The statements, stories, and concepts set forth in this article are all true—to the best of my knowledge. However, names have been omitted to protect the innocent; and me from the innocent!
There is a powerful and beautiful word, and accompanying concept, in Polynesian culture and throughout the Pacific, that has come to mean a great deal to me; and that word, in the Hawaiian language, is “HANAI.” According to the Urban Dictionary (2014), “It loosely means adopted, with or without legal papers. Today most people use it as a way to refer to someone who is so close to you, they’re family, even without a blood connection.” But believe me when I tell you, this simple definition does not begin to encompass the deep passion, reverence, and spiritual power of the word. To the Polynesians, and other Pacific Island cultures, the concept of “hanai” is precious and sacred beyond measure; and it carries with it all the duties, obligations, rights, and responsibilities that come with any physically or legally binding familial relationship. You see, the Polynesians understood, even from ancient days, that ‘ohana—family—is much more than mere physical relationship. They understood what we all inherently know way down deep in our hearts: that it is “love” that makes a family, not simply “blood.”
This is how our eternal heavenly Father has dealt with us, isn’t it? I’m thinking of the Apostle John’s wonderful encouragement to us when he said, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (I John 3:1, NASB). In this verse, John connects the Father’s love with our identity as children of God. Because of His great love for us, He has called us His children. God’s family is predicated on a reciprocal love relationship that begins with His great love for us, and which is then mirrored in our love for Him. As John goes on to say, “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19, NASB).
But the verse also sets forth the distinction between God spiritual family and all the rest of the world around us. While God and His children have entered into this beautiful, loving relationship with one another—a formal relationship bound by covenant, we might add—all the rest of the people of the world do not share that relationship, or that identity. According to John, they can’t even really recognize the family of God because they don’t recognize the children of God; because they are unwilling to recognize and surrender their hearts to God. They may recognize us as being spiritual, or religious, or even devout, but they don’t understand the nature of authentic “discipleship” and, therefore, cannot comprehend the depth of our relationship with God or with one another, and all that that really means. While it may be true that, in a sense, we are all God’s creatures and therefore God’s children, and while it is true that God loves all His creation, including every human being He has ever allowed to exist on the face of this planet, regardless of their sinful condition, still, unless that love is reciprocated, people remain “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12, NASB).
It grieves me to the bone when people I love, and with whom I share earthly, physical relationships, do not share our faith, our commitment to Christ, or our surrender to the will of God. While I love them, I can detect that, for them, life in this world is pretty much just all about them—their wants, their desires, their needs, their dreams, their prosperity, their comfort, their ambitions. Even many of my “religious” friends don’t seem to grasp the concept of submission to the will of God; and so they design their own self-made “religion” around their own wants and needs rather than pursuing the “theology of the cross”—the complete surrender that Jesus calls us to when He said: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NASB).
And so, even though it grieves us, we must acknowledge this great gap that exists between people in this world whom we love, and for whom we continue to pray—Paul said, “my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1, NASB)—and those who are authentic children of God.
I just love Jesus’ take on family. The Bible says:
While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Luke 12:46-50, NASB)
While I’m convinced that Jesus meant no disrespect in that statement — He cherished His mother and His physical brothers — still, He knew that far deeper and more intimate relationships existed within the family of God. He also insisted that these spiritual relationship within God’s family take precedent over any physical relationships we may have in this world, saying:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39, NASB)
Imagine, some of your worst enemies on earth being people within your own physical, flesh and blood family. Some of you don’t have to imagine very hard, I know! But, at the same time, God provides for His children the sustenance and the strength that only an earthly family can provide by calling us into, and making us a part of, His eternal, spiritual family. Jesus said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, NASB). Isn’t that this concept so beautiful? God has not left us to “go it alone” in this physical world. We not only have a wonderful and sustaining relationship with our heavenly Father, but we also get to enjoy all the benefits of belonging to His spiritual family while still here on earth. The Apostle Paul says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens [outsiders], but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household [family]” (Ephesians 2:19, NASB).
