From time to time, I'm invited to speak to church leaders about various aspects of pastoral ministry and church outreach. Not long ago, I received an invitation to speak to a group of thirty leaders and volunteers from five churches near where I grew up. So I went and spoke to these churches, and the meeting went well, but one of the side benefits of coming to speak to them was that it also allowed me to visit with some of my family that still live in that area.
We all met up at my father's house. My family brought desserts. My sisters and their families brought the rest of the food, and for an evening, we swarmed together into the same space. It was a lot of fun and when I spoke to my Dad the next day, he was still happy about it all. I even received a text from my sister thanking me for a compliment that she overheard me give her son about work he was doing around my father's house.
The concept of family is a beautiful thing. It's a relational structure that has been designed by God to serve in protective and encouraging ways. It's also something that gives us a glimpse of the deeper spiritual relationship we have with one another as the family of God through Christ. In Romans 15:22-33, Paul demonstrates just how important his Christian family was to him.
I. Don't avoid your family
Each Summer, our family visits a small, unique, family run amusement park in the coal region of Pennsylvania. Admission is free, and we try to go at least once a month. Inevitably when we're there, we run into other people we know. We even make a point to stop and visit Larry the security guard since he's made it clear to us that he would be disappointed if we didn't stop by. Later this Summer, we're going to be meeting up with quite a few friends and family there. At present, I'm told the count is going to be around 40, but it wouldn't surprise me if it grew even larger.
The church at Rome wanted to see Paul, and he wanted to see them. During that era of history, travel certainly wasn't as expedient as it is in our day. It could easily take a person many months to travel distances that we can travel in an afternoon. But even though Paul was unmarried and had no children, he correctly considered the believers in Rome his eternal family, and he desired to see them face to face.
I'm grateful for what Scripture reveals to us about the nature of our eternal family. Through our common faith in Jesus Christ, we have been united into one body. We have been given the privilege to become the family of God.
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God," (John 1:12, ESV)
"so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Romans 12:5, ESV)
"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." (1 Corinthians 12:26, ESV)
Paul wasn't avoiding his Christian family. As he said, he wanted to see them, but up to this point, he had been occupied with the task of planting churches where the gospel was not yet known, and that kept him from visiting the Romans sooner. But now the time for a visit was at hand, and Paul was looking forward to it.
And when he visited, he also wanted to give the church in Rome the opportunity to support his upcoming mission to Spain. We don't know details of that trip, or if it was something that Paul was ever able to do, but at this point, taking a trip there was on his mind and heart.
As I look at this Scripture, and read about the affection Paul had for the Romans, I'm reminded of the importance of spending time with my family in Christ. Sometimes it can be quite tempting for us to wall ourselves off and avoid others. But since we're united with one another through our common faith in Christ, we can experience the blessing of that union through intentionally spending time with one another. That's being modeled for us in this passage.
II. Meet your family's needs
Money is one of the main reasons the phone rings at our church. The majority of calls we receive are either sales calls or requests for financial support. Sadly, most of the calls for financial support aren't genuine. There are people who curate lists of church phone numbers online and call through those numbers until they find a church who will send them something.
But generosity is something the Lord models for us and encourages us to practice. Consider for a moment the lavish grace that has been shown to us in Christ. In Christ, our sins are forgiven. In Christ, we're made a new creation. In Christ, we're gifted and empowered. With that all in mind, we're encouraged to be generous as well.
At the time Paul was writing this letter, the believers in Jerusalem were suffering greatly, so he organized a collection on their behalf. Their need was genuine, and we're told that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia contributed to help alleviate the poverty being experienced by the believers in Jerusalem. In fact, these churches considered it a moral obligation to help them materially since they had been spiritually by the advance of the gospel that came to them from Jerusalem.
So, before Paul traveled to Rome, he wanted to visit Jerusalem first to share the financial aid he had collected for the believers who were suffering there. And Paul eventually made it to Rome, but it wasn't in the conventional way he anticipated. While Paul was in Jerusalem, he was imprisoned because of his bold proclamation of the gospel, and then taken to Rome as a prisoner. But to the best of his ability, and with the partnership of believers in multiple cities, he met the needs of his family in Jerusalem.
We all have physical needs, and we can be grateful for the people that the Lord has used to meet those needs throughout the course of our lives. I have had needs that were met by my parents, grandparents, and extended family. Now, as an adult, I have had the privilege to meet needs for some of those same people who once helped me, while also meeting the needs of my children.
But our greatest needs, and the deepest longings of our souls can only be met through the Lord. As Jesus reminds us, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26, ESV)
III. Pray for the well-being of your family
According to a study of more than 500 family counselors, the following are the top traits of successful families:
Communicating and listening
Affirming and supporting family members
Respecting one another
Developing a sense of trust
Sharing time and responsibility
Knowing right from wrong
Having rituals and traditions
Sharing a religious core
-December, 1988, Focus on the Family Bulletin
Do you pray for your family and their well-being? I have become convinced that as a father, that's one of the most important things I'm called to do. I want my family members to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally, and even financially. But I know that the example I give my kids and the counsel I offer them can only take them so far. They need the Lord's intervention and the presence and power of Christ in their lives.
Paul often looked at the believers that he led to Christ as his spiritual children. And because he loved them like they were his children, he made a point to pray for them regularly. He also sought their prayers on his behalf. He asked them to pray for his protection, deliverance, and the ability to complete the ministry the Lord had entrusted to him. He also asked them to pray that he would be able to come to them and be refreshed by their company.
Not long ago I was working on my computer and my oldest daughter who was sitting near me said, "Dad, can I pray for you?" I appreciated that. She prayed for the Lord to give me the strength I needed for my work, and for His protection and blessing to be upon me. That ministered to me. Just as Paul speaks of being refreshed by the company of the Roman believers in this passage, I was refreshed by her.
Your natural and your supernatural family are a blessing. As I look at this passage, I can't help but be reminded of how the Lord has united us to one another, and allows us to play a pivotal role in each others' lives. As Christ has demonstrated that He values us, and as Paul demonstrated Christ's love to the Romans, let's be intentional about demonstrating to our brothers and sisters in Christ that we value them as our eternal family.
© John Stange, 2019