Due to inclement weather, the 9 a.m. service for Sunday, Jan. 20 has been cancelled. We will have one morning service at 10:45 a.m. as road conditions improve.

The Family of God

by Nathan McClay

The family is seated at the Thanksgiving table with plates and silverware neatly arranged over a crisp, white tablecloth. Quite a spread of delectable fixings is before the folks that are gathered there. Grandpa stands, joyfully overseeing the festive holiday occasion, while Grandma, also standing, is placing the turkey platter on the table. There are broad smiles on the faces of all who are present. They are enjoying each other’s company and anticipating a delicious meal. The scene is from a 1943 Norman Rockwell painting entitled “Freedom from Want.”  

As I looked up this painting online, I found an updated version. We move ahead in years from 1943 to a 2016 cartoon version of the same picture. Grandpa, still standing and presiding over the scene, is wearing a cap that reveals his political leanings, and Grandma, while placing the turkey on the table, has fire in her eyes. Other family members point fingers across the table, fully engaged in battle until “every foe is vanquished,” each one is proven right, and each opponent is proven wrong “indeed.”  There are no smiles to be found anywhere at this gathering. One poor fellow, with eyes, opened as wide as saucers, seems to be totally terrified by the whole scenario.

While looking at this cartoon version of the iconic Rockwell painting, several episodes of Vicki Lawrence’s TV classic, Mama’s Family, came to mind, including one centered around a very memorable Thanksgiving Day. Now that was quite a dysfunctional family! A rival to that kind of dysfunction would be the Bunker family, from the hilarious 1970s sitcom, All in the Family, with their constant bickering over the cultural and political issues of the day.

While some families are more like the Norman Rockwell painting of 1943, and others are more representative of the updated cartoon, it is safe to say that most families fall somewhere in between.

It seems that family situations could often be described by the opening lines of Charles Dicken’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

As believers, we are part of a family that, while not presently perfect on this earth, can be a great source of spiritual strength and encouragement during our life in this present world, and its eternal prospects are not only positive but are also perfect. We call this family the family of God. As followers of Christ, while passing through this world with its “many dangers, toils, and snares,” we can all join in with the words of Bill and Gloria Gaither, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God.”

As we think together about the family of God, let’s consider two relationships: 1) Our relationship with our Heavenly Father and 2) our relationship with our brothers and sister in Christ.

In the Family of God, God is our Heavenly Father. Many Christian sociologists and psychologists have noted that our view of God is often tainted by how our earthly father treated us.  If he was severe, we think of God as a Father who we can never please, and who is always angry with us.  Such a father, we would consider unapproachable. Some fathers are distant in their relationship with their children. Some are entirely absent, while others are constantly present, providing love, encouragement, and a gentle, reassuring touch. We are given these comforting words concerning our heavenly Father in Psalm 103, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.”

Even though the family of God on earth is not perfect, we are guided by a perfect and loving Heavenly Father. This Father, who “did not spare His only Son, but offered Him but for us all, how shall He not give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31). We read further in the Romans 8 passage that “nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The love of our heavenly Father is famously noted in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  The love of this Father allows us to be called the children of God. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.” Phillip Bliss exclaimed in the great hymn, “Once for All,” “Children of God, O glorious calling, surely His grace will keep us from falling.” This endearing title, Children of God, is given to those that believe on and receive Jesus Christ.  “ As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Following verse tells that we were born into this family, not by blood or by our own will, but the will of God.

Ephesians 2 tells us that we were once foreigners and strangers to God, but believers in Jesus Christ are now fellow citizens and members of the household of God. Before placing faith in Christ, we were considered foreigners and strangers and slaves to sin.  However, our loving heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, according to Romans 8:15.  We can now cry “Abba Father” to our God.  Abba is the most endearing term for the children of God to use when calling on the Father and is often recognized as equivalent to the modern term “daddy.”

When we become part of the family of God, not only is He our Father, but we also gain a new set of brothers and sisters in the Lord and have certain benefits and responsibilities that come with having these new spiritual siblings.

We are told to do good for our new family. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). We do not earn our salvation by good works. Still, we are told in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them,” and Paul tells the Galatians that we should pay extra attention to the care of fellow believers.  In the preceding verse, we will notice that doing good to our brothers and sisters in Christ would involve seeking to restore them when they have fallen into sin. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) According to this verse, we can never have an attitude of superiority when helping to restore the fallen. We should never look down our long, pharisaical noses at any brother or sister in Christ because all of us can yield to temptation.  Another of Paul’s admonitions that comes to mind in this situation is, “Let he who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12). Jesus, when addressing the crowd surrounding the woman who was caught in adultery, called out, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”

Another way we can do good to the family of God is by bearing one another’s burdens. According to Galatians 6, if we do this, we fulfill the law of Christ.  John MacArthur notes, “’Burdens’ are extra heavy loads, which represent difficulties or problems people have trouble dealing with. ‘Bear’ denotes carrying something with endurance.”  Jesus told us to “rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Bearing the burdens of others involves quite a bit of the weeping part, but we can also share in the rejoicing, especially when a burden is finally lifted.

As members of this new family and as disciples of Christ, we are told to love one another.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35)

A loving relationship within a family requires that we think of others rather than ourselves.  Paul told the Romans in chapter 12 of his epistle to them not to think more highly of themselves than they ought, and he told the Philippians to have the mind of Christ if they were to have love and fellowship among themselves. Our Lord did not cling to His reputation, but he made Himself a servant and was made in the likeness of man.  His humility was displayed in the greatest form when He died on the cross for our sins.

James describes the opposite of a loving, selfless, and humble family when he points out the source of wars and fighting within a body of believers. Pride and self-centeredness comprise the root of disharmony in a congregation. “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war within your members?” (James 4:1)

The church family sometimes can be messy because we are imperfect people, even though we serve a perfect God.  As we grow in our Christian faith and in the process of sanctification, we will become more and more conformed to the image of Christ. We will begin to think much less about ourselves and become more in tune with the needs of others.  

The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers of his day to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering and let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”  We do this by “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”  We meet in our local church to edify, encourage, and comfort one another, and to help each other to become more like Christ.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Some are wealthy, and some are poor. Some are highly educated, and some have limited education. Some are highly functional, while others are dysfunctional. Some are closely knitted, and others are cold and distant. While God’s family here on earth is often a work in progress, what a grand and glorious day it will be when all of God’s family from all over the world and from all centuries are united in the land beyond the skies!

The prospects are great for the family of God because one day, we will be with a perfect heavenly Father, and we shall be like Jesus Christ. “Beloved, we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.”  The entire family of God will be gathered, and “there will be no sickness, sadness, sorrow, or death.”  There will also be no more arguments or selfishness, and we will all live together in perfect harmony and peace.  All our attention and praise for all of eternity will be to the Lamb of God, and we will shout, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”  


On that bright and golden morning
When the Son of man shall come
And the radiance of His glory we shall see
When from every clime and nation
He shall call His people home
What a gathering of the ransomed that will be

When our eyes behold the city
With its many mansions bright
And its river calm and restful flowing free
When the friends that death hath parted
Shall in bliss again unite
What a gathering and a greeting there will be

Oh the King is surely coming
And the time is drawing nigh
When the blessed day of promise we shall see
Then the changing “in a moment”
“in the twinkling of an eye”
And forever in His presence we shall be

What a gathering what a gathering
What a gathering of the ransomed
In the summer land of love
What a gathering what a gathering
Of the ransomed in that happy home above

Fanny J. Crosby
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