We are referred to again and again as the children of God in the Bible. Obviously this is for a purpose and is no accident! We can think about how healthy families function and draw comparisons and understanding from them which apply to the Family of God here on earth, today. Family is defined as being a primary social group consisting of parents and their offspring, a group of persons related by blood and descended from a common ancestor. Obviously, to be a member of God’s family means that He has made you His child, that He is your Father and you have been born into His family. Birth is primary and essential. If we have not been born from above, then we do not have our Father’s Life in us.
Family speaks of close, intimate relationships within a community. God has given each of us an inbuilt desire for this kind of relationship with Him and with each other, but this desire so often goes unfulfilled. Many recognize this lack of community and try to correct the lack with things like co-housing projects, churches, cults, sects, communes, clubs, fellowships etc. Of course of all communities which ought to truly exemplify this type of close relationship above all others, it ought to be the family of God! But what is too often missing is the glue – the Life and Love of God. If we don’t know our Father and don’t have His Life in us, we won’t know how to recognize either His Life or His Love. When we have experienced and know Him and His Love, then we in turn love as He loves: extravagantly!
Often an intimate relationship with God is not cultivated or established before close relationships with other people; the result being that we love people more than we love God and we know the ones we love more than we know God Himself. Part of the reason for this is our natural tendency to look for fulfilment in people we can see instead of in God who we don’t see. God is love, and we too are the very impersonation of His love if He is indeed living in us! But this love is not a sentimental love, but a true love, the love which comes from God. God’s love is a tough love and a giving love. He will tell us and show us the truth even when it hurts. Any parent knows that honesty is very important when dealing with their children.
Your family does not live separated from all other families in the world, you interact with others. So too, this supernatural Family of God is not exclusive, but inclusive. Families share their lives and meals with others who are not part of their family. They are usually hospitable and share what they have with others. But so called Christian communities have typically been exclusive and inward looking instead of inclusive and outward looking. Possibly part of the reason for this is that community can become a thing in itself and be the sole vision and reason for being together. True Christian community is a natural outworking of the Family of God, not a goal or vision in itself! And as such it does not seclude itself away from the world, but is open to sharing lives and meals etc with others, for this is what their Father wants them to do! They do not live in fear of being contaminated by the world, they live in the freedom and security of their Father!
No organisation or institution can replace simply being a family. The family of God is meant to be just that; ONE family who share their lives together with the ONE Father with all the children being part of a healthy, functioning, world-wide family! Families don’t normally get together formally at a set time every week all to sit quietly and listen to only one or two members speak (& usually the SAME ones every week at that!) as occurs in the church. If we heard of a family that was like that, we’d call it very dysfunctional, authoritarian and feel very sorry for the poor children! Healthy families have many informal times when they get together, often over a meal or family celebrations. They do sometimes have more formal, celebration times together but these are usually infrequent, even annual.
They also have healthy debates and discussions over different matters and although not all agree, they are still one family. Sometimes there will be conflict (as in any family where children are encouraged to grow and express themselves!) and disagreements. When you are upset with a brother or sister and think they’ve done something wrong, what do you normally do in a family? You take the matter to your Father! HE deals with it, not you. If you think your brother or sister is really wrong, you tell your Father – not your other brothers and sisters – it’s not their job to deal with it, it’s the Parent’s job!
This doesn’t mean of course that our Father WON’T correct us through our brothers or sisters, but rather that the process is to go to Him FIRST, and if He wants another brother or sister to deal with you instead of directly handling it Himself, He will tell them so! So you can safely leave the annoying brother or sister with Him! And it is usually the children who are still immature that fight a lot or get upset easily. The younger a child is, the more selfish and self-centered they are, and the more argumentative and immature they tend to be…
We love Him because He first loved us. If anyone says, I love God and hates and detests his brother in Christ, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God Whom he has not seen. And this command we have from Him: that he who loves God shall love his brother (believer) also. 1 John 4:19-21. This is the kind of love which loves in spite of what a person may be like or how they may offend or upset us! True love is selfless, we must die to self if we want God’s love to flow through us. Children in families don’t always get on with each other ALL of the time; but they still have a deep love for each other that immediately springs to the fore should their brother or sister be in danger or threatened in some way. They KNOW that they are part of the family and must treat each other with love and respect, appreciating each other.
