Saturday, April 9, 2011

Family Permanence and Intimacy

The apostle Paul frequently refers to other Christians as His "brothers" or "brethren" in Christ. The Greek word is "adelphoi."

He uses this word over and over again. Paul must have good reasons for this. Why does he do it?

In that culture, brothers and sisters held deep, permanent, and intimate relationships. These were some of the strongest (if not the strongest) bonds in that society.

Paul could have repeatedly used the word "friends." Instead, he chose "brothers." Why?

I believe Paul was stressing both intimacy and permanence. He may have had other reasons as well, but these two seem to be a big part of his intent.

Genetic brothers and sisters, for all their problems, have both intimate and permanent relationships. There is a certain level of familiarity and care that we have with siblings that is unique to those relationships. Also, sibling relationships last our entire lives. Even though we may have squabbles, nothing severs the brotherhood bond.

Paul's use of this term, therefore, should inform the way we think of the church. For example, how close are we really with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we really know each other or are our relationships more surface-level? If we are going to be siblings in Christ, then we need to get into the messy, personal, tough, real aspects of one another's lives. I don't know how to do this other than spend time together, open up to one another, serve one another, be served by one another, and be authentic with one another.

Paul also expected permanence of relationships. Siblings don't stop being siblings. Church family doesn't stop being church family. When we think of the church in terms of everlasting relationships, this dramatically affects how we handle both the good times and the bad. Unity is non-negotiable. We work through all aspects of life. Division is not an option.

In our lives we may move from place to place for whatever reason. We may also be parts of different bodies of believers. Despite this, let's think of the church as God does: a unified whole. We must remain united with the whole.

As I think about these things, I'm filled with joy. God, in His great blessings, has caused us to be part of His redeemed family. He desires that we be perfectly united in authentic relationships with one another founded upon Him. All to His glory.

Now to the nitty-gritty work. Effort is required to get to know one another at a real level. However, since these relationships are permanent we may as well get started.

How we think about the church greatly impacts how we live as the church (obviously). Let's all think through the lens of intimacy and permanence.


Alan Knox said...

I love the posts that you've been writing about the church as family. I truly believe that if we learn to identify one another as family (based solely on our mutual relationships with God our father, and not based on our decision to be family with some people) it will completely change the way we live and act towards one another.

By the way, the masculine plural adelphoi would be inclusive of both men and women (i.e., "brothers and sisters") unless specified otherwise.


Eric said...


Thanks. I've noticed you writing about some of these same things too.

It's clear to all of us that the way we think about the church affects how we live it out. Family is a great way to think about it. It helps me think in terms of loving people, sacrificing for them, and spending time with them. We are not part of some man-constructed institution; rather, we are part of a permanent heavenly family created by God.

These are exciting things to ponder and act upon.

Thanks for the Greek help. I'm a little rusty. Honestly, the only reason I even mentioned adelphoi was that I didn't want anyone to think that Paul actually wrote the words brother or brethren.

esztertun said...

I loved this post too. Encouraging and confirming of what I feel God saying to us too.

Please forgive me, but I am confused about this in your comment: "...the only reason I even mentioned adelphoi was that I didn't want anyone to think that Paul actually wrote the words brother or brethren." Do you mean he wrote a word that means brethren in Christ? Or that he wasn't writing in English? Or...?

Eric said...


Sorry about the confusion. I wish I had worded that sentence a little better.

I just wanted to point out that Paul was writing in Greek. His use of adelphoi means "brothers" but also carries the meaning of "brothers and sisters." It's sort of like when someone writes "men" but really means "men and women."

Aussie John said...


As one who is past their use-by-date, I endorse Alan's comment, "I love the posts that you've been writing about the church as family", as I do all of your posts since beginning this journey.

I am encouraged regarding the future of the earthly expressions of the church, to know that brethren, and sisteren :),half my age are writing about and practicing what they write about, and seeing the blessing of God in their efforts.

It further encourages me when their focus is on our Pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Shepherd of the sheep, and not on "my", "our" church, ministry etc.

I thank God for his blessing me through you all.

Eric said...


Thank you for the kind words. I personally owe much to those, like you, who have gone before me in this adventure. It took quite a while of being confronted by scripture for me to "see the light." I now look forward to, God willing, years ahead of living this out.

Arthur Sido said...

I think you did but I will ask anyway, did you read When the Church Was A Family? That really helped bring home the family dimension for me and how important understanding that was for interpreting Scriptural references that used familial language,

Eric said...


I read that book about a year ago. It remains one of my favorites. It caused a sort of paradigm-shift in my thinking about church family life.

For what it's worth, here's my review: