November 5, 2017 Sermon by Adam A. Ghali, PhD

Messages for the Church AND the Family

Introduction: the church is a family, and families belong to each other.

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

  • Our often world tells us we matter in line with our productivity or our attractiveness. Our gospel tells us we matter based on our belongingness…
  • We matter because we belong to one another, and, in addition to than that, because we belong to Christ Jesus. We are a part of God’s family.
  • One of the main messages about God’s justification is that we are invited into God’s family (NT Wright).

The New Testament uses the metaphor of family to help us understand what it means to be the church. That means two things: We learn about what a church is by examining a family. But it also means we can go the other direction: We can learn more about the family by learning about Paul’s instructions to the church.

Romans Chapter 12 might be my favorite chapter in all of Scripture. It’s like a manual for Christian living. And Paul is writing to the church in Rome. Because of the “church is family” metaphor, we can also think about how Paul is writing to the family in Rome.

Now, would any of you say that you find it hard to be family in today’s America? You might think it is. Technology. Fear about those who are different. Changes in the meaning of sexuality. Declining Christian faith.

If you could have a conversation with Paul, I think he’d get you. I think he’d empathize with you. Because it was hard to be a family in Rome in the first century as well. Often we think ours is the hardest generation to be a parent, or be a Christian, or be a family, or what not. You’re particularly aware of the problems you’re facing. But when you look back in history, you discover each new generation had its own challenges.

The Christians parents in Rome didn’t have to deal with smartphones or Facebook or Snapchat. But they did have to deal with questions about sexuality and sexual identity. They did have to deal with poverty and an unfair economic system, one built on the worship of all the wrong things. They did have to deal with concerns about national unity and political unrest, and basic questions of what was true. And even though there was no American Idol on TV, idols were everywhere. There was almost no Christianity anywhere, just a few small pockets here and there as the church was making little inroads into society.

In this midst of that Paul doesn’t give up hope on the church family. Paul doesn’t spend all his time grumbling about how it was better in the good old days. Strangely enough, Paul doesn’t even try to fix the whole culture.

Instead, Paul lays out a series of descriptions of what it means to be a part of God’s family – both for individuals in families and as a family and church body as a whole. And he invites us to be a part of that family with a way of loving and caring for each other that involves love, honor, compassion, unity, diversity, and personal responsibility. And he trusts in God that that will be enough, and leaves the rest up to God.

I want to give you seven principles about families that I see in Romans 12. Perhaps one or more of these will be useful to you as you think about life in the Christian family.

  1. A family has diversity in unity – illustrated in the metaphor of the body.

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

  • A body of all eyes will be very good at seeing but not very good at hearing, walking, eating, or giving hugs
  • A body of all hands might get a lot of work done, and maybe could walk slowly over the next project, but how would it know where to go? And how would it read its building instructions? And what would happen to the human waste that it generates?
  • Yes, every single part – even the posterior! – is vitally important to a body.
  • The body is successful because it is diverse. Efforts to make it too similar limit each individual part AND the body as a whole.
  • What makes it unified? – Working towards a common, overarching goal – glorifying God in worship and in service to one another. And that we belong to each other.
  • What makes it diverse? – Each person is unique and each has something different to contribute.

One of the ways we can do this is through seeing the gifts that each member brings to the family.

  1. Families see the gifts that each member brings the family – even when they are causing difficulties
  • Gift of small children is [fill in the blank] __________ (new life?)
  • Gift of youth is __________ (play?)
  • Gift of teens is __________ (idealism?)
  • Gift of adults is __________ (persistence?)
  • Gift of elderly is __________ (wisdom?)

6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Paul suggests that a family is made up members with different gifts, and we have to exercise those gifts, and we have to receive those gifts. We also expected to give and receive those gifts in proportion to where we are in our journey – and none of us will be at the same place on that journey. I don’t think this is an exhaustive list of gifts, but rather an example of several of the different gifts that we have been given.

Let’s look at how this could play out in just two of these. Some families seem to be full of teachers. Or full of ministers and pastors. Or full of farmers. Or artists. This passage tells us that each of these vocations can be a gift. But what happens if you have a family of teachers, but then one of the children seems to be different. They don’t seem interested in teaching. They seem to be interested in making friends, being social, cheering people on from the sideline, and making pretty drawings for all their friends and family members. What if this person will use their gifts for compassion in promoting cheerfulness, say through music or art, instead of teaching? In this story, it might be easy to say “well of course we’d welcome it!”

It can be really hard for us to recognize the gifts in our family members, when they look differently from ours and the ones we treasure the most.

A family of football players might have a hard time recognizing a son who wants to be a gymnast, just like a family of gymnasts might have a hard time recognizing a son who wants to be a football player. But God tells us to be open to valuing the many different good gifts that we can bring to a family.

