Jesus Knowing Christ
Engaging the Intimate
Engaging the Intimate Relational Process
Spirituality Study For a printer-friendly pdf file click here
Chapter 8 Extending The Relationship
The Church as Equalizer
Study Guide for chap. 8
Study Guide for chap. 8
And the second is like it.
The exciting thing about the relational process is its dynamic nature, always opening the relationship to adventure and affording us opportunities for greater discovery. The unfortunate, even discouraging thing is that this doesn't happen in a simple progression, in a smooth predictable fashion. If you depend on convenient results, if you need to remain under control, then you will probably minimize the relational work necessary for continued growth. If you want to go to the next level and experience deeper relationship, the relational process must (dei, by its nature, not out of obligation) be engaged further together with God. In addition to this cooperative effort between God and us, there is a corporate effort among his people extending the relationship.
Relational work involves our heart and our will. Both of these need to undergo increasing transformation in order to be involved with God. This is the work of his Spirit. Relational work is not unilateral but the cooperative effort of each of us taking up our relational responsibility.
For much of my Christian life, I didn't consistently engage the active presence of the Spirit. If you're like this, then you understand how we tend to use the Spirit only to do things--and probably only when we perceive the need. This begs the question: was the Spirit given for us to do something or be someone?
[The Spirit's] main function and purpose is relational work.
So often the Spirit is the forgotten person, not in our beliefs or words but in this relational process. But his main function and purpose is relational work. He brings us and our relationship with God to completion, to the total development of God's design and purpose. The Spirit is the one who works out the process of transformation for us to functionally develop from thinking relational and acting relational to further maturity in being relational. Let's examine this development.
I think the single most significant verse related to the Spirit is Jesus' promise: "I will not leave you as orphans" (Jn 14:18). The word "leave" (Gk. aphiemi) means to let go from oneself, essentially abandon to a condition deprived of one's parents, which in the context of biblical times was an unprotected, helpless position. This may not have much emotional identification for you if you have parents. But the significance of the condition is relational, not situational. In relational terms the condition of the relationship can be further described as disconnected, detached, separated, distant. This may bring it closer to our experience. Whenever we feel distant from God, disconnected or don't know where he is, we are experiencing the condition of relational orphans.
Since Jesus was leaving physically, he would continue to make connection with his followers through the person of his Spirit ("I will come to you"). As Jesus requested of the Father in the bond of their relationship, he "will give you" (Jn 14:16), "will send" (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:7) another Paraclete. "Another" (Gk.allos) means another of equal quality, not another of different quality (heteros). So, the Spirit is defined by Jesus as equal to himself; in a relational sense they are interchangeable. "Paraclete" (Gk. parakletos) is one who comes forward on behalf of and as the representative of another in order to comfort, encourage, counsel, help. Whatever title or role you want to give the Spirit, he serves a relational function.
The Spirit's main purpose is relational: to help us to be connected with God (Jn 14:26;15:26) and to grow in this relationship (Jn 16:13-15). With the departure of Jesus, the Spirit is vitally necessary and important for us in order to continue an intimate relational connection with Christ. He is the extension of Jesus' person: "He will not speak on his own ... only what he hears ... will take from what is mine and make it known to you." Furthermore, as Jesus' relational substitute of equal quality, the Spirit extends and completes the relational process that Jesus vulnerably established. He will deepen the relationship and bring it to wholeness and fulfill all that is involved in making it complete. That's why Jesus said it was for our benefit (Gk. symphero) that he went and the Spirit came (Jn 16:7).
This is the Spirit's function. Since he is present with us for the rest of our earthly journey (Jn 14:17b), it is important for us to examine how we relate to him. We constrain his person when we only use him to help us do something, even if it's serving and ministry (diakoneo); we grieve him when we ignore his presence and function. While the Spirit does help us serve, it's to help us be someone in our relational responsibility. The fruits of the Spirit basically involve relational work (see Gal 5:22-23, and context). This someone is relationally-specific to the Creator's design and purpose and the Father's desires for which we need to be transformed in order to experience. The Spirit works cooperatively with us for this relational outcome.
The Spirit is here to keep expanding our experience of intimacy with Christ.
Paul expands on Jesus' words about the Spirit. It's the Spirit's work in our "inner person" that "empowers us to be able" (Gk. dynamis, Eph 3:16) to continue "to establish Christ's dwelling" (Gk. katoikeo), meaning more than Jesus' mere presence but also deep relational connection in our hearts. His work is in cooperation with our intimate trust ("faith", 3:17). The Spirit's relational work also has the outcome of comprehending ("grasp") Christ's involvement ("love") with us and intimately experiencing it in our hearts ("know") such that we are fully satisfied from directly sharing in God's very own life (3:18-19). The Spirit is here to keep expanding our experience of intimacy with Christ. In his relational work the Spirit takes us far beyond ("immeasurably more") all we can ask or imagine (3:20).
The Spirit is here to functionally accomplish the process of our transformation so that we will live relationally-specific to the Father's desires. This process is specifically indicated by Paul in Romans 8 when he described the differences in relationship of those who aren't free (like slaves) and those who are (sons or daughters). A person is condemned because they are not justified by Christ and thus redeemed, set free (Rom 8:3). A son or daughter is not condemned because they are (8:1-4). But let's look at this distinction as if both were Christians. We know this truth theologically but we also know that this is often not our practical experience. At times we feel bad about ourselves and live unaware that we are under the constraints of condemnation, thus not being free. So, a very real issue for those who have been justified and redeemed by Christ is how are we going to live--as a free person or a virtual slave?
