“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
These central words of Jesus point clearly to the ordering of human relationships. We should love God first and with the greater passion, then love other people as a result of loving God. Our love for God shapes and orders our human relationships. To the extent that we love and honor the Lord our God, our human relationships will have harmony and order. The opposite is also true. To the extent that people rebel against God and rebel against His purposes in ordering human relationships their lives will be thrown into a chaos of struggle and sadness. God’s design in human society is a fixed truth and cannot be altered by the rebellion of people – even the rebellion of whole nations.
The first and highest order of relationship is a human being to God. We have each been created in God’s image and given a soul. By this we have an awareness of God and a heart’s desire to be in relationship with Him. When we humble ourselves, turn away from our sins, and believe in Jesus as Savior, by grace through faith we pass from death to life. We pass from being estranged from God by guilt, to being in relationship with God by grace. This new relationship must become the defining relationship of our life, and one that we pursue first and with the greatest heart passion. The good authority of God will direct all other aspects of our relationships.
The second order of relationship is a biological man and biological woman to each other in marriage. God created marriage before sin entered the world. God created men and women, equal in worth, dignity, and standing before God, but different in their persons and roles. They were created different to complement each other in the divinely designed relationship of marriage. Two halves creating one whole. After God, any married person must next be devoted to the love of their spouse. The love of God will direct and rightly form the way we love our spouse. Finding our primary identity in God will allow each married person to love their spouse for who they are as a sinner – and not put their spouse in the place of God. When husbands or wives look to each other for what only God can provide the relationship will begin to crumble.
The third order of relationship is a husband and wife together as parents, relating to their children. When dad and mom love the Lord God first and each other second, they are set up for success to love the children next. It should be said that a basic love for children within the context of marriage is right. Marriage was not designed by God just for two people to join finances and enjoy recreational fun. One of the primary purposes of the marriage relationship is to establish a God-honoring, loving, stable, nurturing, and safe home. This home then becomes a healthy place to raise children. These may be biological children or adopted children, or both. These children will thrive best when they are not the center of the family. They must actively see dad and mom loving God first in their lives, then loving each other. In this context they will find their place as a loved and protected child. When a parent looks to a child for the love and affection that a spouse ought to provide the parent-child relationship will begin to fracture.
The fourth order of relationship is the family in relation to other families in the context of the local church. The local church is not a creation of American culture, but the design of God under the New Covenant of grace. God has designed our relating together as Christian families to primarily happen within the setting of the local church. Families are right to seek out community within the local church. When husband and wife love the Lord, then love each other, then love their children, the family is in a healthy place to then develop healthy life-giving friendships with other Christians. These relationships are most natural because we share the common bond of salvation in Jesus Christ. What we value and what we understand as morally right and wrong are aligned through Scripture. We share a common salvation and life direction.
The fifth order of relationship is members of the family in relationship to non-Christians in general local society and local government. This is the next step because it relates to people that we do not share a common salvation with and that we are so often at odds with over moral decisions. With this group you shift from being near friends and co-laborers in Christ, to those you are seeking to believe in Jesus Christ. We have meaningful relationships with the lost in our workplace and community, but it is with a missionary mindset. We are taking the joy, hope, and peace that we receive from the Lord, our family, and church, and ministering that gospel to the lost world.
The sixth order of relationship is members of the family in relationship to non-Christians and the federal (or highest level) government. The reason this is included relates to aid in times of need. Much could be said here, but when considering the ordering of our relationships we are also considering who we go to in times of need. It ought to be that we seek the Lord first, our spouse next, (if they are adults) our children, and then the local church or local charity. The distant and impersonal federal government should be the last place we go for our needs to be met. However, today the default response of an unbelieving world is to look to the federal government to solve problems that should be taken to the Lord, the family, or the local church. In this the federal government is put in the place of God. The unbelieving world (literally) puts its faith in government to fix problems and heal struggles that God designed to be meet by His own hand, by marriage, by the family, or in the local church.
The final order of relationship relates to people and their relationship to animals. I mention this because it is essential to understand that animals are not people. Animals do not have a soul and are not created in the image of God. We often have meaningful relationships with animals and a certain appropriate love for them, but an animal does not have moral equivalency with a person. An animal is not your child and can never be your child. The greatest tragedy of failed relationships seems to be multiplying in America. This is the situation where you find a person in rebellion against God, has a failed marriage(s) behind them, their children won’t speak to them, they choose not to be a part of a local church, they have no meaningful interpersonal relationships, but have a dog or cat that is the most important relationship in their life. This situation is the nadir of relational dysfunction.
In closing, these are biblical norms. This means that these are the normal, or regular, ways in which God intended for us to live in relationship to others. This does not mean that people are in sin if some of these things are absent, such as they are single or do not have children. Sin enters in when we transgress, or cross over these boundaries, not when we are unable to fully live them out. We live in a culture of lies today. In such a culture it’s very important that we cling to the Bible for truth and think deeply about the truth we find there.
Second, because of our sinful nature all our lives tend toward disorder. The process of sanctification, becoming more like Jesus in the affections of our soul, relates so much to striving daily to keep our relationships in order. It’s the struggle to love what God would have us to love, and value first what God says is valuable. May God help us to live Christ-honoring and holy lives in the midst of a chaotic and crumbling society. In this we must hold out the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, extending the hope of salvation to a lost and dying world.
May our relationships and families be strong in Christ,