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Mark and Sally are like many married couples: they go to church, are involved in their community and try to be good parents to their children. They also argue a lot. As their verbal fights have progressively increased over the years of their marriage, they’ve begun to grow discouraged and complacent. As Christians, they know that their faith somehow has the solution. In fact, Sally’s Bible study recently went through a popular Christian book on communication. Mark found the courage to reach out to a trusted friend who encouraged the establishment of “boundaries” in their marriage. But things aren’t changing. The problem is that Mark & Sally are focusing on secondary issues in their marriage rather than the primary issue.

Paul wrote to the Colossians, “He [Christ] is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:18). The growing believer is the one who is learning to build every area of life upon the foundation of Christ. Christ being first-place in our lives is like him being the hub of wheel, out of which flows every area of life: family, job, church, friends, hobbies, etc. And Christ should occupy first place in our relationships with other people. But just how do we know if Christ is first-place in our relationships?

In the following texts, we are going to see four questions to help us establish Christ as the center of our relationships. These tests will help us to apply Colossians 1:18 in order to determine if our relationships with our spouses, children, parents, church family, and friends are really honoring Christ.

 

  • Do you submit to the authority of Christ and his Word?

When it comes to the relationships in your life, who do you listen to? Who or what guides how you act and what you say? Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23, ESV). The most basic mark of a Christian is that he has denied himself. He has given up his imagined “rights” to live the way he wants to. He has made Christ the authority in his life in everything. For example, the Bible declares that believers should “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not {merely} look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:3-4, NASB). It is the privilege and joy of a believer then to reflect the example of Christ (2:5ff) by putting others in front of himself, looking out for their interests and living in humility.

One of the most discouraging things for me personally is seeing so many Christians getting their relationship information from popular books, blogs, radio shows, and television talk shows instead of from Christ and his Word. And then they wonder why they have so many relational problems. So the first question we ask is: When it comes to your relationships, who or what are you listening to?

 

  • Do you trust in the sovereignty of Christ?

In our relationships with other people, do you defer control to Christ himself? God says through the prophet Isaiah, “ I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’… Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isa 46:9-11). The context of the verse is God declaring his “otherness,” that is, that he is not like anyone else. Specifically, God is emphasizing his sovereign power, control, and purpose over all that goes on in life. The truth of God’s sovereignty means that we can trust him, no matter what happens in life. It means that we do the right thing in our relationships, and trust God with the outcome.

We get ourselves into so much trouble with our relationships when we forget that Christ is in control. We may not like the authority God has placed in our life (husband, boss, parent, government leader, etc.), so we dishonor God by rebelling against them or going around them. We may not be happy with a friendship or a family relationship, so we manipulate them to get our own way. Both of these examples ultimately mean that one is not trusting in Christ’s control. Trusting in the sovereignty of Christ means that we really believe God can and will work what he wants to happen, and we submit to that. It means letting God be God, and not wanting or trying to have the control that only he rightly has. It means doing the right thing, because that is what honors Christ, and then trusting him to work his ultimate plan and purpose.

 

  • Is sanctification (becoming like Christ) your ultimate goal?

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all {aspects} into Him who is the head, {even} Christ” (Eph 4:15). Selfishness is so deeply ingrained in us, we often have trouble having the right goal or motivation in our relationships. Rather than seek to be like Christ and to help others to do so, we seek our own selfish desires. James tells us that seeking our own selfish desires always results in destruction and hurt (Jas 4:1ff). And selfishness ultimately kills every relationship it comes in contact with.

So how do we become sanctified? How do we learn to be like Christ and get rid of selfishness and other sins? The unanimous answer of Scripture is that we renew our minds with Scripture (Rom 12:1-2, Eph 4:23, Col 3:10). That means that we replace sinful thinking with Christ’s thinking. It means that we replace selfish goals with righteous, God-honoring goals. Your ultimate goal in your relationships cannot be to have your needs met. If you are single, marriage cannot be your ultimate goal. Happiness cannot be your ultimate goal. Only holiness should be your ultimate end and desire.

Husbands, are you seeking to be like Christ and to sanctify your wife (Eph 5:25ff)? Wives, are you seeking to be like Christ and influence your husband to be like him (1 Pet 3:1ff)? Children, are you seeking to honor God and your parents by being Christ-like and obedient (Eph 6:1-2)? At work, at school, with family, with friends, on the golf course, at the mall … wherever and with whomever, are you seeking to be more like Christ and to lead others to do the same?

 

  • Is your desire and motivation in life singular (honor & obey Christ)?

We are all idol-worshippers in one way or another. All of us have those areas of our life that seek to replace Christ and his Word. What areas do you struggle with? What temptations do you experience that do damage to your relationships? Not only do we need to have the right goal (sanctification), but also we need to seek the right desire and motivation as well. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “For me, to live is Christ, and to do is gain” (Phil 1:21). What a shocking statement! Not knowing if he would live or die (Paul is in jail as he pens these words), Paul says essentially, “If I die, then that is gain because I will be with the Lord. But if I continue to live, then my life will continue to be about one thing: Christ.” What is your life about? What is your marriage about? What is the singular desire and motivation in your relationships? To honor and obey Christ is the singular passion and motivation of a believer. Your life shouldn’t be about you. It’s about him!

 

This is the main point that Mark and Sally were missing. There were areas of their lives and marriage that needed to brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Their horizontal relationship problems were just symptoms of their vertical relationship with Christ that needed strengthening.

The Bible has a lot to say about the relationships we have with other people. But don’t miss this most important point: None of those other things the Bible says will ever make much difference unless we have our vertical priority in place. Is Christ governing your relationships? Does your walk with him make a difference in how you treat others? Will you stop listening to other sources and start renewing your mind with his Word? He is the foundation. All aspects of our human relationships begin with and flow out of our relationship with Christ.


Dr. Keith Palmer is the associate pastor of Grace Bible Church.  He oversees all of the counseling training at Grace Bible Institute, and is the director of Grace’s community counseling ministry, Granbury Biblical Counseling.  He is also a Fellow (supervisor), grader, and board member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).


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