When you are a member of a family, you don’t have to prove it to anyone. You KNOW that you are a loved and accepted member of the family because you KNOW and have a close relationship with your Father yourself! He is the One that assures you of your place in His Family. This is a vital truth for all believers to grasp, because realising who you are as a son or daughter of God deals with so much mess that is seen in many individual’s lives. It deals with insecurity, rejection and competitiveness. When you’re part of a family, you don’t have to prove anything!
There is nothing you can DO to be or remain part of the Family, you already ARE! You just simply need to BE the person you are and fulfil your role in the family! And when you meet new brothers and sisters you often just KNOW that they are a brother or sister, no one needs to convince you because you simply know that there is that connection there.
In reading how the family of God treated each other as brothers and sisters in the Bible, love is mentioned often! Paul wrote: being tenderly and affectionately desirous of you, we continued to share with you not only God’s good news but also our own lives as well, for you had become so very dear to us…but since we were bereft of you, brethren, for a little while in person, of course not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great longing to see you face to face. But now Timothy has just come back to us from his visit to you and has brought us the good news of your faith and the warmth of your love and reported how kindly you cherish a constant and affectionate remembrance of us and that you are longing to see us as we are to see you. 1 Thessalonians 2:8,17, 3:6
Unfortunately, the church, church leaders and more recently ‘spiritual fathers and mothers’, have often put themselves in the place of God and have simply set themselves up as the Parent. This is seen very clearly in the history of the church, pastors used to be(and some still are) called Fathers. As a result, many people have been “born” into the church system or converted to a doctrine of man instead of into the family of God. New babies (new brothers and sisters) are NOT EVER, EVER born from existing brothers and sisters in a family, they can only come from the Parents!
Jesus clearly said that we have ONE Father! But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master and Leader, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. Matthew 23:8-11. God is sufficient and no man can be a spiritual father instead of Him, to say otherwise is idolatrous – we are replacing God with a man! Jesus over and over again spoke of the Father, and us as HIS children occurs over and over again right throughout the Bible, and Jesus spoke of us as His brothers and sisters! Clearly He may use someone to teach or father us but that person must be simply the conduit and vessel while always pointing to the One Father and Teacher.
He also tells us not to call anyone ‘master’ or ‘guide and teacher’ because GOD is to be those things to us! How it must grieve our Father’s heart to see His children running to men in search of a father instead of to Him who is the best Father of all! Paul refers to Timothy as being his child in the Lord and says to the Corinthians: After all, though you should have ten thousand teachers and guides to direct you in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. For this very cause I sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and trustworthy child in the Lord… 1 Corinthians 4:15,17. Timothy and the others had been spiritually birthed and born into God’s family through Paul, he was their father IN and through Christ Jesus, not instead of God.
Reproduction is a creative thing, a supernatural, spiritual thing that only God as our Father can do. Paul was only their spiritual father in the sense that he had been instrumental in bringing them into Life like a midwife, but he wasn’t their spiritual father in the sense that it was not HIS spirit and life that had been birthed in them but GOD’S – a big and important difference! Paul also said: Pattern yourselves after me, follow my example, as I imitate and follow Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1. The Greek word for ‘follow’ used here actually means to imitate! This gives a different understanding on that verse as he wasn’t saying follow me (become my followers and I will be your leader) but imitate me as I imitate Christ!
Only our Father can give us sonship and birth us into His Family. Paul did not claim to be like a father lightly. He LIKENS himself three times to being LIKE a father (1 Thess 2:11, 2 Cor 12:14 & Phil 2:22) and there are a few verses where the apostles in their writings say ‘little children’ but they FAR more frequently called others their brothers and sisters! Paul more commonly recognised that he was their brother! Earlier in this same chapter (verse 6) he calls them brothers. In fact he keeps referring to them as his brothers all the time, in 1 Corinthians alone, he calls them brothers 28 times and his beloved children only ONCE!
