Love the family of believers.
-1 Peter 2:17 (NIV)
Imagine a family where being together isn’t prioritized. Where other responsibilities — or maybe just a preference to spend time doing other things — crowd out family time. Imagine a family that trains its younger generation to put other things first as well.
Imagine a family where cliques and factions become more important than the family as a whole, where the family name is brought into disrepute by all the squabbles, infighting, and division. Imagine a family that thinks its differences are more important than its shared bloodline, history and values as a family.
Imagine a family that thinks success for one part is failure for another. Imagine a family that thinks every member must hold all the same opinions and convictions and do everything in the same way in order to remain a part of the family.
Imagine a family in which the vulnerable are preyed upon while the predators are protected.
Imagine a family that crushes members who are in pain under the weight of expectation, guilt, and judgment. Now imagine that same family celebrating the success of its most manipulative, deceitful, and abusive members.
Imagine a family where there is no expectation that members will be truly a part of family life. Imagine a family in which family members only share in the life of the family when they’re nagged, cajoled, and guilted into it.
Imagine a family where a few people do everything. The other members of the family stop by now and then and enjoy the benefits of the others’ work. Imagine a family where the people who do most of the work simmer in resentment of the others instead of encouraging and helping the others to take responsibility as well.
Imagine a family in which every person expects that everything in the family’s life together will be done to his or her liking. Imagine a family in which everyone considers him or herself an expert on every topic.
Imagine a family where problems and disagreements are addressed, not by communication, but by avoidance. Imagine a family where members simply choose to not be part of the family anymore rather than deal with those with whom they don’t see eye-to-eye.
Imagine a family that’s segregated by race, ethnicity, and language. Imagine a family in which those with money or education look down on those without, and vice versa. Imagine a family in which differences provide lines for division instead of opportunities for learning, understanding, and growth.
Imagine a family in which there’s no concern for the younger generation, the future of the family. Imagine that the children aren’t taught the family’s values or instructed in treasuring what the family calls important. Imagine, if you can, a family that routinely stifles the passion and potential of young adulthood, that constantly requires the up-and-comers to earn their place at the table through years of silent service to the agendas and whims of their elders.
Imagine a family where there’s no respect for ancestors. Imagine a family where the younger generation demands that their voices be heard by denigrating and devaluing the experiences and earned wisdom of the older. Imagine a family in which those who are older are consigned to the trash heap because they aren’t as hip, exciting, or energetic as they used to be. Imagine that they’re mocked because they refuse to embrace the latest and greatest. Imagine a family in which the younger generation demeans the hard work and sacrifice of those who have come before — the hard work and sacrifice that has built the family as they know it.
A family like the one I’m describing wouldn’t remain viable very long. It wouldn’t do a very good job of providing safety and security for its members. It would be no surprise if its younger members didn’t learn the lessons they needed to learn to thrive, and if they passed on the pain they had suffered to future generations. It wouldn’t be unexpected if members didn’t grow bitter, angry, and suspicious as they got older. Dysfunction like I’m describing would reproduce itself from generation to generation until it erased anything healthy, constructive, or life-giving.
When Peter tells us to “love the family of believers,” he doesn’t mean that the church ought to talk a lot about being a family. He doesn’t mean that we should call each other “brother” and “sister” at church and then go about the rest of our weeks as if our sisters and brothers don’t exist. Those words come shortly after he demands that we “live such good lives among the pagans that…they may see [our] good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” How we treat each other in the church is part of the kind of life that should build a bridge between this world and the world God is creating for us to enjoy with him forever. How we live together in church, in short, ought to be a teaser for what life together will look like then, when Christ returns and abolishes everything that causes families to implode and collapse.
Too often, perhaps, it’s just the opposite. Too often, the way the church has treated one another has done nothing to give “the pagans” hope for a different kind of world, a different kind of life, a different kind of family. At times, we’ve even topped the pagans in family dysfunction.
The good news is, your church can be different. The failings of the historical church don’t have to be the failings of each individual local expression of the church. Your church can love one another. Your church can be the family that it ought to be. You can take care of each other. You can respect each other. You can disagree without diminishing each other. You can solve the problems that come up in every family by working together and affirming what holds you together. You can see diversity in age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and economics as a good thing that will better help you understand one another and the world in which we live. You can create together a place of safety, joy, and peace. You can be a family in which every member does the work God has called them to do in the world, encouraged and equipped by every other member.
Your church can be that kind of family, and it can begin with you being that kind of family member. You don’t need your leaders’ permission to love the family of believers. You can start right now.
Imagine what kind of family you can create.