May 12, 2008

Brothers and Sisters in Christ
by Joe Jones
(During Pastor George’s convalescence, we’ve asked some of our theology students to write the Messenger article. Joe Jones is a student at Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada. He has completed his MA Degree and is working on his Master of Theology Degree.)

Anybody who has been around the church for any amount of time has heard the phrase “we are brothers and sisters in Christ.â€? And, of course, we are just that. The Bible tells us that God is our Father and we are his children. So it makes perfect sense that we are all brothers and sisters. However, I think understanding what it meant to be brothers and sisters in New Testament times brings out a much greater picture of what that relationship should mean to us today. The Biblical writers would have made some assumptions as to what it meant to be “familyâ€? – some assumptions that we don’t necessarily have today.

Those of us who grew up in Western culture have certain ideas when it comes to family. Usually, we love and enjoy being with our families, but we also like to be on our own – we value an independent lifestyle (especially here in the States). In New Testament times, though, family was THE most important thing. People were almost entirely dependent on their families – not just the immediate family but the extended family as well. As there was no Social Security plan, or welfare system, a person’s entire safety net depended on the well-being of the family. Families often lived together in one town and farmed the same areas of land from generation to generation. Individuals would often live their whole lives in the town where their family was located. And while we today might find that lack of freedom a little cramped, I’m sure they would have been shocked to think that we would actually want to leave our hometowns.

This has important implications for understanding certain passages as we read them today. For example, in Mark 3:33-35, Jesus is told that his mother and his brothers are looking to talk to him. Instead of immediately getting up and going, Mark records the following words of Jesus: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” After nearly 2000 years of church history and our own Western biases, our first thought is “Well, of course. How could it be any other way?â€? But what Jesus has just done is change the entire social structure of the culture of the day – from the main emphasis being one’s own family to now putting the emphasis on God’s family instead. It would be a huge understatement to say that this would have been quite a big change for first century followers of Jesus.

This new idea of family is picked up in the Epistles as well. When Paul uses the term “brothers and sistersâ€? (or “brethren,â€? depending on the translation), we usually think of it as a term of endearment. And I’m sure that it is. But it would also have been a constant reminder to everyone that they were now part of God’s family – and all its implications. Maybe this is why Paul uses the term 79 times. And that’s just Paul!

So as we read about being brothers and sisters in the Bible and as we meet together with them on Sunday mornings, we should always remember how the first church thought of what it meant to be family. There was a social emphasis and understanding of interdependence that, frankly, we can barely picture today as in our culture. However, we can imagine how great our church could be if we could regain some of that understanding. We would be part of a church family that was even more committed to one another, in which we would step up even more to help each other out in any time of need, and in which we would be even more able to show love to our community. So let’s pray that God would grow our understanding of what it means to be a true family.