A few years ago a much-respected pastor walked into my office to discuss a conference hosted at his church several years before. We entered into a wonderful conversation about marriage, family and church that led him to share that two of the elders in his church had moved away and he was having trouble filling those positions. He shared that there were two elders still in the church but they really needed at least four to best serve the needs of his church.

He had heard my message a few times before, so I proceeded to ask him one question. It was this question and his response that formed the outline for this article.

I simply asked him, “If you were a fly on the wall in the homes of these two current elders in your church would you feel comfortable as to what you would see and hear regarding their love and servant-leadership of their marriage and families?” 

After an awkward 5-10 seconds of silence he responded, “No” and then proceeded with this comment, “Man, Greg, you’re talking about messy, nasty stuff when you get into relationships.”

His answer was very telling and I would add, based on conversations with many pastors and church leaders, common in our churches today.  My comment to him as it’s been to many others as we find ways to compromise God’s Word to make our systems work, “Which part of the messy, nasty relationships changes God’s Truth?”

What do you think of when you hear the word “relationship?”  Does it conjure up pleasant memories and feelings of friendships, acquaintances, family members, even marriage, spouse and children?  Or does it bring poignant reminders of hurt feelings, lost love, rejection, bitterness, unforgiveness and broken hearts and lives?  Maybe a bit of both?

Our culture has convinced us, for the most part, that relationships occur naturally, take little work and lead to wonderful outcomes and partnerships…if we will just follow our feelings! If they don’t then they just weren’t meant to be, so follow your feelings into the next one.  One look at our culture reveals that this way of doing relationships is a disaster.

While our nature is to relate and connect, we must remember that we are broken, sinful and selfish.  Because of this, relationships, including marriage and family don’t come naturally.  They take work in order to make them healthy and fulfilling. 

God knew this and encourages and instructs us accordingly.  It wasn’t the way He designed and planned for relationships to work but because of our free will and desire to have what we want, He knew we would need guidelines, boundaries, even commands.  These “disciplines” are given to help us navigate the “messy, nasty stuff” of relationships.

God’s Commands for Healthy Relationships (and Our Good)

So, what are God’s commands (disciplines) for healthy, fulfilling relationships?

It’s always interesting that most marriage conferences or events begin with “wives, submit to your husband” (Ephesians 5:22) and then followed up with “husbands, love your wife sacrificially as Christ did His Bride, The Church” (Ephesians 5:25).  These are definitely found in God’s Word but require much more in order to understand how we are to apply them in marriage and beyond.

One of the interesting insights that I think Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs shares in his book, Love and Respect, is his statement when asked by someone, why God would ask wives to respect and husbands to love (as though it would be natural and we’d be doing it anyway)?  After praying and seeking, he said he received this thought (not an audible answer but clear direction) from The Lord, “Why would I command you to do something I created you naturally to do?” 

Men tend more naturally toward respect and women tend toward love with regard to issues, conversation, praise and response.  This carries over into relationships.  It doesn’t mean that women don’t understand and share respect or that men don’t understand and share love.  It simply means that that the areas commanded don’t come as naturally to each gender, respectively. 

This can (and certainly has) led to many problems throughout history when it comes to relationships, marriage, family and community.  However, God has a wonderful solution if we are willing to submit to Him. 

Discipleship in Relationships

As I began studying this years ago I found it both interesting and perplexing that God has made it clear that we need encouragement, instruction, help and even guidance (commands) to build good relationships, including marriage!  I thought they just happened, like the culture had led me to believe, naturally through mutual attraction, feelings, “give and take.” 

Not only is this not true but we need help and we also need to understand that in order to develop healthy relationships we need the discipline to work at them.

Why is it that nearly every couple that I’ve worked with has experienced these “Truths” regarding the commands to love and respect?  Maybe it’s because we’ve fallen for the faulty definitions and lies of the culture that keep us from understanding and being willing to work at it for the sake of our friendships, families, children and even our marriage and spouse. 

God knew what He was doing…even after we messed it up.  He knew we would need to learn to die to ourselves, sacrifice our own selfish desires and pleasures before we could truly love Him, ourselves and others.  So he prefaces “love and respect” for our spouse (Ephesians 5:22-27) with reverence for and submitting first to Him (Ephesians 5:21)

Marriage, Family and Servant-leadership in Christ’s Church

I’ve shared on the topic and importance of finding true leaders in our churches (and ultimately in Christ’s Church) in previous posts and will go into greater detail in the future.  Suffice it to say that in God’s design He not only established marriage and family as the beginning for loving relationships but to teach us to develop, recognize and appropriate real relational servant-leadership in His Church and Kingdom and to impact our world.  

In other words, according to God’s Word, if we are to love like Jesus, it begins in the home…marriage and family… and the same is true if we are to lead like Jesus!  1 Timothy 3:4-5 clearly states that authority and leadership is to be shaped, pruned and matured in the marriage and parenting relationships in our families or it is not to be called and extended into Christ’s Church.

In God’s Word and Kingdom, love and relational servant-leadership go hand in hand.  How are we going to show the world and culture what His love looks like if we are attempting to love and lead in His Church apart from and/or ignoring the Covenant love and relational servant-leadership in our marriages and families?

Relationships are messy, nasty things in this fallen world but not one single “mess” or “nastiness” produced in our fallenness and broken relationships changes God’s Truth.  So how do you think we’re doing when it comes to living out Christ’s Lordship as His disciples and doing so in loving relationships and servant-leadership?  Our answers and obedience have everything to do with how impactful our lives will be on our children and future generational spouses, parent and leaders and how influential our churches will be in our culture.

Let’s commit to do life, love, relationships and servant-leadership according to God’s Word and let Him be responsible for the consequences of doing it His way!  I believe it will change how we do marriage, family and church and have a much greater and deeper impact on how we make disciples that will impact our culture and world.

Make it a great day and God bless in Christ!

Love and Lordship…Food for Thought – As Christ’s disciple are you practicing His love and relational servant-leadership in your marriage and family?  To whom I may apply, are you trying to love and lead in Christ’s Church without first having done so in line with His sacrificial love and servant-leadership in your home?

Love and Lordship…Action Item – Ask The Lord to show you if you’re loving and leading in your marriage and family in line with His teaching and example found in The Bible.  Ask your spouse if your love and leadership reflect Christ’s teaching and examples.  Ask your children.  Humbly respond according to their answers.