I learned the significance of “brother” and “sister” long before I began to use those biblical terms myself. As a child, I would half-listen to my parents’ side of phone conversations, absorbed in a book but mildly curious about who was on the other end.
The introductory chatter never aroused my attention. Their transition to hushed pauses or solemn tones failed to fully engage my interest. But then I would hear my dad address the caller as “brother,” and I would look up from the page.
The person on the phone was undoubtedly a member of our church family, and whether he was calling about his ominous medical diagnosis or stopping by to borrow some chairs, it was probably going to affect my life.
Behold, Your Brothers and Sisters
In biblical terms, the people in the pews around us are our family. Like the members of our biological family, we haven’t chosen them for ourselves, but they have been chosen for us, and we are therefore inseparably bound to them. Because we belong to Christ, we belong to his family.
Because we belong to Christ, we belong to his family.
In John’s account of the crucifixion, we read, “When Jesus saw his mother and disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (19:26–27). At Christ’s declaration, Mary and John became family to one another and demonstrated all the loyalty we would expect from a biological mother and son.
Later, when Paul wanted the Roman church to welcome and help Phoebe, he called her “our sister” (Rom. 16:1); when Peter wanted to commend Silvanus, he called him “a faithful brother” (1 Pet. 5:12). When the apostolic writers wanted to address an entire congregation, they frequently called them “brothers” (or “brothers and sisters”). The people in the pews around us are, in fact, our family.
Life in the Household
Acknowledging the fact of our sibling relationship isn’t an intellectual exercise; it’s a profound truth that should stir deep emotions and overflow in tangible expression.
Because these people are family, we learn their names (3 John 15), and we find out their interests. We display “brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10) for all of them, renouncing any hint of partiality (e.g. James 2:1). In hundreds of ways, we seek to say: you are my brothers and sisters, and I love you.
Throughout the New Testament, God commands us to mutual care in the local church. The epistles, in particular, tell us what it means to be brothers and sisters and teach us “how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15). With their various “one another” commands, these letters remind us that life in God’s family will reorient our allegiance—not just on Sunday, but every hour of every day.
Life in God’s family will reorient our allegiance—not just on Sunday, but every hour of every day.
The church is not a man-made society that we can participate in—or opt-out of—according to our own level of comfort. The PTA, the neighborhood association, or the library booster club don’t obligate us to personal sacrifice when things get tough. Family does.
Because God’s people are our family, we will hold our own preferences and priorities loosely (Acts 4:32; Phil. 2:3–4). We will open our hearts and our doors; we will pull up another chair to the dinner table and add another name to our prayer list. We will give them our groceries and furniture and smiles. We will share their grief and trials and disappointments. We will look for ways to show love.
As a result, we will expect to have less money and less free time than we would have on our own. We will expect to have added sorrow. We will also expect to have great joy.
Jesus, Our Brother
Ultimately, our joy in our spiritual family comes from something greater than our daily experience of life with the ordinary people who belong to the local church.
Our joy comes from Christ, our brother, who is making everyone in the family like himself. Romans 8 tells us that “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29). The whole work of redemption has this in view: a vast family where all the members look increasingly like their older brother.
The whole work of redemption has this in view: a vast family where all the members look increasingly like their older brother.
Knowing this, we can delight in the particular people God has given us as brothers and sisters, no matter how unexceptional they may seem, because, in them, we apprehend something of Christ. As they grow and mature in the family circle, their character and conduct become more and more like the One our souls love best. Because of the work of his Spirit, they speak his words, love his ways, hate his enemies, reflect his holiness, and serve his ends. The more they—and we—become like Christ, the more we will love them.
In one of Scripture’s most striking statements, we read that Christ looks at the people of his church and “is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11). How can this be? How can Christ look at the ordinary, weak, and sometimes difficult people of his family and not be ashamed? He’s not ashamed because he is increasingly being formed in them, and he is confident that one day—because of his work on their behalf—their transformation will be complete (Heb. 2:10–18; cf. Gal. 4:19). He willingly identifies with us because our identity is found in him.
As we affirm our relationship to the people of our local church and overflow with affection for them, we testify loudly to the world that we are not ashamed to call them brothers either—not because they are perfect but because they are being made like our only sibling who is.
In our Christian brothers and sisters, we can see something the world cannot. We can see Christ himself.