  • Paul and his churches:
    • My children 2 Cor. 6:13—“As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.”
    • I Cor. 4:14—Paul writes not to shame them but to warn them “as my dear children.”
    • 4:19—Paul was again in the pains of childbirth with these “dear children” until Christ was formed in them. (Women, anyone want to have to re-birth one of your children???)
    • 1 Thess. 2:7, 8-- “as a nursing mother cares for her children and “as a father deals with his own children—I Thess. 2:11.
  • Apostle John & his churches10 times in 1st JohnDear children….” 3rd John 1:4-- I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

God in relationship to us: 

  • Romans 8:16--The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
  • Hebrews 12:7--Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

So the language of the N.T. calls us into family relationships in the church. 

The problem is, we ALL come from dysfunctional/sinful families.  Some come from deeply sinful families and other from slightly less damaging sinful families. So the language of “family” can be problematic and fraught with painful triggers.

            But even if you come from a family that was a mess, don’t you still have a deep longing to be a part of some healthier family? 

If you missed out on having a father in the home, don’t you wish you had had one?  Or a mother?  (Maybe not so much with a brother or sister if you were an only child??? J).

Just as God the Father is not interchangeable with God the Son, so mothers and dads are not “interchangeable.”  Three men can’t make up for a mom any more than three women can make up for a dad.  God can and does often fill the gap in special ways in any home missing either a dad or a mom, but the diversity a man and a woman bring to marriage and parenting is not a minor thing.

Wherever the N.T. uses “family language,” we would do well to note that this language speaks both directions.  What do I mean?

  1. When it speaks in terms of the family of God, our spiritual family, it is also telling us how our own nuclear families are to function.

Paul and his churches

  1. 2 Cor. 6:13—“As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts Children and parents are to have open, heart-to-heart emotional connections.  Note:  This is why RAD kids and parents of RAD kids can get so sideways to each other.  One of my failures as a father was to parent my adoptive sons the same way I parented my biological sons.  For example, thinking they needed a swat on the behind when a strong embrace on my lap may have served them better.
  2. I Cor. 4:14—Paul writes not to shame them but to warn them “as my dear children.” This tells me as a parent that there is a difference between shaming and warning…and that shame is an inferior motivator for kids most of the time.
  3. 1 Thess. 2:7, 8-- “…as a nursing mother cares for her ” How does that teaching about new believers tell us how mothers must take care of infant children? 
  4. I Thess. 2:11--“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…. What does this tell men about being a dad?
  1. But when the Bible speaks in terms of the nuclear family (mother, father, sister, brother), it is also telling us how the spiritual family of God, the church, is to function.
    1. EX: I Timothy 5:1-2—“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.” (“Honor father & mother.”) Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. 

This exhortation of Paul assumes nuclear families where relationships are healthy and that such experiences will help us when it comes to relating to each other in the church.  EX:  Brothers are to treat sisters “with absolute purity.”  This assumes healthy boundaries between brothers and sisters, not incestuous relationships.  This passage also assumes some things about brother-to-brother relationships—that they are positive and loving, not abusive or damaging.   

So I want us to get practical about how THIS. How is our Mosaic spiritual family to really BE family to one another?  To begin that discussion, I want us to return to the passage we left off with last week. 

1st Peter 1:22--“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love [literally brotherly love—philadelphian, compound word from phileo = “love” and adelphos/adelphe = “brother/sister”] for each other, love [agapesate, from agapao] one another deeply, from the heart.” 

First, Peter is talking about two similar, overlapping yet also different kinds of love here.  BOTH should be the experience of believers in the church.  One is not inferior to the other. To love “as brothers” (phileo) is NOT inferior to loving with agapao love, despite what you may have heard about those two words.

  • Phileo loving can be very strong love. Jesus uses phileo to warn those who have more affection for family than for him ( 10:37).  It is possible to phileo—be devotedly attached to your own life too much—by trying to hang onto it rather than losing it for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (John 12:25). 
  • In John 11, phileo is used of the love Jesus had for Lazarus. John the Apostle uses it later (Jn. 20:2) to speak of himself as being “the disciple Jesus loved.”        
  • In 3:19, Jesus uses the term to talk about those He loves (phileo) He “reproves and disciplines.”
  • It was used negatively of the Pharisees who “loved to stand and pray in the synagogues and street corners” to be seen by others ( 6:5). They obviously felt more emotional attachment to the public approval and recognition they got from people than the private attention and blessing they would get from God for praying in private. 

