the Hope of Survivors

Relationships in the Family of God by Jennifer J. Schwirzer, LPC

Family of God(This is the first of a three-part series I wrote to address the issue of sexual abuse within a church context. Within the next couple of weeks I'll publish Pastors Who Prey and Ye Are My Whistleblowers. Stay tuned!)

The Bible uses several analogies for the church—a body, a building, a flock, and even a brood of chickens. My personal favorite, being somewhat of a human development and relationship expert, is family.

The Lord tells us, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters” (2 Cor. 6:18). Jesus said that, “whoever does the will” of His Father is His “mother” and “brothers” (Matt. 12:49-50). Paul called us the “household of God” and the “household of faith” (Eph. 2:19, Gal 6:10). Isn’t it good to know, especially given our often broken and estranged natural family relationships, that we have a spiritual family in the Lord?

Our relational God created the natural family to provide a safe haven from life’s hardships, a place of acceptance, a trust-zone. From the infinite riches of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator designed human life to be a school in which we learn to love and be loved. Each phase, from infancy to old age, builds upon the last such that we gradually become love experts, showing even angels what love looks like in action (Eph. 3:10; 1 Cor. 4:9). God purposes that the tapestry of our love-bonds grows throughout life and into eternity.

Even if we come to the family of God relationally bankrupt, we have a chance to build a second family, experiencing pure, godly love. In Christ we love, prefer, edify, receive, serve, forbear and esteem one another (John 13:34, Rom. 12:10, 14:19, 15:7, Gal 5:13, Eph. 4:2, Phil. 2:3). The Sabbath provides a temple in time, an entire day devoted to fellowship with God and one another, furthering our heavenly relationship network.

Lust, the Enemy of Love
But it’s not all good. The devil fumes in disgust when he sees love between members. He mobilizes his minions to disrupt good relationships by leading us into relational sin. One of those sins can destroy healthy bonds more quickly than rain destroys a picnic. Paul zeroed in on this sin when he said, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1, NIV, italics supplied).

Why “with absolute purity”? Because God in His infinite foresight spotted a plague that would corrupt the family of God more insidiously than the worst heresy. When those sacred bonds, designed to reflect brother-sister, parent-child bonds, become sexualized, divine love tumbles down from its lofty heights into the gutter of licentiousness.

“Purity,” hagneia, derives from hagnos, meaning “exciting reverence, sacred, chaste, modest.” The intimacy of the bonds God desires for us requires absolute purity. The holy flame of sexual passion finds its one and only safe enclosure within a marriage. Everywhere it burns outside of that sacred circle, it scorches and devastates. As the world around us sinks into a moral abyss, it trades true love and affection for a sensualized, sentimentalized counterfeit. God desires the church to shine rays of truth on this cancer, offering the world-weary something better. When instead of streams of pure love pouring from the church upon the world, the world’s lust backwashes into the family of God, the enemy has gained a great victory.

Lust does the most damage when indulged by spiritual leaders. The tone-setting, influence-wielding ones among us can lead entire flocks into confusion. Recall the events at Baal-Peor, just before Israel crossed into Canaan. The beautiful vale held many idols whose names suggested the vile practices of paganism. Constant exposure unconsciously tainted the minds of God’s people, making them vulnerable to the conniving women who wanted to lead them into idolatry. Under a guise of friendship, these women groomed the noble princes of Israel, finally succeeding at dragging them into an all-out orgy. The people followed suit. A plague broke out, stopped only by the spear of Phinehas as he slew an Israelite prince and his Midianite whore (See Numbers 25 and “Apostasy at the Jordan” in Patriarchs and Prophets).

Love, the Best Defense
What a sobering story! We might assume that the best way to prevent such disasters is to adopt a stiff, cold reserve around the opposite sex. But isolating sexes from one another would be an insufficient solution, given that even same-sexed sexual attraction is possible. So perhaps we should avoid intimacy entirely, keeping at a safe distance, distrusting the very notion of close, bonded relationships. The problem with this approach is that it is true intimacy that weans us from false intimacy. The reason people eat so much sugar is that they don’t eat enough fruit. The reason we hunger for sensualized love is because we don’t have enough pure love. The best defense is a good offense!

How can we keep our relationships pure? Jesus promised, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit put within you” (Ez. 36:26). I don’t want to give a list of proper behaviors without emphasizing this. Well-trained dogs are still dogs! To resist the lust that calls to us from within and without, we need complete moral and spiritual overhaul. As the enemy concocts more and more cleverly disguised temptations, and as the spirit of the age takes over society, we must be fortified to resist intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. God designed the three angels’ message to prepare a people to withstand the most insidious deception ever brought upon the human soul—the mark of the beast. The heart of that message is justification by faith in the merits of Jesus—the most life-transforming good news ever preached. Those who embrace it, “keep the commandments of God” which Paul distills down to “love your neighbor as yourself.” God wants to reveal an unprecedentedly pure and holy love through His people in these last days. As we stand on the borders of the heavenly Canaan, may there be an outbreak of love, rather than the outbreak of lust we saw at Baal-Peor.

Purity requires both individual and corporate conversion, and that conversion comes when we immerse ourselves in the gospel. I have observed that episodes of sexual sin occur in even the most conservative congregations. The enemy loves to trick the most consecrated believers into focusing on their own religiosity such that Jesus and his heart-changing love is pushed out of their field of vision. Worshipping on the Sabbath will not change our hearts if we have no living connection to the Lord of the Sabbath. Our conference president has called us to revival and reformation, echoing the prophet, who said, “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs.”1 True godliness means to “love one another, from a pure heart, fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22). There’s that pure love again!

Here’s how pure love looks in action:
1. Pure love starts with pure thoughts—if we allow our minds to run in the gutter, our feelings and behaviors will follow close behind. Modern technology has put almost infinite media choices at our fingertips. We can watch everything from sermons to pornography on phones that fit in our pockets. By beholding we become changed. Choose media that you’d watch if Jesus was watching with you.

2. Pure love respects self and others—our sexuality must be held sacred and not made a matter of public discussion. If a brother or sister makes an inappropriate comment or gesture, the most loving thing to do is reject that advance with such firmness it will never have to be repeated. Don’t be afraid to “hurt their feelings” when hurt feelings might actually help them snap out of their improper behavior.

3. Pure love appreciates modesty—sensible dress and deportment will “shield from a thousand perils.”2 Much of fashion is designed to seduce, but there are always styles that can be worn in good conscience. Choose to dress the way you would if Jesus were coming over.

Don’t Miss Out
The gathering together of people in what we know as the church gives us a golden opportunity to love and be loved. Let’s make the most of his opportunity by cultivating a connection with Jesus and His people. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). Don’t get mired in the false intimacy the world offers, but press on to experience the true, rich, and deep bonds of love God has for us in His family. These bonds will truly satisfy, will acclimate us to heaven, and will help prepare us for our Savior’s soon return.

1. Selected Messages 1, 121
2. Education, 248

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18