God most frequently uses the language of household and family to talk about his church.
Feels Like Home
By Lee Eclov
“It has been right before our eyes in the Bible all along. Scores of references to “brothers and sisters,” to God as our Father, to Jesus as both our Bridegroom and Elder Brother, to the essential loving unity of God’s family, and to the household environment of holiness, spiritual nurture and safety. Paul taught Timothy “how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Tim. 3:15). He told the Ephesians, “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Eph. 2:19).
New Testament Greek uses the word oíkos to refer to God’s people about a dozen times. For example, in Matthew 24:44–45 Jesus refers to himself as the head of the house and his followers as his “household.” Hebrews 3:6 says, “Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” Peter twice refers to the “family of believers” or “brotherhood” (ESV) with the Greek word adelphotes (1 Pet. 2:17; 5:9). Translators may not use the word home, but it is obviously a suitable synonym for our Christian family.
Commentator Robert Banks wrote, “A whole cluster of terms from family life are applied to the Christian community. Some of these are among the most frequently used terms in Paul’s vocabulary.” He also says, “So numerous are these, and so frequently do they appear, that the comparison of the Christian community with a ‘family’ must be regarded as the most significant metaphorical usage of all.”
Almost always, as with Banks, the description of the church as God’s family is regarded as a metaphor, like the bride, field or temple. But it isn’t really a metaphor at all. God’s household is the very definition of the church. We’re not like a household or family. We are one.
Pastor and writer Mark Buchanan affirms this: “Jesus is not ashamed to be called our brother. The Father gives us the Spirit of adoption through whom we cry, ‘Abba!’ Jesus asks who his mother and brother and sisters are, and answers they are those who do the Father’s will. From the cross Jesus says to the disciple John and his mother Mary, ‘Behold your son; behold your mother.’ And he says that our loyalty to him must transcend biological attachments.”
To think of church as a home rather than an organization changes the way we lead. For one thing, vision statements—which many churches wrestle with—aren’t very important in most families. I know a vision statement can be useful, but they’re overrated when it comes to church families.
Every church has outliers—people who don’t get with the program. They seem like a drag on our progress. Too needy, maybe; or stubborn, or immature. I’ve heard of churches who tell those who won’t commit to their vision to take a hike. Find another church. It’s hard to pull that off in a family. You not only take what you get, but you must love them, too.
The people in a church, just as in a family, have a way of going off in odd, unexpected directions. Some turn out to be more remarkable than we ever bargained for, like gifted or lion-hearted kids, a credit to the family. Some live for a long time in the fog of finding themselves. There are some who break our hearts. I imagine every pastor knows what it is to watch the horizon along with the Father for prodigals, loved but long gone. With such unpredictable families it is hard for a church to stick to the vision.
The family members are the primary concern of a healthy home. So it is in the church. It sounds nearly heretical to say so, but the lost are not our first concern as church leaders nor as church members. Our first responsibility is God’s household.
Excerpted from Feels Like Home by Lee Eclov (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.