Jesus taught that a fictive family is closer and more important than belonging to a natural family. Dr. David de Silva, in his book Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (2000 IVP) argues that it is impossible to fully appreciate the New Testament unless one also understands the central importance of the fictive family. A natural family is ideally where we are all meant to belong and find unconditional acceptance and provision. A natural family is where we are meant to learn to love, share and show care. A natural family comprised of a father, mother, brother/s and sister/s is where are introduced and orientated to the natural differences between men and women which then enables us relate in healthy ways with members of the opposite sex. These are all vital aspects that contribute to a person’s social, emotional, and psychological development. A natural family is where we begin to learn loyalty, cooperation, and how to celebrate the achievements of others. It was always a very important institution to God as well which is why two of the Ten Commandments exist to strengthen it. So when Jesus declared that belonging to His fictive family was more important than just this long-standing God-ordained natural family, it must be something we need to understand.
¶ While He was still speaking to the people, behold, His mother and His brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. But He replied to the man who told him, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50
Your dictionary might define ‘fictive’ as imaginary but that is not what New Testament scholars refer to when they use the word in describing the cultural landscape and backdrop to the New Testament. Professor of New Testament Theology, Dr. Randy Hedlun, describes the fictive family (kin) as, “[extending] beyond those sharing a common ancestry), which included slaves…distant relatives who may need support and would join the kin group, in-laws, and any others the kin group chose to embrace into its care” (The New Testament As Literature, 2017, p. 49). Belonging to Christ’s kingdom admitted you into His fictive family (kin). Christ expected that those who were accepted into this fictive family would bring the minimum standards of what it meant to belong to a natural family but then realise your relationship to other members of your fictive family was now stronger than blood. This is why, de Silva points out, the most common way of referring to another member of Christ’s fictive family was as a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.
¶ By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. First John 3:16
In many families (if not most) there is sibling rivalries. But in Christ’s fictive family there must not be rivalry. This kind of petty competitiveness leading to envy was to considered as shameful and a mark of immaturity.
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? First Corinthians 6:5-7
In a natural family only those who are connected by a bloodline are considered kin (“family”). But in Christ’s Kingdom His family is connected by adoption by the Father and evidenced by acts of goodness and kindness.
For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35
As brothers and sisters in Christ’s fictive family we cheer each other on and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). There is to be no competing against another brother or sister for the acclaim of others. This kind of behaviour within the fictive family of Christ is disgraceful and worse behaviour than would be tolerated in a natural family. This is powerfully illustrated by Christ’s parable of the father who had two sons which Jesus told to shame the scribes and pharisees’ behaviour.
¶ Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” ¶ So He told them this parable: … ¶ And He said, “There was a man who had two sons.” Luke 15:1-3, 11
When two of Christ’s disciples came to Jesus and to sit either side of Him in His kingdom, it was, Dr. de Silva points out, a thoughtful act of one brother toward another, but it was a misunderstanding of what Christ’s kingdom was meant to be among the disciples – and something that caused a dissension between them. Jesus wanted all of His disciples to recognise that they were all brothers by a bond stronger than blood.
And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. Mark 10:37-41
Jesus healing the lame man and welcoming him into His family.
Christ’s family is open to anyone. He invited (and still invites) the outcast, the unpopular, the despised, the weak, the vulnerable, the apparently ‘got-it-all-together-but-haven’t-really’ to belong in His family. We are His hands, His feet, and His mouth-pieces, to reveal to an orphaned world that there is a seat at the table of Christ’s feast waiting for them. You may not have a natural family that you are connected with. But, your church family is also your fictive family where the bonds between brother and sister are stronger than blood ties!
That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19
Dale Carnegie was a self-confessed worry-wart who suffered horribly from anxiety. In one of his books he described himself as “one of the unhappiest lads in New York” (How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, 1948). He was fearful, anxious, and worried. Then something happened that changed him forever. F.W. Boreham was another person who battled with fear and anxiety. But unlike Dale Carnegie, he had good reasons for it. At the age of 15 he was nearly killed in a workplace rail accident which saw his life teeter in the balance for nine months. Doctors sent word to his mother telling her to prepare for the worst within the hour. Boreham’s severed right leg was amputated just below the knee in the best way they could in the 1880s, but the surgery was so crude that septicaemia soon riddled his body. Upon receiving the dire news, Boreham’s mother put her shawl on and went to her local church to pray and to plead for her boy’s life to be spared. Her prayers were miraculously answered but her son was understandably never the same again.
OUR GREATEST FEAR
You probably know what you’re afraid of. Some of us are fearful of heights. Others of us are fearful of spiders. Still some of us are fearful of speaking in public. I have a friend, who was in fact my tennis doubles partner for a couple of seasons, who confided in me that he was fearful of sharks. He also shared with me that he was going to do something about it so that he could overcome this fear (which he did). But our worst fears are not heights, spiders, the dark, or even confined spaces. At the root of our worst fears is our greatest fear – the fear of the unknown. (I suspect that the popular support for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill unfairly takes advantage of this crippling fear!) The aged Dr. F.W. Boreham would later go on to write in his autobiography –
Like the medieval saint, we can testify that we have had many and great troubles in our time, but most of them never happened! Dr. F. W. Boreham, “My Pilgrimage”, p.221
In support of this discovery, we might paraphrase something that Mark Twain wrote as –
“Our worst fears are the ones which never eventuate!”
