I’ve given that proverb a lot of thought for a long time. The saying goes back hundreds of years and means that the bonds of family are stronger than those between friends. I know plenty of people (those who have messy relationships with their families of origin) who would argue with that opinion at even a purely sociological level. But what about spiritually?
This past week I read Mark 3, in which Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up looking for him. Jesus’ response is surprising:
“Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-35, The Message).
Jesus was talking about his disciples–those who had left everything to follow him. At another time, he spoke of the high cost of being his disciple. He said we as his disciples should be willing to surrender our family of origin–even our own life–to follow him and be a part of his spiritual family (Luke 14:26).
Growing up, I was taught, Friends come and go, but family is forever. That’s a part of most people’s worldview. Today, as a Christ follower, that saying has taken on a different meaning. I know my relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ are eternal. I hope my relationships with my birth family are as well.
Our new birth is more important than our natural birth. When we were born again, we were born into a spiritual family–the church, the body of Christ. They are now my spiritual fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (see 1 John 2:12-14 for an encouragement to us as spiritual family members). I am a new person in Christ and I have a new family, and that family is my priority.
Who are these family members? Like a natural family, we have extended family members (people in our local congregation) and even “kin” (everyone who is a part of Christ’s family around the world). But our real priority is our immediate family–those with whom we do life together as a small group. Your small group is your spiritual immediate family.
When you were born again, your relationships with your Christ-following friends changed. They had been water relationships. Now they are blood relationships. Just as Jesus changed water into wine (wine symbolizing his blood), Jesus makes you a part of his family. Now we’re blood brothers and sisters in him!
Now, here’s something truly amazing … and vital. Jesus said that those who obey God’s will are our spiritual family. Not just those who happen to be thrown into a group with us. Not just the people we meet with on Friday nights. Not just those with whom we study the Bible and pray. Jesus’ definition of this spiritual family has everything to do with surrender of our own wills to obey God’s will–together.
What are you doing as a leader to help your group members obey God’s will? How are you pursuing God’s will together as a family? Blood is thicker than water. But spiritual blood is even thicker … and deeper.