The Perspective for Discipleship: The Family of God
Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.
—Jesus, Matthew 12:50
To become a disciple of Jesus is to become part of a new family, the family of God. In fact, Jesus spoke of the bond between members of this “faith family” as surpassing even those of our biological family.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)
What an amazing truth this is, that Jesus would call us (his disciples) his true brothers and sisters!
This, of course, means we are brothers and sisters to one another as well. The New Testament writers took this very seriously. They not only referred to their fellow believers using family terms. They also had plenty to say about how we should treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. Relational phrases like “one another” and “each other” show up dozens of times in the New Testament. For example, the writer of Hebrews says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13). How easy it is to lose our perspective when we neglect our relationships with our fellow disciples!
But the most pivotal “one another” of all is found in John 13:35, where Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The implication here is that disciples who decide to “go it alone” are not only jeopardizing their chances of staying the course as a disciple. They are already off mission. A loner disciple is a contradiction in terms. We need each other if we are going to follow Jesus. God designed it that way.
Joseph Hellerman spells it out:
Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. People who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding, and they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to their fellow human beings. This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the often messy process of interpersonal discord and conflict resolution. Long-term interpersonal relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay also grow.
It turns out that doing life together, in community, is not only a good idea. It’s God’s idea. We need each other if we are going to thrive in our discipleship to Jesus.
See, for example, John 1:12-13 and 1 John 3:1.
The apostle Paul, for example, referred to fellow believers as “brother” (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 1:1, 4:9), “sister” (e.g. Philemon 2, Romans 16:1), “son” (e.g. Philemon 10, Philippians 2:22, 2 Timothy 1:2), and “mother” (Romans 16:13).
Looking these up makes for an interesting study.
Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville,TN: B & H Publishing, 2009), 1.