Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes


Paulís New Family
Pastor Steve Schell
Romans 16:1-16
For years I felt sorry for Paul, and not for the reason you might think. I was amazed at the physical suffering he endured and marveled at the boldness in him that kept him preaching the truth no matter how badly he was treated. But that wasn’t why I felt sorry for him. What grieved me was the apparent absence of his family. Apart from one reference to his sister’s son helping him while he was in prison in Caesarea (Ac 23:16-22), there is a glaring absence of family. He seemed so alone. Did he have a wife? It was normal for a rabbi to be married. Where are his parents, or his siblings? How could they watch him go through all of that and not help? Even Jesus had His mother and two aunts near Him as He died (Jn 19:25). Paul said, “I have suffered the loss of all things…” to know Christ (Php 3:8), but the possibility that his loss included the loss of his own flesh and blood hurt me the most. It all seemed so lonely and unfair.

And then one day I was reading the last chapter of Romans, and I saw it. There it was, God’s provision. It brought me to tears as I saw His faithfulness to this man who had taken up his cross to follow Jesus. God hadn’t left him without a family, He had given him a new one. Paul wasn’t alone. There were people all over the world, even in a city he had never visited, who loved him dearly, people who didn’t despise his faith but were grateful for it. Then I remembered a promise Jesus had made and realized I was seeing just a little bit of its fulfillment.

Jesus’ warning (Mt 10:34-39)
The gospel affects the members of our family just the way it does everybody else. It always forces people to choose. Some hear it and choose to repent, and believe, and some don’t. Jesus warns His followers that their association with Him will have this effect, and says that if our family members reject Him we still have to follow Him. We must love Him even more than we love our own flesh and blood. Listen: Mt 10:34-39

What Jesus is not saying
Because some people have taken Jesus’ words out of context, it’s especially important for us to understand what He means here. He is not telling us to stop loving family or honoring parents (See: Mt 19:18, 19). He never abandoned His mother, nor she Him (Jn 19:25-27). Nor is He telling us that to follow Him means to emotionally or spiritually abandon our family. Yes, He may lead us somewhere distant, but our loyalty to them doesn’t change, even if their loyalty to us has. He’s not giving us permission to reject our family, He’s preparing us for the possibility that they might reject us. He’s saying you must not let these emotional ties keep you from following me. Your eternal life, and that of others, is simply more important. As far as we’re concerned, we keep loving and praying for family as long as they or we are alive.

Jesus’ promise (Mk 10:28-30)
The promise is clear: God sees the sacrifices we make for Him and does not just idly watch from heaven. He goes to work to return to us what we have lost, especially when those losses have to do with our family. Please notice that Jesus says very specifically that we “will receive a hundred times as much in the present age…” and then in the age to come “eternal life.” Yes, He says heaven is waiting, but He also says God intends to provide for us here in this life, not just in the next. This powerful promise was at work for Paul then, and it’s at work for us now. God makes provision for those whose family has abandoned them. And, of course, whenever He does anything it’s abundant, beyond what we could ask or think (Eph 3:20).

Other promises
Here are two beautiful promises:
1) Pr 18:24 “…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”
• There can be people who are not physically related to us who can care for us and love us more than our own family
2) Ps 68:5, 6 “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely (“God setteth the solitary in families…”)…”
• God actively cares for those who are defenseless or alone. He gathers those who are alone into a family-like fellowship with other believers.

Meet the family (Ro 16:1-16)
Remember, Paul is writing to a city he never visited, at least not as an apostle. As he greets person after person, you hear warm affection and honor in his voice. There’s no doubt he loves them and they love him. He has been ministering now for 25 years and he’s preached in every city and town where no church already existed, from Jerusalem clear around the Mediterranean, as you go counter-clockwise, to what is today Yugoslavia (Ro 15:19, 20). Imagine how many people love this man. Imagine how many mothers and fathers he has, how many sisters and brothers and sons and daughters in the Lord. And then imagine what was waiting for him in heaven when he got there. Is there anybody in this room here today that is not going to go up to that man when we see him and greet him with a holy kiss? We can only hope that when we talk with him, he’ll tell us a story about his own family coming to the Lord that we’d not heard. Wouldn’t that be a joy to hear! But even if there’s not, I guarantee you he’s not without a family…a huge family, who will honor him forever…just like Jesus promised.

Our family
Some of us have believing families. We are prayed for, encouraged, supported and forgiven as we follow the Lord. They are a great strength to us. But others do not. For a season, maybe for decades, their faith is mocked, they’re kept at a distance, their flaws gleefully pointed out and discussed. In some cases even financial help or an inheritance is cut off. This is what was happening in Jerusalem during the early years of the church, which is why the “koinonia” (offering for the poor) was so important. When they came to Christ many needed another family. They had been abandoned by theirs, and it appears Paul was one of these. That’s why those early believers, from day one, gathered in homes, ate together, and prayed for one another. When someone said “yes” to Jesus they instantly became part of a new family. And that’s why the early church could keep growing. There were believers who would stick closer to you than a brother. God gathered the solitary into families. And He still does, because many today need a new family and Jesus’ promise (Mk 10:28-30) is still at work, and He uses us to fulfill that promise. Not only does He put us in families, but He gives us to others to be their family. Listen:
“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Co 12:13)
The Holy Spirit plunges us into the family of God. Welcome!

Questions
1) Is there someone in your life “who sticks closer than a brother,” someone who loves and cares for you like family?
2) Do you feel deeply joined to the family of God, or are you still looking for a place to belong?
3) Are you a spiritual father, mother, sister or brother to someone? How do you fulfill that role?

 


Return to Sermon Notes