“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” –John 15:15
This past week I read a disturbing, lengthy article documenting the loneliness that is dominating our period of American history. It explored the way Americans are constantly around other people in daily work and on social media looking in on other people’s lives, but how there is a deeply isolating lack of real and personal friendships. It has come into stark focus over these years of COVID that God created us for real, face to face, regular, and meaningful personal relationships. I would like to spend some time in this newsletter and the next outlining what I understand the Bible to teach about the ordering of relationships. This ordering cannot be broken. The extent to which you reject God’s plan for relationships will determine the level of relationship disfunction in your life. The more you reject and rebel against God’s relationship designs, the more pain and sadness you will bring into your life. However, the more you accept and pursue God’s design for relationships, the greater happiness and blessing will develop in your life. The order of relationships are as follows: God – spouse – children – local church – general friends / non-Christian family – pets.
By far, the most important relationship in your life is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is a relationship entered into by faith, through the grace of Jesus toward you. When you confess your sins to Jesus they will be forgiven. When you believe that Jesus is who He said He was – the Son of God – you will enter into relationship with Jesus. You are no longer an outsider, but a friend. You are no longer a stranger, but an adopted son or daughter of God. The Bible continuously uses personal language of relational nearness to describe our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a matter of learning facts about God. Jesus is not a curiosity to be studied, but a Savior to be loved and cherished.
Prayer is personally speaking to God. The great characters of the Bible authentically poured their hearts out to God. They asked God deep and heart-troubling questions. They praised God in times of blessing, gave thanks in times of abundance, and called out for deliverance in times of need. They knew God by name and were known personally by Him. Does this describe your relationship with God?
This God-to-person relationship is the supreme and guiding relationship of your life. If your life at its core is characterized by rebellion against God, every other relationship will be out of order. You cannot be at odds with God and at peace with other people. However, being at peace with God will create peace in all the descending relationships in their order.
The second most important relationship in a person’s life is their relationship to their spouse (husband or wife). Statistics were recently released documenting that America now has the lowest marriage rate since statistics have been kept on the subject. The national population is increasing, but fewer people are getting married than ever before. The causes of this are many, but at the core, people are rejecting God’s plan and normal purposes in Christian marriage. The Bible has no category for long-term ‘recreational’ singleness. I define recreational singleness as putting educational, career, or pleasure goals ahead of God’s clear commands toward sexual holiness. Recreational singleness is the path of being sexually involved with various partners, but not marrying, in order to accomplish goals you have set up as supremely important. The non-Christian world has trained generations to accept this as normal.
However, this pattern violates the first relationship – the relationship with God. You cannot live in sexual sin and have peace with God. The countless cohabiting couples in America are saying that their greatest happiness will come from their self-defined partner relationship, rather than from a personal relationship that honors God and believes by faith that marriage is good. Marriage is a step of faith. It’s a step that says, “I believe God’s ways are best. I will act in purity and faith and pray for God’s blessing on this relationship.” A husband and wife that individually love Jesus Christ and then love each other in marriage will be blessed. A marriage where a husband or wife idolizes the other person will fail. This means that one spouse is seeking from the other spouse something that only God can give. When we ask of our spouse something that we should be asking of God, we ask too much of our spouse and will drive them away. When, instead, we go to Jesus with the deepest struggles and pains of our life and are forgiven and filled up by the Holy Spirit, we can then love and serve our spouse instead of wear them out.
Concerning singleness, the biblical category for singleness is a person so devoted to Jesus in personal relationship that Jesus meets all their deepest personal relationship needs. This rare person can live happily doing God’s work fully without the normal need for a spouse or children. This is an exceptional category in the Bible and one primarily for devoted vocational Christian service. Singleness that has resulted through fear, selfishness, or laziness has no biblical category. If a single is lonely and desires marriage, it is right that they should take this to God (the first order relationship) and actively seek marriage. The normal pattern of God is for people to desire and enjoy marriage and children.
The third order of relationship is children resulting from marriage. The Lord God is clear that children are to be considered a blessing. Children are never convenient or easy, but they are a blessing. They are often a spiritual blessing that work toward our holiness by forcing spiritual growth in our lives. However, children will only be the full blessing they are designed to be if the first two ranks of relationship are in order. If dad and mom love Jesus individually, and they love each other sacrificially and with joy, the children will thrive in such a home. Children that are raised in homes where God is rejected and the marriage is broken or without love, will struggle greatly. Parents that don’t look to God and don’t look to each other, but expect from their children what they should be seeking from God or their spouse, will drive their children away by placing too great a relational burden on them.
The fourth level of relationship consists of friendships in the local church. Friends in the local church are closer, ultimately, than non-Christian blood kin because we share with Christian brothers and sisters the chief relationship – the love of Jesus Christ. What does light have in common with darkness? Nothing. However, we have all experienced the instant bond of Christian love with Christians that we just met but are otherwise strangers. In the same way as stated before, there is an ordering here. If we expect of our Christian friends an intimacy of friendship that should be coming from our spouse, we expect too much from the friendship. The misplaced expectation will destroy what could have been a joyful relationship given the correct proportional weight.
Fifth is non-Christian friends and family members. We have all felt the awkward distance between ourselves and those with no love of Christ. We cannot actively talk with them about what matters to us most. Our relationship with them will always be severely limited. We work to reach them with the gospel, never enjoying their friendship without deep concern for their soul.
Sixth is pets. America has reached the place of radical relational disfunction where people have sinfully chosen to isolate themselves from, and reject, every personal relationship from God all the way down. These people will often take in a pet and call it their child. They will walk the dog on Sunday rather than worship the risen Jesus. They have taken a non-human being and projected onto it human qualities. A pet has a place to be loved, but it is the last place. A pet can be enjoyed and rightly loved after we love God, our spouse, our children, our church members, and our fellow man. Only then can a pet be truly enjoyed. People who are deceived into thinking their pet is a human child or is able to take the place of a spouse will be bitterly disappointed.
I’ll discuss more next week some of the implications of these things, but let it suffice for now to say that we are all sinners. Every one of our situations is scarred by sin and brokenness, but this must not cause us to give up and abandon God’s design. I urge you to examine this divine ordering of relationship and pursue it. Begin by seeking to earnestly renew your personal relationship with God, then work down from there. At each level, work to prioritize according to God’s design. When we work with the Lord, instead of against Him, there is joy and blessing.
May the Lord God strengthen and protect our personal relationships for His glory and our happiness,