APP:  So what should “brotherly love” or philadelphian love LOOK like and FEEL like between us in the family of God?  We could ask, “What is healthy, familial love between siblings?” 

  • Emotional attachments of the heart.

HOW do brothers/sisters/families develop that?  (Time, shared experiences, kindness experienced frequently, etc.)  It’s BONDING!

[ILL:  I’ve watched my boys experience that between themselves in various ways—shared rooms, teams, activities, family life for 18+ years of their lives; weekly Sunday night Skype sessions to check in with each other and talk about important heart issues; texting to each other throughout the week; celebrating each other’s successes; feeling for each other when they are going through difficulties; praying for each other; calling and communicating.]

  • Shared physical space. Phileo kind of love is also used of showing hospitality, of actually having someone live with you or stay with you in your home (Heb. 13:1,2).  When people share our living space and our table, something happens.  It did to the 12 Apostles.  It does to people who open their homes to international students or foster children or traveling missionaries/evangelists, etc. 

ILL:  Talking with a man from Tacoma yesterday at the Slavic churches’ conference on Mission & Evangelism (at Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church) who had taken into his home a man off the street whom he thought he might be able to help.  Turns out the man wanted a hammock, not a hand up.  This man eventually had to ask him to leave.  But he felt for this man so much that he came up to ask me if I thought he had done the right thing and to ask if I would call this man (on his cell phone!) and see how he was doing.  That’s phileo love! 

  • Shared holy touch. One of the most frequentone anothers” in the N.T. is the command to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (5 times that I found—Romans 16:16; 2 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pt. 5:14).  In fact, Paul says in 1 Thess. 5:26, “Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss.”  Just to clarify, the “holy” part of the physical touch there is universal; the “kiss” part is cultural! J  In many cultures, a kiss on the side of the face is how you are to greet anyone of equal status or friend.  The cultural equivalent in America would be a “warm handshake” or “warm hug” whereas in Spain where we worked for several years, a kiss on both sides of the face. 

O.K., let’s get down to brass tax about this.  We live in a culture where ½ the people are single.  Do singles have less of a need for physical and emotional closeness than married people?  NO!  If anything it is more, right? 

            So what do we do in our culture?  Well, we tend to go to either extreme.  Either singles are hooking up and shacking up sexually outside of marriage as if it were as common as a handshake (which everyone knows it isn’t) OR we are shying away from any physical contact and expressions of warm friendship and acceptance like hugs and handshakes. 

ILL: returning from the Philippines after a year of not hugging or being hugged.  (Only family hugged each other when I was there in the 80s).  When my Dad met me at the terminal gate in Portland and hugged me, it hit me like a ton of bricks:  I haven’t had a hug like that in a long time! 

EXPastor Bob P. has been really good at modeling this for me.  Thanks, Bob!  I’m a more reserved sort of guy.  But I’m learning that genuine greetings of hugs and handshakes do something to “bond” us together. 

            In this regard, can I be perfectly candid??? This is where personal hygiene comes in.  ILL:  As you know, I just got back on Friday night from 4 days of driving, hiking, sweating, living outdoors, etc.  I came directly home and joined Sandy in taking care of a couple of our grandkids.  But I warned their adults that they might not want to get too close to me.  As Martha said of her dead brother, Lazarus, “But Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been [dead] four days!”  

            Just as it is hard to get physically close to family members who don’t shower or bathe enough, so it is hard to get emotionally close to family members who do things that irritate us or fail to show “common courtesies.”  Like “common sense,” I’ve come to believe that “common courtesies” is not so “common” anymore. 

            At the risk of offending just about everyone in this room, I’m going to talk about this as I have and do with my children and grandchildren.  So if I offend you today, please don’t go off in a corner and sulk or leave all your other great brothers and sisters here at Mosaic because this “dad” said something that bothered you.  Instead of that, how about coming and telling me directly what was offensive and how I could have said it better and/or how about “forgiving me” just as Christ has forgiven you and me??? 

            Here are some of my “fatherly” words of things that I’ve noticed tend to fracture our phileo fellowship.

