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Mar 06, 2022

Building the Family Bonds

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: 1 Thessalonians

Keywords: family, bonding, emotional connection, church connections


One of the reasons for Paul's success in starting new churches all over the known world of the time was his ability to bond with the people. In this text, Paul shares a few of the challenges to and principles about family bonding, especially in the family of God.


Building the Family Bonds

I Thessalonians 2:17-20

March 6, 2022


INTRO:  Premarital inventory we use at Mosaic measures a couple’s past family experience with bonding/emotional closeness as well as their own relationship. 

Just what is “bonding” when it comes to family relationships?

  • Level of emotional attachment and closeness.
  • The process in which attachments or other close relationships are formed between individuals.
  • A tie between two or more individuals that is stable over time and across different experiences

In today’s passage (which I’m jumping forward to as Bob will be dealing with the previous passage next week), Paul is revealing a very deep level of bonding that almost always took place between him as a spiritual father and his spiritual children.  Andrew referred to it last week when he talked about the different ways Paul related to the believers at Thessalonica—as a fellow child, a tender mother and a guiding father.  In today’s passage we will get to see some of the things that can lead each of us into more impactful relationship with each other in the church.

NOTE:  When it comes to life in God’s family, the church, you will find that churches are a lot like families.  Some are very close, others very disconnected.  Some hold together for years.  Others fly apart with the slightest challenges. 

            We all need to recognize that our ability to bond in a church may be directly related to our experience or lack of experience with good bonding in our families.  But past family or church experience doesn’t have to dictate the level of our present church or family experience.

            Let me give you a list of 10 questions (that will be on the handout) that may help you measure to some degree the depth or level of bondedness you experienced in your natural family.

A Family Bond Inventory

  1. How often do you hang-out with your family?
  2. How close are you to your family members? (Scale: 1 not at all, 10 super-close)
  3. How often do you all go out together, say, to a restaurant or event?
  4. Do you feel the need to hide things from your family?
  5. Do you know what is going on in your other family members' lives and hearts? How close do you feel emotionally (again 1-to-10 scale)?
  6. What is your family's response to your achievements?
  7. How and how often do you share how much you care about each other?
  8. Do you share each other's challenges and chores? How?
  9. Do you argue or fight? Do you resolve it?  How well do you do both in your opinion?
  10. How easily do you apologize and forgive each other?

[Adapted from and found at https://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=mzm3odqxmqdgtz on 3.4.2022]

But back to our passage from Paul. What I find remarkable is the apparent transformation that the Spirit of God brought to the Apostle Paul’s own bonding experience.  There is every indication that Paul’s life before meeting Jesus as his Savior & Lord was one that lacked emotional connection with people. 

  • Whether he was married and then divorced or widowed, by the time he writes 1 Cor., we know he was single and apparently had no driving desire to marry in a culture where marriage was much more the norm than even ours.
  • His bloodthirsty behavior towards good Christian people before he met Christ reveals a level of hatred and emotional disconnection from all kinds of people he should have naturally been attracted to if he had much of any capacity for empathy, love, compassion and kindness. Those are all qualities that should be developed in any emotionally healthy, bonded family. 

If God could change a Saul of Tarsus into the deeply loving father of the early church, he can do it with any of us here today.  So, let’s read this beautiful, short passage at the end of 1 Thess. 2.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. 18 Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us. 

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

Brief Back-story:

  • Paul had been in Thessalonica only a matter of a few weeks (Acts 17) establishing the church.
  • Jealous Jews stirred up a mob, attacked some of the new believers and ran Paul out of town in the dark of night. Like a new family experiencing the horrors of war, this church family was overnight separated from their spiritual parents. 

In this little paragraph, Paul shares with us some of the good and the bad when it comes to bonding in the family of God.  First, he looks to some of the things that work against bonding in this family.  But he spends most of the time addressing things that build strong bonds in God’s family.

            As we dissect these two polar opposites, you’ll want to be thinking about various “family” experiences you are a part of:

  • Your family growing up. While there isn’t a lot you can do about what happened then, understanding how well or poorly your family bonded can help you bond better now in both your natural family, spiritual family and even friendships. 

ILL:  Some of us may be “RAD-kids”—have Reactive Attachment Disorder and need new ‘parenting’ by others.