The influence of our old self focuses us on matters which constrain our person and limit our relationships, especially with God (8:5a). Apart from the obvious sins of rebellion that Paul discussed, which are hostile to God (8:7), the more subtle areas of our inner person directly relate to the issue of "how we define ourselves." Essentially, the matter of how we are going to live becomes the issue of trying to measure up, establish our self-worth and, in terms of relationships, be accepted and loved. This effort actually leads to greater distance in relationships (8:7,8), even broken relationships ("death", 8:6a), not to mention its controlling effects from pressure and fear (8:15a). This should not be surprising because Satan creates many lies about this effort for us to live by, which are in subtle conflict with the truth. Remember his goal for Christians: to distance us from our heart and to interfere in our relationship with God.
The presence and work of the Spirit is strongly contrasted with this old self and this effort. First, the Spirit redeems ("set free") us from the old (8:2) and transforms us to the new (8:5b). His transforming work leads us to intimate relational connection (reconciliation, "life") and wholeness, deep satisfaction ("peace", 8:6b). Ultimately, the Spirit's relational function makes it possible for us to fulfill God's purpose and desires underlying his law: relationships and intimate connections of the heart that express love. Whereas the Christian controlled by the old is unable to please God, the Christian being transformed to the new by the Spirit lives relationally-specific to the Father's desires (8:7,8).
The Christian working relationally with the Spirit has a different and opposite mindset than those doing it alone (8:5-8). Paul said Christians have "an obligation" (Gk. opheiletes, a debtor, one indebted for favors, 8:12) to define ourselves and do relationships according to the grace and truth of Christ's relational work and the reality of his Spirit's presence and function in us (8:9-13). Yet, despite his presence as a further expression of God's favor, we constrain his function by remaining tied to the old--specifically by defining ourselves by what we do and have, and the relationships which follow that mindset.
The old mindset disrupts this process and prevents this most significant of relational outcomes . . . .
The relational work of his Spirit is operative only in those Christians who practice living free, that is, those who actually function as God's sons and daughters (8:14). At the same time, we need the Spirit's work to help us function and experience being his children (8:15b-17). This reflects the cooperative and reflexive nature of this process that goes back and forth between us. The old mindset disrupts this process and prevents this most significant of relational outcomes: the freedom to live as his son or daughter and the intimate relational experience of him as "my Father" (8:15b), person-to-person, heart-to- heart. Even in our weakness and limitations in this relational work to make intimate connection with God at times, the Spirit's relational work will help us especially at those moments to make the connection (8:26,27).
But the Spirit's relational work is not unilateral; he works cooperatively with us. Though he stirs in our hearts and convicts us, he does not impose his work on us. We can constrain his person and grieve him. I think the most significant matter that interferes with this working relationship is fear, That's why Paul contrasts being controlled by fear with the relational experience of his son and daughter (8:15). Fear, in one form or another (from doubt to distrust), to one degree or another (from hesitation to panic), is the dominant motivating force for human action. Can you think of anything stronger which drives us than fear? Are you aware of anything which controls/enslaves us more than fear? Fear can dominate our lives. Whatever its form or degree, fear prevents our heart from being vulnerable, and distances us in our relationships if left unattended.
His person is here to insure the ongoing intimate relational connection between the Father and his sons and daughters. And he will bring those relationships to completion, transforming us to be like Jesus as his family, just as the Father desires (8:29). This is the relational outcome we confidently know in our hearts (oida) that we can expect, as those deeply involved with him (agape) and relationally responding to his purpose and design (prothesis, 8:28). The presence and function of his person guarantees it when not constrained nor grieved.
It's acutely clear why Jesus sent us his Spirit and the need he fulfills in us in order to extend the intimate relationship he established by his person and words. We must (dei) realize this need in our daily practice so that we can also experience its relational fulfillment.
My relationship with God doesn't revolve around us; that is, it's not focused only on him and me. He broadens our relational context. The relationship extends to others by design, purpose and command. This is where the cooperative effort with his Spirit extends to the corporate effort of his people. In this process we go from not only being a member of his family as an individual but also to actively involving ourselves in the actual practice of being family together with his children. This may make us most uncomfortable and even provoke the most ambivalence in developing intimacy with God.
Family (in God's plan and desires, Rom 8:29) establishes the corporate relational process of our relationship with God. It was clearly because of the Father's family love extended to us by his Son that any of us are able to be his son or daughter. Because of it and the Spirit's cooperative effort, we can grow together in actually being his family and in building it as his family love is extended to others. But the process of developing family does not limit relational connections, for example, to the activities shared at church. It will not allow the relationships between God's people to remain distant, shallow, casual, situational or independent. Such relationships are not of God's nature, nor do they reflect the relationships between the three persons of the Godhead, their involvement with each other as well as with us. Family relationships are based on the relationships in the Godhead, so the corporate process is an extension of their intimate involvement (Jn 17:20-23).
Any other kind of relationship and involvement does not reflect God's design and purpose, nor fulfills his desires for his people. That has been problematic in what we've experienced with each other at church and what others outside the church have observed about us. When Jesus gave us the second greatest commandment (Mt 22:39) and a new one (Jn 13:34), he extended the relationship of the greatest commandment (Mt 22:37) and our relational experience with him to others. Others involves two distinct groups. The new command tells his people how to be involved with each other; the second greatest tells us how to be involved with all others. This is how God is, how he's involved within the Godhead, how he's involved with us, how he wants us to be involved with him and how he wants us to extend that relationship and involvement to others.
