We can only understand the Christian family within the context of the church family—and that begins by understanding the church itself. The local church is the community in which our identity as followers of the King is best expressed. Alistair Begg helps us understand the church’s role and importance by pointing us to the biblical context of Colossians 3, our present cultural setting, and the Gospel solution for our lonely and fractured world.
The following message by Alistair begg is made available by Truth for life. For more information, visit us online at truth for life dot org. We’re going to read from the bible in the new testament in colossians And in chapter three And beginning to read Adverse 12 Through to verse 21, colossians, chapter three and 12 through 21. Put on then as God’s chosen ones, Holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, Bearing with one another. And if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you. So you also must forgive and above all these. Put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called in one body and be thankful, Let the word of christ dwell in you richly teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him, wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord Fathers do not provoke your Children lest they become discouraged. We turn now to the scriptures, Father what we know not teach us what we have not give us what we are not make us for your son’s sake. Amen if we’re going to understand the christian family, it it needs to be within the context of the church family, that we do not exist as christian families as separate entities and on our own. But we exist as christian families within the context of God’s family. And it is in the framework of the family of God that we discover the support and the encouragement that we desperately need in the raising of our Children. And that is why routinely, and this morning we have said it again, and in the second hour, we will reinforce it in a further time of dedication. We are saying to one another that the child of a christian home has a claim upon the prayers and service of the church. Now, how does how does that notion transfer itself to day to day reality? That’s the real question. What does it mean for you, perhaps as a young parent this morning, to have decided that you will place yourself and place your family within the context of this particular church family, to take it seriously and seriously. We must take it and to understand it at the most basic level. It is imperative that we understand what the church is, what the churches. I was asked this past week to participate in some kind of radio campaign to encourage people to come back to church. And so, they gave me a number of statements that I was supposed to be made that apparently are being distributed across various radio stations around the nation. And I was very happy to do that and say, come back to church this sunday. But I said to myself, well, where are these people? Where are these people? You may think that we’re all back to normal here because you’re coming to the first service. But if you come to the second service, you’ll find that it is entirely different. And if you come to the evening service, you’ll wonder where in the world was everybody in the two morning services. Where are these people? There’s a clear understanding as to why we were gone for a while, but there is no earthly reason as to why many are not back unless of course we have completely missed an understanding of what the church is, It’s not a business, it’s not a building to which we return where we visit, but it’s a family to which we belong. Hence the song that we’ve just been singing. And it just so happens that in our elders meetings where we read a book with one another consistently. The book to which we turned in the last two meetings is another book by our friend and helper, Sinclair Ferguson, and is entitled devoted to God’s Church devoted to God’s Church. And although we’re only into the first chapter, we, as elders have been reminded that instead of asking, instead of asking, how can I fit the church into my family agenda? The question is actually reversed how then can I fold my family life into the purposes and practices of the church. You see, we’ve been going through second Samuel and me saying again and again that this king and these kings point forward to jesus, who is the king and jesus is the king and he has a kingdom. Now, what does it mean to be a part of God’s kingdom? Where do you make sense of the idea of the Kingdom of God? Well, the church, the local church is the community in which an understanding of what it means to be followers of the king is then expressed. And this of course, is something vastly different from the idea that the local church is a kind of democracy whereby it’s run by elected representatives. And people try and lobby their representatives and share their opinions and debate their ideas and consider their priorities and so on in a kind of one man, one vote, Try and get it the way you want it a bit like a country club or a golf club or a sports club or whatever else it is. I think I’m going to talk to somebody about that. Well, you see we are all under the king and we are all under the word. Let me give you a quote from sinkler, I