One more from this list. Prophecy isn’t just predicting the future. Prophecy is also telling the uncomfortable truth to a group of people that don’t want to hear it. And it doesn’t come just in words, it comes in actions too. Sometimes kids are prophets when they say the funny things that embarrass us. But a little closer to home, sometimes kids tell the truth when they misbehave and act out.

One teenager started refusing to go to school. He would dig his heels in, he would go sometimes, he’d skip other times. And it’s not like these were bad parents. In another family, the two younger children had a hard time sleeping, and refused to go to bed without one of the family members present. In another family, one kid couldn’t settle into classroom, and seemed to always act silly below his years. Now sometimes this behavior is just. But in these two families, these kids were prophets. They were saying, something is wrong. In one of these families, there was unresolved conflict between the parents. In another, there was an affair. In the third, there was addiction.

Do we love misbehaving children? No. Is all misbehavior simply a prophetic word about something in the family? No. Are all parents doing the best they know how to love their children? Yes. But each child can be a gift to us – even the gift of calling us to look at ourselves and ask if there is something that we can address for the betterment of our families – even our prophets.

  1. Families extend hospitality to saints and strangers – even under their own roofs

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

  • We contribute to the needs of Saints and Strangers inside the family and outside. Inside the church body and outside. This can be hard, because it takes our time, and our money, and, especially with strangers, pushes outside our comfort zone. But Jesus and here Paul, always push us to extend our love past the place where we’re comfortable going.

How many of you have ever had a moment where you looked at someone in your family and said: “Who are you?”

  • When you say to your teen, “I don’t know who you are anymore” – you are talking to a stranger

When your sibling who is battling depression tells you “I don’t know who I am anymore” – you are talking to a stranger

  • When you wake up an look in the mirror and ask “who is this person in front of me, and how did I get here, you are now a stranger.
  • When your children move out and you turn to your partner and say “who are you again?” – you are reconnecting with a stranger.


Last night, we had a great discussion about the difficulty that can come in understanding across different generations. Young people, and an older generation can be just as odd and different and confusing to a new generation which has been shaped by a very different value system. What would it look like if we could extend hospitality to another, even as we were strangers?

I think I was very fortunate to have a good example of that. When I went to college, I lived with my grandparents. They had a house near the university, so they took me in. They extended hospitality to me. Now, I wasn’t a stranger, but I certainly didn’t know them nearly as well at the beginning of my time as I did after living with them for four years. I learned so much about a different generation and what was important and exciting and troubling by living with them, and they had the same experience with me. We turned strangers into friends across the generations.

  • I suggest that when we offer hospitality to strangers under the same roof, in time, we also get to know one another again.
  1. Families share the joy and sharing the grief – they don’t just try to change it.

12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

This was another theme we introduced last night. I see a lot of this in my work. I have many clients who come to see me to weep because they’re not allowed to be sad in their family. They are supposed to put a smile on because of their hope in Jesus – not recognizing that Jesus wept when he grieved – and he even knew what the outcome would be! Or they get told to look ahead to when things will be better, not be in the present moment when things are hard. But families can make room for sadness and suffering, just like they can make room for celebration and joy.

Last night, we discussed that life moves through seasons. Sometimes we are in a season of spring – with new possibilities, opportunity, and excitement. Sometimes we’re in autumn, anticipating a period of cold, damp, and dreariness. No one ever likes to see their loved one suffering. But we are instructed by Paul not to push our family members to move too quickly through winter and into the new life of spring. It may be our job to be patient in suffering and persevere in prayer, while we weep with those who weep.

And when the time is right, let us all enter completely into the celebration!

  1. Families love each other with feelings – and with actions

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

Honor is a big deal in the ancient world. In fact, it was such a big deal that we can miss it. The idea of honoring meant putting someone else in a higher status than you. Honor meant everyone was paying very careful attention to honor. Have you ever noticed when people were so mad at Jesus?

They were mad at him when he gathered with the little children. And when he hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. And when he was healing the lepers, the blind and mute, and the lame. This wasn’t just because he was hanging out with the immoral people. It was because he was spending time with people who were beneath him. Their concerns, their interests, their lifestyles, were low status, low honor. And Jesus brought shame on himself and his family by spending time with them, by dining with them, by touching them.

But Jesus is the model for us – that we are supposed to outdo one another in showing honor. That means we don’t consider others lower than ourselves. Love, instead, means going right down to their level and making sure they know that they are important, significant, that their concerns matter, their hurts matter, their dreams matter, their relationships matter.

This is really hard – because we’re supposed to that particularly with the people we look at with the least amount of respect. The one’s who we disagree with the most. The one’s who we think are disrespecting us. The ones who push our buttons.

