Consuming Relationships

May 5, 2016 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

Several years ago a good friend of mine made a very curious statement: “We consume relationships.” He was reflecting on how a consumeristic society has shaped and influenced all areas of our lives. We had talked extensively about how consumerism had impacted our Christians’ perspective on worship and church programs. But relationships?

As we dived into the conversation, it became apparent that a consumeristic attitude even impacts how we engage in relationship. We stay in relationships as long as they benefit us in some way. We tend to avoid relationships with those who might only take from us. Even our attitudes about granting forgiveness are based upon an exchange with the offender. Relationships are rarely restored when offenses (debts) are made. Perhaps this consumption of relationships has contributed to the drastic rise in divorce rates.

Even Jesus addresses this consumeristic attitude toward relationships. In his “love your enemies” command he goes on to explain, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt. 5:46-47). It is natural (only human) to reserve our “pay outs” (i.e. love, greeting, etc.) for only those who return the “pay.” It’s a give-and-take consumer exchange.

Jesus calls us to a different attitude toward relationships. Perhaps we can call it the gospel approach to relationship. How does the gospel change our relationships?

We consume relationships because we have needs that we perceive will be met in those relationships. If our needs are not met, we move on to the next relationship. In the gospel, in the finished work of Jesus’ death and resurrection in securing our redemption and reconciliation with the Father, all of those needs are met. What are those needs and how does the gospel meet them? Let me use some language that Tim Keller uses in talking about these things.

1. We need to feel significant. We want to be someone special. Therefore we boast in what we accomplish and look to others to affirm our specialness. Because of Christ’s work for us, we are completely righteous, therefore we have nothing to prove. In the gospel we have the greatest affirmation: we are the children of God. All the posturing and strutting we do in front of others die away when we rest in God’s affirmation through Christ.

2. We need to feel secure. We want everything to be okay and to feel okay about ourselves. Therefore we are reticent to be transparent with others. Because of Christ’s work for us, though, we are completely forgiven, and therefore have nothing to hide. There might be no greater statement of security than Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” All of the facades we put up before others fade away when we rest in God’s forgiveness of us in Christ.

3. We need to feel accepted. We want to be liked. We want to fit in. We don’t want to be rejected. Therefore we aim to please others, and often compromise our own identity or convictions. Because of Christ’s work for us, though, we are completely loved, and therefore have nothing to fear. If there is anyone that we cannot please or fit in with, it is God. And yet, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). All of our fears of rejection are quieted when we rest God’s perfect love for us in Christ.

Let’s be gospel-people when we engage in relationships with others. Let’s be satisfied with all that God has done for us through Jesus, so that we can give of ourselves to others expecting nothing in return.


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