All people have a desire for approval and acceptance. When God made us in His image, He also gave us a natural yearning to be part of a community (Genesis 2:18). The problem arises when we try to satisfy our longing for others outside of God’s perspective and intention.
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Why is it vital to have a biblical view of relationships? Part of the answer is knowing the Trinity. Triune God has always existed in a community. Before His crowning achievement—man—the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoyed a mutually benefiting relationship with each other.
It makes sense that when He created man, a desire for community was an expected part of man’s longing. Before man’s fall in the Garden of Eden, this desire was a good thing because he was sinless. Adam had divinely-infused wiring to love God, to seek God, and to enjoy a reciprocal relationship with God. All was well with the man’s soul.
The Man Fell Down
When the man fell in the garden, things went wrong. Though his desire for a community did not change, his thoughts about relationships and how to participate in community radically changed. His fall had consequences, one of which was a twisted self-serving heart.
The post-Eden man is motivated to restore the brokenness in his heart through the love, acceptance, approval, and significance that he can get from others. This worldview makes him self-centered, not other-centered. Without the intervening power of the Spirit of God, he will never understand that what he needs is forgiveness and acceptance from God first, which will position him to need others less while empowering him to love them more.
As a fallen person, his twisted built-in desire for approval will compel him toward two errors in judgment: (1) He will seek love primarily in human relationships rather than in God and (2) his pursuit of human relationships will be mainly for self-serving purposes.
The post-Eden man will succumb to the temptation to use people rather than giving to others. His thoughts about relationships can be akin to the drug addict: it is only as good as what he can get out of it. His reasoning can be along these lines:
- I need your love; will you give me your love?
- If you give me your love, I will be your friend.
- If you don’t meet my expectations for love, I will look elsewhere.
Outside of a clear and practical understanding of the gospel, most people seek and build their relationships the way I have described. If the gospel does not become the primary motivator of a man’s thinking, he will finish his life with a string of broken relationships. Here are some helpful “starter questions” to help you think about you and your desire for acceptance.
- Do you need people? (Whatever it is that you need, will control you.)
- Do people control you—by their opinion of you, their rejection of you, or their praise of you?
- How does the gospel inform and motivate how you build with others?
- Whose approval matters the most to you: God’s or others?
False and Unsatisfying Lovers
When a man realizes that his real communal breakdown of the heart is between him and God, he will be on track toward restoring his soul the way God originally intended. If he does not biblically understand his communal breakdown of the heart, he will crave false lovers, with the hope of finding satisfying relationships. These fake lovers are his attempt to fill the void he senses in his soul. Here are a few false lovers.
Girlfriend (or boyfriend) is the teen’s number one answer for “filling the void” in their souls. Too many times, these relationships begin because the dad was not an active participant in the child’s life. As the child becomes a teen, she drifts from the hope of ever having a satisfying relationship with the number one male in her life and begins looking for other males to satisfy her desires.
Rarely will anyone admit what is truly going on in the heart of the teen. She is looking for love in all the wrong places. It is so commonplace in our culture that to speak against these artificial relationships is considered by some to be abnormal, harsh, or legalistic.
Pornography is one of the more common false lovers that men twist themselves into, with the hope of satisfying their craving for love. Porn is “easy and safe,” as the thinking goes. It is a make-believe world where the addict can feel a perverse experience of love. Porn for the guy can be similar to what a “chick-flick” or a romance novel can be to a girl. It’s an escape into a fantasy, where love is craved, felt, and experienced.
Career ambition is a massive trap for many folks. A career builder does not automatically mean a kingdom builder, though he can be. One of the more subtle twists of this kind of craving is when we spiritualize our pursuit of riches.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17
The ministry is probably the most subtle of all of the temptation-zones for the approval-driven individual. Rarely does anyone discuss this trap because it seems so right. “I’m doing the Lord’s work.” As odd as it may seem, there have been some men and women who were not “successful” in the world but found religion to be a ladder to climb to satisfy their lusts for attention, approval or acceptance.
Fact: Whatever or whoever you need will control you. This small, but powerful quote, is life-altering as it pertains to relationships. Do you “need” people? How you answer that question will determine the kind and quality of friendships that you will seek to build.
God’s World Is Different from Our World
To have healthy relationships, you must not think about them from the culture’s perspective. Fulfilling and satisfying relationships must come through the portal of God’s perspective and understanding. Let me illustrate my point this way: if I pour water out of a cup, the cup is emptier, right? Of course, that is right. It’s common sense. That is the way things work in our world.