  • When any of us don’t practice regular hygiene of bathing a couple of times a week minimum, we all tend to be a bit odoriferous. God made us with noses.  We can’t turn them off when we come closely together. 
  • When my breath smells like my socks, I fracture our fellowship! J  Seriously, I try to have a couple of tic-tacs in my pocket for right after I preach because I know that talking for 30 minutes straight has a way of doing something to my breath…and it’s not good!  It’s actually kindness to others to brush our teeth or pop a mint before hoping someone will enjoy a few minutes of conversation with us.   
  • Communication Etiquette: When someone is talking with another person, wait your turn and don’t interruptChildren tend to just barge into a conversation two or more adults might be having.  Some adults were perhaps never taught that interrupting tends to irritate others and drive away emotional closeness.
  • Group Etiquette: When someone is leading us in worship, be it with music or in prayer or in ministry of the word, try to avoid behaviors that distract others from God and draw attention to yourself. 
    • Carrying on side conversations do that. (That doesn’t mean never whisper or write a question to the person next to you for some clarification about something.)
    • Going in and out when it isn’t absolutely necessary. (But please use the restroom rather than the chair if you really have to. J) Some of you have back problems and need to stand.  Please do!  But some of you are just bored with what I’m saying and would prefer another cup of coffee.  For your neighbor’s sake, please don’t!
    • Distracting PDAs (Public Displays of Affection). Again, while I genuinely love to see couples and families expressing their affection physically, there are some times and places where it is distracting.  A worship service…or the row in front of me in the movie theater…might just be a couple of those places where it’s distracting. J

I sincerely hope that you don’t see this as my attempt to micro-manage or over-control.  I’m really trying to avoid that.  BUT as the sort of “dad or grandpa” around here, there are some things we can do a little better that may have a big effect on the level of “brotherly love” we actually feel for one another. 

Again, if I’ve offended you today with any of these comments, please come and lets converse about it…at least until someone else butts in and interrupts us! 

APP:  Starting next week, many of us are going to be sitting around round tables.  If you missed last week’s message where I talked about it, go back and listen to the podcast.  One of the best ways to build family cohesion, say the experts, is for a family to eat just one meal together every day.  Well, that’s what we’re trying to do once a week with the “fellowship time” of 45 minutes between each service now (10:00-10:45).  That’s also why we’ll be providing a little more nourishment than the coffee creamer or sugar dispenser on the counter in the foyer.  But you will have to come in here and sit around tables to enjoy it.  None of the “dine-and-dash” stuff!!!  And if you come to 2nd service, you’ll want to get here before the actual service starts…or you won’t find anything left on the table…except what you can steal from your neighbor. J  We’re serious about becoming family around here!

Now, back to the overarching theme of loving one another.  The N.T. command to “love one another” is THE most oft repeated “one another” command we have.  The vast majority of these “love one another” commands use the Greek verb agapaoBy my count, there are some 14 or 15 specific commands to “love one another” in the N.T.  All other “one-another” commands like “forgive one another” (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13) or “encourage one another” (used 5 times—2 Cor. 13:11; I Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25) or “serve one another” (Gal. 5:13) are merely specifics about HOW we actually are to love one another.

That Greek word “to love”, agapao, is 1 of 4 Greek words for “loving.”  My pastor and Greek scholar friend, Bill Mounce, writes of this word,

“In secular Greek…before the time of Christ, it was a colorless word without any great depth of meaning, used frequently as a synonym of eros (sexual love) and phileo (the general term for love).  If it had any nuance, it was the idea of love for the sake of its object [italics added].  Perhaps because of this slight nuance of meaning, the biblical writers picked agapao to describe many forms of human love (e.g., husband and wife, Eph. 5:25, 28 33) and, most importantly, God’s undeserved love for the unlovely [emphasis added].  In other words, its meaning comes not from the Greek but from the biblical understanding of God’s love.” [Emphasis added.]

This is why the experience of love we as God’s people have together in the church is to be significantly deeper, more Christ-like than people will ever experience in the world.  It is a kind of love that can really only come through a person dominated, directed and filled with the Holy Spirit of God.  Only as the love of Christ takes over our imperfect will and imperfect emotions will our relationships look any different from a gathering of Toastmasters Club downtown or the Robotics Club at your school or guys poker night in your basement.  Christ must be our life, our very thoughts, our words and even our attitudes IF we are to agapao one another from the heart. 

            A few weeks ago, Andrew Repsold helped us focus on how we can “encourage one another” whenever we gather together as the church.  Remember the passage?  Hebrews 10:24-25.  [See memory card.]

            Let me read just a few of the many responses you all gave to the statement, “Things that encourage my faith when I meet with other believers.”  [See highlighted page.]

            Some of that can happen in a weekend serviceSome of it can’t.  So if you’re looking to our time together every weekend to fulfill your encouragement needs as well as allow you to encourage another brother or sister, you’re going to be disappointed.  Most of us have found in our spiritual journeys that it takes a more intense, regular investment of time and effort to really practice this one another of encouragement.  The question is, “How badly do you really want to experience encouragement?” 