could have, you know, messed it up and made it sound like it’s mine, but that wouldn’t be perfect. That would that would be bad. Better Just give him his own words. This is what he says and he’s writing as a pastor. My family needs the church family for its own growth and health. No single family possesses all the resources. It needs to be a truly and fully christian family, We need support, friendship, example, wise counsel and much else from the church family listen to this to christian parents are not in themselves adequate two Rear 1 Child for Christ. They were never meant to be so the resources of our own family, no matter how wonderful are scarcely adequate. We and perhaps especially our Children need the church and in that context, they and we will be blessed beyond expectation. Now that should probably make many of us just take a deep breath. It certainly did me. But it makes perfect sense. I mean, isn’t it true for us his parents that there is at least a period in life where our Children think that their mother and father are two of the craziest individuals that ever descended upon the earth. That if they only go 50 or 100 yards down the street, they can meet some of their friends who have parents who are perfectly normal. How in the world did I get this too, failing to recognize that the same thing is happening in reverse that the guy who lives 100 yards down the street thinks my mother is just amazing. How are we going to do this? We are we have lived or are living through the most rapid change in family structure in human history. That’s where we are. And therefore it is absolutely vital for us to know what we believe, where we belong and how then as citizens of the kingdom as members of a family, we’re supposed to behave. Now, it’s a very large subject and can um give us an opportunity perhaps over maybe three or four Sundays to unpack it. But let me begin and and suggest that what we need to do first of all, albeit somewhat briefly, is make sure that we understand the biblical context. Then recognizing that we do not live in a bubble or in a cocoon that we acknowledge something regarding the cultural setting. And then as we draw to a close, acknowledge the solution that is found in the gospel. So biblical context, cultural setting, gospel solution. Now you will notice as we read this together, that the specific directions for the Christian family begin in verse 18 with this radical call to both wives and husbands to a level of love that is quite remarkable. But the specific directions for the Christian family are set within the larger context Of the place of the family in the context of the church. And so look at how the church family is addressed verse 12 put on then as God’s chosen ones, God’s chosen ones and what he’s saying to them is this you readers of my letter living there in the colosseum Valley are part of a vast company of God’s redeeming purposes from the very beginning of time that he began calling out of people that are his very own. And he is adding to that number. All kinds of people from all kinds of places, including you and you are the chosen ones. You are those who were sought out by God when you weren’t looking for him. That the picture of the garden is the picture that is true running through the whole of history that it is God who comes seeking Adam and Eve. Where are you? Rather than Adam and Eve running around looking for God. No, they were hiding from God and by nature, we hide from God. And there are people here that read this letter and said, you know that is exactly what was true of me. I had no interest in these things. I thought those people were crazy. Just last week, I spoke with a number of people. And I was struck by one young lady who who said to me, I I don’t know who she is. I met her just briefly along with her family and when I found out that she was in new york state somewhere, I said to her and what was happening there, she said, well, I was I was hiding from God in New york city. I was hiding from God in New york city. Well, what a good place to go and hide. Yeah, you can get lost in a lot of places there. And what happened I said, well, she said, the hound of heaven reached for me. Well, I wonder how is the hound of heaven come and reach for you. Look at what happens. And turned back a couple of pages at the beginning of colossians and to realize that these colossians had a hound who had reached them. And the hounds name was if you like HIPPA fras, Okay, he’s writing to those who are followers of the Lord, jesus christ, who have faith in the Lord jesus christ, he’s not writing to religious people who are trying to do their best. He’s writing to those who have been made citizens of the king. He is writing to those who are now members of the family and they he says in verse six, this is true of you, that the word of truth, the gospel has taken root among you. And and that is since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God. In truth, just as you learned it from a path for us, our beloved fellow servant. Now, in that context. Again in colossi, there were all kinds of voices as there are all kinds of voices today saying to men and women, you know, if you want to know God, you have to reach a certain standard. If you want to be part of God’s group, then you have to be at