What Is Family?

Some of our dear Russian “family.”
 Мы вас любим!


Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
(Mark 3:31–35 NRSV)


Just a few verses previous Jesus’ family appears to try and rescue him from his apparent insanity. Now, we find them standing outside the house where he is teaching. Maybe, again, they are trying to get him and take him home. More than likely his teaching was having a negative effect on them all and they felt it was time to simply take him home. 

Jesus uses this scene as a teachable moment. Normally, your next of kin, your relatives, would be found in physical proximity. Jesus redefines family within the kingdom of God. He looks at those near to him and identifies them as his mother and brothers. Then, he adds the clarifier, viewing kingdom life as that of a new creation family with mother, sister and brother. 


This redefinition of family is one which we seldom contemplate. Far too often, I believe, Christianity has focused on the redemption of the traditional family. While that is an important concept, Jesus broadens our thinking and helps us look beyond the structures which may be created and adopted by culture, both inside and outside the church. There is something that is supposed to happen within the community of faith, where believers become like family, brothers and sisters together in serving the Lord. 

I’ve experienced this type of family in different ways in my life. As a missionary kid I never lived anywhere near my relatives. My grandparents in Nebraska were people that I saw when I was two, and then again when I was six. It was my church that became my family. My German grandmother helped to raise me while my parents were busy working in the life of the church. It was okay because I felt loved, safe and secure. My brother, Kurt, had his own German grandma. We each sat with our “grandmothers” during church on Sunday and they made sure that we behaved. 

Later in life my husband and I served as missionaries in Russia. It was there that our children learned about the incredible church community which helped to raise them. They had their Russian babushkas at church on Sundays who were always willing to tell them what they did wrong. However, it was in that chiding that the girls knew that they were loved. They also learned that if you were ever in a dangerous situation, seek out a babushka because she would protect you! Other missionaries, pastors and leaders took on the role of aunt and uncle, brothers and sisters in the family. 

It’s in this nurturing environment of fellow believers that we find real family. True family is a place where each is encouraged to live a life in the pursuit of virtue. We spur one another on to become more like Christ! This becomes the focus of the “family of God.” 

Sometimes, I fear, the nuclear family can actually get in the way of our spiritual development. Commitments to closed family dinners and activities exclude those within our church family. The single members of the church community often stand at the sidelines and wonder where this family that Jesus talked about really exists.

Jesus is pointing us to a loyalty that goes far beyond that of our earthly family. The thing about Jesus is that if we spend much time with him, he will force us to question our comfort zones. We will be challenged to consider what we really value as family and whether our church communities are willing to embrace who Jesus places before us. 


Lord, I am so grateful for those who have been family in my life. May I welcome with open arms those who near. Amen. 


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