THE NEW FAMILY
THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT III (YOUR ROLE) // CHAPTER 24
“We cannot choose our parents but we can choose whose children we become.” // Seneca
We can’t do this journey by ourselves. Abraham had a family. Jesus invited us into his family. So, we should be on this journey with other people.
These words are said to be written on the tombstone of a bishop in the crypt of Westminster Abbey,
When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits. I dreamed of changing the world.
As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change.
So I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But it too seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me.
But alas, they would have none of it.
And now as I lay on my deathbed, I suddenly realize:
If I had only changed myself first.
Then, by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country.
And who knows, I may even have changed the world.[i]
We should work hard on ourselves. After all, we can only control what we can control. But we are meant to change the world. To change the world, we need to surround ourselves with people who want to do the same thing. Jesus didn’t come to the earth and live life alone. Ancient Stoics encouraged living by virtue so we can engage with those around us and make the world a better place. For our lives to be meaningful, we must mean something to those closest to us; a life cannot be meaningful on its own. The most meaningful relationships that we have are what we often call family. None of us had any control regarding the family we were born into. The most important family that we can have is the one we choose.
No one I know married their sibling, or even their cousin. At least I hope not. They chose to start a family with someone outside the family they were born into. They will have children and raise them as the family they have chosen.
Abraham had his relationship with God, so did his son Isaac, so did his son Jacob. All of them had their own choices to make regarding their relationships and the people they lived with.
God wants to work in the context of a family. Not just families of origin like Abraham’s but families of choice. In Mark 3, Jesus calls “anyone who does God’s will” his family. Anyone who wants to be in the family is in.
He actually gives his family a new commandment.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. // John 15:12–17
When says Jesus friends, he uses the word phílos (φίλος) which is the same word used when describing brotherly love. Jesus surrounded himself with people who became his family—disciples.
Throughout Scripture, God shows us the importance of finding our tribe, creating a family of choice around us committed to helping each other follow his plan, helping each other follow Jesus.
This family must be defined by their love for each other. They love each other (and others) like God loves them. That’s the meaning and purpose for all of us. For us to lay down our ways, preferences and agendas to love people like we know God loves us.
We must take this journey. To know God, to know ourselves and then decide to play a role in God’s plan. That’s the only way to live a good life. A life of meaning and virtue.
God’s new family
In Matthew 16, Jesus is asking his disciples about these things. He asks them what the word on the street is concerning his identity. Did people think he was just another rabbi, a teacher or perhaps a zealot? After hearing a variety of answers, Jesus did this:
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. // Matthew 16:15–17
Peter was beginning to understand who God was, and who Jesus was. This was so powerful to Jesus (and Simon) that Jesus changed his name to Peter—just like God changed Abraham’s name. Peter said Jesus was the Messiah, the logos, the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. // Matthew 16:18
Just like the name Peter means rock, Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question is the foundation of a new family of people who believe this same thing—the church.
The word church in this passage is translated from the Greek word ekklesia. To the people Jesus was talking to, this was not a religious term. It described people gathering for a specific purpose. Any type of gathering—civic, military or otherwise—could be considered an ekklesia.
In this conversation, Jesus was announcing his plans to institute a new gathering, a unique assembly of people that represented a continuation of the family of Abraham. We all get to be in the family now.
The common ground of this new movement would not be a national, social or political agenda. It would be him—the logos, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. This was going to be a gathering of people who believed that he was exactly who Peter declared him to be, those who chose to live like he did.
Jesus’ declaration of building a movement must have sounded ridiculous to his disciples. It was just the twelve of them plus Jesus. But Jesus did exactly what he promised to do. Two thousand years later, these words are proof. Jesus’ point was also unmistakable to his audience, not even the powers of hell, or his very death would stop the church.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his followers were empowered to take his gospel into the streets of Jerusalem. There, in the city where he was crucified, the church was born. There were no buildings, no creeds, no Bible as we have it today. The church was a growing family of people who had one thing in common: they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, the plan made into a person, and that we should live like him.
[i] Lan, “The Inscribed Unknown Tombstone,” Enjoy a Simple Life, published July 15, 2015, https://enjoyasimplelife.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-inscribed-unknown-tombstone.html