How I view God and His church (ekklesia) affects how I see myself, how I relate to others and how I relate to God. For all eternity, God is a Father, and Jesus is a Son. Therefore, family is an eternal concept based on the nature of God. The idea of family is not confined to man’s time on earth. As long as there has been God, there has been family and as long as there will be God, there will be family.
God the Father behaves like a father because he is a father. God’s father-heart moved Him to adopt us into His family even at the cost of the sacrifice of His own Son. Because of this adoption Jesus relates to us as our brother. The author of Hebrews tells us that: “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.’ For this reason he (Jesus) had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:11-17). My relationship to God is both as a child with his father and as a brother with a brother.
The apostle Paul views ekklesia as God’s family. In 1 Timothy 3:14-15 he writes: “…so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church (ekklesia) of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” In Paul’s writings, his language of choice for what we would call “Christian(s)” is familiar language. He uses the word “brother(s)” 129 times – in contrast to his use of the word “saints” 29 times, and the word “believer(s)” 11 times. Paul never uses the term “Christian” or “disciple.”
Paul’s understanding of the Father nature of God and that the ekklesia is the family of God directed the way he ministered to others. In the city of Thessalonica Paul was like a mother and father to the disciples. He writes: “But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us…for you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12).
Making followers of Jesus cannot be separated from the family nature of God. As God the Father loved Jesus, and Jesus loved us, so in the same familiar manner we are to love one another. A parental sacrificial love for others is the catalytic force that will produce disciples of Jesus and advance the kingdom of God.