There’s something better than family—more family.
This post was adapted from a message given by Corey Fronk,
A preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly
I’m sure most of you have had the experience of moving in with somebody. Maybe it was with a college roommate, or your spouse after you got married. You quickly realized that you saw the world a bit differently than the other person, especially concerning things you hardly even thought about.
When you grow up a certain way, there’s a correct way to do things, like loading the dishwasher. There’s a correct way to eat, and what to eat. There’s a way you spend money, where you go on vacation, all the way up to how many kids to have. Regardless, that other person doesn’t see it the same way.
For me there’s even more of a disconnect. I grew up in a way that was quite dissimilar to the typical American household. My mom had thirteen kids over twenty-three years. Then my parents adopted six more kids, and and on top of that, let an additional girl live with us for a while. We also let overseas missionaries come and stay with us every now and then. My experience growing up, then, was one of welcoming more and more people into the family. It just kept getting bigger, and better.
With so many people, you had to learn how to share. If a sibling found out you liked something, they were going to steal it, or destroy it, so it was better not to put much value in material items. One of the best things about my experience, though, was that every day I woke up, and all my best friends were right there. They would stay the night, and when I woke up the next day, another day would start, and they were still there.
It was strange for me coming out of that environment and into something where friends don’t come over everyday anymore, and when they do come over, they don’t spend the night. The world we live in now, is a place where we lead very separate, divided lives. We all have our own little house, and that house, or apartment, requires a lot of time and work to keep it running. We expect that our homes would be self-sufficient, independent, autonomous units where we don’t need other people.
What we value determines the way we live, but the way we live further determines what we value. If you go on Google, and look up quotes about family, you’ll probably find stuff like, “Family is not an important thing; it’s everything.” You’ll hear people sometimes say, “I would do anything for my family.” In our films, like the movie Coco, the big revelation to the main character, is that we may have our differences, but nothing’s more important than family.
There’s even a certain pressure attached to the philosophy. If someone within a family unit reveals the need to climb over familial walls, other members may ask, “Aren’t we enough for you?” There’s an expectation for that family unit to be enough, to be complete, delivering a full sense of happiness for everyone involved. Under that constraint, it’s not surprising that so many marriages fail, and families fall apart.
Why then, do we find ourselves occupying family silos? Because we believe that is where the good life is to be found—freedom from the rest of the world, where we can shut our doors, and keep out everyone else, freedom to do what we want in our own little kingdom, with total control, and independence.
The problem is that this vision of the good life contradicts what we find in Scripture. The good life of scripture portrays God’s family gathering together to praise and worship Him. The Bible is full of verses that talk about the believers in Christ being brothers and sisters, a household united as members of one another, members of a body, hearts knit together in love. Jesus prayed for such, when He asked the Father that we would be one, as He and the Father were one (c.f. John 17).
Consider Psalms 133:1.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
“Brothers” mean Israelites, the Old Testament people of God, His family. This is one of the psalms of ascent, which described what it looked like for all the people to come together from their scattered locations, and go up to—ascend—to Jerusalem. In some cases they would spend days there together, praising and worshiping God. That was the “dwelling in unity” the psalm described. According to the Bible, this is the good life.
The good life isn’t staying home, living a separate existence from each other. It’s one where we come together as a larger family, and praise and worship God. We’ve all heard about the benevolence of gathering together with other brothers and sisters in Christ. But more than likely, we all have simultaneous “visions” competing with that biblical view, the most popular being the deeply held American Dream of privacy and preoccupation with self.
If you want to test where you are on the spectrum, think about what you would feel if you found out today a family in the church was going to come and spend a few days in your home, eating your food, sitting on your couch, and desiring to praise and worship God with you. Would your reaction be “How good and pleasant!” or, “How inconvenient, and frustrating!”
Okay, maybe that example is too extreme, so what if instead, that other family was simply going to join you nightly for a while for praise and worship. Again, how good and pleasant, or, how pressuring, and unpleasant? This past year, we were prevented for the most part from meeting together, and experiencing the good life together. How painful was it? How much did it hurt? If it hurt a lot, that’s an indication our hearts were probably aligned with the good life portrayed in Scripture.
However, what exactly does it look like when the people of God get together, and dwell in unity?
Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The first thing to remember as we gather, is that we are gathering with God’s chosen ones, holy, and beloved. These are people in whom God Delights, and loves so much that He was willing to die for them on the cross. This description also applies to you. Your presence in a fellowship doesn’t testify of your haphazard decision to join it. It demonstrates how God chose you and placed you with his family. God wants His children to live the good life, and that means a life of participation in the church, His family, that gathers to praise and worship Him. This is our mindset.
There is something intentional though, that goes beyond just showing up: “Put on” as it says in verse 12. As we come together, how do we interact with each other? We put on compassion. We are moved, and sensitive to each other’s sufferings. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, we must learn to regard people less in light of what they do, or admit to do, and more in light of what they suffer.
We also put on kindness, which is more than a superficial niceness towards each other, but a deeper, moral goodness where we recognize each other’s needs, and meet those needs where we can.
We put on humility, counting others as more significant than ourselves. And then meekness, which is not something cowardly or weak. It is actually a strength, the power to deny your will, your feelings, your emotions, and submit to Christ, putting His will first and serving one another.
Finally, we also put on patience in the midst of a world that is very impatient. We are happy to wait on one another, and furthermore, “bear with one another” in verse 13, where we join in each other’s struggles. Of course prayer is a huge item in doing this.
We are to forgive one another as well, just like the Lord has forgiven us. These are the family rules. We follow our example, as God the Father did not retaliate or lash out at us when we sinned against Him, or when we continue to sin against Him, but in the name of Christ, he bears the cost. He forgives and wants to continue the relationship with us. In the same way, if someone offends us, sins against us, we are also willing to bear that cost, and if possible, continue that relationship.
Above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. When we gather in sacrificial love, you can see how people are willing to do what is good for the other person. Such an attitude makes everything work out.
Verse 15 speaks of the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts for church life. It is not the peace of the world that comes from my separation from others, where I can hide in my house, and not let anyone inside. Instead, the peace of Christ happens in the midst of gathering with people you may or may not naturally like, people with a lot of differences. It issues out from the cross of Jesus that has broken down all barriers, and rules the heart.
This all defines our gatherings, but what do we do when we get together? We let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God.” Most of us like the idea of “richly teaching,” but “richly singing?” In a lot of churches (like ours), that might only be fifteen minutes a week. I’m not sure that qualifies as “rich.”
A few years ago, my wife and I watched a documentary about Dolores Park, a famous actress in the 60s who decided to give up Hollywood, and become a nun. In an interview, she talked about living with others in the convent, and how they would sing everyday, seven times a day, together. She described how the chorus of praise would mingle together, and go up to God. When I heard it, I thought it was weird. But later, I considered how clueless I was. Here was a person singing with others to Christ, multiple times a day, for years. And there I was, singing zero to fifteen minutes a week. It didn’t sound right.
We do ourselves a disservice by not singing together. As awkward as it might feel at first, this is a large part of discovering how good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity.
Not only so, it’s essential to give thanks, and the Colossians verses state as much three times. When we gather, we do so as grateful participants, namely just being happy to be there. We’re glad that God chose us to be included in His family.
Sometimes though, we look at the Sunday service in a way that spoils us. A lot of intentional work goes into that hour. People spend time preparing songs, preparing Word, keeping the kids, and it’s all so we can come and have an undistracted, beautiful, worship time with God.
It is so good, in fact, that we might not want to worship during the week, because we can’t duplicate it. Sunday morning can be like going to a nice restaurant, where the food is served to your table. The waiter asks what temperature you want your steak cooked, and what sides you’d like.
Yes, it’s a wonderful experience, but you can’t live at the restaurant.
You must therefore find spiritual nourishment during the week. Maybe that means singing with a guest family in our homes, even while kids are screaming in the background. Guess what? God will still meet us there, and will nourish, and strengthen us during that time.
When you look at the verses we’ve covered, they don’t really make sense outside the context of people spending substantial time together. If you briefly see someone for an hour a week, that hardly calls for putting on compassion, kindness, and humility.
The application for these verses is firstly, that you have them with your family, the people you live with. It makes sense. Your family is your first contact with the family of God. However, it is not meant to stop there. The Colossians passage is meant for the whole church. It is to be applied to people outside your family, as well as those in it.
Flannery O’Connor once said, “Push back against the age, as hard as it pushes against you.” Since we live in a world that pursues separation and isolation, we’re going to have to push back, if we want to taste the good life.
Enter the Colossians rhythm.