(4) A FAMILY
Tn the preceding article an attempt was made to show - what should mark an assembly in its character as a house; now we wish to show that it should also be a home for God's family. There are many well-appointed houses which could lay little claim to being, in any real sense of the word, homes.
Paul addressed his second prayer in the Ephesian Epistle to " The Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (3. 14, 15, R.V.). A community of Christians is a spiritual family, and they should be able to find in the assembly a true and congenial spiritual home. Unless the reader's experience of family life has been unfortunate, he will readily recognize that a family should be characterized by love, loyalty and dignity.
A palatial and beautifully-ordered house would be a poor place in which to live without love to make it a home, and so the Apostle, in the prayer already mentioned, desired that the saints should be strengthened in the inner man by the Spirit of God, first of all that they might be able to make in their hearts a congenial home for Christ, so that in turn they might all be " rooted and grounded in love " and find a spiritual home in one another's company. ' Rooted ' because it should be a living and growing love, and ' grounded' because love should be something solid and settled—unaffected by changing conditions. Those who have been blessed with a home where love reigns, know that it exerts a powerful attraction, so that we delay leaving it until the last moment and get back to it at the first opportunity. This is true of the assembly, where the love of Christ is the divine mortar which cements together those who are living stones. In such a company there is no need for the Babylonian device of slime, and little risk of being troubled with man-made bricks. What a mistake it is to attempt to attract folk to the assembly by entertainment— this is no antidote to the allurements of the world, for the world can beat us easily at that game. Let us be wise enough to offer that with which the world cannot hope to compete—the warmth of Christian fellowship. The believer who finds himself in the company of those who love Christ, and love him for Christ's sake, is not likely to fall a victim to the attractions of a garish synthetic world, which is essentially cold and callous.
Class distinctions are not observed in a family—they are all brothers and sisters, children of one father, just as Paul reminded the Ephesians that One was the God and Father of them all, who was above all, through all and in them all. Yet James had to speak out plainly against the partiality which would make a fuss of a rich man and despise a poor man, and there is little evidence that human nature has changed since that day! Such distinctions in the assembly are a virtual denial of our common standing before God ; nevertheless the grace of God would teach us courtesy and the willingness to give every man his proper place. It is poor evidence of grace when a man takes advantage of his privileges as a Christian to behave in that unseemly way which brushes aside those polite usages which, in all circles, do so much to promote happy relationships between man and man. Those who are most ready to complain of snobbishness are often such as by their boorish manner offend the sensibilities of courteous people, who otherwise might be quite ready to cultivate fellowslup with them. It is particularly important that Christians should bear in mind that, although distinctions may disappear in the assembly circle, they cannot properly be ignored in the relationships of everyday life. Paul told Timothy that if a man teaches otherwise he is puffed up, knowing nothing (1 Tim. 6. 1-3). Luke (to whom, by the way, Paul referred as the ' beloved physician') addressed his friend as The Most Excellent Theophilus, a courtesy which would serve to cement the bonds which bound the two together and to enhance Theophilus's influence for good.
Before we complain of lack of love in the assembly, let us search our hearts as to whether we are making a genuine contribution to assembly concord. So often we sec what we look for, and get what we expect. If with uncharitable eyes we look narrowly at our brethren, we need not be at all surprised if we see what is in our own eyes. " Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder." On the other hand, if there is in our hearts true devotion to Christ and genuine love for our brethren, we shall instinctively give them credit for the same, and our attitude towards them will awaken a like response. Those who feel ignored arc often guilty of disappearing from a meeting so quickly that no one has much opportunity of exchanging greetings with them. This may be due to shyness, which others should take into account, but if the person himself has love in his heart it should help him to get over his reserve.
It is difficult to understand the mentality of a member of a family who will readily criticize another member to outsiders. Even though there be just cause for complaint, family loyalty should be strong enough to prevent any inkling getting outside that anything has gone wrong in the family circle. And so it should be with the assembly. The old hymn, " Wife, I've found the model church," has no doubt expressed the first feelings of many Christians upon being introduced to an assembly where there is spiritual vigour and zeal, but a little experience has probably sufficed to reveal that conditions fall short of the ideal. Nevertheless it is no sign of grace when a believer is sufficiently disloyal to an assembly, where he enjoys all the privileges of fellowship, to be found exposing its faults to others. Similarly, we should be sensitive about criticism of one of our brethren—we should make it clear that we do not appreciate it. The sowing of dissension is a serious matter and is probably responsible for a great deal of weakness—a house divided against itself is bound to fall.
Surely every right-minded person has a concern for the good name of his family, and realizes that it is to a great extent in his own hands—his conduct reflects upon his family for good or ill. In the same way the individual Christian has a responsibility to preserve the dignity of the assembly by avoiding any conduct in daily life inconsistent with the stand it takes. Insignificant though believers may be in the eyes of the world, they are the aristocracy of heaven, sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty, and they should show it in the grace and dignity of their bearing coupled with true humility of mind. That great friend of God, Abraham, was very conscious of this when there was a risk of the Canaanite seeing the unedifying spectacle of strife between the patriarch and his nephew. " We be brethren," he protested, as if to say that strife should be unthinkable. Who can fail to admire the dignity of the old pilgrim, who would suffer loss willingly rather than see dishonour done to the Lord's Name? In the same spirit Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be ready to take wrong rather than drag disputes before an earthly court. Such an unpromising character as Jacob became a prince with God, not in name only but in fact, and the student of his fascinating life will be able ta understand Hosea's tribute that " he behaved himself princely " (Hos. 12.3, Margin).