People who see their life as something they have to live on their own, will often struggle with worry and fear – especially about the future. Kim was telling me that she saw a female performing artist on Youtube who shared that at the start of the 2020 year she established certain new year’s resolutions – earn more; travel more; socialise more; and take more control over her emotions (“stop crying so much”). Needless to say, she wasn’t able to achieve any of her goals! That’s the problem with making predictions – they often involve the future which can be quite surprising at times!
But there is a secret to overcoming our greatest fear – the fear of the unknown. This was what Dale Carnegie discovered, and what F.W. Boreham wrote so much about. It was King David discovered.
¶ I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4
FEARING THE LORD HELPS US TO OVERCOME OUR GREATEST FEAR
When the apostle Paul was in Corinth and things were turning ugly, we have reason to think that he became somewhat fearful.
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are My people.” Acts 18:9-10
This was not the first time the Lord assured Paul that he would be OK, and, we might be forgiven for thinking that the reason he was reassured was because, as in the example above, the Lord reassured him that no harm would come to him. But this would miss the real reassurance that Christ gave him. The real reassurance that Paul received was that Christ was with him.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Second Corinthians 12:8-9
To fear the Lord is to trust the Lord.
You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. Psalm 115:11
This is why when we pray we are expressing our trust in God. It is why making time to come together each Sunday is also a way of expressing our trust in God. Since we are all dealing with unknown futures (but not unknown to God) we are all subject to worry, fear and anxiety. But the more we can look to Jesus and cast our cares onto Him as an act of trust, the less subject we are to fears.
by Dr. Andrew Corbett, Senior Pastor of Legana Christian Church
It might seem like things are getting increasingly difficult for Christians today (and for good reason). But take a moment to reflect on when the LORD chose to birth the New Covenant Church. Firstly, it was during the rule of the Roman Caesars. To the Romans, life was cheap. When Julius Caesar fought the Gallic Wars, he oversaw the deaths of one million Gauls, the enslavement of another million, and the execution (often by crucifixion) of yet another million*. Then came his battle with another Roman general and his forces, Pompey, who was originally Caesar’s patron and was now himself vying for the throne of the emerging Roman Empire, thousands more died in the battle (after Caesar essentially declared war by crossing the Rubicon River – the boundary of the city of Rome which no army was allowed to cross). After this victory, Caesar was named “dictator in perpetuity” of the Roman Republic*. But when the senate feared that Caesar also desired to be crowned Emperor, he was assassinated by sixty knife-wielding senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus (from whom we now derive the word, brutal) near the theatre of Pompey who feared that he would abolish the senate. Rome then entered into civil war with the forces of Mark Antony fighting the adopted son of Julius Caesar, Octavian — who would defeat Mark Antony’s forces and then himself be crowned Emperor and introduce a new title into the Roman vocabulary: Caesar (Supreme Emperor). The senate bestowed on him the name The August One (‘Augustus’).
¶ In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. Luke 2:1
A depiction of Brutus leading a band of knife-wielding senators to assassinate Julius Caesar
While Julius was the first king of what had become Rome’s kingdom, it was Augustus who became the first emperor of Rome. After him came a succession of Caesars all related either by marriage or adoption until Imperator Nero Cladius Divi Claudius Filius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. In November of AD 64 Caesar Nero began a tyrannical campaign to eliminate Christians from around his empire. Dr. Kenneth Gentry states-
“For Christians he was especially a dreadful emperor. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote of his persecution, which was not only the first, but one of the cruelest in Rome’s gory history, that Nero ‘inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians. . . So those who first confessed were hurried to the trial, and then, on their showing, an immense number were involved in the same fate.’ ” (Kenneth Gentry, ‘Dating the Book of Revelation’, p. 77-78)
And the bishop of Rome, Clement, writing around AD 95 said of Nero’s campaign of terror against Christians that, “a vast multitude of the elect . . . through many indignities and tortures” (First Clement 6:1). When a Roman describes someone killing a ‘vast multitude’ of Christians we can only wonder how many hundreds of thousands he means. The Roman world of the first century in which the LORD ordained for His Church to be established was a deadly place where life was cheap. At that time, in the city of Rome, one in five residents was a slave (Ferguson, Backgrounds, p. 56). Outside of Rome though, as I wrote in my previous Pastor’s Desk, in some instances, up to half of a city’s population (such as Ephesus or Antioch) were slaves with no rights what so ever. And then along comes Jesus and a global revolution began.
WHAT THE WORLD WAS LIKE WHEN THE GOD WHO CREATED IT VEILED HIMSELF IN FLESH AND ENTERED IT
Consider the world and its values at the time that Jesus the Christ took on flesh. It was a world where –
Only citizens of Rome had rights to live freely and enjoy property ownership, have the legal right to natural justice before a magistrate, and the right to vote in the senate elections (which was famously corrupt).