As Jesus says in Matthew 5, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Instead, “But Jesus say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Whether with concrete actions such as caring for needs, or in words that show compassion, or in respecting different gifts, or in rejoicing with those rejoicing and weeping with those who are weeping, we are to love one another.

  1. Family leadership starts with me, in self-awareness and humility

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Some of these verses echo some other words that you might heard before: Luke 6:41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.


Families are probably the easiest place in the world to blame others. Maybe the only the place that rivals that is the church. But Paul is asking us to start with ourselves.

  • If you want to take charge in your family, you can initiate.
  • Perhaps you have a new family time ritual you would like to enact. You have some options: You could demand that everyone do it.
  • Family leadership means loving others even when others aren’t doing very good at showing love.
  • This doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat. That doesn’t mean you simply take it if you’re being abused or deeply mistreated.
  • Family leadership means showing healthy respect to myself and others, even when others aren’t showing respect. Sometimes that respect means setting a limit or boundary on an inappropriate behavior.
  • But I always have an opportunity to grow myself and thereby change how I see a situation. Growing myself gives me more different ways to respond. It’s like having more tools in my toolbelt to get the job done. If I have more tools of humor, more tools of emotional self-control, more tools of healthy boundaries, more tools of discipline, more tools of grace, more tools of kindness, it will make it a lot easier to know how best to deal with something. And goodness knows that if families are complicated, it helps to have the right tools.
  • “As far as it depends on you doesn’t mean it stops with you.” You can bring other people in to your support team to help you love difficult others. You can get prayer from your church. You can talk to a counselor. You can have seek wisdom from an elder. You can take personal time to retreat and pray. There are many things that you can do to extend your capacity to love those who are most difficult to love.

I know of a man who was in a very difficult marriage. Anyone would have understood him leaving the family. And he’s no longer in that difficult marriage. But he’s not divorced or separated. And his wife refused to go to counseling. And she refused to say there was a problem. What changed? He did. He went to counseling. He learned to see where she was hurting more. He learned to listen better. He learned to understand her perspective more and the find the good in it, even when he disagreed with her, even when she was using it to criticize him. He increased his patience and compassion. He developed more emotional tolerance. He established more boundaries and didn’t tolerate abuse, but did so with kindness and respect. His marriage changed even before she started to change, because he looked at differently.

If you’re listening to the story and thinking about how your wonderful it would be for your partner to do that and how you’re hoping they’re paying very close attention to this message, then that would make you human – but you’ve not quite got it yet. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Paul is giving us a chance to move beyond natural, into supernatural, into holy.

Couples come to me all the time and they want me to change their partner. But it doesn’t work like this. They have to own what they can do to value and love their partner in a new way.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge the role of gender in this. This instruction to have leadership start with me is an equal-opportunity command. Men and women both can and should take personal ownership of this kind of loving leadership for transforming their families. However, I want to speak specifically to men. Men, when we look back through history, and often even in our own families, we see that women have too-often borne the lion’s share of self-sacrificial love for the sake of their family. So I’m identifying this as an opportunity for you in particular to take ownership and responsibility for developing humble self-awareness, and to give lovingly to your families in the servant leadership described in this text.


  1. Families are models of goodness, beauty, and Jesus for the world, trusting God to make things right in God’s time.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


  • Much of the world today is deeply confused about how to be a family. I was recently on Netflix, and a new show came onto my feed: “Friends from College.” I read a few reviews and a plot synopsis. Most of the comments suggested that it was presented a troubled view of relationships, commitment, marriage, friendship, and meaning. I wasn’t going to watch any of it, but I was giving a sermon on family, and the reviews raised questions about family, so I thought I’d take a look. I watched about 10 minutes of it, not much, but in our tv-soaked world, writers know they need to draw you in and set the stage of the show. So, I’m no expert on the show, my comments aren’t a well-informed critique. And I’m not here to recommend it or condemn it. But it seemed very clear to me that the writers might have be confused about what makes a good and meaningful family experience, or, perhaps better put, they’re writing to an audience with some of those same questions. This show is speaking to a context with a lot of questions and confusion about important questions of how to be a family in a new world. They are struggling with love. With commitment. With honor. With goodness. With boundaries.
  • Now, anyone with these kinds of questions doesn’t need us to come in and tell them why they’re screwed up or all the ways they’re getting it wrong. That doesn’t work in Christian witness today – I guarantee you. But what we can offer is love – for our brother and sister, love in our family and our church, and love for our neighbor, and for our stranger and enemy. Jesus said that they will know you by your love. And in modeling in family another kind of a way, your family can be a picture. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be beautiful by any outside standards. It just has be giving God a try at some of these principles, for it to be good for you, good for your family, and good for the church. Trust in God for the rest.


Adam A. Ghali, PhD