In God's plan . . . individuals alone are incapable of fulfilling his mission.
What is the significance of this involvement (agape) in the corporate process? This process not only extends it to others but it also broadens it to take in God's big picture. In God's plan for redemptive history and all of creation, individuals alone are incapable of fulfilling his mission, no matter how many individuals and how much involvement. This could only be accomplished by the relational work of the church functioning corporately as family. That means redefining our individualistic ways to the whole of family, which certainly requires a deeper set of relationships.
Familywas fundamental for Jesus' person and words and basic to how he lived. Though he didn't talk much about it, he addressed the issue as it emerged in different situations. As I noted earlier, family involvement for him was not as we usually see it or feel obligated by it. I think the most beautiful example of the corporate process of family occurred at the crucifixion. While Jesus was in anguish on the cross and those closest to him were in distress, a remarkable interaction took place which epitomized the family love to be practiced by his church. With agape involvement which didn't focus on even reasonable self-concern, he focused on his mother, Mary, and the disciple he loved in a special way, John (Jn 19:25ff). Then, he said to each of them with love and affection: "Here is your son," "Here is your mother" (19:26,27). From these words John acted beyond a mere disciple, and took Mary into "his own" (Gk. idios, one's own, denotes special relationship, 19:27). He didn't just take her in his house; he embraced Mary as his own mother. She must have embraced him also as her son.
There is a lot for us to reflect on here: circumstances, culture, family, Jesus' promise. All of these make this a remarkable moment in Jesus' life and in the development of his church.
Apparently, Mary had been a widow for awhile. In biblical times, a widow was in a precarious position (like orphans), and so it was for Mary, particularly when her eldest and primary son was about to die. Their culture called for the eldest son to make provision for parents when they could no longer provide for themselves. The biological family had this responsibility. And though a widow, Mary still had other sons and daughters to care for her (Mk 6:3). So, why did Jesus delegate this responsibility to someone outside the immediate family?
Though circumstances, culture and family converge on this scene, they don't each exert the same amount of influence. I suggest that Jesus wasn't fulfilling his duty as the eldest son, nor bound by the circumstances. He is taking us beyond culture and circumstances, even beyond family as we commonly view it. Remember what Jesus said about his family (Mt 12:47-50). It seems that Mary was not merely Jesus' earthly mother but increasingly his follower. She was not at odds with Jesus during his earthly ministry like his brothers. She was there for him in her role as mother but more importantly she was there with him as one who did the Father's will--as follower, daughter, sister.
This touching interaction was Jesus' involvement with and response to his family. It was the beautiful outworking of family love in the corporate process of being family and building it. For this definite purpose and reason, it was just as much for John's benefit as it was for Mary--both in provision and opportunity. What each of them let go of in order to follow Jesus, he promised them an even greater family (Mk 10:29-30). True to his words as ever, he was fulfilling his promise to them. Even beyond that, he established them in the corporate relational process which is necessary to keep fulfilling his promise and to extend this relationship to others.
We cannot subordinate the significance of this set of words by Jesus. They are as important as his other last words on the cross. They characterize God's kingdom, what it means to be community and to build his church. This is how God wants his people to live in relational significance--and to be relationally-specific to others. We need to discover others better in our experience together. He wants to take us to a level beyond what we can imagine. Are we willing to go beyond what we've been used to?
We have discussed how we define ourselves and how we do relationships throughout our study. Now we need to focus more on the related third issue of concern in our practice: how we do church. This will only be an introductory discussion, with a more in-depth discussion undertaken in the study just noted.
Technically, the church didn't start until after Jesus went and the Spirit came. Nevertheless Jesus practiced the process fundamental to church and laid the groundwork for it. This groundwork involved how to define ourselves and how to do relationships. His later words revealed in visions to Peter (Acts 10:9-16) and John (Rev 2 and 3) tell us further what's important to him and how to do church.
When Jesus patiently pursued Peter, when he truthfully in love interacted with various followers and firmly dealt with religious practitioners, he always focused them on how they defined themselves and the need to be transformed in their heart. That transformation was needed because in one way or another they all defined themselves from the outside in. Whether it was by what they did, had, presented of themselves or how they appeared to others, they focused on less important areas and formed identities based on matters secondary to their heart. Jesus redefined the person from the inside out and thus revealed the need for transformation.
How we define ourselves is always relationally-specific because these perceptions and practices carry over to the way we do relationships. When the depth of our total person, for example, is not the primary focus of our efforts in life, then our relationships will reflect secondary emphases also. The relational consequence is that our relationships become characterized by relational distance. This distance is not measured by the amount of conversations or activities with each other, nor by the length of time together. This distance is measured by the quality of inner connection persons make with one another.
As we tend to define ourselves from the outside in, we tend to do church from the external to the internal.
The relational significance for Christians in how we define ourselves and do relationships is that these perceptions and practices carry over to how we do church--along with, of course, influencing our relationship with God. As we tend to define ourselves from the outside in, we tend to do church from the external to the internal. Our language may express the opposite. But it's what we practice and focus on in church programs which reveal our actual emphases. How would you characterize the relationships in your church experience?