  • Your current family relationships: [Talk about Mosaic’s new priority and focus on developing families.] Everything we’ll talk about today, if applied to your family, will produce more bonding. 
  • Your church families (past and present). [The reality at Mosaic is that about 50% of you are single.  But hopefully nearly 100% are spiritual family.  As with all ‘families’, there are some siblings you are closer to and others more distant from.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Even the best of church families may find it challenging at times to develop as close a bond as well-bonded natural families may have.  On the other hand, many of us have bonds here in this church family that feel closer than the natural bonds we currently may have (especially as adults) with our natural siblings.  We can’t demand that others bond with us; we can only invite them to…and practice in our friendships the sorts of things that lead to bonding.]

So here we go.

  1. There is plenty in life seeking to inhibit and destroy bonding in the family of God. Paul addresses a few of those things in verses 17-18.

17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. 

  1. External influences (vs. 17)
    1. People: In Paul’s case, the violently-opposed, spiritually-resistant Jews in Thessalonica were the people who sought to blow apart the newly-formed and bonding church in the city.  People…and sometimes the very people we are trying to bond with… are often a major impediment to experiencing a real sense of connectedness to others. 

The term here “taken away” in the Greek is used of parents who have lost their children and children who had lost their parents.  Literally, Paul could have been saying, “We were orphaned” or “you were orphaned by our being run out of town.”  That’s not a great feeling.  Too many Ukrainian children are experiencing that right now.  Too many Christian parents in sub-Sahara, Africa have experienced that as their children have been kidnapped by radical Muslims like Boko Haram.  That kind of experience will rip your heart out either as a child or an adult.  That’s what God wants us to feel when we can’t be together with the people of God He wants to bond us to.  But the sad reality is that over these past couple of Covid years particularly, so many have not felt any great loss at being ripped away from the family of God or told not to meet together as family, either natural or spiritual.

ILL:  Divorce—we know statistically and many of you know personally how harmful the breaking of the marriage bond is to family bonding.  Children are often torn one from another as mom takes certain kids and dad takes others.  Even where the children remain with one parent, irreparable harm is done to the sense of safety, security and stability that bonded families are meant to experience.  Church: we too often experience ‘divorce’ in the church family when a spiritual parent/pastor is run out of a church or there is a church split over just about anything.  Wherever people jettison what have felt like loving, close bonds and friendships in a church, life and connectedness is “taken away,” as Paul mentions here.  CHALLENGE:  don’t let someone else’s decisions to divide or break bonds determine your sense of bondedness with anyone in your spiritual family. ILL: returning to my split spiritual family in pastoring the previous church to Mosaic.  I determined not to adopt other people’s offenses and instead would continue to pursue time and conversations with those I felt close to on both sides of the split. 

   We cannot divorce “the church” from people.  And the nature of human interaction is that there will be conflict at some points.  That does not nor should not “un-bond” us.  The failures of individuals in a family, be it spiritual or natural, does not mean that “the family” is a failure.  Church and family are wonderful, God-given and extremely valuable and useful institutions.  Don’t confuse the failure of individuals in families or churches with a failure of family or church.  Don’t write-off family or marriage or church because someone drove a wedge between you and the people God wanted to bond you to. 

The 2nd thing Paul points out that

  1. Distance/logistics/time (vs. 17)

While people were the direct cause of this distance and loss of time together that Paul experienced with this church, that effect of being farther away and of passing months of not seeing each other was working against their bondedness. 

   If we want to experience a bonded family, we simply must make living closer together a priority.  Americans aren’t great at this.  We often value a job opportunity or a certain climate or city over being physically close to other family. 

   It happens in the church too.  I can’t tell you the number of times in our ministry life where people have come to us and said, “We just found our dream property in the country and we’ll be moving…but it won’t change our involvement with the church!”  RIGHT!  That is a rationalization and illusion.  They may hang in there for a few months or even a year or two.  But the reality is, distance divides.  Time separates.  The nature of family is that it is meant to share both time and space. 

   Now the beauty of God’s family is that it is everywhere.  But bonding takes time.  While you can definitely bond to a new spiritual family over time, the old bonds with longstanding brothers and sisters in Christ will weaken and eventually dissipate.  If you want real bondedness with brothers and sisters, time and distance matter. 

  • Spiritual influences/the Enemy (vs. 18)

18 Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us. 

Now Paul is talking about not what got him kicked out of Thessalonica in the first place but what kept him out of there going forward.  We don’t know what Paul tried to do to return, but there was spiritual opposition to that return from Satan.  We’re not even sure what form that spiritual opposition took—whether lack of funds or weather or threats on his life or illness.  Paul simply says that Satan was hindering what his heart wanted to see happen. 

