God’s Word really does open up to us the mysteries of the universe. It really does make us wiser than we could ever be without it. And yet, having said all this, it's sad that we don’t take more advantage of this wisdom God has given us. It's sad that we don’t think his thoughts after him, that we don’t require ourselves to look at life through the lens of his revelation. It's sad that we swindle ourselves into thinking that we are wiser than we are. We're not irritated by his foolishness, nor are we motivated to seek his help. One of the places you see this most clearly is in the struggles we experience in our relationships.
Why have I reminded you of all this? I encounter people everywhere I go who are discouraged and confused about their relationships. I want you to think about your own relationships and look at them through three perspectives derived from biblical wisdom. These mentalities are essential in creating and sustaining a healthy relational lifestyle.
1) You must live in your relationships with a harvest mentality.
Paul captures this mentality with these very familiar words: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). This is an essential mentality if you want to live with habits of reconciliation. You have to buy into the principle of consequences. Here it is: there is an organic relationship between the seeds you plant and the fruit you harvest. In the physical world you will never plant peach pits and get apples. In the same way, there will be organic consistency between the seeds of words and actions that you plant in your relationships and the quality of harvest that you will experience later as you live and relate to one another.
Every day you harvest relational plants that have come from the seeds of words and actions that you previously planted. And every day you plant seeds of words and actions that you will later harvest. Most of the seeds you plant will be small, but one thousand small seeds that grow up into trees will result in an environment-changing forest. Your relationships are continuously planted with little-moment seeds of words and actions grow into the forest of either love or trouble.
2) You must live in your relationships with an investment mentality.
We are all treasure hunters. We all live to gain, maintain, keep, and enjoy things that are valuable to us. Our behavior in any given situation of life is our attempt to get what is valuable to us out of that situation. There are things in your life that you have assigned importance to, and once you have, you are no longer willing to live without them (these principles are laid out in Matthew 6:19–33). Everyone does it. We live to possess and experience the things upon which we have set our hearts. We are always living for some kind of treasure.
Every treasure you set your heart on and actively seek will give you some kind of return. An argumentative moment is an investment in the treasure of being right, and from it you will get some kind of relational return. If you aggressively argue the other person into a corner, it is not likely that the return on that investment will be his or her appreciation for you, nor will it be the desire to have similar conversations again. If you invest in the treasure of willing service, you will experience the return of appreciation, respect, and a deeper friendship. If it is more valuable to have control than it is for your friend or spouse to feel heard, loved and understood, then you will live with the return of that in the quality of your relationship.
Investment is inescapable; you do it everyday, and it's hard to get away from the return on the investments you have made. Ask yourself,
What are the things that are valuable to me right now, the things I work to experience everyday and am unwilling to live without?
How is the return on those investments shaping my relationships?
3) You must live in your relationships with a grace mentality.
When I got married, I didn’t understand grace. I had a principle-istic view of Scripture that caused me to bring a law economy into all of my relationships. The central focus of the Bible is not a set of practical principles for life. No, the central theme of the Bible is a person, Jesus Christ. If all you and I had needed was a knowledge and understanding of a certain set of God-revealed principles for living, Jesus would not have needed to come.
I think there are many Christians living in Christless relationships. Without knowing what they have done, they have constructed law-based rather than grace-based relationships. And because of this they're asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish.
The problem with this is that we are not just people in need of wisdom; we are also people in need of rescue—and the thing that we need to be rescued from is us. Our fundamental problem is not ignorance of what is right. Our problem is selfishness of heart that causes us to care more about what we want than about what we know is right. The laws, principles, and perspectives of Scripture provide the best standard ever towards which our relationships should strive. They can reveal our wrongs and failures, but they have no capacity whatsoever to deliver us from them. For that we need the daily grace that only Jesus can give us.
So, we must not simply hold one another to the high relational standards of God’s Word, but we must also daily offer the same grace that we have been given to one another so that we may be tools of grace in the lives of one another. Our confidence is not in the ability we have to keep God’s law but rather in the life-giving and heart-transforming grace of the one who has drawn us to himself and has the power to draw us to one another. When we live with this confidence, we look at the difficulties of our relationships not so much as hassles to be endured, but as opportunities to enter into an even deeper experience of the rescuing, transforming, forgiving, empowering grace of Jesus, the one who died for us and is always with us.
Three mentalities—each an essential building block for a healthy biblical, relational lifestyle. Each require the honesty of personal humility, and each encourage us to be reconciled to one another and to God again and again, and again.