When our church efforts focus on less important areas, there can be some surprising relational consequences, which obviously would be unintentional. There is an explicit or implicit desire (maybe need) to make churchgoers feel good. The thinking could be that church is the one place in society people can count on for support. People should go home from church feeling better. Was this the way we saw Jesus "doing church" when persons came to him?
God is not into making us all feel good. When you think about what "feeling good" has come to mean in our society, how people in general perceive it today, so much of it depends on external circumstances or secondary matters. Christian culture mimics this perspective and practices "feeling good" more as "happy with one's circumstances" than as "blessed (makarios) with the satisfaction of sharing in God's life." Relational meaning becomes lost, even in our Christian language which talks of relationship but doesn't experience the relational outcome of the blessed. We may go away happy but we always need to understand its relational significance.
This consequence happens for a reason. "Feeling good" (about circumstances) actually gets us away from the reality of life and what's in our heart. This secondary focus distances us from our heart by increasingly making us less vulnerable. It makes us less vulnerable to the feelings, desires and needs in our own heart. With these emphases we would also be less vulnerable in relationships.
Reflect on this process for a moment. If defining ourselves focuses on less important areas and on matters secondary to the heart, we will practice a less vulnerable lifestyle resulting in greater distance (in terms of awareness, response, satisfaction) from our heart. So, then, what exactly does "feeling good" mean in these conditions; what really feels good when we're not vulnerable?
I think two things are influencing this process, making it difficult to sort things out. First, in order to have a "feel good" conclusion without being vulnerable means that we have to formulate perceptions, impressions, even illusions about the Christian life which will give us this interpretation. Outside influences already formulate most of our perceptions and some of our impressions. But it's from within the church that specific illusions are formulated about the Christian life, and what we personally are supposed to have and experience. This is why even a pervasive Christian culture must come under the scrutiny of Scripture, particularly the person and words of Jesus.
Secondly, this process is compounded because of Satan's counter-relational work. "Feel good" is what Satan wants us to think about because his goal is to distance Christians from their heart. And he wants us to have a false sense of feeling good in our Christian life because that gets us further from the deeper substance of intimacy with God. As long as he can get us to substitute feeling good for direct relational experience, he is accomplishing his goal. When the church tries to make us feel good or the like, it in effect is fostering his illusions and playing right into Satan's masquerade (2 Cor 11:13-15).
The Relationship of Fellowship
The effects of less-than-significant relationships in a church impact the church at the center of its life: its fellowship. In scriptural usage, the word fellowship comes from the same root word in Greek (koin) as the word for communion. Basically it includes a common bond among its participants which distinctly involves having a share in something together. The fellowship of the church involves having a common experiential share together in the redemptive work of Christ, God's intimate grace and the relational presence and work of the Holy Spirit. This communal bond is based on the deep relational reality of what the believers are and experience in relationship with Jesus Christ. It also involves no sense of the independence and individualism characterizing church participation today. There was a definite sense of the individual but never separated from the whole and always in deference to the sake of the whole.
Fellowship is also relationally specific for which there is no substitute in its relational connections.
Fellowship has come to mean a variety of ideas and practices in church, mostly based on how we define ourselves and do relationships. Its meaning in Scripture, however, does not allow the freedom and latitude to define it by our convenience. Fellowship is also relationally specific for which there is no substitute in its relational connections. Fellowship operates only on the basis of relationships. These relationships are primary and God clearly holds us accountable for them, as Jesus revealed in his visions to Peter and John.
In contrast to what we may like to assume about or ascribe to our practices of fellowship, biblical fellowship implies an inner, deeper relationship between the believers. Based on the deep reality of being transformed by the Spirit and new in Christ, this fellowship can only be fully realized through the further outworking of transformed relationships. That is, this is the experience of transformed persons engaged in relational work to build transformed relationships with each other. What is critical for us to actually put this into operation in our churches is the truth that:what characterizes transformation in relationships (with God and others) is the elimination of distance and the cultivation of intimacy.
With some exceptions noted earlier, persons in the OT didn't experience closeness (Heb. haber or Gk. koinon) with God. Righteous persons regarded themselves as servants dependent on God but not as the friend of God. Obviously, this distance radically changed with the vulnerable presence and work of the person Jesus, tearing down the barriers ("the veil") between God and his people. This transformed our relationship with God and opened the relational process to deep and intimate communion together. It is this communion which is exalted in the Lord's Supper. In this intimate communion with the person of Christ arises also the deepest fellowship (common share in) and intimacy among his people. This is why the church is at its height in the worship of God at our Lord's table.
All this points to the close communion that is now a fact in the life of God's people, though may yet to be practiced. God holds us accountable for this truth and the practice of this relational reality because he wants so much for us. Our relationships can indeed also be transformed and distance no longer needs to characterize them. To share anything in common together in a truly meaningful way is not the outcome of having membership in a structure called church, of participating in service or activities together or of sharing in certain situations and circumstances; fellowship is the outcome and function only of interperson relationships. Even more so, to share new life together in a vital, ongoing process is a function of intimate relationships. When God's people actually get down to the ongoing adventure of sharing life together and the discovery of the new, this specific relationship increasingly becomes identified, necessary and worked on.
