In previous two posts (see links below), we saw that, for Paul, discipleship to Christ is more fundamental than marital status or gender identity. Paul makes this even more explicit in Galatians 3:26-29 (all biblical references are to the NIV) when he writes:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
This passage in Galatians not only speaks to the fact that our fundamental identity is in Christ rather than our gender or nationality, but by calling those in Christ children of God and fellow heirs, it also suggests that the most fundamental social unit for Christians is not the biological family but the Church—the family of God.
In Paul’s greetings in Romans 16 (discussed in the previous post), Paul says of Rufus’s mother that she “has been a mother to me, too.” And he often refers to the recipients of his letters as brothers and sisters. Such language is not mere window dressing for his letters, but actually points to a foundational theological point: the Church family is more fundamental than the biological family. This may sound extremely unusual to our modern ears, as we go about “church shopping” until we find the right kind of “seeker sensitive” church that will “meet the needs of our families.”
In Acts, this vision of the church as a new family structure becomes a lived reality. Acts describes how in the early church “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45). These are the kinds of sacrifices that people only make for their families, which, of course, is precisely the point. And because of these sacrifices, Acts states that “there were no needy persons among them” (4:34). Indeed, the church even went to great lengths to take care of the many widows who were among them, as recorded in Acts 6. As Paul states in 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
In short, according to Paul's teaching in Galatians and the example of the early church, one's place in the family of God is more determinative for identity than one's gender, marital status, or family role.