Exodus 1:15-22 NIVUK
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’ 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, ‘Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?’ 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.’ 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’
Throughout Scripture we see numerous relationships which are as strong and loving as any biological bonds. Sometimes even stronger at times Not just between a parent and a child. In the Old Testament, Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi and Jonathan’s friendship with David are well-known. The prophet Elijah mentored his successor Elisha so well that when he was carried to heaven in a whirlwind, Elisha cried out, “My father! My father!” (Years later, King Jehoash of Israel spoke these words on his deathbed to Elisha, no doubt evoking strong memories for the prophet). In the New Testament, a young couple from Nazareth was entrusted to create a healthy, loving environment for their first born, so that during his earthly life, he could speak with authority about a loving Father, praise women outside of their childbearing roles, and declare that anyone who obeyed God’s words—regardless of their status—were his sisters and brothers. All these signs of the importance of strong loving bonds that shape and influence who we are.
Take a moment now to bring to mind all those who have made that sort of difference in your own life. Remembering not just spiritually because there will be other areas of our lives where others have made a real difference!
So perhaps the best biblical example of let’s call it “communal parenting” that I can think of was Moses. Born in secret as a Hebrew slave but raised publically as an Egyptian, his early life was saved by a small host of women—the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, his birth mother Jochebed, his sister Miriam, and also, and this is important to see, one outside Moses’ religious, cultural and ethnic community, the daughter of the pharaoh. When he later made the shocking discovery of his real roots and fled to Midian, Moses was nurtured and mentored by his second family—his wife Zipporah, and her shepherding sisters and father Jethro.
A bi-cultural, multi-lingual man, Moses drew strength from those whom God placed in his life. His Egyptian grandfather had put a price on his head, but his father-in-law encouraged him with administrative advice and then left him alone to implement it. He was exiled from his royal mother but became part of a leadership team with his biological siblings Miriam and Aaron. As an urban Egyptian, he was educated in one of the most sophisticated nation states the world has ever seen; in the desert, he encountered God firsthand and passed on a spiritual legacy to the Jews which endures to this day.
Because he was raised by a wide and ranging community, Moses not only survived but he grew to become a mighty witness of God’s mercy and power in the world. May God do the same in our own lives today.
But this type of group influence is not isolated to the OT. The Gospels are full of the same thing. We heard earlier of how Jesus experiences it with His mother Mary and will Joseph. We would be crass of us to not think they would have made some difference to Him. And that would have then grown as He got older. We don’t hear about it but I’m sure there would have extended family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents. My own grandfather had an enormous influence on me. He could be annoying, grouchy, stubborn (DON’T) but also kind, funny, generous and never flustered. His answer to pretty much any worries I spoke with him about was “ It will be alright” “keep going” “We’ll help”. And it was and they did help. So within Jesus’ family there would have those who made this kind of difference to Him.
And then there were groups within the disciples. Family and friendship connections. Older and younger. Differing backgrounds and experiences. Jesus was close to Peter, John and James. There were the 12 apostles and the 72 made up of pairs. Read again Luke 10:1-23. All making a difference to each other and helping each other grow as people and discipling each other.
This continues – Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved
The church met and grew… grew spiritually and numerically, as they shared their lives together. The relationship within churches is not about chronological age but spiritual age. Our maturity in faith can be nurtured and influenced by others in the church, no matter whether they are older or younger than us. So watch the children and young people they may well teach us to grow in our discipleship.
We find further in acts relationships that shape the individuals. Paul and Ananias and then also Barnabus… Acts 9. There’s Paul and Silas, and also Timothy. That is just Paul. The apostle Mark was encouraged and discipled by Barnabus after being shunned by Paul (see we all make mistakes) and went on to write the Gospel. I’m sure we could go into what relationships so many people we’ve just mentioned had within Churches and relationships but we just don’t have the time.
So for us, looking at our relationships and how we are shaped by them, good and bad, let’s not forget that. Those relationships we have in our Families. Friends, spiritually and otherwise. Within the Church, Home Groups, friends, mens/womens groups, prayer groups, even, dare we say it, on a Sunday morning. These all go to make us more than we thought. They all go to parenting/discipling us in our faith.
We may not fully realise it but our attitudes, reactions to trouble, when we feel we can forgive, how we can forgive, how we love, give of ourselves for others and many more, are born out of those connections, for better or for … well you know how the rest goes.
And let’s not forget we are, no can be, we are the same for others. We are parents in a spiritual sense. Our interactions and relationships, disciple, encourage and shape others in their faith. We can be an Ananias, a Barnabus, a Paul to a Timothy and Silas to a Mark (insert name here).
But of course our greatest and most fulfilling influence and relationship is the one we have with God. Father, son and Holy Spirit. As His children, God continues to parent us. However we relate to God, as we grow nearer to Him we grow as disciples. We become more like Jesus as we learn more about ,and from, Him and the word of God. We are guided, discipled and given all the gifts we need to fulfil our call from God as we allow the Holy Spirit more and more into our lives.
We may not realise this but each and every one of us is being shaped by our relationships. And we are shaping others as well. Just as we have heard about those both in the OT and the NT, the multitude of God’s people, we will be parented, discipled and grow in our faith by those who we share our lives with. And the benchmark for how far we can go and how well we do to help others mature is our relationship with God. So let’s not forget to tend to that relationship above all else. To be parented by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.