Some of the most beautiful words in Scripture are found in Romans 12:10. There Paul writes that we are to love one another like members of our own family. The picture he is describing here is that we should “warmly welcome” one another when we see each other (it’s not a polite, but awkward one arm hug), and then we should “make plans for the family feast in heaven” where we will all be together forever. But how does this picture translate into practical ways that we can live out these words today as they are meant to be lived?

In fact, I think you would find that throughout the church there’s been many attempts at it with various levels of success. In recent years there has been an increase in Christians trying to integrate more contemporary ideas around love and community, such as mindfulness or deep work. We have even seen the rise of the house church movement. But what we would propose is that actually we need to go back to the basics. And, of course, our starting point needs to be what God says on the matter.

So let’s start by seeing what God says. Then, secondly, we will look at the example of those who do get this right. But, last of all, I’m going to try and give some of my personal views on the subject, perhaps things to ask yourselves if we really want to treat others in our Christian communities like family.

What God Says

First things first though. Let’s unpack what the Bible teaches about treating each other in the Church like family. In the New Testament the word translated “family” is οἰκία, or oikia for short. And I think this little four-letter Greek word teaches us two things. The first thing we learn from this word is that we are a home. Secondly, we learn that we are a household.

We Are a Home

We are a home because we are all supposed to live under the same roof. When the first Christians came to know Jesus, they did so through worship services held in home gatherings, like Acts 2. This idea that a group of believers are a sort of small town under one roof is fundamental to the very idea of the early church. They were home together. They shared life together. And it was seen as the most important place to do so. You could say that for them the church building was always closed. It’s why Acts talks about the believers sharing everything in common. They were like a home.

Moreover, being a home also means we create a space where people feel free to speak up when they aren’t doing well, especially spiritually speaking. This is something that isn’t easy to do, but it’s almost like the home environment makes it easier to open up. Why is this? Because we’re all in it together. We should have no secrets from each other, otherwise we aren’t living what the Bible calls “under the same roof.” So, too, it is also our responsibility to care for each other according to our diverse needs. This is part of what it means to be a home. It’s one big room under one roof. Or to put it differently, we’re a home under one roof.

This is why when Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 to “live a life worthy of the calling you received,” he follows this with an analogy of having our lives fitting together to make the whole church body function. Just like the hands and feet all belong on one human body, our lives should be fitted together so that everyone functions according to their giftedness and desires. Each person matters and is valuable. This doesn’t mean that every opinion is equal to each other – the Bible never says that. What it does mean is that we should honour, respect, and listen to all opinions while also seeking God as our final authority. But we have to remember what we all bring to the table is worthy. Every person matters. Every person is heard in the home.

And lastly, as a home we share a relationship with God too. The early Christians understood this in a deeper way than ever before because they had a real sense that God could relate to them in a human kind of way. Whereas many Jews believed in a holy God who kept his distance from his people, these first Christians realized that in Christ God stepped down from Heaven and became like us so he could identify with everything we go through. So, too, y ou can tell they truly felt his presence and care. They knew he was a friend to them. This is exactly what 2 Corinthians means, by the way, when it says we have a “Spiritual Family.” That’s us. It is us. As a home, we share a relationship with God, both as Father and as our Head.

We Are a Household

And finally, we are a household. The Bible uses this term, oikos, and connects it to the idea of a church at Colossae. We think of households as usually being a big house full of servants and masters but that’s not necessarily true. Most homes were probably more like a shed or a tent. So what’s the difference between a home and a household? A home is somewhere you might sleep, whereas a household is a place where you have work done.

How can we apply this? Well, when we read Jesus’ parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20, we realize that all have been given the work of following Jesus. When Jesus healed a man in Capernaum, he told him “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” He literally told the man to do work right there and then. And when we encounter someone sick, spiritually or physically, we are encouraged to pray for them – that is work that we do in the church.

Our mission as a household is to serve one another, which is no different to serving Christ himself. For it is said that wherever we see the least of those in the church, we see Jesus (Matthew 25). And yet, even this may not be enough – because in addition to serving one another, we are commanded to serve the world too.

What was Jesus’ command to his disciples? Go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This was Jesus’ last command before ascending to Heaven. So, too, the New Testament is filled with instructions on how to evangelize the lost – usually using words like “teaching” or “gospel” or “salvation.” The early Christians seemed to understand this mission better than any other church in history! The Roman Empire was already heavily evangelized by followers of Zeus, Apollo, and others. So who would believe in Christianity and begin to follow Christ? Those outside the Roman Empire, of course. As with the famed Ethiopian eunuch of Philip, so, too, was it usually through missions we saw people respond to the gospel. And they could only do that if the gospel was preached to them first! So the early Christians must have understood the importance of being a household – in contrast to being just a home – to serve the world.

And we couldn’t forget to mention something else that is particularly important. Not only is the home fundamental to the Christian faith, but so is the house that belongs to the house. Paul tells the Ephesians to “speak encouraging words to one another and build each other up…” Only then, when we are united and strong in the body can we “go forward together to accomplish the task Christ has given us” (Ephesians 4:16)

Finally, it is important to note that the church is also given a special role. They are called “a temple of God.” When God comes and visits, what church will he visit? Surely a temple filled with the Holy Spirit! Perhaps even a house under one roof? Maybe… perhaps one that has opened its doors?

“And you are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God.’” – 2 Corinthians 5:20

Who Gets this Right?

A lot of people try to treat others like family in their churches, but few pull it off without some major difficulties along the way. Many don’t know where to start, and instead they end up falling back on their traditional conceptions and ways of doing things. I admit it is difficult to change how you see a stranger, even if they are a Christian. Being a friend isn’t much harder. But being family requires a radical change of heart. So, who is getting this right today, as we look at some practical suggestions?

One example that we should look to, I suggest, are the Mennonites. They use the word “fellowship” rather than “church service”. They eat with each other before and after services and it appears that many of them simply hang out whenever they see each other during the week. If they are alone, they invite strangers over fordinner. Another example would be Mormons, with the way they help people when they come to their community and the way they support each other through thick and thin. Even more, their meetings last for three hours!