There is another major effort churches make as a result of focusing on less important areas which needs to be discussed. Because of the emphasis on what we do, accomplish and have, it is important for us to have results. We depend on results for the indicators of our success. Without results we are neither assured by our efforts nor satisfied. Consequently, we get so focused on results that we usually overlook the process involved in getting those results. The relational process (the relationships involved and affected) in particular seems to get lost. We also tend to strain under the illusion that we are responsible for the results, that we are the ones who bring about the results, precluding the cooperative effort with the Spirit. Getting the results then becomes the major thing or only thing. The mentality is analogous to business with its "bottom line" and to sports where "winning is the only thing."
When results are overemphasized, we become predisposed to compromise.
When results are overemphasized, we become predisposed to compromise--whatever the area of life. In overlooking the process, for example, we are easily susceptible to tweaking our ethics or redefining them in order to get those results. This is a problem in more and more areas of life as the credibility of participants and the validity of results come under scrutiny. Whether in business, sports, formal education and even science, ethics has become increasingly only a means justifying the end results; therefore, ethics is compromised and becomes relative. The need for results does this to us, individually and corporately.
God says "No!"--the process is important. Ethics have, for example, an absolute basis. How we do things is important because it reflects the character of our person and what we are. These cannot be compromised. Yet, how have we been affected by doing church for results. The effects can be seen not in terms of unethical practices but in overlooking the process-- the relational process. We have to examine where the relationships are and what they are in the so-called results we are getting.
In our push for results or to make churchgoers feel good, we focus on providing for them in the church's programs. What happens in this effort is that we start treating them essentially like consumers. Where are the relationships in this context and what are they? The need for results also has a way of taking control of our lives. When it does, how can we make the distinction in our practice between a slave and son/daughter? Further, if we give account of our church, will it be about how manyare saved, how many have eternal life, how many members we have?
I think it's important to examine the validity of our church results. If we get past our stated ideals and a church's perceived image (even reputation) and examine our effectiveness at doing church, here is what we need to account for:
(1) How many of those who are saved are "making every effort" (as Jesus said) in therelational work necessary to intimately share in God's life and participate in his family? Luke 13:23ff
Note: There is a distinct difference between a popular church of the majority mindset (the common) and an authentic church which only has a minority perspective (the uncommon).
(2) How many of those who profess to have eternal life are actually experiencing knowing the Father and Jesus in intimate relationship, as Jesus vulnerably revealed? John 17:3
Note: We talk about non-Christians as those who don't know Christ. Well, there are many Christians who don't know him either.
(3) Regarding church membership, how many actual disciples of Jesus make up our church? Matthew 28:19
Note: Church is not a voluntary association (like service or civic groups) of those who believe Christ at their convenience. It is the corporate process of those who are engaged in the relational process of discipleship. Jesus didn't make this optional.
If we are Christ's body, then this is why Jesus incarnated, what he brought in his person and words, what he vulnerably established. This is what church is all about. Results in church which don't have these relationships, this relational process and its outcomes aren't significant to God. Jesus, in fact, said some strong words about these results and how we do church.
In his vision to John, there are three churches in particular which Jesus highlights for us to take to heart (Rev 2 and 3). These are particularly relevant for us today because they illustrate how these three churches did church based on how they defined themselves and how they did relationships.
The first church is in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7). Jesus acknowledged their "deeds" (Gk. ergon, works denoting comprehensively what they are and how they act), their "hard work" (Gk. kopos, denotes not so much the actual effort but the weariness experienced from that effort) and their "perseverance" (Gk. hypomone, endurance as to things and circumstances, in contrast to patience toward persons; character that does not allow losing to circumstances). Along with the rest of their efforts (2:2,3) this all tells us how they were, what they did and were involved in.
They were very, very active in church work. Plus they maintained the doctrinal purity of the church and even suffered repercussions for Christ's name. Through it all they held up and remained constant in their faith. This can certainly describe a number of successful churches in our time.
Jesus wasn't impressed, but felt to the contrary about what they were doing. "You have forsaken your first love" (2:4). In all the positives we would affirm about this church, how could this happen? If it wasn't Jesus saying this, we would probably dismiss such a charge. This is serious church business and important to account for in how we do church ourselves.
"Forsaken" (Gk. aphiemi) means to forsake, abandon persons, to leave, let go from oneself or let alone. It's the same word Jesus used in his promise not to leave us as orphans (Jn 14:18). This strongly implies not paying attention to persons and relationships. They worked hard for God but the relational process got lost in the effort. This often happens as churches develop and the goals of church growth become the priority of church practice. As the word for "perseverance" denotes, they were so focused on circumstances and situations that persons (especially God) were forgotten, left alone or emotionally abandoned. In spite of all the positives, the relationships weren't there. They did not have agape involvement, which is only what is significant to God. They didn't have this relational involvement because they were focused on what they did. Albeit with sincere, good intentions, their interests were on less important areas (secondary in fact) with relational consequences, because these interests ultimately have more to do with "ourselves" than with God and others.
The basic complaint against them that we need to examine in ourselves was that, in all they were doing (which was a lot) as a church and as Christians, they were not relational. Relationships were not their primary priority; therefore, they were not loving--they lacked the best and strongest indicator of God's people (Jn 13:35). There is a direct correlation between the priority we give relationships and the extent to which we are loving. Whether Jesus' complaint against Ephesus includes both their relationship with God and with others is not clearly indicated in the passage. But we can strongly infer that it includes all their relationships because what they emphasized in their work reflected how they defined themselves, which further determined how they did relationships.
