Sunday, June 19, 2011

Looking Sideways

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Romans 12:10-13 NKJV

I have often wondered if my experiences as a family man were unique to me, or actually common to others who choose to leave the single life and assume the responsibilities of a husband and father. Looking back as I can now, having completed the task of raising my family, one of the things I can truthfully say I was unprepared for was the extent to which I was “needed”. Like many, I assumed and was comfortable with the idea of attempting to provide for the material needs of a family, but I was certainly mistaken in believing that was all I would need to do.

In hindsight, I suppose I was naive in thinking that my family would be comfortable with what I could provide, when the reality soon became apparent that it was not a question of what I could give, but rather could I give them what they needed? Fortunately the material needs of my three daughters were mostly reasonable, but the truth is that I was totally unprepared when it came to providing for their emotional needs. Now I can truthfully say I gave it my best shot, but in all honesty I wish I had known then what I know now so that I could have done a better job. The only thing I can say I got right was the fact that, after God, I always put my wife and children first; somehow knowing instinctively that they were always to be my priority.

In this passage from Romans, Paul is basically telling believers that we have a responsibility to our “spiritual family” just as we do with our physical ones. In these four verses Paul makes four points about the needs we should be aware that all of our brothers and sisters in the Lord have. I'm going to call it a blueprint for a healthy spiritual family.

One: Family first. “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another”. I think when it comes to service, our first reaction is to look to the unsaved and try to find a need that we can fill, yet Paul tells us here that we should first “look sideways” at our own family and provide the “affection” that is needed for a healthy relationship between family members. The word for affection here is “philostorgos” which means “ the mutual love of parents and children and wives and husbands”. One of the first things I found I was unprepared for as a father was the affection needed and expected from my daughters. The situation I found myself in when I married my wife is most often described as “instant father”. My oldest daughter was three, and my second was 18 months old when I became their father, and it is no exaggeration to say I was a fish out of water to go from single to Dad in one day. One day I'm eating pizza and watching a ball game and the next I'm holding two little girls and wondering just what to do? Fortunately for me, they answered that by showing me right away that the first thing they really wanted was hugs. That's right, affection. The knowledge that they were not alone and someone cared for them. Here Paul is telling us the same thing about our spiritual family. The first thing we need to do is look around and let our fellow believers know they are not alone and someone cares for them.

Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's [well-being].
1 Corinthians 10:24 NKJV

Two: Hot, not cold. “ not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”. The word for “fervent” is “zeō”, which translated means “to boil with heat, be hot”. The second point Paul makes is one about attitude, specifically ours! I can tell you no one knows you better than family, and my daughters would know immediately if I wasn't “into” whatever I was doing for them. Let me count the times I heard “Daaad” all drawn out and knowing I was being called up short. Have you ever experienced the feeling that someone else was doing something for you more out of some sort of “obligation” rather than from genuine affection? Paul here makes it clear that we serve the Lord not only by what we do, but how we do it, and we are to be serving our brothers and sisters diligently and fervently with the genuineness we would expect from someone who says they love us.

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,
1 Peter 1:22 NKJV

Three: No matter what. “ rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”. Family life can easily be described as a series of up and downs, with the hope that in the end there are more ups than downs. I can certainly attest to the roller coaster of family life, and there were many times when all I could do was fall to my knees and pray that it would all work out in the end. Yet looking back, I can see it was the hard times that provided some of the best feedback as to how I was doing as a husband and a Dad. Something my family has told me about our relationship is that “no matter what” happened, they always knew I loved them. I know for a fact that the single biggest reason for that is the fact that not a day ever passed where I did not pray for them, and my relationship with them. In this verse Paul tells us that our relationship with our spiritual brothers and sisters will involve both highs and lows, but the key to success is “constant” prayer.

praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints--
Ephesians 6:18 NKJV

Four: Feed the hungry. “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality”. Does it surprise you that taking care of the physical needs comes last in Paul's list? When I became a family man, my “perceived” priority was the physical. Time certainly taught me the wisdom of this passage because although important, the physical really does not belong at the top of the list. It does, however, make the list so it seems obvious you cannot separate what you might feel and say from what you choose to do. I certainly would have a very different relationship with my family if I had told them how much I loved them but never did anything to show it! Paul here says if we are going to talk the talk we need to walk the walk. When we see a brother or sister in need, our obligation is more than just a hug and a promise to pray. If we truly care, we provide what we are able to provide in a physical sense as best we can. I think it important to remember Jesus' teaching on this subject as well.

"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 'I [was] naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed [You], or thirsty and give [You] drink? 'When did we see You a stranger and take [You] in, or naked and clothe [You]? 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did [it] to one of the least of these My brethren, you did [it] to Me.'
Matthew 25:34-40 NKJV

Here we are told simply that when we serve the needs of our brothers and sisters, it's as if we were serving Him as well. The body of Christ must be healthy to accomplish it's purpose on this earth, and when it comes to that health, Paul tells us without question we have responsibilities to help insure that it is, and remains so. This week as you go about your daily lives, be sure to look sideways at your spiritual family to check their health and well being. Take the time to tell them you love them and are praying for them, and see if there is a need you can fill to show them you really care.

Keep watching.