Friend or Family?

Romans 12:10

10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Sometimes I come across a story that is so incredible and so heartwarming that I feel it just has to be shared.  So that’s how I want to begin my sermon this morning.  It’s a true story about 2 fellows named Gary Klahr and Steve Barbin.  They were best friends for 25 years.  Imagine that!  For 2½ decades they were inseparable.  From finishing high school to finding jobs to working out to getting married to having children, they were always there for each other.  Sometimes people actually mistook them for brothers.  They had the same build, spoke with the same New England accent, lived in the same Connecticut suburb.

And when the call came that would change their lives forever, the closeness of their relationship finally began to make sense.  On December 30, 1998 Gary answered the phone.  It was a caseworker from a social service agency.  He thought she was wanting to see if he and his wife still wanted to adopt a child.  He was only partially right.  Yes, her call was about adoption.  But not to see if they would like to adopt, but to let him know that he was adopted.

The news hit Gary like a bolt out of the blue.  For his entire life he had assumed he was the biological child of his parents, but now he learned he wasn’t.  As things turned out, that was only the beginning of the surprises.  He just happened to mention to the caseworker that his best friend, Steve Barbin, was also adopted.  Only he said it in the context of, “Well, he turned out alright.  I guess I will too.”  The caseworker asked him to repeat that name, so he did.  She then asked for Steve’s phone number.  And when Steve Barbin arrived home from work that day, there was a message on his answering machine from the caseworker asking him to call immediately.  When he did, she said, “Are you sitting down?”  She then proceeded to tell him that she had found his biological brother and his biological brother just happened to be his best friend, Gary Klahr.

What a story! What a discovery – to find out that your best buddy is your brother after 25 years; that your favorite friend is your family.  All that time they’d spent together and they didn’t even know it.  Can you imagine making a discovery like that?  You can, if you’re a Christian.  Because according to the Bible, when you see another Christian you don’t just see a friend or a fellow church member, you see family.

Now where am I getting all of this?  Well, as we look at these “one another” verses in the New Testament that we’re considering on this 2nd leg of my “Faith Odyssey” sermon series, one of the richest ones can be found in our text for today where it says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”  Now I realize you don’t see the words “family” or “friends” there, but if you were to examine this passage in the original Greek language in which the Apostle Paul wrote it, you would find him using two interesting words here – philostorgos andphiladelphia – to communicate this friend/family idea.  In fact, one Bible scholar suggests that a literal rendering of this text might go something like this:  “Have a friend/family devotion to one another in a friend/family sort of way.”  It seems as though Paul is trying to teach us something here through the use of these 2 unusual Greek words and that’s what we want to spend our time exploring this morning.

First of all, he is teaching us that we who share a common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are family.  You know, I wonder if one of the best pictures of the church might be that of a family in an automobile going on a long summer vacation together.  Most of us have done that, haven’t we?  You got mom and dad and the kids.  And when you first get in the car everyone is all pumped up.  Attitudes are real positive and upbeat.  But I’ll tell you what.  300-400 miles of interstate can take care of that pretty quickly, can’t it?  It’s not too long before little brother won’t share his pillow with big sister and big sister gets upset because little brother’s foot is on her side of the car and dad won’t stop and ask for directions and mom wants to stop for another potty break.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but somewhere along that trip everyone in the car has this thought:  “Boy, I’d love to get out of this car right now.  I can’t believe these morons are my family members.”  But then when you reach your destination and you begin to actually do things together as a family – maybe go on hikes or swim in the motel pool or ride the rides in the amusement park – you start to get along better with one another and actually enjoy each other’s company.  Why, you might even feel bad about having those previous negative thoughts about your family members being morons, though you’d probably never admit it.

The point I’m getting at is that in the church we may not always like each other, we may not always get along perfectly with one another, we may not always agree with one another, but we learn to accept each other because we’re family.  We’re in this thing together.  In fact, I did a little research and discovered that family terms far and away outdistance any other terms that the New Testament uses to describe the church.  Just between the Book of Acts and the Book of Revelation the terms “brothers” or “brothers and sisters” appear a whopping 220 times.  Let me give you a few examples:  “Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family” (I Peter 2:17).  “Brothers and sisters, now we encourage you to love them even more” (I Thess. 4:10).  “Keep on loving each other as brothers.”  (Heb. 13:1)

You get the point?  We are family.  We are brothers and sisters.  Now sometimes that’s easy and we like it.  Sometimes it’s not so easy and we don’t like it.  But we’re all in the same vehicle.  We’re all headed for the same destination.  We’re all in the same family.

