1160 West Georgia Street Vancouver, BC, V6E 3H7
Hope for Those Who Feel Alone
"God places the lonely in families"
Have you ever read the verse above and thought, well that’s a nice thought for those who have family around or those who are married, but surely that doesn’t apply to me. According to Andy Yan, a senior urban planner, only 33% of residents in Vancouver, BC, Canada, were born in BC.1 That means most people either immigrate from another country or they move to BC from another place in Canada, often leaving behind their family or extended family. And according to an article in The Guardian, Vancouver has a well-known loneliness issue, where about 25% of those polled by the Vancouver Foundation said “they felt lonely at times, while one in three said they found it hard to make new friends in the city.”2 If you live in this city, you might be able to relate with David Beattie, who shared in the same Guardian article from 2017, that despite having lived in 6 different countries and 4 continents, Vancouver is disengaged – “People don’t call you back, people don’t invite you out, they don’t make eye contact.”
These are challenging realities that God cares about and that God wants His people to care about too. As a church, we have been on a journey together in 2023 to know God and get equipped for a life of faith in Him. This past weekend Pastor James gave a sermon on what to look for in a faithful companion, something we all need if we are to weather the storms of life. You can view the sermon by clicking here. You might be wondering, where can I look for faithful companions if I don’t have family, I didn’t grow up here and I’m not in a romantic relationship? Is this even possible? There is hope for those who feel alone, because God places the lonely in families! He does this through the body of Christ, His church! The church is God’s family, it’s God’s remedy for loneliness, and it’s God’s strategy for bringing His Kingdom on earth.
The church is God’s family. When Jesus was asked about his own physically family on earth, he answered by saying this:
“Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35 NKJV)
Jesus changes the way we think about family. He makes it clear that his real family is more defined by spiritual lines, rather than biological lines. We become a part of God’s family when we do the will of God. Apologist, Sam Allberry, put it this way in his book , 7 Myths of Singleness,
This is foundational to what the New Testament goes on to say about family as the people of God. It means, if we’re Christians, that if we have the privilege of belonging to a physical family, we mustn’t think it is our only family. And if we don’t have any physical family, we’re not to think that we have been left with no experience of family life at all. Actually Jesus says this should not be the case. Quite the opposite, in fact. 3
When Apostle Peter told Jesus that he had left everything to follow Him, Jesus responded to Peter saying this:
“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall 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 10:28-30 NKJV)
Jesus is saying that though there is a cost to following Him, which may often mean losing relationships or family who may not agree with our faith in Christ, the blessing of following Jesus is also relational and familial. Jesus is promising an abundance of spiritual family, His family who do God’s will. In essence, as the body of Christ, we are the brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters that Jesus is promising in Mark 10. We are the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise to us as His disciples. As God draws people to Himself, He also draws them to one another.
The church is God’s remedy for loneliness. The Apostle Paul reminds the believers in Ephesus:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Himself being their chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV)
When Apostle Paul initially refers to God’s people as strangers and foreigners, this was referring to the fact that many of them in Ephesus were considered Gentiles, unclean outsiders according to Jewish laws. But because of their faith in Christ, they are now called children of God along with Jews. He refers to both Jews and Gentiles who have chosen to believe and follow Christ, as being citizens of the same Kingdom of God, members of the same household of God. Therefore, if we follow Jesus, we never walk alone. The church, the body of Christ, is our family and they are the people we can turn to when we feel lonely.
The Apostle Paul goes on to write to his spiritual son, Timothy: “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2 NKJV). Not only are we considered family when we come to faith in Jesus, but we are considered close family! Distant family members might connect and show concern for each other on occasion, but close family are deeply invested in each other, caring for one another regularly. This is all very counter cultural, as we often see our biological family as being the closest in our lives and if we don’t have a close biological family, then we are at a loss, having to live life alone. But this is far from the truth found in the Bible! For those who have biological family, your spiritual family needs you, just as your biological family needs spiritual family. It’s the interconnectedness of these family types that allows for a flourishing of the two that would not otherwise be possible.
The church is God’s strategy for bringing His Kingdom on earth. The Apostle Paul writes this time to the believers in Rome:
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13 NLT)
Throughout Romans 12, Apostle Paul writes about what it means to be a living sacrifice to God, and how this is our true worship to Him. The above passage, highlights the way in which we are to live as God’s people, who have been transformed by His Word and His power. You might think that the writer is referring to loving the people around us in our day to day, but actually, he is primarily referring to really loving each other in the family of God. We are to look for ways to honour each other, to help each other, and be ready to show friendly generosity – not for show, but to really do this from our heart!
Loving each other sounds nice and good, but how does loving each other help bring God’s Kingdom on earth? Jesus Himself gave His disciples a new command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one other” (John 13:34,35 NIV). Our loving each other in the body of Christ, the church, actually helps to point people to Jesus and the realities of God’s Kingdom. In the world’s view, loving your biological family can be challenging, but it is generally expected. On the contrary, showing love to someone who you don’t even share blood with, someone who could be so different than you, is counter-cultural and out of this world. But this is the way of God’s Kingdom.
In the last season of Alpha, our 11-week introduction to Christianity course that we run at Coastal Church, I invited a neighbour to come check it out. He had some knowledge of God from past exposures to Catholicism in Europe, but overall, going to a regular church event was a new experience for him. It was at Alpha that he got to connect with the same weekly small group of people exploring faith in Jesus Christ. And when the program had finished, he told me that one of the things that impressed him the most about his new church experience, was the community. He recounted to me how welcoming and friendly the people were, something he had not experienced elsewhere. It was this key factor that would encourage him to keep exploring Christianity and start coming to church on his own. Talking with my neighbour about this reminded me yet again, just how special it is that we, the body of Christ, have such a wonderful gift of family that goes beyond biological blood lines.
The church is God’s family, it’s God’s remedy for loneliness, and it’s God’s strategy for bringing His Kingdom on earth. No matter your family situation or marital status, this is good news for all of us who follow Jesus! We never walk alone. God has given us His family all over the world, but especially in our local church context. That being said, this profound and exciting truth comes with a challenge to each of us who desire to live out Jesus’ command to love each other as God’s household of faith. It will require that we make efforts to reach out to one another, to remember each other, to go out of our way for each other, to be known by each other, and to give of ourselves even sacrificially. May the Holy Spirit, the power of God, help us to fulfill this heavenly assignment, that we may see God’s Kingdom come, and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven!
3 Allberry, Sam. 7 Myths of Singleness. Crossway, 2019, p.64