I’m really excited that next week we will begin to go through a new book together in our Small Groups called “Caring for One Another: 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships”, by Ed Welch.This is a small book, but I believe it has the potential for big impact. To give you a taste of it, chapter one begins with this imagined scenario; “Imagine–an interconnected group of people who entrust themselves to each other. You can speak of your pain, and someone responds with compassion and prayer. You can speak of your joys, and someone rejoices with you. You can ask for help with sinful struggles, and someone prays with you.” As I read these words, and imagined what was taking place in this group, I have to say I found my heart stirred. I want my relationships to look like this. I want to be a part of groups like this. I pray our small groups will be marked more and more by scenes like this one. I mean, don’t we all desire relationships like this? Relationships where people know us for who we really are, where we can bare our souls and people accept us, encourage us, care for us, pray for us. Don’t we all, to quote the hit 80’s sitcom Cheers’ theme song, “…want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”? We all have this incredibly strong desire to be known and to be loved. In fact from the very first pages of Scripture, God shows us why we have these desires–He created us this way. We were created to be in relationship. As we read the opening pages of Scripture, here are a few things it teaches us about relationships:
First, we see we were created in such a way, that relationships aren’t simply optional. We need others. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’. We have been created in the image of God. Part of being created in God’s image is that we were created in community. Notice it says, “he created them.” He didn’t just create a person. In fact we see that at first when God creates just man, in Genesis 2:18 God explicitly says, “It is not good that man should be alone”, and then He creates woman. Up to this point, over and over in the creation account we see God creating, and then declaring the goodness of what He just created. But here He creates man, and there is an incompleteness. Man is not meant to be alone. This isn’t good. And the reason why is that we were created in God’s image. God has been in community and relationship for all eternity, as one God, yet three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And for all eternity He has lived in loving community within the Godhead. Jesus talks about this in John 17:24 when He says, “Father…..you loved me before the foundation of the world.” And while there are aspects of God’s triune nature that are difficult to comprehend, one thing we know is that there has never been a moment that God has not existed within the context of loving relationship, and we too are called to live our lives in relationship with others.
The second thing we soon see about relationships in the early pages of Scripture is that because of sin relationships aren’t easy. We all know relationships can be messy. They require hard work. We have all been hurt in different ways relationally. And along with showing us our need for relationships Scripture is very clear about their challenges. Instead of pointing us to God, our relationships can point us away from Him, as we see Adam and Eve fail to use their relationship as God had intended, and fall into sin, causing relational brokenness with God and with themselves.(Gen. 3:6) We see this couple who God had created “naked and unashamed”, now covering themselves up, and hiding from God and each other.(Gen. 2:25; 3:7-8) We were created to be known and loved, but now because of sin, we feel shame. Being known feels a whole lot more risky, so we keep from getting too close, or going too deep. Fast forward another chapter in Genesis and we soon see that this relational dysfunction is not only just between Adam and Eve, but has spread to the whole human race, as Adam and Eve’s sons, the world’s first sibling’s relationship falls apart, as Cain slays his brother Abel.(Gen. 4) And from this point on, our history as mankind has been one of being a people that long for deep relationships, yet often see the reality of sin in our lives, the shame in our own hearts, and the brokenness of this world getting in the way. We long to be known, but we can struggle with how to get there. I heard this recently in the heartbreaking song by Justin Bieber entitled “Lonely”. Here you have a man who is rich and famous, who from the outside looks like he has everything. Yet Bieber in the song sings about the pain of having what appears to be everything, but not having relationships where he is truly known and loved. He sings, “What if you had it all, but nobody to call? Maybe then you’d know me. ‘Cause I’ve had everything, but no one’s listening…..And that’s just lonely.” Deep relationships can seem so elusive.
And yet from the early pages of Scripture, there is something else we see. There is hope for our relationships. We can read a scenario like the imagined group above, and while desiring to experience this, feel hopeless, like deep God glorifying relationships are out of reach. And left to ourselves this is true. But God does not leave us to ourselves. He pursues us. We see Him call out to Adam and Eve as they hide themselves from Him in shame, “Where are you?”(Gen. 3:9) He knows the answer, but He goes after them. He moves towards them to bring reconciliation, to restore their broken relationship with Himself. Even though their own sin has brought upon this fractured relationship, we see He cares for them. He covers their shame and clothes them. (Gen. 3:21) Because God covers our shame, we no longer have to fear being seen by others, but can now allow ourselves to be known deeply and even pursue others relationally. Because God shows His love for us by pursuing us, we can now live out of this love and acceptance, and no longer have to fear rejection, but rather are free to love others. How is this love even possible you may ask? How could a holy God be reconciled to sinful men and women? Why would He pursue and love those that sinned against Him and not rather seek them out for punishment? In Genesis 3:15 we see how this is all possible as God makes this promise; “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This promise is known by theologians as the Protoevangelium. A word meaning this is the first glimpse of the good news of the Gospel we see in Scripture. It’s because the woman’s offspring Jesus will crush the head of the serpent that led them into sin, while having his heel bruised at the cross, that God is able to pursue us and cover our shame. At the cross our sin that separates us from God and each other is dealt with once and for all. Praise God, we can now have hope for our relationships!
P.S. Our Small Groups are a great context to grow deep relationships. We would love to have you join us at one. Click HERE for more info.