What if I told you that in God’s world you could pour the water out and the cup would never diminish in quantity (1 Kings 17:14). If you think about it from our culture’s perspective, it is absurd, but in God’s world, it is true. Let me state my case this way: God is love, and when He “pours out” love to another person, there is no diminishing of Him in the least bit. That is the way love in God’s world works.
Key Idea – To give love does not diminish you of love, but to crave love will deplete you of love while filling you with lust. The lover has an enlarged soul while the craver of love experiences an always shrinking soul.
- In Adam, self-centeredness is native, standard, common sense, and expected.
- In Christ, other-centeredness is native, standard, common sense, and expected.
The fullest and most complete people who you will ever meet in your life are the ones who are the most selfless. The emptiest and most incomplete people who you will ever meet in your life are the most selfish.
Let the Gospel Be Your Guide
In Mark 10:45, we are given a hint as to how we should relate to others. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” The point and purpose of relationships should be motivated and sustained by this kind of gospel-centric mindset. Of course, this worldview begs the question, as some may ask: What’s in it for me?
- If I spend my life giving to others, what do I get out of it?
- What is the benefit of this kind of thinking and living?
These are gospel-deficient questions. Let me reiterate: The fullest and most complete people that you will ever meet are the ones who are the most selfless. The most empty and incomplete people who you will ever meet in your life are the most selfish. Notice how Paul answers the “what’s in it for me” question as it pertains to the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:25-27:
- Christ gave His life for another: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her – vs. 25
- He did this so He could save her: That he might sanctify her – vs. 26
- He will receive the work He put into her: So that he might present the church to Himself – vs. 27
We are talking about a gospel-centered activity here. Christ received the work of His hands in return for His selfless giving and dying. The Savior practiced what He preached. He did not come here for others to serve Him. His heart’s desire was to minister to others. Every argument or disagreement I have ever had with my wife happened because I set aside this kind of gospel-centered thinking in favor of placing myself in the center of my world while demanding that my wife meet my desires.
If Christ thought the way that I believed at those moments, there would be no cross, no gospel, no salvation, and no hope of ever being saved from ourselves. But when I do choose to live out the gospel in my marriage, not only am I enjoying the satisfying privilege of serving my wife, but I am becoming fuller as each day passes.
If the gospel is not the purpose behind how and why you build relationally, you will displace the Lord while moving yourself to the center of your relational world. This posture will not only fracture your relationships, but it will suck the life out of them.
- How does the gospel affect how you build relationally with others? Explain.
- Reflect on your last argument with someone. How did your practical imitation of the gospel impact the encounter?
- Do you believe you need people? If so, how does that belief and practice control how you build relationally?
- If you do “need” people, why is God not wholly satisfying, to where His love releases you from the bondage of being controlled by others?
A Case Study
Biff, a 54-year old IT consultant, said, “All I ever wanted was for my dad to accept me. He’s been dead for seven years, and I still long for his approval.” Bill’s perspective regarding his dad is not unusual. I have heard scores of stories from men and women, though they are adults now, who still long for the affirmation of their fathers.
A kind, wise, and thoughtful parent understands this potential relationship dysfunction in the lives of their children. They also realize that their child will only be satisfied after God saves them, which is why the essence of parenting is to guide a child to God.
If the parent does not parent with this kind of understanding, the child will likely long for love and affirmation in other places. Parents are called to guide their children to the only One who can satisfy their deepest longings (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Here is a small sampling of ways a parent can motivate or de-motivate a child to pursue God:
- Encouragement is one of the most common ways a dad can motivate his child. Paul expected us to understand this when he said that it was the “kindness of God that leads to change” (Romans 2:4). A kind word or a kind acknowledgment from a parent can have a remarkable shaping influence on any child.
- Harshness could be considered the opposite of encouragement. A harsh or unkind parent should not be surprised when their teen is more interested in unwise encounters with the opposite sex.
- Silence and passivity are not neutral behaviors. God is a speaking God, and a parent who does not talk regularly or actively engage with their kids will live to regret their lack of gospel-motivated modeling.
Call to Action
Jesus told us in Luke 6:45 that out of our hearts our mouths speak. Imagine the practical ramifications if our hearts were amazed and affected by the gospel.
- Explain how the gospel affects your speech patterns.
- Are your friends more aware of your displeasure with them or your pleasure in them?
- Will you talk to someone soon about the content of this article? Will you share it with a friend?
Also published on Medium.