What is the highest goal of your relationships?
That’s a question that probably has a multi-faceted answer, because all of us have different kinds of relationships with different kinds of people. We have relationships with co-workers, friends, family, spouses – so you might answer the question differently if you applied it to your relationship with your daughter than if you applied it to your relationship with the person who sits in the cubicle next to you at the office.
True enough, relationships are different. And yet, in a very broad sense, we can actually answer this question in the same way for every relationship. That is, we can if we have believed the gospel. If we are Christians, the highest goal of all our relationships – no matter who they are with – is found in Galatians 4:19: “My children, again I am in the pains of childbirth for you until Christ is formed in you.”
Paul had a somewhat tenuous relationship with the Galatians. He loved them, preached the gospel to them, and saw churches begun in their region. But in his absence, they abandoned the gospel for a hybrid of Christianity. Instead of holding true to Paul’s message of faith alone in Christ alone, they had chosen to embrace a legalistic offshoot that insisted on combining human works with God’s grace. Paul received word of their departure from the faith, and he had come down on them. Hard. And through the first three chapters of what we know as the letter to the Galatians, Paul is angry, irritated, and direct. But in chapter 4, his tone starts to ease up a bit. That’s when you get Galatians 4:19. And that’s when we see the highest goal of all Paul’s relationships, and also what should be the highest goal of ours:
“Christ formed in you.”
In that statement, we find what should be the ultimate end of all our relationships. Our highest goal in any relationship must be the formation of Christ in another to the glory of God. This only happens when we are transformed by the power of the gospel, for until then, our highest goal in a relationship will be any number of things. It might be sexual gratification. Or it might be personal advancement. It could be simple companionship. But, if you boil all those things down to their most base level, the end of each one is “self.” In other words, apart from the gospel, our highest goal for any relationship is ultimately about ourselves. People are really just instruments and tools to be used for our own benefit.
The gospel changes everything. It frees us from our enslavement to ourselves, and allows us to truly seek the good of another. The gospel opens us up to actually love another person. And loving another person means seeing to it that Christ is formed in them. The goal in a relationship isn’t just companionship, love, shared benefit, or pleasure. Those things are part of it, but the ultimate goal is the formation of Christ in another—to see that person grow into a true follower of Jesus.
Your wife. Your husband. Your kids. Your dad. Your coworker. Your boss.
To see all of them have Christ formed in them. Here, then are five implications for our relationships if they are defined by the gospel:
In gospel-defined relationships, I have to tell the truth.
It’s a lot easier not to tell the truth, especially when someone is wandering down an ill-advised or flat out wrong path. But I have to tell them the truth about themselves, the world, and God because my goal is to have Christ formed in them.
In gospel-defined relationships, I don’t leave.
Relationships are life-long affairs. I can’t just drift in and out of people’s lives, here one day and gone the next. I have to be there for the long haul because Christ isn’t formed in someone overnight.
In gospel-defined relationships, I don’t have to tell everyone everything about Jesus at our first meeting.
Because Christ-formation is long-term, there are moments when I need to just sit and listen, rather than speak.
In gospel-defined relationships, I must preach the gospel to myself everyday to prepare to be in relationship.
If I don’t, I’ll try to use people to meet my own ends and make myself feel better, rather than loving them as Jesus has loved me. I’ll be insecure and need their affirmation, rather than being able to encourage them in a non-self-seeking kind of way.
In gospel-defined relationships, I’m imitating God’s relationship with me.
His goal is to have Christ formed in me. I am to love as He loves.
The gospel redefines everything. No part of our lives is untouched by God’s redemptive power. And, as in all areas, the gospel gives us a higher goal and purpose for our relationships. In His goodness, though, God has designed us such that pursuing the ultimate good of another will indeed also bring us the greatest amount of joy and satisfaction.