Yes, there HAS been a lack of fathering and bad fathers and this causes insecurity and creates a deep need for approval from man in people. But another person, no matter HOW spiritual or mature, is not to fill that gap or play that role, but only our Father above! We must look to Him, only HE can heal those wounds and make us whole and be the Father we really need. He may well touch someone through us in a fatherly way, revealing His heart. All we need is to be secure in who we are in Him and to seek HIS approval instead of man’s. GOD wants to be that father and to give each of us a true, deep security in knowing that HE approves of us and loves us – and no one else can provide that for us. Even being totally practical; how many real fathers can one child have??? The answer is ONE! This also applies to who is the head a Body. You can only ever have ONE Head! It is a physical impossibility to have more than one biological father, others may be fatherly towards us, but you can only ever have ONE father! The same is true spiritually. If we are really born of the Spirit of God, only HE can be our Father.
Elijah, Moses and Paul are the most common examples for the spiritual fathers teaching, and yet NONE of these ‘spiritual fathers’ had a spiritual father themselves! Some say that spiritual fathers are to reproduce themselves but Paul spoke of travailing until CHRIST was formed, NOT himself!!! Another way of looking at spiritual reproduction is to use the illustration that Jesus used several times – of planting seed. A seed will reproduce after its own kind, but the life is not from the planter or US – we simply plant it or give it away.
The difficulty with calling anyone your spiritual father is that THEY can become a substitute and are looked to for what only our Father in heaven wants to give us – security, protection, direction, nurture, love and approval – and, because they are viewed as the source of these things instead of God, they also get the glory instead of God! We do have to grow up and mature spiritually and we can be used to encourage and help nurture immature siblings in their growing (watering them). However, the apostles always pointed to God and not to themselves, they were there to serve; not to be served. Paul wrote: My little children, for whom I am again suffering birth pangs until Christ is completely and permanently formed within you Gal. 4:19. His apostolic mission was not to reproduce himself, but to bring the Life of Christ forth so that HE would be formed in others – that they would be born of the Spirit of God.
In playing God in the fertility area, some leaders “create” new ideas, programmes and methods and plant these seeds into “their” children. This is artificial. When the real, created idea from God comes along, because so many leaders in the church have set themselves up as the parents over the children in their little family instead of simply being brothers and sisters in one BIG family, they often don’t recognise this new thing as being part of THEIR family because it either wasn’t given to THEM first or it didn’t originate from them. So they say it cannot be of God, and attempt to kill what God is trying to raise up in a person or persons.
If there was true humility present in recognising that we simply are brothers and sisters, then they would recognise that God can and DOES do different things in His Family, and that it doesn’t have to be checked out with other children first or originate from them! The problem is that many set themselves up as parents who think they are responsible for “their children”, rather than recognising that THEY themselves are simply one of the children – brothers or sisters of the ONE Father! It is the Parent’s role to reproduce, but brothers and sisters ARE often the ones that teach children new things in a big family and may be responsible to look after younger brothers and sisters sometimes.
Going back to the healthy, functioning family, there is no insecurity there, each child knows that their Father loves them no more and no less than any other brother or sister, they are accepted – not for what they have or haven’t done, or for their maturity or lack thereof, but simply because they are a precious child in this Family! And if a brother or sister wants to try something new or different, they are encouraged in that! In fact, older more mature brothers and sisters may be able to help them out and encourage them because they are secure in who they are and what they know and can offer whatever help they can from a heart filled with love. A healthy family is a safe place, a loving place where each individual is encouraged to reach their full potential, where each child has their own intimate, loving relationship with their Father first, and with each other second.
Therefore be imitators of God, copy Him and follow His example, as well beloved children imitate their Father. And walk in love, esteeming and delighting in one another as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a slain offering and sacrifice to God, a sweet fragrance. Ephesians 5:1,2