This church didn't seem to take up Jesus' challenge: "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy [compassion], not sacrifice'" (Mt 9:13). The context here emphasized relational involvement (agape) which the full quote from Hosea expands on: "... and knowledge of God rather than ... " (Hos 6:6); that is, God wants love (Heb. hesed) and knowledge of him gained from intimate involvement over anything else done for him. Church work never supersedes relationships.
This all tells us what's pleasing to God and what is necessary for him.
This all tells us what's pleasing to God and what is necessary for him. Our faith which merely works without the ongoing relational involvement of intimate trust is dead also (to supplement James 2:17,18 and expand on Hebrews 11:6a), because the relationship is the most important matter to God. Thus, serving him requires the intimate relational process of following him (Jn 12:26); any service without it is not relationally significant to God. Furthermore, persons are not free to love when they are living functionally like slaves because of the controlling effects of defining themselves by what they do (Jn 8:31-36).
The second church for us to take to heart was in Sardis (Rev 3:1-6). They had "a reputation of being alive." "Reputation" (Gk. onoma) is used as the substitute or representative of a person himself. The church there lived behind their reputation. But Jesus knew their "deeds" (ergon) and what that really said about what they were and how they acted. In actuality, they were "dead" (Gk. nekros), useless, vitiated, the condition of being separated from the source of life, therefore being unaccompanied by something. Here we see that tension from conflict between appearance and reality when there is a gap between them.
Though Sardis had the reputation of being alive, there was no accompanying substance to their appearance and image. The substance of life was missing which meant the church operated somewhat like a "virtual reality." Their credibility was exposed as worthless and the validity of their work was insignificant. These are severe judgments to make on a church which at least was doing something. The tension, however, from the gap between what appears so and what really exists is not readily apparent when a church relies on what it does. Reputation becomes one of those valued indicators of success. And many churches depend on that kind of feedback to evaluate their work. Yet, if everyone who gives that feedback measures a church's work by the same inadequate definition, then how do we get an accurate accounting?
Jesus said "Wake up!" (Rev 3:2). The sense of this two-word combination is to emerge as a new, whole, total person. They needed to become transformed persons because they defined themselves from the outside in and didn't give full importance to the total person (especially the heart). Living this way determined how they did relationships and influenced how they did church. That's why Jesus said further "I have not found your deeds complete." That is, the way they lived and did church work was not complete because it wasn't fulfilling its purpose according to God's plan and desires--which are all relationally specific. In the common perception of the majority who likewise define themselves from the outside in, this church was "alive" in its purpose and highly respected.
Sardis' incomplete efforts reflect how they did relationships and how they did church from the external to the internal.
Sardis' incomplete efforts reflected how they did relationships and how they did church from the external to the internal. This affected their relationships with God and with each other. Jesus called them back to what they "received" (lambano, 3:3) in John 1:12, to embrace and follow as a teacher--that is, to be a disciple. They didn't ongoingly practice their faith with the intimate trust engaged in the relational process as his disciple. Jesus called them back to the basic necessity of relational work inherent in who God is, who his people are and what his church is. They needed transformation in their relationships. For this they had to become transformed persons who engaged in relational work in order to build transformed relationships with each other so as to be a transformed church.
This same relational process continues for us in the church today for which the Spirit is here in cooperative effort to make complete. We are accountable for all these relationships and must (dei) "make every effort" in our part of the process.
From a very active church to a highly respected church we turn to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). Laodicea was a rich city, the wealthiest in the area at that time. They were known as a banking center, for their textile industry and famous medical school. The people had great pride in their financial wealth, fine clothes and famous eye salve. But Laodicea lacked a natural water supply. Hot water was piped in from hot springs and cold water came from the mountains. Both were lukewarm by the time it reached Laodicea. Since hot water was preferred for bathing and cold for drinking, they often complained about their water as inconvenient to their exceptionally comfortable lifestyle. This background is important for what follows.
How they did church in Laodicea was like their water: lukewarm. Though tepid does imply that they were hot before, they now lived comfortable, complacent, indifferent Christian lives. Does this sound closely familiar? Their self-assessment was that they were rich and had everything they needed (3:17). Why is this familiar to us? Before we merely focus on affluence and modern lifestyles, let's understand what's behind their thinking.
Why do these secondary things become so important to us? All of us who define ourselves essentially by what we do and/or have by definition have already made secondary things more important than the total person. In the process, the importance of the person (particularly the heart) and the primary priority of relationships are replaced by secondary areas of interest and concern. Substitutes are made for the substance of our heart and for the quality of our relationships. The main substitutes are the mind for the heart and quantity for quality, but substitutes can involve anything. This is not only about wealth and comfortable lifestyle. The Laodicean church was not unique in making substitutes for how they did church. The well-respected church in Sardis substituted appearance for the total person and the substance of the heart. The very active Ephesian church substituted quantity for quality in their relationships.
Substitutes are absolutely necessary for those who approach life from the outside in. They are inherent to that process, and their roots go back to Adam and Eve with the fig leaves. While substitutes make it easier for us to stay in our comfort zones, they are especially problematic for the Christian user. The use of substitutes creates illusions about where we actually are in our lives, what we truly are experiencing and have. This false reading or sense of assurance is continuously reinforced by Satan, who encourages the church with Christian substitutes.
Illusions are more difficult to deal with than blatant sin.
