You don’t get to choose your biological family. They are a seemingly random group of people that God divinely places you in relationship with. However, what makes them unique is that our relationship with them is characterized by commitment, a never-ending desire for harmony even when it seems impossible. In the midst of conflict we will continue to pick up the telephone, show up for holiday gatherings, and celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. We fearlessly defend our family members from those who would seek to do them harm and continually offer our family consolation during seasons of hardship and sorrow. When asked by those outside our family unit why we continue to love in the midst of relational messiness, we acknowledge that he or she is our mom/dad/sister/brother/wife/husband/child and so we have to care.
Spiritual families are a lot like biological families because, once we place our faith in Jesus, we are divinely connected to a seemingly random group of people. We have differences in language, theology, education, socioeconomic levels, and ethnicity. While beautiful, sometimes our differences can cause tension. Yet, unlike with our biological families, when conflict occurs between spiritual family members, the commitment for resolution isn’t always high. Rather than resolving the offense, many times we simply leave—creating a road of emotional or physical abandonment that results in our spiritual family members being wounded or jaded.
The Commitment of First Century Christians
In the days of Jesus and the apostles, Judaism was not only a religion but it was the glue that held families together. So to convert to Christianity from Judaism meant that not only was a person leaving behind their religious beliefs, but many times they were leaving behind their family as well. Yet, as first century Christians gathered together, they formed new spiritual families grounded in a commitment to their faith and each other that didn’t waiver, even in the face of death.
The New Testament contains almost 60 “one another” commands that give us instructions on how we are to operate within our spiritual family. As believers we are called to be at peace, be devoted, live in harmony, honor above ourselves, have equal concern for, bear with, forgive, and clothe ourselves in humility towards one another. These commands acknowledge that our differences can cause tension and conflict. However, they also call us to forgo the passive aggressive route to reconciliation to pursue harmony in the spirit of self-sacrificial love. We are to receive and speak the truth in a way that honors our brothers and sisters who are also made in the image of God.
The Commitment of Modern Day Christians
Somewhere along the line, Christians have lost this deep sense of commitment to our spiritual family. We’ve exchanged Jesus’ command to love one another with shallow self-preservation. Differences in opinion are met with harsh tweets, Facebook comments, defensive arguments, or silence. We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt or hear their concerns with hearts grounded in humility. We’ve chosen to stay in spaces that make us feel comfortable rather than pursue the discomfort of biblical reconciliation.
The word most frequently used in Scripture to describe Jesus’ emotional state is compassion. Webster’s dictionary defines compassion as a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. As our Lord was moved with compassion, he frequently crossed gender, cultural, and ethnic boundaries to love those society did not consider valuable. He saw the pain of those around Him and sought to enter into it to bring healing.
As women who are called reflect the character of our Savior, this same word should characterize how we respond to people with whom we disagree. We should strive to embody the heart of Philippians 2:1-11, considering the interests of others above ourselves.
Recapturing Our Commitment to Love
Ultimately, our commitment to love our spiritual family members is a testament to the gospel itself (John 13:35). It’s an opportunity for the world to see that the good news about Jesus is true and that life with Him in His kingdom is better than life without Him. The world is watching how we respond to the tension and conflict that arise from our differences. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to be a corporate witness for Jesus Christ.
One particular area in which the church’s response is being observed by non-believers is with racial harmony. For some, the truth about racism in our country’s history and its present-day impact can be hard to hear. It is an issue that quickly causes people to take a defensive stance in their respective corners of opinion, positions that prioritize self over others. Yet, as we read articles, listen to the news, or engage information that we might disagree with, let us respond like Jesus with hearts of compassion. Many times the underlying message of information pieces that give us an awareness about racism in our culture is this—members of our spiritual family are hurting and they are asking for our help. Racism is an evil that affects everyone in our country, regardless of your ethnicity. As with all issues of conflict, let’s be a family that joins together to destroy this evil, proclaiming the truth of unity and love that is found in Jesus Christ.
Sisters, the world is watching. May we corporately testify to the truth of the gospel by committing to love one another, even when it’s hard.