Young girls (not citizens) could be taken from their parents and declared to be a ‘courtesan’ to one of the gods (usually the goddess Venus also known as Aphrodite) where they would be to live as a temple prostitute (the city of Corinth had a continuous supply of one thousand such ‘courtesans’ for the pleasure of the thousands of men who frequented the massive temple to Venus which was situated on the mountain overlooking Corinth).
When a woman gave birth to a young girl it was often seen as a humiliation and more likely than not this newborn baby girl would be ‘exposed’ (left outside at night for the roaming wild animals to despatch). The Stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC-65 AD) comments casually in On Anger 1.15: “…mad dogs we knock on the head…unnatural progeny we destroy; we drown even children at birth who are weakly and abnormal.” A letter from a Roman citizen to his wife, dating from 1BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed: ‘I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.’ *
Gladiatorial games saw slaves perpetrate heinous violence against one another in the arena usually resulting in the death of the loser.
People who were viewed as a burden, sickly, or enemies of the State, were frequently ‘invited’ to commit suicide. In AD 65, Nero’s former tutor, Seneca, who had become increasingly concerned with his former pupil’s deranged behaviour, was invited to commit suicide. The State would even issue the necessary hemlock (fatal poison) to assist a person to commit suicide.
THE DAY THE REVOLUTION BEGAN
When Jesus entered into His world to walk amongst His creation, He was not clothed in kingly arrogance and pomp. Everything about Him was contrary to what the Jews hoped their Messiah was to be. But His life, manner, ministry, mission, revolutionised His disciples who then realised that Rome (and even Jerusalem) were agents of death – both temporal and eternal – but Jesus the Christ was Lord of Life!
In Him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:4
that whoever believes in Him [Jesus] may have eternal life. John 3:15
¶ “For God so loved the world,that He gave his only Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:31
The realisation by those followers of Jesus that the powers of this world were agents and promoters of death is seen in stark contrast in the statement preached by Peter after the death-conquering resurrection of Jesus –
And you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. Acts 3:15
This set in motion a global revolution. Not one conducted by military might, but one that transforms human hearts. Over the next few centuries, despite massive State and religious persecution, the influence of Christ continued to revolutionise human souls. Women, long looked down upon, were now elevated to a status previously unimagined possible. Slaves, who were mistreated, oppressed, and denied all rights, were told that in Christ they were now ‘citizens’ of His Kingdom and adopted by the King Himself. The diseased, malformed, injured, frail, and elderly, were declared to be infinitely precious and promised by divine guarantee that they would receive new glorious resurrected bodies without disease or deformity upon entrance into Christ’s eternal kingdom.
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! Luke 12:24
The realisation of this revolution cause believers to see others differently. Instead walking past the newborn babies taken out into the nearby forests and caves, Christians began to ‘adopt’ these abandoned children and raise them as their own. Every life mattered to these early Christians because every life was precious. This is why this form of ancient post-birth abortion was vigorously opposed by the early Christian who did more than protest, they raised any unwanted children they could find.
The catacombs are filled with very tiny graves with the epitaph “adopted daughter of…” or “adopted son of…” inscribed on them. These inscriptions refer to the many babies and young children Christians rescued from the trash over the centuries. Tertullian says Christians sought out the tiny bodies of newborn babies from the refuse and dung heaps and raised them as their own or tended to them before they died or gave them a decent burial.
A depiction of the stoning of Telemachus who denounced gladiatorial games
Instead of participating as another spectator at the bloody gladiatorial games, Christians, such as Telemachus, publicly denounced them as barbaric and did what he could to end them. His campaign was short but successful and costly (he was stoned to death by the angry spectators) and it resulted in this grotesque bloodsport ending in AD 404*.
Christians went into leper colonies and cared for the diseased which led to the later development of hospices and hospitals. By the fifth century, Emperor Julian the Apostate who wanted to reestablish the ancient pagan worship of gods, conceded that his efforts were continually thwarted by pesky Christians who cared so well for the vulnerable — even when the vulnerable were not themselves Christians.
But during the reign of terror instigated by Caesar Nero who had put both Peter and Paul to death and banished the last known disciple of Christ, John, to the Island of Patmos, things looked very bleak for the fearful and remaining Christians. While a despot sat on the most powerful throne in the then known world, the Apostle John received a revelation of the True King who sat on the real throne (Revelation 4:2). While many people speculate about the details of the closing book of the Bible, there should be one very obvious truth that we can all acknowledge. While the world played host to one tyrannical blood-thirsty dictator after another and seemed hell-bent on promoting death at every turn, there was One who was on the True Throne, and He was (and is) the True Lord and the True King. Even though He might look like a weak and meek little lamb, it would be Him, who would conquer and reign.
They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14
This is why we never lose sight of the real throne even today when once again it seems that the powers that be are hell-bent on treating some people merely as objects of personal sexual gratification and life – especially the developing and fully developed – as cheap and utterly disposable. And like the early Christians such as Telemachus, we need to speak up on behalf of the oppressed and vulnerable and spread even further the glorious vision of the one who truly reigns on a throne that we will each one day all behold with our own resurrected eyes!