Which leads right in to the 2nd point I want to make today.  Since we are all family, we can learn to be friends because what is a friend but someone with whom you share something in common.  And with whom do we share more in common than our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?  Are we not all instructed by the same Bible, amazed by the same Savior who left heaven behind and came down to this earth to become one of us?  Are we not all saved by the same cross, washed by the same blood, and headed for the same heaven?  We have a lot in common with one another, don’t we?  In fact, that may very well help to explain why sometimes we can actually feel closer to those who are a part of our spiritual family than those who are part of our physical family, especially if those who are a part of our physical family do not share the same faith that we have.

So Paul’s point in our text for today is simple.  We’re more than family, we’re friends.  And we’re more than friends, we’re family.  Ok…so what?  What difference does that make?   I think it makes a big difference because if we are both family and friends, here’s what we in the church should do.  We accept one another as family and we treat one another as friends. 

We accept one another as family – and again, I know that isn’t always easy.  There are no doubt some people you know who call themselves Christians and you think, “Boy, I don’t know if I want to be in the same family with them.”  That happened to me some time ago when I was flipping through the channels on the television and I came across one of the religious shows on TV and there was this couple who were calling themselves Christians.  And I looked at them and I thought, “Now how in the world could I be related to them?”  I mean, poofy hair, heavy make-up, bright pink shirt, shiny shoes.  And that was the guy!  You should have seen what she looked like!

But you know what?  As I listened to them talk, it seemed to me at least that they were genuine as they described their love for Jesus and their belief in his sacrifice on the cross as the payment for their sins and how they were totally dependent upon his grace for forgiveness and salvation.  If I had turned away and not looked at them, they were saying things that I say when I preach and that I believe with all of my heart.  Now maybe I didn’t like the way they looked and maybe they wouldn’t like the way I look in this robe when I preach, but you know what?  I sure like the One to whom they look.  And if we’re looking at the same Savior, if we’re believing and trusting in the same Jesus, then can we not accept one another as family?

You see, family doesn’t mean that we always agree on everything, but it does mean that we agree on the big things.  Family doesn’t mean that we always like the different nuances and personal tastes of one another when it comes to style of dress or style of worship or style of music, but if we love the same Savior then according to the Bible that makes us brothers and sisters of one another.  And if we are brothers and sisters of one another, then we can learn in the power of God’s love to accept one another and treat each other as friends.

In a book entitled The Handyman of the Lord, Pastor William Border tells a story of a black man in the early part of the 20th century who was so poor and so hungry that he was forced to go begging for food.  He knocked on the door of a large, ornate southern mansion and when the owner of that mansion answered the door, the beggar asked him if he could spare a piece of bread.  The owner said he most certainly could, but then he told him to go around to the back of the house and he would give him his bread there.  Apparently he didn’t want his neighbors to see this poor beggar eating on his front porch.  So the man did as he was told and the owner of the house was waiting for him there.  But he said, “Before I give you this bread, we’re going to have a prayer and ask God to bless it.  Just repeat after me.”  So the beggar bowed his head and the owner of the mansion began “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  And the beggar said, “Your Father, who art in heaven.”  The owner stopped and started over.  He said, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  But again the beggar said, “Your Father, who art in heaven.”  The owner of the mansion said, “Why do you keep saying Your Father when I’m instructing you to say Our Father?”  The beggar replied, “Well, if I say Our Father, that makes you and me brothers.  And I’m not so sure our Father would take too kindly to how you’re making your brother go around to the back of your house to eat a piece of bread.”

You see, if we’re in the same family we treat one another differently.  We treat each other as equals.  We treat each other as friends.  We treat each other with respect.  And that’s why we’re spending time looking at all these “one another” verses in the Bible so that we might get a better picture of how this will flesh its way out in our daily lives.

So remember, we accept one another as family and we treat one another as friends.  A teacher was once asked by one of her students, “Is it true that Texas is so large that all the citizens of the United States could fit within its borders?”  The teacher answered, “Yes, that is true, but only if they get along with another; only if they learn to act like friends.”

Is it true that God’s kingdom is so large that people of different political persuasions, economic backgrounds, skin colors, and social status can all be a part of this global family?  Yes, it is true, but only if they learn to act like friends.  As I said in my sermon a couple weeks ago, there is no more level ground in this world than the ground at the foot of the cross.  When Jesus died that day so long ago he didn’t die only for the rich and famous, or the powerful or the popular, or white middle class Americans like you and me or even those who would ultimately believe in him.  No, he died for all.  And if he could look across the centuries of time and see all of humanity as worth dying for, then surely we who call him Lord and Savior can see all of humanity as worth living for.