An overview to the series on God’s Design: What does God’s revelation in Scripture tell us about his design for mankind? This series present some of the basic principles that are necessary for the fruitful consideration and implementation of the elements of God’s design. These principles may seem basic, but for thousands of years, mankind has wanted to “improve” the design and has suffered the consequences. Modern people of every age have often been so impressed with their accumulated knowledge that they have failed to realize, recognize, and embrace the wisdom of the Divine Architect.
The focus of this 5th presentation is on God’s Design for Personal Relationships. See below for links to the whole series. – ed
God’s design for relationships begins and ends with the cross.
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.John 15:13
The great second commandment calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.Matthew 22:39
Jesus took it a step further by dying for us while we were yet sinners.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.Romans 5:8-10
All of the New Testament instructions for personal relationships have a Christ-like orientation: being other-centered, selfless, and Christ-centered. All of the instructions for family life, life in the body, and relating to the world have an eternal perspective and call us to look beyond personal gain and personal pleasure. The cross is our symbol. It is calling us beyond the question of, “What would Jesus do?”, and it reminds us of what Jesus did.
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…Philippians 2:3-5
In our network of communities, the Sword of the Spirit, we have an entire course on Christian personal relationships, and that will be the main resource for this article.
Learning to Love One Another
We live in a society of rapid change both in technology and morality. A man’s word and commitment are no longer reliable. As a boy, I was heavily impressed by the Lone Ranger and Tonto and their relationship. Each one would risk life and limb to protect the other. To me, that was noble, desirable, and a way of life worth living.
Today’s covenant community movements embrace similar values: enter into stable relationships where you can learn to love one another and lay down your lives for each other.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.John 13:34
The disciples were near the end of a long training period when this commandment was given to them. There would be more instruction given after the Resurrection, but their association had already become risky business. Their relationships, their bond would become life-supporting and a basis for the early church.
New disciples don’t naturally love one another as Jesus loved us. It is something you learn, and something that is infused by the Holy Spirit over time. If you can find a set of disciples who intend to learn to love one another as Christ loved us… that is truly a gift for your life and not to be taken lightly, but to be treasured as a gift from God.
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.1 Peter 2:4-5
We are being built into a spiritual house! Living stones that are built into something are not always moving around chasing the next promotion or the best school option. This Scripture passage suggests a real stability which will support learning to love one another. When we covenant together as a people we are intentionally deciding for stability so that we learn covenant love.
This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;Ephesians 4:3
As with most things, covenant love is first experienced in the family. A man learns to love his wife as Christ loves the church… and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Very importantly, children first experience covenant love observing their father’s love for their mother. This is the first real model of something that they will be called to as adult Christians. Children from broken marriages often have trouble embracing the stability and the trust required for mature Christian relationships. On a societal level, children from broken families may have trouble entering into and building strong marriages as a basis for Christian family. There seems to be an exponential breakdown of society since every marriage seems to have at least one person who was raised in an environment of betrayal or abuse. Some hearts seem to be walled off and unable to trust and respond in a healthy way to authority. Our brokenness seems to increase with each generation.
Only by the healing grace and mercy of God can we, even as Christians, build strong communities, and strong communities present the good soil for new Christian marriages.
Honor and Respect
If you have been following this series, you probably have noticed that I have a special respect for the two great commandments as given in Matthew 22:27-39. When Jesus says in vs. 40, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets…”, he has my full attention. He has just summarized all of the Old Testament. Indeed, most of what we read in the Scriptures says something about God or about his people. There is a lot of instruction about how to relate to God and to his people.
When you look at the Ten Commandments, they are structured the same way: the first set presents instructions of a divine nature; the second set are instructions about human relationships. The second set tells us what not to do in human relationships, except for one, which tells us to honor our parents. This is where we first learn to honor and respect people: in the home. Indeed, honor and respect for all authority, church or civil, begins in the home. If you honor and respect your parents, it’s likely to go well for you with pastors, teachers, and civil authority. If you rebel against authority in the home, you are likely to be laying the basis for a life of rebellion as an adult.
…love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.Romans 12:10
This Scripture verse comes right after a section on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds us that the body has many parts. That understanding is key to giving and receiving honor and respect: We can recognize and understand the roles of the many different parts of the body and that helps us to have true affection and proper respect for the many different children of God.
… and let the wife see that she respects her husband.Ephesians 5: 33b
Again, the first model of honor and respect that children will see is a wife showing respect for her husband, their father. She should teach the young children to listen when their father speaks and take it to heart. She should teach them not to speak over their father. In general, we honor and respect one another in similar patterns: listen when another is speaking; and we should not speak over someone when they are speaking. Sometimes we are so excited to get our ideas into the conversation that we interrupt a person who is speaking. These values of honor and respect are first taught and learned in the family, and especially at mealtimes.
