The Purpose of Relationships

The Third Message in the RelationSLIPS series.

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The Purpose of Relationships

Relationships are of the utmost importance to any life, but especially to Christians.

When I enrolled at Welch college, I had never visited the college. I had never been to Nashville. In high school, I played basketball against my roommate, but I had said nothing more to him than “good game” or “I hate you” or something like that. The first few weeks there were rough because I didn’t have a close relationship with anyone.

Once I found a good group of friends, my experience totally changed. United by a common desire to serve God and grow in our understanding of Him, we became great friends, and my experience at Welch college was transformed by the relationships I established with fellow believers. With them I was able to grow in my spiritual life. I Grew closer to God, but it also improved my academic and social experience. When we align ourselves in God’s plan of growing closer to Him through godly relationships, every aspect of life benefits. We grow closer to Him. We establish accountability with each other. We enjoy life more. We have people to turn to when going through painful times. Why does this work? Why do we find this helpful?

This not only common to Christians though. Look at the cities. hundreds of thousands, in some places millions of people. Centers of philosophy, art, creativity, money. They are trying to do what we were created for, but they lack the reason for it. Therefore, they we are unable to accomplish anything eternally good for which all of those good things exist. Our work, must be done to give glory to the Creator and worshiping Him through those gifts.

It’s God’s plan.

We were literally created for a relationship.

And yes, I do mean literally. Not in the sense that it is often used today. “I heard some news that literally crushed me.” What this means is not that someone said something and they fell to the ground as if an anvil was dropped on top of them. They mean that they were “very hurt.” I mean in the same way that relationships are literally the actual reason you were created. That is why you are here. It is a part of the image of God.  

Genesis 1:26-28

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.28 And God blessed them

God’s creating man and woman is significant in understanding who God is and what it means to be created in His image. God exists in holy trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three in one. Three equal and distinct persons who make up the triune God whom we worship. God exists in perfects fellowship and love in the trinity. So what does this mean for us? He did not create man to be a solitary being, alone in the universe. Even though Adam was created for fellowship with God in order to glorify Him, the image of God was incomplete without the fellowship of Eve. God created men and women for fellowship with one another.  Living the Christian life alone is impossible without living it out in the context of healthy relationships.

God created us for relationships with others and without that, we will be struggling by living outside of His will. The image of God was perverted and distorted through sin.  As a result of sin, relationships are often more so a source of pain than of strength. We see verbal and physical abuse, divorce, back stabbing, unfaithfulness, and heartache resulting from relationships with friends and lovers, but we must not flee from relationships. God created them, therefore they are GOOD. We have perverted them, but God means to use them for his glory. When we are saved by Christ, God begins the process of restoring us back into His image. This process will be completed in heaven, but the renewal of His image begins here on earth through the church and therefore fellowship. In Philippians 1

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

God’s plan is to use the fellowship of relationships with fellow image bearers in order to build one another up to make us more like Him just as we were created to be.

There is one relationship that determines the outcome of every other relationship. When our relationship with God is what it should be (by His grace we are seeking his will, growing in knowledge of Him, living a life characterized by the fruit of the spirit and not the deeds of the flesh) Our other relationships will be what they should be. This does not mean that they will be perfect, but when we are trusting in God and seeking to glorify Him, we will not be floundering in our other relationships. The foundation is firm and trustworthy. When we lack this relationship with God, we have a foundation which is sure to not stand the test of time. We must rest our lives and relationships on the firm foundation of a solid relationship with our Creator.  

We know that these relationships are God’s created plan for our lives, but let’s take a look at 1 John 1:3-4 to the purpose of relationships.

3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

So what is the purpose? Just like everything else in life, the concise purpose is to glorify God (i.e. to give Him praise for who He is and what He has done) . From the coffee to marriage everything that exists is here for His glory. I thoroughly enjoy coffee. Some might call me a coffee snob. I resent that, but I do enjoy fine coffee. Pastor Daniel and I went to Lucid this week and enjoyed some of this fine coffee. I enjoy the coffee that has notes of fruit. But, anyway, “How can this be for God’s glory?” you may ask. Well, the fact that we can enjoy taste at all is a gift of God. We could merely eat without taste. In the end food and drinks are merely to keep our bodies running properly, but God gives us the gift of taste so that we don’t just drink, but we enjoy through the taste that we were created with. So, yes, even things as petty as coffee should ultimately remind us to glorify God. But what does it mean to glorify God in our relationships? How can we live life in such a way that our relationships are fulfilling God’s purpose: to glorify Him?

Relationships must be grounded in the Gospel.

“That which we have seen and heard.. that ye may have fellowship with us” The Gospel is the reason for our relationships.

The Gospel is the good news of the life burial and resurrection of Christ that we are given this new life. Through faith in His perfect work, we receive the forgiveness of sins. He has paid the price for sin: death SO that we can receive eternal life and communion with Him. He has reconciled sinners to himself. The relationship between God and man was broken through man’s sin, but God made a way of escape from the eternal separation from Himself. Through Christ’s work applied to believers by the Holy Spirit, we once again have fellowship with God. THAT IS THE GOSPEL MESSAGE, and it is that message that unites believers.

