I’ve been rereading through some portions of the excellent book by Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2010), and have been struck by how spot on is their analysis of how sinners distort God’s design for relationships with improper views of self and others.
First, there is the problem of self-centeredness in our relationships:
When love for God is replaced by love for self, we see people either as obstacles that hinder our goals or vehicles that promote them. Sinful self-interest turns the two great commands upside down: rather than loving God and using his gifts to serve others, we love the gifts and use people to get them.
Second, there is the problem of self-identity and our relationships:
No human being was ever meant to be the source of personal joy and contentment for someone else. And surely, no sinner is ever going to be able to pull that off day after day in the all-encompassing relationship of marriage! Your spouse, your friends, and your children cannot be the sources of your identity. When you seek to define who you are through those relationships, you are actually asking another sinner to be your personal messiah, to give you the inward rest of soul that only God can give. Only when I have sought my identity in the proper place (in my relationship with God) am I able to put you in the proper place as well. When I relate to you knowing that I am God’s child and the recipient of his grace, I am able to serve and love you. I have the hope and courage to get my hands dirty with the hard work involved when two sinners live together. And you are able to do the same with me!
However, if I am seeking to get identity from you, I will watch you too closely, listen to you too intently, and need you too fundamentally. I will ride the roller coaster of your best and worst moments and everything in between. And because I am watching you too closely, I will become acutely aware of your weaknesses and failures. I will become overly critical, frustrated, disappointed, hopeless, and angry. I will be angry not because you are a sinner, but because you have failed to deliver the one thing I seek from you: identity. But none of us will ever get the well-being that comes from knowing who we are from our relationships. Instead, we will be left with damaged relationships filled with hurt, frustration, and anger.
Rather than approaching relationships with an eye toward how they make us feel, as those created in God’s image and being conformed more and more to the image of Christ, we can approach our relationships with others (spouses, children, co-workers, neighbors, friends, family members, etc.) with an eye toward glorifying God in our love and service of others.
When pursued in this way, relationships do not become a burden. Instead they become an opportunity for worship as they direct our attention away from ourselves and our desires, and redirect it toward God in his overwhelming grace and glory!
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)