a certain level. You have to do certain things. You have to stop doing a lot of things and start doing a whole bunch of new things. Well you say, okay, well where did this come from? While it came from religion? The idea that somehow or another we can eventually by negating that which is poor and embracing that, which is better reach a standard of acceptance with God if you like, qualify for membership. But now you see the only qualification is the qualification that a prosperous told these people in colossi about, he explained to these people that they could never as I must explain to you routinely that they and we could never sustain God’s standard and that our acceptance by God is only through faith in the Lord jesus christ, what do you need to enter heaven? Faith in the Lord jesus christ, what is required to be a member of God’s family. Faith in the Lord jesus christ let not conscience make you linger nor of fitness fondly dream. All the fitness he requires is to feel your need of him. I need you. Oh, I need you now. Some of us are not there because we’re very self sufficient. That’s that’s where we’re proud of it. We have done it, we have earned it, we have put it away and so on while the door is closed, isn’t it? Because it only opens to those who cry out to him in need. So in other words we belong to him. We belong to him. Were the objects of his love coming back to our passage. We’re the chosen ones were holy set apart from what we were set apart to God. We are beloved. It’s a lovely thought isn’t it? That we are the ones who have been loved with an everlasting love. And what he’s actually saying in this section which we’re not going to delay on is that in some senses you wear what you are. I think the advertising slogan was the reverse of that wasn’t it? You are what you wear is trying to sell you a certain kind of outfit as it were. But in actual fact you can put on I could put on all kinds of things and it would be very obvious. I remember one time we had a surgeon at the clinic and he invited me to come down and participate with him and go through the O. R. Rooms in the clinic just a long time ago. He was from michigan I remember and I met him in the locker room and he dressed me up like a surgeon. It was it was one of the most ridiculous things you ever saw in your entire life. There is something about a surgeon who when it puts that thing on his head people go wow that is impressive if anybody else does it that people like whoa! Something is definitely wrong here. And and I remember I got I got on the I got on the elevator with him from the dungeons of the place to go somewhere. And as it turned out, there was some kind of Saudi Prince who was in the hospital at that time who had his own secret Service. And as we got on the thing, there was a secret Service guy, a Saudi guy and I never forget the way he looked at me and and and what he was essentially saying is you are not that Yeah, so the idea that you are what you wear, no, what he’s saying, his you wear what you are now, we’re not going to unpack this. But what he said is you had a lot of clothes in your in your old closet. Your pre christian closet was full of a bunch of ugly stuff in the grace of God, that stuff is being removed. But now in the grace of God put on your new clothes, you’ve been given a whole new wardrobe and you have all these amazing t shirts, compassion, kindness, humility. Meekness, patience. So your wife says to you, when I see you left the patience one off this morning, did you? The congregation says. And that’s another kind word from your pastor. I think you lost, I think you lost that shirt as well. Now your new self is under new management And this is an ongoing process. You will see that whereas that in verse 10 and having put on the new self which is being renewed, Present continuous tense is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. The process of being conformed to the image of jesus of being made like our elder brother is not an instantaneous process, it goes on over a lifetime. And so the intense practicality of it ought to be a terrific encouragement to us. And you will see that there as he goes on in verse 13, bearing with one another if you like putting up with one another, do you know how many people bounce from church to church because they didn’t like X or they didn’t like why or they gotta take their baseball back to another diamond. Don’t you know, you’re supposed to put up with other people, put up with a pastor, Put up with this one after all, goodness gracious aren’t they? Putting up with you Putting up with one another and where there is reason for complaint against someone else. And it would be a strange life if there wasn’t forgiving each other. As the Lord has forgiven you, you’re a new person, you’ve been forgiven, he says therefore it would be ridiculous for you having been forgiven everything that stood against God to hold in short term, a debt that someone owes to you, no forgiving each other. Remember when Brenton was here on that sunday night around the christmas time we sang that song which goes something like O’neal me down again here at your feet cause me to know these things because you are the God of the broken, the friend of the week. You washed the feet of the weary. You embrace the ones in need. I want to be like you jesus to have this heart in me. You see it is the distinguishing feature and if you imagine that they were wearing not close like like this with trousers and jacket and all that stuff, but they were wearing more like caftan things and and so how are you going to stop yourself from just tripping up and falling over? Well you you belt them or you tie them and you tie something so as not to impede your progress and to hold everything else in place. That’s what he says here binding all these things together. Put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Right? We understand that longing right? