The basic social and religious structure of ancient life was built around the household, which was much more expansive than today’s family unit. In New Testament times, both Jewish and Gentile households included not only immediate family members but also a broad range of relatives, extended family groups, and kinship affiliations. Paul called the early Christian church community the “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV).
Believers understand the household of faith to be those related by shared faith, or “like precious faith” (2 Peter 1:1, NKJV). They are brothers and sisters in Christ, members of God’s family. The apostle Paul identified the “household of God” as “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The early church met together as a family, breaking bread in each other’s homes (Acts 2:46; 5:42). To the Ephesians, Paul said, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19).
With first-century life centered on the household, it was not unusual for entire families to be converted at the same time. Cornelius and all his household feared God and were saved through Peter’s ministry (Acts 10:1—11:18). A Thyatiran businesswoman named Lydia was baptized in Philippi with her whole household (Acts 16:15). The Philippian jailer and his entire household believed in the Lord and were saved (Acts 16:31–34). And in Corinth “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household” (Acts 18:8, NKJV).
The Christian church as a whole is regarded as a family; thus, the body of Christ shares a mutual obligation to treat its members with particular care: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV). This obligation can be seen as our familial duty or responsibility.
First Peter 1:22 says we are to “love one another deeply from the heart” (see also 2 Peter 1:7; 1 John 3:11; 4:7). John teaches that graciousness and hospitality are essential for the family of God and that failure in this area is a grievous offense (3 John 1:10). Paul instructed Timothy to respect an older man in the church as he would his father and to “treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 6:1–2).
The household of faith must also protect its members from false teachers, to whom hospitality and support should not be extended (2 John 1:10–11). Leaders of the family have an even greater responsibility to care for the household: “And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. . . . As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. . . . In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another” (1 Peter 5:1–5, NLT).
Leaders are to lead by example through service in the same way Jesus Christ leads His followers. He doesn’t “lord it over” His sheep, pushing and prodding them, but guides by walking ahead and showing them how to live (John 10:4).
First and foremost, members of the household of faith are to “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). We are to be submissive toward one another (Ephesians 5:21) and “completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3).
Paul told the Thessalonians to “never tire of doing what is good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). He diligently urged those in the household of faith to treat one another in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1) and to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31–32, NLT).