If I sum up what I learned through the years, it is this: Relationship is foundational in all things pertaining to God and his creation. This includes families, ministry, marriage, making disciples, evangelism, worship, counseling, outreach, missions and so forth.
At first, relationship seems to be two-way. Person A relates with person B. Yet, the truth of the Bible reveals that relationships are actually three-way. Jesus is the third person in a relationship. He is the “one mediator” (1 Tim. 2:5).
God is concerned not only about your relationship with Him. He is also also concerned with all other relationships. He is the one who made all of us humans to be relational beings. Let me explain.
Just like the apostle Paul, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writer, pastor and martyr during WWII defined this relationship as the reality of Jesus’ ongoing-shared ministry with all people (believers and non-believers alike). From this perspective, Christian ministry is rightly viewed as a calling to share with Jesus as he ministers to people. Read Galatians 2:20.
The Bible declares that God is love. Love is a word that points to a relationship. Love is outward. If we say, “ I love myself and no one else.” That is not love. It is selfish. It is opposite of what love should be. Since God is Love, it shows that there is an underlying relationship in God. If God is love for eternity, before we were created, then we understand that his image shows a love relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is an active, moving love relationship.
When I was young I thought of God as an old man with grey hair sitting on his marbled throne looking down on us. But the image of God being relational shows He is alive, moving, inclusive, loving and sharing. That is God’s image. The Bible tells us we were created in God’s image. Just as God is a relational Being, we are creatures built for relationships. God wants to include us in this relationship — this beautiful relationship of the triune God. God is about proclaiming His love to others. God is about desiring to include others, including you, in this love. You know why?
Because the world is in trouble. All troubles in the world have come out of broken relationships. I have to admit, I do get tired of watching the news. Too much bad news. Wars, terrorism, murder, corruption. All of these can be described at the result of sin. Sin is broken relationships.
Why is lying wrong? Because it breaks relationships. Why is stealing wrong? Because it breaks relationships. Why is coveting wrong? Because it breaks relationships. Why is dishonoring parents wrong? Why is adultery wrong? All are wrong because they all misrepresent the kind of loving relationship that God is. In other words being in relationship with God is what our lives are supposed to be. And because God loves all humanity, he sent His Son, Jesus Christ to reconcile us to Himself. Through Jesus, we establish this relationship with God. When God looks at the whole world, I think He sees people whom He loves so much and desires that they see what God has already done through Jesus.
If our being in relationship with one another is a reflection on the human plane of God’s (own image) being in relationship, then our capacity for interpersonal communion is a sign of the image of God.
It is also the fundamental prerequisite for all ministries. The healing power of a Godly relationship cannot be underestimated. Establishing a good relationship with someone is the most essential of human wholeness. It is the path to healing the sick, depressed, troubled, lost, confused, etc.
Christianity is not a religion of doctrines or statement of beliefs. Evangelism is not a technique. Making disciples is not a program. The life of a Christian founded in Christ, living in us, is in reality a life of building relationships.
It is this knowledge of the relational nature of God that our conviction for love, compassion for neighbors and our community is formed.
Understanding the fact that our God is a relational being enables us to think in terms of relationships and communities. Christianity runs opposite American individualism. It runs opposite feelings of superiority over others, feelings of prejudice. One reason why we have lots of troubles in the world is because international relations are founded on selfish, arrogant, “we are better than you” attitudes. Christianity is about building bridges, making connections and being interdependent. The relational presence of Jesus in us is what defines our personhood – our being humans, created in God’s image.
What does this mean for us? It means that those people that understand this will reach out to those with diminished capacities to relate. Jesus even went to the extreme by saying, “Love your enemies.” Why is that? Because God loves his “enemies.” After all, God loved us first. He loves even those that are annoying to us. He loves those who are difficult and even offensive. He died for them so that they may have life and have a relationship with Him.
We are builders of bridges. We create webs of interconnection with people. And whoever is touched by our acts of love, grace and hope – are actually touched by the very image of God.
God wants to bring all humanity to participate in this love relationship with each other.
Jesus said, if you love only those who love you, what is that? Nothing.
Luke 6:27-42 from The Message version:
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”
Jesus put it in a simple statement. Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12 NIV).
Perhaps we can paraphrase what Jesus said. If we only love the lovable, what is that? Then we are no different from run-of-the-mill sinners. That’s is what they do. If we only help those who help us, do we expect a reward? Most people do this. For them life is always transactional. They are willing to give only as much as what they can get. Many have become consumers. They shop around for the best club, mall, or any organization that will give them the best services or product. Unfortunately, they also do this with churches. If we only give for what we hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
Jesus sees the error of totally missing building good loving relationships. He tells us to love even the difficult people. He tells us to help and give without expecting a return. He promises this is something we will never regret. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we are at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.
In a way, Jesus is encouraging us to live his version of Life. Don’t let the world dictate our behavior. God is empowering us to choose to live His way. This means: Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, and criticize their faults. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can ricochet. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Giving, not getting, is the way.”
In contrast to our present culture that values quick fixes and instant change, Christian life is about participating in the transformation of people’s lives and witnessing to God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. By the way, the process of transformation in a person’s life is not a fast one. We need to be patient with people.
Witnessing to God’s love, grace, and forgiveness is less about words and more about a relational experience. As people experience love, grace, empathy, patience, and forgiveness in relationships, rather than mere words, they are profoundly impacted. Giving good words and advice often comes too quickly and easily. We fail to really listen. Advice, when given, should come out of a prolonged time of being present with the other person. But what matters first is that love is demonstrated and proclaimed. We often worry so much of what we need to say. That should be a lesser worry. That can be studied or read in a book. But what is most important is that we really do care for people — that we are interested in them; that we look at every human being and see them all as God’s beloved children — although they may not know yet.
Without a genuine love relationship in any aspect of life, the result is nothing but burn out, boredom and later on – giving up.
There is so much pain and hurting in this world. Many people are in need of relief. But how does a person move from a place of suffering to one of relief? The answer is found in the Lord Jesus Christ who lives his life in us. People need to see and experience people who are genuinely caring. They need people who will treat them as valuable, special children of God – not as projects. They need to see love in action, not mere words of comfort. And yes, let us love even those who annoy us.