            There is a spiritual battle for bondedness in the body of Christ…and even in natural families.  Even the most spiritual, righteous and godly among us will sometimes be prevented from bonding more with each other because of the forces of darkness at work in this world.  

            What are we to do with those unmet longings for more closeness to God’s people? 

  • Turn them into prayer for each other.
  • Write a note (like Paul did) to let them know we miss their fellowship.
  • Communicate our heart to them in a text or phone call. Let them know that we’ve been trying to bridge the gap even if they aren’t aware of it. 
  • Grieve the work of the Enemy as he constantly tries to put distance between us in this forever family.

So now let’s turn to the things that actually create deeper bonding in families and churches. 

  1. There are things maturing family members can do to strengthen bonding:
    1. Make room in our hearts for each other (vs. 17)

17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. 

Does it ever amaze you the capacity of some people to love so many people?  Paul had that kind of capacity.  I don’t think it came naturally.  I think God developed it. 

            In our flesh we will tell ourselves, “I can’t handle another person.” But Paul modeled something different.  From city to city, nation to nation, he just kept growing his heart for more connection with more people.  Oh, he kept getting rejected.  Even from some of the churches he loved so dearly (Corinth?).  But he didn’t let that turn him off to loving. 

APP:  Some of you may have been hurt by church people…or by your family.  The temptation will always be to draw back, pull in and hunker down.  It’s a false security and false protection.  God’s answer to that is to keep pressing on and keep expanding the capacity of your soul to love.  God has a fresh supply of love for us to experience every day.  Yesterday’s love wasn’t for today any more than today’s is for yesterday.  Don’t let what has happened in the past dictate your future.  It never has to.  Let’s learn to make more and more and more room in our hearts for a growing family of God until the last breath we take on earth…which will lead us into the greatest, most massive eternal family of God forever in heaven. 

  1. Fan the flames of desire for in-person connection (vs. 17)

How do natural families do this?  How do you stoke the fires of bondedness as a natural family?  Let me give you some suggestions I came across this week on a family website. (They will also be in the follow-up notes.) Hopefully we’ll be able to figure out how these suggestions can apply to life in our spiritual family too. 

10 Ways to Create Family Bonding Time

  1. Create family rituals and traditions.

Sometimes churches are better at rituals and traditions than families.  Can you name the last ‘new ritual’ you started in your family?  What are your favorite rituals?  Are there any you want to jettison?

What are some of our spiritual family’s rituals? (Communion, worship services, prayer, teaching the word, home groups, dinners, ???)  

  1. Have meals together.

This is one of the primary relationship builders in most families.  It’s also why meals are so important in the church (“Love feasts”, “breaking bread house to house”, Jesus’ priority on sharing meals, etc.) 

But as important as the meal is the conversation that takes place around the table.  I remember plenty of unpleasant meals before my family met the Lord.  But when meals become times to learn what is going on in the hearts of others at the table, we bond.  When meals become times to talk about life and God’s wisdom needed to live it well, we bond.  When meals are places we laugh and joke and tease, we bond.  When meals become times we celebrate each other’s successes, we bond. 

  1. Do chores together.

Yes, just as working in the yard together… or doing the dishes together…or fixing a meal together…or painting a room together bonds a family, so in the church.  What are the chores of the church that you can either participate in or pass on?  Some of the best bonding times I’ve ever had in the church came ‘doing chores’ together (Riverview, clean-up days, meal prep, etc.)

  1. Volunteer together.
  2. Go on a family outing. When the kids were smaller, that could be as close-to-home as a pick-up game of roller-blade hockey in the cul-de-sac or as far as an RV trip in Europe. Family vacations and outings are one of my personal favorites.  And they are also some of my favorites for church-bonding. What kinds of “spiritual family outings” have you bonded with others in?  (Camps, campouts, ministry projects, ministry trips, city-wide gatherings, Promise Keepers, Prayer Conferences, ???)
  3. Take up each other’s hobbies.
  4. Schedule family game nights. You know, we don’t need to wait for the church to sponsor things like this. Why not just invite some people over to your apartment or house for a game night.  Everyone brings a favorite game and you get to choose. 
  5. Cook together. We need more teams for our building Bible studies! We could use multiple teams of cooks who will prepare meals that Building Bible Studies can use…and that we can enjoy as a church.  It’s time for another monthly fellowship meal.  Some of you will bond best preparing that together for others…even better than when you sit across the table from someone and share that meal. 
  6. Visit grandparents. My personal favorite, obviously!