I'm really fortunate to enjoy good friendships with my two brothers, although neither of them is a Christian. All being raised in the same home, we have a similar sense of humour, and a kind of shared language of references. Guests at our family dinner table have sometimes felt caught in the crossfire of in-jokes and banter – it's more like being on a TV panel show than enjoying your tea sometimes!
Unfortunately, not all of us enjoy such friendship – especially not once we become a Christian. Any family trouble is painful – some of the most upsetting heart-trouble we can experience. It can be all the more painful when the reason for it is because of our faith – because of something so fundamentally important to who we are. It seems perverse that a thing that gives us so much joy and hope becomes a reason for our family to hate us.
This isn't anything new. 2000 years ago, it was the experience of some of Jesus' followers. His friend Peter once said, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Mark 10:28) – and they had – they'd literally dropped what they were doing, left their jobs behind, to follow him. No doubt, some of them were rejected by their families for their choice to follow this strange teacher that many saw as an evil blasphemer.
Jesus' reply is telling: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30, emphasis added)
He doesn't gloss over or try to hide the troubles that come from following him – the persecutions, the trials, the hatred of the world – and he keeps holding up before his friends the promise of eternal life in the future, but his promise to them now, in this age, is that they gain much more than they lose by becoming a Christian.
Your family may turn against you if you become a follower of Jesus. They may hate you for it, or maybe just try to keep you at arm's length. It will be painful, but just look at all you gain – eternal life! Friendship with Jesus! Peace with God! More than that, you've gained a bigger family than any family you might have lost.
God's People – His Church – Christians – are God's Family. We ought to mean it when we call each other “brother” and “sister”. We're bound by something bigger and more important than shared jokes or banter – we're tied closer than accidents of biology, geography or upbringing can bind us: Every Christian on this planet is a person who has been adopted by God. A person who, before the Earth was made, was chosen to be a part of God's family along with billions of other brothers and sisters.
My title for this post is from one of my favourite Hymns about Christian fellowship:
Blest be the ties that binds,
Our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
We might not be perfect yet, but we've already gained more than we might lose by becoming Christian. If ever you feel alone when your family rejects you for being a Christian, just look around at the people in your local church – think of all the millions or billions of Christians around the world, with whom you're going to get to spend eternity! God really “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).
Two billion and counting. What a family!