There is an old hymn1, called “Blest Be the Tie that Binds“. We are probably familiar with the idea of “family ties”: shared experiences, obligations, traditions, and other things that connect family members in a way that differs from other relationships. Whether or not you get along with all of your relatives, there is something different about your interaction with them, as compared to others outside of your “clan”.
However, the preceding link suggests that the author of this hymn, John Fawcett, became an orphan at the age of 12. Some might ask how someone in this situation could write about a tie that connects families, like the one described in this song?
Jesus gave His disciples the answer more than 17 centuries earlier:
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”
John 14:18-21 NASB
God is all about relationships. He created the first family, and despite the fact that it was dysfunctional because of human choices (sin, blame, murder, etc.), the family structure was still designed by God. In this passage from John, Jesus explains how He and God the Father are in a relationship that is so close that they are one (and, with the Holy Spirit, they are one God in three persons).
Our sinful natures, our bad choices, and the fact that we are God’s creation (rather than being gods ourselves) keep us from having this exact same relationship with God, but Jesus still offers us something more profound than even the best family relationship on earth can provide. This relationship – of Savior and redeemed soul, of Lord and servant, of firstborn and adopted child – is not only superior to the closest family relationship that we can find (even in imaginary ones that are presented on Instagram, hiding challenges behind carefully curated illustrations), but it is also available to everyone.
Jesus brought examples of the relationships within the Trinity to earth, and showed those around Him what perfect human relationships might look like (at least, from His side). Those disciples, imperfect as they were, got to walk and talk with God the Son (Jesus), and experience something of what Adam and Eve shared with God (who walked among them in the Garden of Eden). Through Jesus, they had a personal relationship with God.
However, this relationship with God isn’t only illustrated by Jesus, it is enabled by Him. Our sins would not allow us to have this fellowship with a perfect, holy God if Jesus had not paid the price for them. After He showed His disciples what walking with God looked like, He broke down the barrier that kept us apart from God, so that we could all become part of God’s family.
Still, if we read through the words of this hymn, it does not appear to be talking only about our relationship with God. It actually seems to refer to the ties of love between fellow Christians. Recorded a few chapters later in the book of John, Jesus prayed about that, too:
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
John 17:22-23 NASB
The writer of this hymn may not have been able to spend his teen and adult years with his biological parents, but He had the rest of the family of God around him, as well as the ability to talk (through prayer) with God Himself. While it is sad that young John Fawcett lost his parents, he did not have to grow up without a family. He had siblings in the family of God, and a perfect Father in Heaven.
No matter your state of relationships here on earth right now, both of these family ties are available to you. You may have just broken up with your girlfriend or boyfriend. You may have gone through a divorce. There might be family members who aren’t speaking to you. You may be separated from someone who is related to you, whether because of their sinful behavior or yours. Still, Jesus and the church offer you the role of fully-adopted heir in God’s family, with all of the blessings that come with that.
I understand that other people in the church aren’t perfect while they remain on this earth. That’s not how sanctification works. Relationships – even with other people in God’s Kingdom – may get rocky and sometimes downright hostile. However, when all parties are doing their very best to live in Jesus’ example of love, grace, and forgiveness, there is a harmony in a healthy church that is rarely – if ever – found outside of it.
So, if we have some issues with friends or family members, or even if our relationship with our family is pretty good, let us continue to invest in our conversations with God and His adopted children. And, may we try to live up to the prayer of unity that Jesus asked for in His followers. Blessed be those ties that bind, indeed!
- And, I’m not exaggerating when I call this an “old hymn”. It was written in 1782. ↩