Almost ten years ago, when I moved to South Africa, I had no idea how much of an impact this place would have on me. One of the greatest impacts on me is the value the African culture places on the family, as well as community. You see this in the way they sacrifice for one another. You see this in their sense of togetherness. And you see it in the way they come together and celebrate one another for special occasions, especially weddings. It is a community wide event, not just in attending the ceremony, but also in putting the event together. On that special day, hundreds of people come to celebrate the bride and groom.
That’s because their community is like a family. And in a similar way, so is the church.
The Body of Christ
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, Paul compares the church to the human body. He begins with “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ.” Paul illustrates that while a body has a head, eyes, ears, etc. all those parts belong to the same body. So it is with the global church; there are many members scattered throughout the globe, but our oneness in Christ makes us family.
Yet we often forget this oneness. Out of sight out of mind.
But I wonder what might happen if we were to truly see one another as the family that we are. Though we may have different life experiences and backgrounds, we share in what it means to be fallen in sin, saved by the blood of Christ, and brought in as God’s people (1 Peter 2:10). We are indeed a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We have been set apart, not to be alone, but to be together as a family! And being a family should create in us a desire to act as a family.
Living as a Family
A family that desires to love well
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that immediately after talking about being one body, Paul then writes the famous chapter on love. Paul gives us a picture of what love in action looks like; it is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, doesn’t insist on its own way, doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing but rather in the truth (1 Cor. 13). Paul connects the body of Christ to the definition of love. He does the same thing in Romans 12 when he talks about the church body and exhorts us to let our love be genuine. There is something about acknowledging we are family that should lead us to the desire to want to love one another well.
This past week, as I prepared for a work meeting with a woman who I had not yet met before that lives in the Philippines, it crossed my mind, “What if my heart going into this time would be that I first see her as my sister?” Even at the thought, my heart grew in a desire to want to love her well, to be kind to her, and encourage her. As a sister, I didn’t have to know all the details of her life— how we were the same or how we might be different— but just the mere fact that she is my sister in Christ made me want to love her. Dhati Lewis of Blueprint Church in Atlanta is known for saying “The church isn’t like family, we are family.” Imagine how much would it change your view of those in the global church if the first thought that came to mind is, “That’s family!”
A family that desires togetherness and unity
When we begin to see the global church as a family, we then have a desire for togetherness and unity just as we do with our biological family. The desire for togetherness and unity by no means implies that we will always agree; rather, we strive for togetherness and unity, despite not agreeing on all things. This desire comes out so well in the Message translation. “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt and the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance” (1 Cor. 12:25-26-MSG). The more we understand our design as a church, the more we will strive towards togetherness and unity.
A family that celebrates differences
One barrier to seeing the global church as a family is that we assume we can’t relate to one another because of the many perceived differences. We live in a world that views difference as bad and not something to be celebrated. Paul helps us to understand that differences are actually good. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (1 Cor. 12:17) In the same way, if all the members of the global church were the same, we wouldn’t get to celebrate the beauty of the diversity in God’s people. When we see differences in others, we must not be intimidated, confused, or even devalue one another for those differences, but rather learn to appreciate and learn from one another in how those differences make us better.
I once visited Brazil as an American living in South Africa. I was excited to learn more about this unfamiliar culture. What struck me as the most “different” about the culture was their authenticity. As I sat in on a community group and my interpreter shared the discussion with me, I was so amazed by just how open and honest they were. It was a difference I wanted to take away with me and learn from, that as a family we can be open and authentic with one another.
When we see the global church as a family, we can better care for one another as a family. We live in a time that makes connecting possible. Especially in these internet-connected pandemic days, you can be in one country and virtually visit other churches. I know I have. It’s been eye-opening to not just observe another culture, but to be aware of how God is using the global church for his Kingdom purposes. Learning about the church in other cultures helps us know how to pray for them. One way this happens is when we support missionaries and other global workers. We get to learn about what God is doing in another place as we read regular updates from those who serve overseas. We can then be intentional about praying specifically for our brothers and sisters around the world. Perhaps consider choosing one location and commit to learning and praying for that place for a month, then the next month do the same for another global church.
The more I learn to see the global church as a family, the more it makes me long for heaven. It will be the biggest family reunion yet! No wonder the Bible describes it as a wedding feast. People from every tribe and nation and tongue will gather to worship our King. We will live together, loving one another, just as the Father created us to. But why wait until then? Let us start now, today, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
About the Author:
Samantha Roberts currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa where she serves on staff with a campus ministry as the Women’s Coordinator. Samantha enjoys discipling women and equipping them to live out their calling. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Religion at Reformed Theological Seminary.