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Imagine there’s no this imagine there’s no that where are the answers to these longings? Where is the answer to these longings? You see? He says now you colossians believers or if you’re like now you Cleveland believers, you want to make an impact in your city. Here it is. It’s not a political campaign is a radical transformation from the inside out where what you are. And it is then as he goes through that he gets to the point where he says, as the word dwells in you, as the peace of christ rules your hearts as you give voice to the praise of Almighty God, he says, And let me just put it in this way. Whatever you do, it’s comprehensive. There’s no outs now. There’s no little secret place where I can say yeah, but it doesn’t cover this now, he says, it covers everything whatever you do, do everything in the name of the Lord jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him. So this is the characteristic of the member of the church family a thankful, prayerful, joyful, forgiving, compassionate kind heart. These are the characteristics. It’s daunting and wonderful, isn’t it? And then he applies it 18 wives submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. You see once again, when you come to the details of of the christian family, unless we understand that the christian family folds itself into the church family and that it is the church family, which makes sense of the family. That the church family is not an addendum. It’s not it’s not something that you join like, like joining a club. No, it is something that you are. Do you absent yourself from your family meals. Do you remember that movie Avalon? And he said, no, I don’t. Well let me remind you of it was basically really the writer, the writer based it on his own family background and the only thing that I ever remembered about it was one line from an early part of the movie and you know what the line is you cut that turkey, You cut that turkey, I love that. I said what is that about? Well, what he’s trying to say is you cut the turkey. Okay. But they live in New Jersey And he is the oldest member of the family. He is the elder of five brothers and he knows that the way the family works, you wait until everyone is present. I can’t believe it. You cut the turkey, you have violated the whole family framework. Well, I get that you take for example, the church family, he started a meal without me. Hey, I’ll be there. You mean the communion is supposed to be a family meal. I only go every so often loved ones. I’ll tell you what the real challenges. Many of us do not understand church. We are able to congratulate ourselves on a meager level of commitment, but without recognizing the nature of actually what’s going on now it is to this matter of the family that we will return. But we need to in setting it up, just say something in acknowledgement of the cultural setting in which we’re living and let me say, first of all that families that function together with, with a shared, if you like moral understanding families like that are increasingly an endangered species. They’re weird. And since many of us don’t want to be felt weird, the temptation is to blur the edges to soften the calls to say no, it doesn’t really mean what it means. Sociology is recognize that right now today in America, a minority of american households, Our two parent families and a diminishing number are actually two parents, mom and dad, families, marriage when it is adopted and it is increasingly not adopted when marriages adopted. It is no longer primarily about child rearing, raising and rearing. But it is actually about personal fulfillment. Listen to people as your counsel with your friends. What did they say? I deserve better than this? He is not that she is not this, this is for me, this is about me, this is about my place in the universe. And then they suddenly realized, well, that’s a fascinating notion. The birth rate in America continues to fall. There are more american homes with pets living in them than with Children living in them. Quote, the sexual revolution has come and gone and it has left us with no governing norms of family life, no guiding values, no articulated ideals. Our shared culture has nothing to say. Now. That’s not a comment made by some annoyed old minister somewhere. No, that is a that’s a contemporary journalist and what do we know what we know this? That the vacuum is quickly filled with an agenda that comes from the dark side that absolutely rejects the God of creation sees no need for redemption and believes that we will be able to muddle through on our own provided we are free to tinker with it as we choose. And so for example, here from the Times of London, just earlier in the year, an article, the advantage of three fathers, one can always take a holiday. This is this is just this is just commonplace. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. Many new parents recall their first months with a baby as a time of sleeplessness, interspersed with moments of panic if they can recall it at all. It was not like that for Ian Jenkins, a medical professor from san Diego who made history with his two partners as the first known family to have three fathers registered on the birth certificates of their two Children. You want to know about the cultural context, you want to know about the nature of christian family. It’s not about producing perfect little Children because we can’t, it’s certainly not about wrapping the, the, the turning our Children into little souls that can’t experiment with anything can’t go anywhere. We’re like, we’re like curling parents, you know, do you remember in curling? They have those brushes and they smoothing out every little bump. Every little thing in order that the thing might get to his destination. You see the parents, they’re no longer helicopter parents, they’re no longer looking down from the sky. Oh, wait a minute. Where are you going? What are you doing? No, no. Now that the curling parents, oh poor little johnny. Oh, we don’t want him to have a little bump to deal with and she’s not going to be able to handle is where we live is where you live. I am surely not alone. Am I in feeling that I have a front row seat at the decline of a culture and it’s not a movie. It’s not a movie. He said, well, you better get your last point. Here I go. Yeah, the biblical context, we will return to the cultural context is an ongoing observation. But listen, what about the gospel solution? You see, we need only to scratch very lightly below the surface of our conversations with our friends and neighbors and they will acknowledge that things are broken. They will be prepared ultimately. And it won’t take a lot of pushing to recognize that they do not have a secure base upon which to build what they’re doing. They have not had a reasonable explanation for who they are, what they are and why they’re here. And since traditionally, those values were to be passed on within the framework of the nuclear family. If the parents have lost sight of their origin and of their destiny, they then have no means of navigating a path through life except a path of their own creating. Therefore their teenage Children are left saying, well, my parents don’t have an answer. Therefore, they will then try the wider culture for an answer. When they find the the wider culture simply introduces them to confusion and heartache, they begin to look into themselves for an answer. And along that road will come many religious people with all kinds of hocus pocus ideas. What are we to say? Yeah, well you see, I mentioned Avalon you say, Yeah, but you’re just old now. I yeah, it’s fine. But some of you are also kind of old. Some of you remember the old days when aunts and uncles and cousins used to sit around the table sometimes he used to sing around the piano. Do you remember the old days when you used to sit and watch tv together? But now everybody has their own tv. Everybody has their own screen. We are alone together And with the product of our great desires, privacy, self sufficiency, security and privacy comes at a price. 35% of Americans over the age of 45 say that they are chronically lonely, 35%, a third of the nation. I am alone in the world. The decentralization of the nuclear family is reinforced by the decentralization of the church family And I would argue that the distinguishing feature of the Christian family will only be known in the latter half of the 21st century when those who profess to be the parents of Christian families get to grips with what it means for them to be part of the church family. It starts there and flows out there. Your Children are not there as your friends, they are there as your Children. It is not a it’s not a quiz game to find out what we’re doing on sunday. Either lead or you will be moved out of the way. Isn’t it interesting too that while the christian, while the family is pushed to the side, people are fascinated with genealogy, they want to belong to someone. In fact, I was just I was I was staggered to find in in doing a little research this week that sociologists are now documenting an increasing interest in kinship kinship. Yeah. They’re talking about in society belonging for a mutuality of being for a solidarity of souls for a chosen sense of cooperation to be discovered somewhere either genetically emotionally mystically or spiritually. Yeah. Did you pay attention to the song? My tongue repeats her vows, piece to this sacred house for their my friends and kindred dwell our time is gone. We must we must come back to it. But let me, let me just say, let me tell you what my notes say. The church family if ordered according to God’s plan is the solution to all these needs the church family because the church family is made up of the citizens of the king and the king knows exactly what he’s doing and the king will not be thwarted and his plans are absolutely true. So it is the church family that provides