*I'm so happy we don't argue like we used to
*I'm enjoying the time I am spending with my family
*I am so thankful for my friends
*You've been so good to me
*It's great to know that I have found someone I can truly trust
*We're such kindred spirits
*It's wonderful how our personalities are so complementary
*This has been fun, let's get together again
*We have such a great sex life
*Before I met you I was so lonely
*It's great that we have known each other for so long
*We've had so many nice times together
*We've had our problems, but we have always been able to work through them
I have to admit when I read through them the first time I kinda scratched my head and then read them again looking for what the authors asked me to. These are all GOOD things. But lets look at the focus of those statements again. There are a lot of I and ME statements being made. The authors point out that the agenda in each of these statements is what the person is getting out of the relationship. We do not realize how subtly sin draws us toward self interest.Our most selfless acts may be driven by an underlying motive that we are not fully aware of.
It is one of the reasons many people choose to worship in one church or another, because of what THEY get out of the service, rather than what they BRING to the service.
The question that I thought of as I was reading this section was: What happens when you no longer "get" anything from the relationship? If the only thing keeping you there is what you can get out of it...do you bail? If you do that...then what? Do you leave behind you a trail of broken relationships? Just when is it okay to walk away? Those are questions I hope we will answer together.
The authors used an example of a celebrity who had given a large donation to a worthy cause and when asked the reason for his charity the celebrity replied, "When I wake up in the morning I can look in the mirror and say that I am a good person, and when I go to bed at night I can feel good about myself."
What is it then that motivates you to good works? To love others? To seek reconciliation?
The authors say that two themes dominate relationships in the Scriptures:
1) the power of self-interest is still present and active in the believer and will remain a constant reality in even your best relationship until you are delivered from this body and
2) God has a bigger plan for our relationships than we do.
There are default questions we can apply to every situation and every area of our lives. They are: "What is God's purpose and design?" and "What was His reason for creating this?" Applying this to relationships helps us to see just HOW different His agenda is from our own. His purpose is to conform us to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:28-29) We usually land somewhere in the middle, between what God has planned for us and what we have planned for us.
The struggle is real, as my daughters say.
Those of you who know me well know that my two favorite words in all of scripture are "BUT GOD" and we have that here as well, because while our agenda is self focused and our motives are almost always tinged with self, God has a better way and a better plan for us AND for our relationships.
The authors say that the directions for this are found in Ephesians 4 and that as we read through it we should ask ourselves the following questions:
*What does it say about the struggle of self-interest
*What does it say about God's agenda for our relationships
Ephesians 4 is the grid you can use to look at all of the relationship issues the authors will address as we go forward through this book. Think about the couples we've met so far and consider this:
"Why do we get angry? Why are we impatient? Why do we fail to be kind and gentle? Why do we hold a grudge or act out of vengeance? Why do we refuse to cooperate? Why do we say things to each other that should never be uttered? Why do we walk away in disgust? Why would we lie to someone or seek to manipulate? Why are we competitive and envious? Why do we struggle to rejoice at another's blessing?"
If we are honest with ourselves (and we MUST be if we are to grow) "we are ALL of these things at some point because we want our own way, in the way we have chosen, at the time we deemed it the best thing for us. We LOVE us and have a wonderful plan for our lives. We have a a dream for how our lives should be, it's just not the Lord's plan for our lives."
I challenge you to read Ephesians 4 every day for thirty-one days (there are thirty-two chapters so you'll have to double up one day) and I promise you will learn so much about relationships.
Much can be said about sacrificing financial comfort for spiritual well being. Andy and I thought it was best for me to remain home with our children when they were young rather than have our family join the ranks of the two income families. It was quite difficult financially, but it was the best choice for our family at the time, but we do not think less of other families who choose differently.
We gave up many "worldly" things with that decision, and many people made fun of our decision to be a single income family as well as a homeschool family, but we felt and still feel it was the best choice then and now for our family.
