Remember trying to find a place to eat your lunch in middle school or high school? If not, try to imagine it.
You’re awkwardly shuffling from table to table, straining your eyes to find your friends, trying to avoid colliding with someone else, while also not making eye contact with anyone. You don’t want anyone to know you’re starting to sweat at the thought of not finding anyone you know and being forced to sit alone. Maybe just the idea of this is making you nervous and anxious (Sorry!).
But why do so many of us feel that anxiety? Is there something wrong with sitting alone? Don’t we regularly sit in our rooms by ourselves? The difference, of course, is that in our imaginary dilemma there is a whole cafeteria full of people who may see us sit by ourselves. If we sit on our own, we risk the watching crowd concluding that we belong to no one. And it’s a scary thing to not belong.
We all want to belong to something or someone. All of us, at various points in our lives, have feared being alone.
The Christian life is, by definition, not this kind of life. It’s not a life you live by yourself. The Christian life is the belonging life—first to God, then to others.
You Belong to the Family of God
A Christian is someone who has faith in Jesus Christ. If you have entrusted your life to Jesus, then you belong first to God, who self-identifies as your Heavenly Father, who actually chose you to belong to Jesus, and who has made his home in you by the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:6; John 1:12; John 14:23; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
God has many children, not just you! His family is called the church (1 Timothy 3:15). More narrowly speaking, a local church is a gathering of people who believe in Jesus, who sit under the preaching of God’s Word, are organized under biblical leadership, and observe the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper).
Now, what’s above is what the church is. But here we want to discuss what the church is to you. Very simply, if you’re a Christian, the church is your home, and other Christians are your family members.
The New Testament letters, written to local churches, refer to Christians as “brothers and sisters” for this very reason. In the same way, you have a spot with your name on it at the family dinner table in God’s household.
Your New Family
In one of Jesus’ last sayings on the cross, he helps us re-envision what family means.
The Apostle John writes, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27 CSB).
In that moment, Jesus wanted his followers to regard one another as family. Jesus helps us see that belonging to him means we all belong, in responsibility and love, to one another.
In the book of 1 Timothy, we see more evidence that Jesus has re-defined family. Paul commands Timothy, “Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2 CSB).
Paul tells Timothy (and us) that these categories of people in the church (older man, older women, younger women, younger men) aren’t just generic categories: they’re family members! He redefines church members as extended family members.
Jesus expands our notions of what it means to be a family, beyond blood relation to those who are united by his blood. He shed his blood on the cross for all who believe in him, not just to save us from sin, but to make us a new people, joined in a loving family relationship (Acts 20:28).
What It Means to Belong
So, the Christian life is a life where we exist in a familial relationship. What does that mean practically?
Most specifically, it means we live to serve and love our brothers and sisters for God’s glory. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes,
. . . brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice . . . . Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:1, 4-5 CSB)
God desires our lives to be “living sacrifices,” but notice, that happens in community. We belong to one another as “parts” of “one body.” You are a part of the church. Your life is bound together with the “common good” (see 1 Corinthians 12) of your local church. God didn’t just save you and then leave you to live for him alone. He saved you into a family who all together offer themselves in service to God.
Not only are you called to a family who loves God and lives for him, but to a family of people who, like God, love you. They want what’s best for you. And you are to want what’s best for your church family. You are to live out the “one another’s” in the Bible. God loves his people—and you’re called to love them, too. Belonging means being loved by and loving others who have been loved by God.
Life and Love in the Local Church
If we could sum up, we would say that being a Christian means you’ve been given an identity and a role. You’ve been made a member of God’s family and now you live a life of joyful service and love towards God and his people. The Christian life is the belonging life.
We opened with a somewhat unnerving memory. Let’s close with God’s vision for our life.
You walk into the church dining area. Kind eyes meet your gaze. A plethora of indistinguishable voices greets you. Diane hugs you (we’re imagining a post-COVID world!). You grab a plate of food for the new mom, so she doesn’t have to wake her sleeping baby. You realize you’ve forgotten your drink, but Jack already brought you one and placed it next to you as you listen to the elderly member share her sorrows. She prays for you and you pray for her.
Friend, if you’re a Christian, this is where you belong—in relationships founded on and in God’s love.
Though it’s often applied to marital relationships, 1 Corinthians 13 (the famous love passage) is about interpersonal relationships in the church. God intends that kind of love (“Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy . . . .”) to be demonstrated in the lives of church members. Paul expects such love to mark Christian relationships.
The Church Isn’t a Perfect Family, but It’s Still a Loving Family
Now, we’re not so naïve as to think everyone reading this has experienced that kind of love and relationship at every church in which they’ve been members. We have to remember that the church is not Christ. It’s made up of sinners who are in the process of being conformed into his likeness (Ephesians 4:13).
And yet, we’d like to recognize that this kind of belonging and meaning is truly held out to us in the beautiful gift that is the church. Church can be difficult. It can frustrate us. But the church family is nevertheless the place where we are to experience God’s love for us. Fellow church members are gifts from God to us to help us in this life.
God has called us into life with him. Life with God is life with others who have also been loved by God. Life in the church, the community created by love, is a life of love. The Christian life is a life of love. And you belong there.