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From Friends to Family: The Bible’s Vision for the Church


I’d been scouring Facebook marketplace for nearly two years, and I finally found it: the perfect bookcase. We rented a U-Haul, drove to the spot to pick it up… and just barely got it on the truck with the help of the seller. We’d underestimated just how big this bookcase was.

As we pulled away with our find, my husband Grady said, “You better call Sadie and Luke.”

When we got home 15 minutes later, they were waiting in front of our house ready to wrestle this massive piece of furniture up some stairs.

When we’re in a bind, Sadie and Luke are usually the first people we call. Helping us move, bringing in mail when we’re gone, driving us to the airport, lending us their car when ours is in the shop, coming over with a spare key after we’ve locked ourselves out of the house… They’ve done it all and more. (Typically, with very short notice).

Now, my husband and I are blessed with a large community who’ve shown up for us in significant ways over the years. Sadie and Luke aren’t the only ones who’ve dropped what they’re doing to help. 

But we tend to ask them first because they’re family, and that makes the relationship feel easier and more secure. I trust that if they can help, they will; if they can’t, they’ll say so; and if they can but don’t want to… they’ll let us know it’s annoying, and then do it anyway.

Because Grady and Sadie are brother and sister, we’re all stuck together. Even if (when) we’re inconvenient and needy, we know that nobody’s going anywhere. Our neediness won’t wreck our relationship with them.    

But I don’t always feel the same way about our friends from church—and I don’t think that’s how God wants it to be.

Brothers and Sisters

This sibling dynamic is the paradigm God gives us for his church. In the New Testament, the Greek word adelphoi—which means “brothers and sisters”—is used 200 times to address and describe the people of God.

“Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings.” (Philippians 4:21)

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 13:1)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

In the Greco-Roman world, sibling dynamics were serious. It was on you to partner with your siblings to carry on the family name, to care for aging members of your family, to labor alongside each other in the family business, and to provide for one another in times of hardship.

In the modern West, we emphasize marriage as our primary commitment. In the Ancient Near East, your spouse took a backseat to your siblings. You wouldn’t have had the luxury of prioritizing your nuclear family—your spouse and children—over everyone else because your nuclear family wasn’t enough to make ends meet and survive. You needed your brothers and sisters and their spouses and children, too.

The reality is our nuclear families still aren’t enough to sustain us and live out God’s vision for our relational lives.

Some of us are in stages of life and circumstances where we feel that truth more than others do. But even if you have a healthy, close-knit biological family, you’re missing out if you’re not also embracing the spiritual family that God is calling you to be part of.

Check out how Luke describes this family-like support in the newly established church in Jerusalem:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:44-46

Remember, “all the believers” in this context consisted of more than 3000 people (Acts 2:41). They weren’t all living in one house or sharing a single bank account. But they clearly did their best to remove the barriers that divided them into individual household units. They were generous with their money, their possessions, their space, and their time. And they were in and out of each other’s homes and lives.

Family Dynamics 

To state the obvious: this kind of relationship isn’t easy.

Paul says in Romans 15:5:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.

We need endurance and encouragement to love and serve our church families well.

Your life together is a long road full of sinful people (yourself included!). Just as even the healthiest families are messy and hurtful at times, your church family will hurt and challenge you. Being in relationship with people who know you, see you, and stick with you no matter what is a two-way street. You have to be there for them too, especially when it’s hard.

Fortunately, we have a model for this kind of unconditional, long-suffering love:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Romans 15:7

Accepting others as Christ accepted us requires stretching and inconveniencing ourselves. It entails prioritizing your relationships with your church family in the same way you prioritize your biological family. It looks like being vulnerable and trusting that your neediness won’t wreck your relationships. And it means sticking around when other people are annoying and messy. Because that’s what Jesus did.

God’s vision for his church is a family of brothers and sisters who encourage (and endure!) one another through the ups and downs of life.

Moving from Friends to Family

You know what's awkward and vulnerable? Telling someone you really care about them and want to be good friends.

You know what’s counter-cultural and powerful? Telling someone you really care about them and want to be good friends.

When you name a desire for friendship, you put a lot on the line. You're opening yourself up to rejection. And you're assuming a degree of responsibility that risks hurting someone if you don’t follow through. But you also gain a lot: security, affirmation, and a precedent of vulnerability and honesty that will shape your friendship moving forward.  

Is there someone in your life who you want to turn from a friend to an extension of your family—with all the vulnerability and inconvenience and unconditional love that entails?

Let them know.

Send them this article and have a conversation about what it looks like to be there for each other the way God calls his church to be.

Living like this is counter-cultural, so the first step is probably going to be getting out of your own way. After all, many of us might not even relate to our biological family this way. At times, it will feel hard, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. You’ll open yourself up to rejection, you’ll get hurt, you’ll need to ask for forgiveness. All of these are signs that you’re doing it right. And, through the hardship, you’ll also find life, love, security, and freedom to be your authentic, needy self. 

If you want to have good friends, you have to be a good friend.
Check out these tips from Patrick Miller on how [not] to develop deeper friendships.