Paul urges us through Ephesians 4 to "live a life worthy of the calling we have received" The authors echo that by reminding us that we are recipients of God's grace and our lives should reflect that grace with everything we do. If you take the Gospel seriously, then you will take your relationships seriously as well.
Paul BELIEVES and EXPECTS God's grace to work out the following things in our relationships:
*Unity of the Spirit:
As believers we are already IN relationship with other believers, we are united together IN Christ because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we share a bond that we do not share with those who reject Christ. These relationships in my opinion, must be managed with greater care than those with non-believers because non-believers watch carefully to see HOW believers treat one another.
*Make every effort:
Or as I like to say, "live at peace with every man as much as you are able". The authors noted that when relationships require hard work suddenly they seem "distasteful, unsatisfying, and uninteresting"In fact, many marriages suffer from this very problem when one or both partners decide that the other partner is all of the above adjectives. Paul points out that we find our excitement and satisfaction within the context of hard work within the relationship.
*Be humble, patient and forbearing in love:
Paul is saying DO the opposite of what is natural to you. Andy and I went to a marriage conference back in '07 not because we were having issues, but because as the authors state, "Even in times of peace, you must be vigilant regarding the way your relationships can be hijacked by the underlying desires of your hearts, which are constantly and subtly shifting." The speakers (Ben and Ann Wilson, over at Marriages Restored) said this that has always stayed with me: (this is not an exact quote, but close enough) They reminded us that women are to respect their husbands and husbands are to love their wives, then they said to ask yourself, "Women, if you aren't feeling loved, have you been respectful?" and "Men, if you are feeling disrespected, have you been loving?" Those two powerful questions if answered honestly can do wonders for a marriage.
*There is ONE Spirit, ONE Lord, ONE Father:
Our unity rests in the Trinity, not in our human ability to get along. WE can GIVE grace because WE have been GIVEN grace, let us NEVER forget that.
*An appreciation of diversity:
God uses diversity to accomplish HIS purpose. This diversity is NOT an obstacle but a very significant means to this end.
*So that the body of Christ may be built up:
As sinners our motives will always be tainted with impure motives. We become impatient, frustrated and exploitative because we seek to get our needs met, to have our own way, but God wants to give us what we need not what we want. His goal is that we mature, be built up and stop acting like infants.
In our human-ness we think when we are getting along with everyone things are going well, but even when there are difficulties in the relationships that we have God is still at work perfecting us and accomplishing His purposes.
In Ephesians 4 Paul identifies seven tendencies of the sinful heart that are damaging to relationships, honestly examine yourself to see if you have been guilty of these:
The reality is we have all been tempted by these tendencies, no one is immune, not even believers. BUT GOD promises us grace for every area that we struggle with.
In Ephesians 4:19-24 we see that God's plan is wiser than our plan
In Ephesians 4:25 we see the life-changing power of truthfulness
In Ephesians 4:26-27 we see the healing benefit of gentleness, patience and love
In Ephesians 4:28 we see the joy we receive when we serve someone else
In Ephesians 4:29-30 we learn about the value of loving and wholesome communication
In Ephesians 4:31 we learn the beauty of functional unity in a relationship
and in Ephesians 4:32 we learn that there is freedom in practicing forgiveness.
There is an image being portrayed for us by the Creator of relationships, in His Word it is revealed that the "highest joys of relationship grow in the soil of deepest struggle." I have often heard it said that trials make or break relationships. They either bring people closer or drive them further apart. The authors ask us to examine our current relationships and note the ones that are the richest are likely the ones that have borne the test of time traveling those hills and valleys that all relationships encounter TOGETHER. If those relationships are still there after that long, and difficult journey you likely experienced God's grace together, and extended it to one another.
As we end this chapter the authors presented a challenge:
Will you settle for comfort, approval, ease and happiness in your relationships or are you willing to take up the biblical vision revealed in Ephesians 4 for your relationships?
Your sanctification awaits your honest reply...