Illusions are more difficult to deal with than blatant sin. That's why Jesus said he would rather have us cold than lukewarm (Rev 3:15). At least when we're "cold" there is no illusion--we can be honest and open about where we are. Certainly, Jesus doesn't want us to stay cold, but to labor in the middle maintains a dishonest relationship. Like lukewarm water, which was distasteful, even nauseating, to drink, Jesus found them distasteful and was going to spit them out (3:16). Yet, he pursued them further.
Jesus exposed their substitutes by which they defined themselves: wealth, fine clothes, eye medicine (3:17). He didn't want them to be satisfied with substitutes. By taking away the illusion, Jesus exposed them--they were actually poor, naked and blind. Instead of their substitutes he pointed them back to himself "to buy [agorazo] from me" (3:18), that is to obtain something of true value from him only in the relational process. Jesus pursues those for whom he has an affection (phileo, 3:19). He is always doing the relational work necessary to transform us ("discipline") and help our relationship grow. The famous image of verse 20 is his persistent desire to have intimate connection with us and to build relationship. This metaphor should not be lost on even the most mature Christian because it is full of God's relational messages for his people. Will we turn from our substitutes?
These three churches describe probably a large percentage of our churches today. By restoring what's primary in how we do church, Jesus calls us away from the secondary matters which distract us, concern us, occupy us, get us caught up and control us. He keeps calling us back to himself and to the relational process of building intimacy with him in his family. Take his words to heart and "let us hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev 2:7; 3:6,22).
When we come before the Lord God as we really are and worship him as he truly is, we engage in a relational process which includes adventure and discovery. First, we have to let go of our titles, roles, accomplishments, possessions, maybe even our spiritual gifts--all the things we may depend on to define ourselves or establish our worth. Conversely, we also have to let go of the things we can't do or don't have, all the negative things which make us feel less or bad about ourselves. In other words, we have to let go of those secondary areas which keep us from being vulnerable with our heart and what we really are.
In letting go of these, we also have to let two relational outcomes take place:
(1) We are humbled and prostrate before God in submission and service to our superior. This is not a moment of time or in a place but the ongoing posture of relational involvement.
(2) We are equalized as persons with all his children. This means no stratified identities nor partiality in relationships based on secondary matters. The only relational interaction of significance is agape involvement.
We discussed the first outcome previously. Let's expand a little on the second.
Self-definition based on secondary things never involves only the individual. It always includes comparison with others to one degree or another. This comparative process creates competition and stratifies persons on some totem pole, developing further into a system of inequality. You can imagine the growing distance this creates in relationships which forms into tension and eventually develops into conflict. Increasingly, differences in others become harder to accept; someone who is different has to become like us or we distance ourselves from them. At whatever level you look at this, these are the repercussions of an "outside in" approach to life.
Peter still had this approach after Jesus left and the Spirit came. It determined in part how Peter did church in the book of Acts. This is what Peter's vision is about and why Jesus spoke to him about it (read Acts 10:9-11:18). Peter discriminated against the Gentiles and treated them as less. This inequality negated the grace he had received and that others could receive. Intellectually this was clear to Peter, but in his heart more transformation was needed. Later, his inconsistent relational practices continued, so Paul had to confront him about his hypocrisy in order to expose the clear fact that Peter (and his major influence on others, including Barnabas) was not "acting in line with the truth of the gospel" (Gal 2:11- 14). Thankfully, God's grace prevailed.
But how does God's grace prevail when we do church from the outside in? Grace doesn't allow us to be anything but what we truly are; it demands it. How much can we be our true self when we're focused on secondary matters? For us to truly receive grace implies the need for favor that is unwarranted and requires a humble relational posture before the Superior who freely gives his favor. How well can we relate to God like this when we depend on secondary areas to establish us before others? Grace always struggles under these conditions. When we have this mindset, we struggle in the relational process also, just like Peter.
When the Father sent his Son into the human context, he bridged the only natural and justified inequality in relationships. Any other inequality in relationships is unnatural according to how God created us. Yet, the God Jesus didn't come to put us down because we are less, nor did he reinforce the difference between him and us. To the contrary, he washed our feet (Jn 13:12-14) and reordered the way we commonly do relationships (Lk 13:30; Mk 10:31; Mt 20:16). The inequality between God and us does not determine the character of our relationship with him. Though the basic and inherent inequality between us can never be equalized, the primary way our relationship functions together is intimately heart-to-heart, person-to-person. In this intimate relational process, love is able to be shared--both given and received.
In this sense God's grace cultivates both inequality and equalizing.
In this sense God's grace cultivates both inequality and equalizing. While grace demands from us the relational posture of inequality with God, grace equalizes us in the relational process with him. Don't misinterpret this; we aren't talking about becoming God or equal to him, just the relational process. We can't have intimate relationship with him as a servant; it must (dei) be as an authentic friend (Jn 15:15). We cannot be intimate with him and belong in his family as a slave; it must (dei) be as a functioning son or daughter (Jn 8:35,36). We need to be equalized in the relational process in order for love to be our ongoing experience. God accomplished this by his grace--he can be with us and we can be with him.
If grace equalizes us in the relational process with him, what does it do to our other relationships? Not only does it equalize us in the relational process it also equalizes us as persons. This gets us out of our box, expands our relational context and opens us to deeper relationships--especially with his people. This is the adventure we can expect. These relational outcomes involve the most significant experience in life: the experience of agape involvement. This is the discovery we need to have more often, individually and together as a church.
