“More Than Family”
August 12, 2018*
By Pastor John Partridge
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 John 6:35, 41-51 Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
Is your family close?
Do you love each other?
Is there anything that you wouldn’t do for your family?
For some families, there is no closer bond. They will go anywhere and do anything to help one another. There is no mistake, however grievous, that cannot be forgiven. Of course, not every family is like that, but even among those that are, sometimes that family bond can be put to the test. As we rejoin the story of King David this morning, God’s punishment for David’s sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah has come upon him. First, the child that he had with Bathsheba died. But then, one of David’s other children, Absalom, determines to push David aside and become king for himself. Over a span of years, he persuades many of David’s own advisors and military leaders over to his side and stages a coup. David, and those loyal to him flee the city and Absalom sets up a tent on the roof of the palace, at the high point of the city, where everyone can see. And in that tent, Absalom sleeps with all of David’s wives that couldn’t flee with him. But as David fights to regain what was his, the bonds of family are stretched to the limit. (2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33)
5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
David’s son staged a coup, drove him out of his capitol city, moved into his home, slept with his wives, went to war with him, and attempted to kill him, and still, David’s love for his son is so great that he commands his troops to “be gentle” with Absalom and David weeps in great distress when he learns of Absalom’s death. Though obviously, Absalom didn’t feel the same way, those are the bonds of family. Despite the betrayal and the carnage, David still loved his son enough to care deeply about him and mourn his loss.
When things work the way that they should, the love, and the bonds of family are some of the strongest that we ever have for other human beings. But in a story recorded for us in the Gospel of John (John 6:35, 41-51), Jesus begins to describe a bond that is even greater.
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Once again, the religious critics of Jesus disparage him because they knew him and knew his family. To them it seemed obvious that Jesus couldn’t be anyone important and certainly couldn’t have “come down from heaven.” But Jesus refutes their arguments by simply saying that no one can follow him unless God leads them to follow him and all those who follow Jesus will be raised up on the last day. But more than that, Jesus says that he is the living bread and anyone who eats that bread will live forever and he promises that those that follow him will never go hungry or thirsty.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we already know that we are adopted, by God, into his family and are made brothers and sisters, legally co-heirs, with Jesus. Legally, we become family. But beyond that, Jesus says, God gives his family members eternal life and will care for their needs forever. It’s worth noting that while this is not a huge change from Jewish theology, it was dramatically different than many of the other religions of Jesus’s day. The gods of most other religions demanded obedience from their human worshippers, if they cared anything for them at all. The gods only cared about themselves and they had little or no concern for the welfare, past, present, or future, of their worshippers. But the God of Israel cared. And the change Jesus emphasizes is a major change from Jewish theology. Jesus says that you don’t need to be a genetic descendant of Abraham. If you follow Jesus, God will adopt you into his family, invite you to live with him, and will care for your needs forever. That is a relationship that goes beyond the ordinary boundaries of family.
And in Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, the Apostle Paul preaches that our relationship with God goes even farther.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The first thing that we see in this passage is how Paul describes our relationship with one another where he says that we are all “members of one body.” Think about that. What does it mean to belong to “one body?” What Paul is describing, is a relationship that is closer than family. It’s one thing to love your brother or your sister, but it’s an entirely different thing to say that your hand or your foot is important to you. You might consider walking away from a relationship with one of your family members, but few, if any, would willingly cut off a hand.
Paul goes on to warn the church not to allow our anger to cause us to sin. This takes us right back to the story of David and Absalom. While David continued to love his son, no matter what insults and atrocities he committed, Absalom allowed some insult in the past, some hurt, to fester into anger, and he allowed that anger to cause him to rebel against his king, and sin against his father David. But anger is just the beginning. Paul has more to say about how we are to manage our relationships with one another. Don’t steal, work, and work enough so that you have something extra to share with those in need. Purify the words that come out of your mouth and don’t behave in ways that grieve the Holy Spirit.
Wait. What? How do I “grieve the Holy Spirit?”
Think of it this way, at the moment that you put your faith in Jesus Christ and follow him, the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of you, right? So, every minute of every day, everywhere that you go, the Spirit is there with you. Just imagine God’s reaction to some of the places that you go. Do you think that God is thrilled when he walks beside you into a strip bar, or to some of the R-rated movies that you’ve seen, or parties that you’ve attended? Do you think that God’s spirit rejoiced when some of those words that you shouldn’t have said came out of your mouth anyway? Of course not. But you did them anyway. And you took a holy and perfect God along with you. And the Spirit of God grieved over the places that you went, the things that you did, and the words that you said.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, violence, slander, and every form of malice. Be kind, and compassionate, forgive one another, and walk in the way of love.
These are not easy things. They’re not. They’re hard. But in today’s story, we are Absalom. We’re the ones who got mad, went our own way, behaved badly, betrayed our father, and hurt him more than we could ever imagine. But despite all that we have done, God loves us anyway. Our God is the god who genuinely cares about his people. God loves us like family. In fact, God loves us more than family. God made each and every one of us and he wants us to be more than we are. God wants us to be like Jesus. God created us to be perfect and holy, and he wants us to be perfect and holy. God wants us to care about each other more than family. God wants us to care about each other as if our brothers and sisters were our own hands and feet, or kidneys or liver. God wants us to be one body, that is pure, and holy, and works together for the kingdom of God.
So yes, doing all the things that we talked about today, doing all the things that Jesus, and Paul, and the other writers of scripture have taught us is hard.
But doing those things is how we get from where we are, to where God wants us to be.
We were created to be more than family.
Let’s act like it.
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