Sure. People have some things in common in the church that are not the gospel, but coffee is not why we meet together – and I love coffee.  But, unbelievers meet together for coffee, drinks, food, parties… So it must be something more than mere meeting together with others because of common interest. We meet together and fellowship and create lasting Christian relationships because of the Gospel message which unites us together. Paul instructs believers to walk together as one in Ephesians 4. We are to make relationships with our fellow believers and be united in Christ. Paul says:

Ephesians 4: 1-6

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Fellowship defined: meeting together as bearers of Christ’s gift of salvation in order to become more like Him, being restored back into that image of God which we perverted through sin, for the purpose of Glorifying God. This is not for the stagnate. This is not for the person who has things in common with another member in the group. The thing that unites us is Christ. One body united in Christ. Why? The last part of 1 John

4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.So that your joy in God may be full.

Gospel centered relationships are a source of strength and joy. Ps. 16:11 says “In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”

Growth in your relationship with God will cause growth in your relationship with others, and growing in relationships with other Christians will cause growth in your relationship with God. The aim is glorifying God and having fellowship with Him, but one major way that this is accomplished is through relationships.

Bonhoeffer cites that both Paul and John speak to the fact that they wish to be in the presence of the people they are writing in order that they may have joy in their presence. The presence of other believers is to be to the Christian “a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.”

Romans 1:10-12

Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.This is not a mere drudgery. It is not an unfortunate symptom of the weak christians who lack personal devotion. This is a sweet fellowship for which we were created.

Intentionally developing relationships for your spiritual growth is not an optional part of the Christian life. This is not a mere bumper sticker that goes on a car that already takes you where you need to go. Trying to grow in the Christian life and be transformed more and more into the image of God in order to glorify Him without developing upbuilding, godly relationships is less like a bumper sticker and more like gasoline. It is absolutely necessary for you to make it anywhere?

But you say that you are reading and studying the Bible and praying? That’s fantastic. Maybe you’ve put a little bit of gas in the car, but God isn’t just trying to get you from church to your house. He desires that you are able to get out into the highways and hedges. He wants you to live a life that consists of more than coming to church on empty and then leaving with enough gas to get back next week. Getting involved in a group, getting closer to people who are going to encourage you to grow closer to God and then even tell you things that you don’t want to hear in order for you to grow more and more and be transformed by the Gospel message is the desire of God. This is how He tells us we can grow closer to Him.

Our fellow believers are living signs of God’s gracious presence in our lives. It is through Gospel centered relationships that God will supply the strength and joy necessary to serve Him and live life for His glory.  

So, what will happen we are actively seeking and being a part of Christian relationships?

First of all, you are going to find yourself enjoying church and even desiring to come during every opportunity.  You will find friends that are sure just as imperfect as you are, but they are striving towards the mark and seeking to obey the high calling to which all believers have been called, and because you are friends with these people, you too are encouraged to press toward the mark. You will also find that there are people that you are able to help through godly counsel.

The church.

This is a group of people that meet because of something more than the follies of this world. The church is a gospel-centered fellowship in which we join together in worship of the triune God. We meet together in love for one another because that is the character of God himself.

1 John 4:7-11

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

Why do you overcome petty differences and meet together with people you otherwise would probably never speak to? Christ. Why does Lincoln come to the same fellowship as people in their 20’s through 70’s? Christ. Christ is the reason for fellowship. Because of Christ we meet together with our fellow believers. When we neglect this, we neglect the means by which God ordained for us to grow in and glorify Him

When we have these godly relationships we will desire for others to have the same godly relationships and ultimately with God.

Maybe this is all old news to you. maybe your are experiencing healthy relationships that glorify God. Your are sharing your burdens and praying for one another and involved in groups where you are encouraged to grow closer to God. If that’s you, what relationships are you seeking out in order to bring people to God? Are you truly loving and serving people? or are you just content with knowing that you are doing well? The love of God should be expressed in Christian relationships, but it should also compel us to seek out relationships with unbelievers.

My mom grew up in a home that lacked any type of spiritual influence. She could have gone through life without ever going to church or paying any attention to the gospel message, but a couple who lived in my mom’s neighborhood invested in her. They invited her and her sisters over for dinner and games. They showed her genuine love, and as a result of that, my mom and her sisters began attending church. She eventually got saved. When she became a teenager, she got involved in the youth group and developed a relationship with the youth leaders. As a result, while other teens and family chose to get involved in the party/drinking/drugs lifestyle that often characterizes teens, my mom was involved in helping at the church, growing in her relationship with God and being a part of the youth group. When she graduated from high school she went to a christian college, earned a degree in teaching, and met and married my dad. Today she has taught in a Christian school for almost 30 years. Her life stands in stark contrast to others who she went to school with who have wasted their life on drugs alcohol and other worldly ambitions. Why? Because by the grace of God, a couple at Erie street FWB church decided to take time out of their day and show a young girl love and ultimately God’s love. God completely changed the trajectory of her life through the love of a couple who decided that they would love as they had been loved.

I beg you, Christian, love as you have been loved.