Jesus challenges us to go and discover what God means that he desires compassion, not our hard work and service (Mt 9:13). The context of his words (9:10ff) reveals to us that our work focuses merely on doing something when it doesn't consider the persons who receive that service. This is not sufficient even with good intentions. Compassion, on the other hand, focuses on the persons receiving the service and our relationship with them. This is the agape involvement he has with us and wants us to have in our relationships.
While agape involvement considers the person receiving, it doesn't distinguish between persons (Mt 5:43,44) nor discriminate against them (5:44). It isn't selective among persons (5:46,47) nor reactive to them (5:38-42). Jesus said these seminal words for how to do relationships in the Sermon on the Mount for which he holds us accountable to relate to others as our Father relates (5:48). This is what it means to be a member of his family (5:45).
On this whole issue of how we define ourselves and how to do relationships and therefore church, Paul summarizes it for us in one verse, Galatians 5:6: "When we are rooted in intimate relationship with Christ Jesus, all the secondary areas make no difference, have no power, carry no weight (isckyo). The only thing that's significant is relational trust actively exercising (energeo) agape involvement" (my paraphrase). That's it--nothing more, nothing less. This is the only thing that counts with God.
With agape involvement the church becomes the equalizer, both within itself and out in the world. Obviously, when we've been talking about love, we haven't been discussing romanticized love or our common notions about it. Agape can be confronting when it seeks to go deeper than the other person wants. It can also be divisive when there is competition for love or possessiveness about it. Jesus put these into perspective for us, especially regarding biological family relationships (Mt 10:34-37; Lk 14:26).
Equalizing is a blessing or a threat.
Equalizing is a blessing or a threat. It's a threat for those who depend on what they do, accomplish and have, in order to establish themselves. It's a blessing for those who need grace. Since Jesus equalized by extending the relationship of the Father to us, what distinguishes his followers, his church, his family is to equalize by extending this relationship to others.
Jesus didn't come just to equalize me, nor just us in the church. He came to equalize everyone and everything (Col 1:20). God is always focused on this big picture. He is always working out the big picture as well as in small parts of it. Personally, I call him "my Big Picture Daddy." Sometimes, however, we want him to concentrate on the small picture, mainly me, and have the relationship on our terms, within our control. It's not about me, though it's all for me and with me.
That's why Jesus gave us the first, the second and the new commandments. That's why he told Peter, the first leader of his church, to take care of his followers. That's why he gave his church the Great Commission. That's why all creation eagerly awaits "the sons and daughters of God to be revealed" (Rom 8:19). "Revealed" (Gk. apokalypsis) is to uncover, unveil, disclose in its meaning and purpose. This is all about the corporate effort of family extending this relationship to creation and to others in the world for their redemption and reconciliation. This is the Father's desire for all to be a part of his family. This is his family involved in the relational process of extending family love to take others in to be a part of it.
Can we do church like this? Given the person and words of Jesus, how can we not "make every effort," and settle for less? To make the common choice is certainly easier, with the many substitutes available to us. Satan will encourage us to stay where we are. No one is more threatened by equalizing than he.
". . . first love . . . reputation . . . lukewarm!" The world needs the church as equalizer. We do also.
©2003 T. Dave Matsuohome
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Chap. 8 Extending the Relationship
Relationship with God was never meant to be between merely the individual and God. The intimate nature of this relationship is always designed to function, as in the Trinity, in life together--together with God as his very own and together as his family.
Too often we interpret relationship with Christ merely on individual terms. We stop short of following Jesus in the relational process that takes us to the Father and his family. At times, there is even an emotional sense of being possessive about Jesus, maybe idolize him. This essentially puts God in a box and constrains our relationship with him to operate on our terms. This way of doing relationship is not the commitment and devotion to Christ that the Father desires for us to be conformed to (Rom 8:29). Such a dominant focus on Christ takes him (and thus us) out of the relational context with the Father and short-circuits the relational process apart from the ongoing relational work of the Spirit.
This has two relational consequences. One, it individualizes Christ functionally (not theologically) separate from the Father and the Spirit; and, two, it also becomes a rationale for our individual freedom apart from the relational responsibility to the Father as his very own and to his family in interdependent relationships.
This brings us from how we define ourselves and thus how we do our relationships to how we do church--that is, actually practice being the church.
Jesus said it was to our benefit that he leave so that the Spirit would come (Jn 16:7). If he is not clung onto as the dominant focus of our attention, the Spirit could take over and complete what he started--the relational progression to the Father.
Describe the Spirit's relational work (use Rom 8 as your outline).
How does the old in us disrupt this relational process?
What is the need in us that the Spirit fulfills?
Define and distinguish the cooperative effort and the corporate effort.
Why are individuals alone incapable of fulfilling God's mission?
How specifically do you constrain the Spirit? Grieve the Spirit?
How does your church compare to the three churches in Revelation 2 and 3?
Explain what characterizes transformation in relationships and how this directly relates to fellowship.
How does agape involvement define the church and how does this help you to do church?
Does the corporate process of intimate relationships with the Father and thus discovering others give you more than you expected or want?
The first, the second and the new commandments express the whole of God's desires. How does seeing them individually and practicing them separately affect how you define yourself, do relationships and thus do church?
What do you need to account for in how you are doing church?
How does engaging in agape involvement make you feel, and what do you anticipate about its practice?
Explain how Christ practiced the process fundamental to church and laid the groundwork for it.
How is the corporate process of the church an extension of the intimate involvement within the Godhead?
How does grace work in how to do church as the Father desires and why is equalizing necessary to this relational process?