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Chapter 11 - Degrees of Relationship
While the family represents the potential for the deepest of human relationships, there are many relationship levels reflecting differing degrees of investment.
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked about having such limited time that to add a new friend would require one of his present friends to pass on. This observation reflects a condition of relationship which is the spending or investing of resources such as time, personal information, interest, a willingness to be called upon, and the extension of trust that one’s investment won’t be wasted.
There is a degree of familiarity resulting from proximity such as with classmates, neighbors, or coworkers. While proximity may establish acquaintanceship, deeper relationship has to proceed from a desire for it on the part of both parties.
For the Christian, our foremost relationship is with God. The ultimate goal of our relationship with God is for us to become so much like Jesus, that we could be called 'one'. In this we have the example of Jesus and the Father.
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. - John 17:11
Our relationship with God starts when we believe in the gospel and trust in Jesus. It is at this point we become 'born again', the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father all reside in us, and we have extended to us everything we need to become like Jesus. The problem with our relationship with God is on our side. Too often we are negligent, distracted, and half-hearted.
It is common for a young man or woman to spend a lot of time with their friends. However, after they marry, their friends discover that the relationship they had lessens because they have a new priority in their life. The depth of relationship can change (usually decrease) as a result of moving, changing jobs, or even just having new interests.
It is relatively easy to form friendships in ones youth as there frequently is the time available for shared interests, activities, and even adventures. As one grows and takes on responsibilities ones values change and what one sees as important can result in a neglect and even forsaking of old friends. Sometimes this can be beneficial, especially of ones friends were a harmful influence. However, it is also possible to neglect those whose friendship was beneficial. For example, it is not uncommon over time for one to lose ones enthusiasm for God.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. - Revelation 2:4-5
Often a relationship between two coworkers will fade if one of them takes a different job. It may have been two women who frequently went shopping together or two men who went fishing, but if the element of proximity changes, the basis for the relationship is removed and slowly joint activity diminishes until it fades completely. Parents of an 'empty nest' also understand how even familial relationships change.
In the TV mini-series Band of Brothers the relationship between men who had come to depend on each other for their very survival is portrayed as deeper than the relationship one would have with a brother. However, at the end of the war, they already are beginning to go their separate ways. Even as intense and close as it can be, a relationship based of circumstance will fade when the circumstances change.
The bible uses the illustration of marriage to describe our relationship with God. In the Old Testament Israel was frequently called an adulterous wife (for her abandonment of God and practice of idolatry) and in the New Testament Christians are called the bride of Christ. The reason for this is that our relationship with God (unlike a transient relationship with a coworker) is one that once is entered into is supposed to last forever.
In a marriage, one anticipates an ever deepening relationship as love grows and two people draw increasingly closer to each other. However, many do not experience this deepening relationship. Often it is because of divided interests. This also frequently limits our relationship with God.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. - Matthew 6:24
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. - James 4:4
It is understood that we will have multiple relationships. However, it is expected that we will not have poisonous relationships (such as friendship with the world). Within those relationships we have that are healthy, we need to consider which has priority. The phrase 'God, family, work' has been used to show a relationship priority in life.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. - Luke 14:26
The Greek word hate (miseo) is used here to clearly differentiate the priority we are to give to our relationship with God. An often overlooked perspective here is that we are unable to have a deeper relationship with our family without a deeper relationship with God. It is only through our relationship with God that we can grow in selfless love that becomes the means of deeper relationship of any kind.
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