I can really relate to a couple of statements the Apostle Paul made to Timothy and to Titus. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith” (I Timothy 1:2, NASB). In his letter to Titus, Paul writes, “To Titus, my true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4, NASB). Paul enjoyed a special relationship with each of these two young men. Yes, they both were brothers in Christ but, to Paul, they were more than brothers. Yes, they were both his protégés but, to Paul, they were each more than a mere protégé. Paul saw them as his own children. To him, they were his sons. And, in his eyes, Paul saw himself as much more than a mere “mentor” to them, he was more like a father.
Now, of course, to clear things up for the legalists among us [why do I always feel compelled to do that], Jesus did say, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:8-10, NASB). But, of course, because of the way these words—“teacher,” “father,” “leader”—are used in other passages of scripture, we know that Jesus is talking here about the taking of official titles; and those who use those titles to exalt themselves to positions of power and authority over others. He is not talking about individual, personal relationships or the generic way in which we might choose to use these words. Still, we must be careful with the concepts. While it may be okay to call people “teachers,” because that is the role they fill, we must never saddle any one individual as our “Teacher” and ascribe to him or her the authority to dictate the will of God for us. While it may be okay to refer to people as “leaders,” again, because of the roles they fill and the service they render, we must never concede to any man, or group of men, the authority, the power, or the jurisdiction of “Leader” and allow him, or them, to take us in their own self-willed direction. And while it may be okay to call someone “father” in a relational manner because that is a role they occupy in our lives, we must never look to any particular man on this earth as our “Father,” wherein we place ourselves in submission to his particular want or will for our lives.
I am particularly blessed to enjoy a number of intimate spiritual relationships in this world that go way beyond anything mere flesh and blood kinship could ever provide. While I rejoice in the two biological children with whom God has graced my life, I also rejoice in a number of “hanai” children and grandchildren (some with formal, legally binding paperwork, and some without); each of whom I couldn’t love any more even if they were my biologicals. Some of these people are closer to me in time and space than are others. Some of these people are more intricately connected to my heart than are others. Some seem to share my personality profile, think the way I think, and exhibit any number of characteristics that are incredibly similar to my own; others, ummmmm… not so much, perhaps. I have one recently acquired “hanai” daughter who is so much like me in her thinking that it’s almost scary—no, it “is” scary! But regardless of how similar, or dissimilar, we may be, God has used our circumstances and experiences in life to bind our hearts together one to another. And, believe me when I tell you, it’s some kind of wonderful!
I wish more people in this world could understand what I’m talking about so that they might want to be a part of, and enjoy, these kinds of spiritual relationships. I wish they could comprehend the intimate ties that bind authentic disciples of Christ together in holy love. I think it might make evangelism a little easier because more people would want what we’ve got and come looking for it. But, alas, God, in His divine wisdom, has deemed that that kind of love is unknowable until we have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us and working in us. The Apostle said:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, NASB)
Experiencing that kind of love begins with acknowledging the love that God has for us, and reciprocating that love in surrender to His will. Until we’ve given our hearts to God, we cannot know what it’s like to give our hearts to one another in sincere Christian love. It all begins with Him. As the Apostle John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” and “this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (I John 4:7 & 21, NASB).
Finally, I want to say that nothing this side of heaven’s eternal glory touches my heart and fills me with wonder and joy like watching God at work in the hearts and lives of my spiritual “hanai” and seeing the wonderful things He is doing with them, in them, and through them. It breaks my heart when one of them stumbles along the way; but rejuvenates my soul as I watch them allow God to pick them up again, put the pieces of their broken hearts back together, and then dust em off and set them back on the paths of righteousness. As the Apostle John expressed, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4, NASB).
I love you, my children by covenant, beyond words,
~ Philip ~
PS: the thought occurs to me that, in a sense, we are not only bound to one another by the terms of our covenant relationship with God, but that, at the very heart of that covenant relationship is blood — the blood of Christ, of which all God’s covenant children have become partakers through faith. And so, I guess that, in reality, we are family both by love and by blood — His blood!
Hanai. (2014). In Urban dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Hanai
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”