We can choose our friends, and to a degree we can even choose our neighbors and coworkers, for we generally end up selecting where we will live and work. What we cannot choose in terms of ordinary human relationships are our family members. We are born into a family without choosing our mother or father, and our parents provide us with siblings that we ourselves did not and could not choose. Moreover, there is all the extended family to whom we are related. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews—we do not choose any of them.
That we are “stuck” with the family into which we were born can make for unpleasant situations and for “crazy” family members whom we would rather not talk about. However, it also means that for the most part, come thick or thin, we stick by our family and our family sticks by us. It is little wonder, then, that Scripture often uses the metaphor of family to emphasize the kind of relationships we are to have in the church. We are to stick with our brothers and sisters in Christ through thick and thin just as we might stick with our “natural” families (1 John 3:16).
Although our church family may include blood relatives, it also includes those to whom we are related only by our common faith in Christ Jesus. But the Bible is clear that we are more closely related to those who are our brothers and sisters by the Spirit but not by blood than we are to those who are our brothers and sisters by blood but not by the Spirit (Luke 14:26). Such a truth is most plainly revealed in the New Testament, but we get at least a hint of it in Old Testament passages such as Proverbs 27:9–10. In stating that a near neighbor is better than a distant brother, this text helps us see where our family priorities truly lie.
In context, the proverb is talking about a relative who is distant in terms of bloodlines, a relative who is several relations removed from us. By setting forth the neighbor—who in context is also a close friend—as better than a distant relative (v. 10b), the proverb is making an important point: our loyalties are owed to those who are closest to us relationally, not those who are closest to us in a physical or genetic sense. Because of the intimate union that we share with Christ and thus with all those who are united to Him, this means that our chief loyalty is to God and His people, whether they are physical relatives or not. As such, we may not forsake our Christian brothers and sisters. They are our true family.