So let’s end by taking a look 1 of the many times Paul fleshes this love of one another out in the last few chapters of Romans.  Let’s go to chapter 12, vss. 9 & 10.

  • Romans 12:9-10-- Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Sincerity:  Real love is not plastic or pretend.  It isn’t there for show. Literally, this word means “without hypocrisy,” (anupokritos).  Agape love is not really about what I can get by being loving.  It’s about what I can give so that you experience godly love

APP: As a natural introvert, I have had to learn how to get out of myself and engage in everything from conversations to acts of service from the viewpoint of how I can help someone else rather than how I’m feeling in the moment.  If I’m preoccupied by what you might be thinking of me, how I’m coming across in a conversation, whether or not you’re going to want to hang out with me even 1 more time, let alone 100 more times, it’s all about ME

But if I truly see every encounter with someone, whether a passing “hello” on the street or an hour conversing over coffee as a divine appointment set up by God to bring Christ into the other person’s experience, it changes everything.    

Paul goes on to tell us that “sincere love” will “hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good.”  

APP:  So is there evil in the body of Christ?  In other believers?   Sure.  Just as there is evil still in every one of us.  We’re supposed to hate it and, by contrast, let go of it!   The “good” in others and the church we’re supposed to “cling to.”  There is the contrast.  Hang on to the good you find in every person but be quick to let go of the evil. 

The tragedy is that our flesh wants to do the opposite—hang onto the evil and let go of the good in others.  It’s so much easier to do that, isn’t it? 

  • It’s so much easier to cling to the one evil hurt my spouse has caused me and forget about the dozen kind and loving things they have done for me in the course of a week.
  • It’s so hard to cling to the good qualities of a person rather than hate the bad ones enough to let them go.

Here is where “being devoted to one another in love” comes in. 

ILLWhat kinds of successes in life require devotion?  Almost EVERY ONE, right?  Most of us don’t get success in life in anything without being deeply devoted to something. 

The same applies to relationships.  Most successful relationships demand devotion. 

  • Marriage?
  • Family dynamics?
  • Friendships?
  • Work relationships?

Why should the church be any different?  It isn’t!  Successful spiritual family relationships require “devotion” of time, energy, compassion, love, money, patience, persistence, etc. 

  • You may feel like you are always the one giving and rarely receiving…always buying the coffee over which you have a meaningful conversation…always cooking the meal around which God brings some soul-satisfying conversation…or just plain good health and strength.
  • You may feel like you’re always the one initiating, but rarely just responding. You’re always picking up the phone texting or calling to see how someone else is doing but rarely getting a call back. 

That’s the nature of “devoted love.” That’s what “honoring one another above yourselves” is all about.  It’s putting someone else’s success or health or job or ministry or encouragement ahead of our own.  Nobody does that without a work of God in their hearts.  Nobody does that consistently over time without the love of God at work in them.

A church filled with those kind of loving people will truly be a beautiful family.  It won’t be a perfect family.  But it will be one that people may often prefer to be a part of more than even their own dysfunctional and sinful family. It’s not what we will experience every day with each other.  But we will experience it time to time, over and over. 

            That’s the kind of family we are becoming.  I can look at so many of you and think of time after time where you have loved me or my family or this body of believers with sincerity and with devotion, when you were tired or facing financial need yourself.  That’s the kind of church that people will call “beautiful” because that’s the kind of spiritual family that IS beautiful. 


1.) If you are wondering today how to get into that kind of beautiful family, let me tell you:  it’s simply by putting your faith in Jesus Christ who has loved you before you existed and would love to have you join His forever family.  [Call to faith in Christ.]

2.) For the rest of us, what evil is God asking you to let go of in someone else that you’ve been hanging onto?  What good in their life is God asking you to “cling to” in order to love them well, sacrificially and sincerely? 

It may be a family member.  It may be a church leader

It may be a brother or sister you would like to avoid.  How about asking God to give you that “devoted love” that is bigger than their weakness or idiosyncrasy and your small love? 

3.)  Anything God has pointed out to you today that you need to stop doing in order to build closer heart-connections and bonding of brotherly love with God’s people, to be less of a distraction to others and more of a bridge to God?

4.)  Is there anything God has taught you as a family member that He is asking you to also do in His church?  Or is there a family-like experience in the church that God is asking you to replicate in your family? 

The beauty of your family can become the experience of this church family…just as the beauty of this church family can become the experience of your immediate family.