An Apostolic Teaching on Christian Relationships
by The Most Reverend Ed Jansen, OCM
in collaboration with The Reverend Doctor Trish Gaffney
The scriptural foundation of this teaching will be based upon three passages:
Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
A quote of David from 2 Samuel 24:24: “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–
The reading in Matthew speaks of two love relationships: A love relationship with God, and a love relationship with our neighbors (others).
In the 2 Samuel passage David insists that any sacrifice of his MUST cost something.
And the last passage in Ephesians speaks of grace (God’s unearned favor).
In this teaching we will look at our relationship with God and others. We will also seek to look at God’s relationship with us. Our understanding will be based upon what Jesus spoke of in the Matthew reference.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he spoke in terms of two things: God and others. Jesus said that our relationship with God and others is the foundation of everything we have in this life; and may we suggest it is the only thing we will take with us into eternity?
God calls us into relationship with him out of love, out of the desire for us to share in the life of the Trinity, to be one with him and the Father. (John 17:21)
So if relationships are the most important thing in life to a person of faith, and we believe they are, then what does a Christian relationship look like?
God modeled for us what he wants of us in our relationship with him and others. The perfect model manifests itself through the Incarnation of his Son, Jesus the Christ. And this relationship, modeled for us by Jesus, is what we will identify as a “relationship of exchange.”
A relationship of exchange with both God and others is one in which each one in the relationship meets the other at their point of need/desire and gives them, to the best of their ability, what the other needs/desires. Some may protest in saying that God needs nothing. God is complete and perfect and without need. That may be true to some extent, but God enters into the overflowing union of love and exchange within the community of the Holy Trinity. He desires for us to share in and live out our lives in the Body of Christ with one another in that same kind of loving exchange, flowing in reciprocal union with one another. One might say that God created us out of intention and desire, more than literal need. And our relationship with God is based as much upon our response to his love as it is on his passionate desire for us to respond to his invitation.
Miriam Webster’s online dictionary defines an exchange as the act of giving or taking one thing in return for another; the reciprocal giving and receiving of something offered. The giver and the receiver are different, but are inseparable, in the existence of a mutual relationship of exchange. Without both giving and receiving, without both initiative and response, without both repentance and forgiveness — extended reciprocally — the relationship of exchange fails. It disappears. With the presence of both giving and responding, the flow of relationship exchange comes alive and is nourished. Without both, there can be no flow of relationship either with God, or within our human community.
Grace and Sacrifice
In the reciprocal mutuality of his holy relationship of exchange, God has established two fundamental offerings: Grace and Sacrifice.
The Exchange of Grace
We will define grace for this teaching, as “unearned favor from another.” In this relationship we enjoy with God, God extends to us grace, unearned favor. Because God is “worthy” (i.e., perfect, holy and righteous) and we are not, we cannot, by definition, offer grace to God. Instead, in exchange for our inability to offer God grace, we are to offer in response to his grace the sacrifice of worship, praise and thanksgiving. We are, however, in our humanity, able to offer grace to others.
The Exchange of Sacrifice
We will define sacrifice for this teaching as defined by David in the 2 Samuel reading — the offering up to another, for a cause or reason, something precious which has a cost. We see throughout the Old Testament how God expected the people of Israel to set up an altar of sacrifice wherever they went. In the New Testament, we are also expected to set up an altar, in the celebration of the Mass, to offer God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. This is, of course, in response to the ultimate Sacrifice of God, the suffering and death of his Son on the Cross for our salvation. Let us remember that by definition, a sacrifice must have a cost to it or it is not a sacrifice. In God’s image, relationships of exchange always include sacrifice.
Jesus the Christ, Our Perfect Model of Grace and Sacrifice
God, in part, sent his only begotten Son, as a model for us this holy relationship of exchange which is grounded in grace and sacrifice. In Christ’s humanity, he often extended grace through forgiveness to us (e.g., “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” Luke 23:34). And he made the ultimate sacrifice for us (“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13).
Through Christ, we have a relationship of exchange. God, through his Son, gives us love, purpose, forgiveness, strength, power, authority….the list goes on and on. And don’t think for one moment, God does not expect anything in exchange. He expects us to give him our very lives in exchange for the life of his Son, which he poured out into us. Without exchange, there is no true relationship….at least not a Christian relationship, certainly not as God intended it to be.
Human to Human
Let’s take this down to the human level. From the most intimate love relationships, such as those vowed in marriage, to our relationships with co-workers, friends and family, we find true happiness, joy and fulfillment in relationships of exchange.
Again, Jesus offered us a perfect example of how you and I are to live in relationship with one another. We are to meet one another at the other’s point of need by extending grace and sacrifice. We are to put the other’s needs before our own. We are to forgive when the other doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. We are to offer other sacrifices that have a cost. And the greater the cost of the sacrifice, the greater the love we express for the other.
If I am in a relationship with you, God expects me to meet you at your point of need by extending grace to you and making sacrifices for you. And, (here is an essential part of this), in order for it to be a relationship of exchange, you must do likewise with me. You must meet me at my point of need by extending grace to me and making sacrifices for me. When two people are in a relationship of exchange, when we are in this relationship of exchange with God, life is exactly how God intended it to be. And when we are living the way God intended it to be, it may not be easy, it may not even be joyful all the time, but it is a place that you and I will never want to leave because it is here that we live in true intimacy with the love of God, and neighbor with all our heart and soul and mind. We are graced to live in the very image and likeness of God himself, as he created us to be.