Speech and Wrongdoing
There are so many verses about speech in the Scriptures, that one need not add much by way of comment or instruction.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.Proverbs 12:18
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.Proverbs 18:21
For we all make many mistakes, and if anyone makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!James 3:2-5
Scripture makes it clear, that if we are going to learn to love one another, we must first and continually tame the tongue. In the verses beyond James 3:5 (above) it seems as though the tongue is, or can be, out of control (See Ja 3, vs.6-12). We come into the body needing lots of repair and the tongue is often the best place to start: negative humor, gossip, and slander are all destructive to human relationships.
…slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents…Romans 1:30
Notice here that gossip and slander are grouped with the worst and most serious forms of sin. They cause great destruction in relationships in the body of Christ, yet they are so common, so socially acceptable, and even welcomed in social circles. Since they are so rooted in the flesh, it takes real effort to combat these tendencies to disrespect and dishonor our brothers and sisters. In humility we admit that we are still learning to love one another.
Speech should show love and respect for others. It should be encouraging and increase trust. Godly speech should build faith and deepen hope. It should show affection and appreciation.
Growing in godly speech is an intentional decision. It’s a significant part of our discipleship formation.
The decision to learn to love as Jesus loved and to embrace godly speech implies the need for correction. We are learning something and there will be mistakes. I have always been impressed that the greatest athletes are teachable and correctable; they are not stupid!
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.Proverbs 12:1
If we expect to grow in deep relationships, we should know that correction will be needed. Not only are we all imperfect, but we all have different expectations of godly personal relationships. There are different levels of seriousness to issues involving correction. Most serious of all are matters involving sin, and I need to be open to correction to grow as a disciple. Three broad levels that we deal with are 1) issues involving righteousness; 2) something done well or poorly (technique); and 3) matters of taste or style (which do not warrant correction).
In addition to the issues and levels above, there are the relationships of authority in our lives: for a 12-year old, a correction from his father is a matter of obedience, but a correction from a peer is more like a suggestion. Also, if you have made a decision to be a disciple of Jesus, you may get a lot of negative reactions (correction) from co-workers or relatives. Some will even try to redirect the course of your life.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.Ephesians 5:21
I like to think that being a brother or sister in Christ is an office. We should all have a certain sense of submission to each other. The Holy Spirit uses each of us to help shape and form another. Additionally, there are other members of the body that have a more authoritative role in shaping and forming us as disciples as we see in the following verse from Ephesians:
And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers…Ephesians 4:11
If we are committed to a body of Christians, unity should be our goal, humility should be our posture.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:1-3
We should be eager to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way. The flesh wants its own way; the spirit wants God’s way. Life in the body challenges our flesh and contributes to our spiritual growth.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.Colossians 3:12-13
Forbearance and forgiveness are the virtues of the Christian. “Digging in” and fighting to prove I am right are more worldly than Christian.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,…Matthew 5:23
If you need help, get help; resolving conflicts is essential to long term Christian relationships.
…from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.Ephesians 4:16
Relationship is a single word that could be used to define the two great commandments, love of God and love of neighbor (see Matthew 22:37-40). I would say that the two major themes of all of Scriptural teaching have to do with our relationship with God and our fellow man, especially in the body of Christ. Relationships are the “joints” that hold the body of Christ together. Anything that we can do to improve or repair those relationships is building the kingdom of God.
- God has a design for Christian relationships.
- That design is presented in Scripture in a detailed, even comprehensive way.
- The Lord has given us a new way of living and relating.
- Christian personal relationships are one of the fundamental supports or joints of the Christian way of life.
- Christian personal relationships present our “city on a hill” (see Matthew 5:14) to the world.
Quick Summary of this “God’s Design” series
- If we just study the blueprints (the Bible), the Lord gets very little return on his investment… it cost him his Son.
- God’s people are both a people of reflection and a people of action.
…and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.1 Peter 2:5
- God’s Design: Part One – Basic Principles of “Living by Design” in Scripture
- God’s Design: Part Two – Embracing the Wisdom of the Divine Architect
- God’s Design: Part Three – Christian Leaders
- God’s Design: Part Four – A People
- God’s Design: Part Five – Relationships
Top image credit: Illustration of people walking in the shadow of the Cross, stock illustration © 2022 imagevine.com. Used with permission.
Bob Tedesco is the founder of the People of God, a Sword of the Spirit community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA where he served as Senior Coordinator for 26 years. He has been involved in lay ministry for over forty-five years, and has served as Regional President of the North American region in the Sword of the Spirit.