the answer in a woke culture to the issues of racial inequalities. It’s a church family. It’s not actually interested in telling people well, I’m really into this or I’m really into that. You can be into whatever you want. But the fact of the matter is read collections in the in the section that we just had. And what does he say? There is neither greek nor there is jewish, there’s neither scythian, there’s neither barbarian, there is neither bond, there’s neither free. What do you mean? Because christ is all and christ is in all. Okay, so the answer is actually found in the church. Therefore, the church is supposed to be made up of people who say I wouldn’t want to be with these people, were it not for one thing actually, would it not for one person. I talked to one of my black friends in Washington D. C. During the week just to make sure I haven’t lost my mind. And he said to me, you’re not gonna get many people come to your church. I heard your music. The black people don’t like your music. I said, well what do you want me to do Tony? You want me to change it or something said no, don’t change it, that would be like tokenism, don’t do that. You are what you are. But if the people want to acknowledge their union in christ, they will be prepared to forego some of their concerns about the nature of praise in order to be present under the teaching of the bible and in the fellowship of God’s people. I said, well, good. That’s at least there’s a hope in that. There certainly is. And I understand it loneliness, loneliness alone in a crowd. How lonely was the lady at the Well, no, Yeah. How lonely was the chief zack chaos. How lonely are some of our teenagers, single parents maybe maybe single parents should should team up. You know, I mean, I’m not a single parent, but if I was maybe I would, I don’t know how you do it. But I mean you don’t have to live alone like that. You have a family. He said, well, that’s just a word. Yeah, I think so. Until we make it not just the word. And on the issues of our united nous and the quest is not for homogeneity. It’s not a homogeneous group. It’s not, we’re all the same size, the same height, the same social status. No, we have different ethnic backgrounds, different ethnic traits. We have different social context. Of course we do. We have individual personalities and in christ that is not obliterated. That is not flattened as if somehow or another. The church is made up of a really bad looking room that is just painted an ugly color of beige. You know, it’s like, whoa, what is this? Or worse still the gray, you know that gray that makes you reach for a sweater. You know, it’s very it’s very modern. It’s very it’s all gray. Yeah. Well, is that what you’re talking about? No, no. We’re actually talking about the rainbow coalition. They can’t have that. That’s ours, that’s ours. No, we actually believe that red, yellow, black, white, all precious in his sight of course, that the with the door is open widely to all and the invitation is expressed to all so that we might then not find ourselves living in some kind of strange and tasteless environment, but rather that we would it would be vibrant, vibrant. You know, I think it’s I think it’s amongst other things, you know, I said a few weeks ago, it’s time to stand up, speak up and everything else. Here’s another one and i it’s it’s time to let our guard down. It’s time to let their guard down. It’s time to be prepared to tell other people look, I stink, it’s time to be prepared to let other people know that as we seek to make our journey through life, we’re dealing with all kinds of stuff. We’re in our continual war against the world of Flesh and the devil. We get it right. Some days we get it wrong to R4. We sin in our words, we sin in our deeds, we have nothing to say in defense of ourselves, save the righteousness that is found in jesus. So then suddenly the family because you know you go to some families and it doesn’t, it feels stiff, it’s like what what am I supposed to do? And then you go you go to other families. I remember years ago I had a girlfriend I called Susan and she she lived in London, she said she’d take me to a friend’s house and it was in Portman Towers just in Knightsbridge and and we went up on the lift and the door opened and a and a guy who was the father came out of the door and said come in my house, come in my house, I’m like well back off man, geez what do you mean? Come in my house, yeah, come in. But then I thought about afterwards, that was nice. That was a welcome. As opposed to what are you doing here? I haven’t seen you around much. Well we’ll come back to this Lord God in Heaven, we are the learners from the one who has all the answers. We turn as Children to you, our heavenly father. We turn to the Lord, jesus christ as our elder brother. We we feel very much that in the present strange climate that it’s not, it’s not time for us to curse the darkness and round up the wagons. But it’s time for us imaginatively graciously kindly live out. This is the story of the Gospel. We asked for your help and we pray to this end. In christ’s name. Amen. This message was brought to you from Truth for life, where the learning is for living to learn more about truth. For life with Alistair begg visit us online at Truth for Life dot org.