God gives us relationships for our joy. This was the design in the beginning, and it is central to our redemption in Christ. Jesus reconciles us to God (Eph 4:1-10) and to one another (Eph 2:11-21).
In the beginning …
When God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness (Gen 1:26),” he was saying something about community, because God himself lives in community. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a wonderful interplay of love and affection, always creating and working together, deferring glory to each other, serving each other, affirming one another’s roles. Do you see the utter joy in the life of the Trinity? This is what God wants for us, that we might experience joy in community even as He does.
We see how this plays out in Genesis 2. God made a man and put him in an incredible land: trees, rivers, abundant food, gold … it is a rich and beautiful place. And there was no sin: no brokenness, suffering, or guilt. Then God gave Adam a job (2:15). It was what he was made to do, his dream job. He was a naked farmer. Think about how impossible that would be in our world, and that tells you something about how perfect Eden was. Adam had everything. It was just he and God and the land, and nothing to interfere. For the introvert, that really is a perfect world, yet it lacked something. Throughout the creation account, it was all good and very good, but then in 2:18 God says: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Notice, it is not Adam who says this, but God. God knows what is best for Adam, and it includes relationships. Tim Keller comments on this verse: “Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect, but because he was perfect. The ache for friends is the one ache that is not the ache of sin (i.e. hunger, guilt, etc.) God made us in such a way that we cannot enjoy life without friends.”
If you feel lonely, or you constantly long for more depth in your relationships, sometimes people make you feel bad for that, like you are needy or weak or dysfunctional. That is not true. You may express your desire for relationships in dysfunctional ways, but the desire itself is good and godly. It is your humanity. You are made for relationships, and you are aching for the joy of all that God wants for you.
In the middle …
The Lord made us for relationships, and has in fact reconciled us to one another, but our restoration is not yet complete. Paul Tripp calls this tension “relationships in the middle.” In other words, sin is still present and wreaking havoc in our friendships. One of the manifestations of our sin is to make relationships ultimate in our life, to make a good thing into a terrible god.
If your sense of happiness or value rides on the affirmation or rejection of someone, then that relationship – or at least that person’s opinion – has become ultimate. When that happens, we actually become more selfish and less loving. It undermines the very thing we want – the relationship – and worse, it undermines God’s purpose for our joy.
How do you know when a relationship has taken the place of God? For me, it shows up in conversations. When I am looking to people as my source of joy or worth, I end up saying all kinds of things as bait, to get their affirmation or approval. When it works I feel pretty good about myself for a little while, but the next morning I wake up with what feels like a hangover … empty, exhausted, regretful. I ask myself why I feel so awful. Well, with a real hangover, the reason you feel so terrible is because your body is dehydrated. What you drank has actually taken out more than it has put in.
It’s like what Jesus told the woman at the well … “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” He was saying that the water from the well would only last for a little while. Eventually she would have to come back and draw more. He was using water, something she depended upon for survival, to reveal Himself as the Living Water – which is what she needs to really live.
And that’s how it is with relationships. When you try to get what only God can give you by drinking from the wells of approval and affirmation from people, you just get thirsty again. What you drink from these wells actually takes out more than it puts in. You end up relationally dehydrated and hungover.
C.S. Lewis said the essence of friendship is not to look at each other, but to look at something in common. If two people are looking to Jesus – worshipping Him, serving Him, loving Him, talking about Him – that pulls us together in profound ways. Friendships happen because of what you are in love with, and with people who are in love with the same thing. If you don’t have good friendships, it might be because you don’t love anything enough that is outside yourself.
When we make a relationship ultimate, it drains us. We end up having nothing to give. When God is ultimate, and we drink from His love, Jesus says it brings an internal satisfaction that is like a natural spring – fresh water, always flowing. We always have something to give. Have you ever wondered why some people just seem to attract friends? It is usually because they have something to give. They have a deep friendship with God, and that flows from them like a fresh Spring.
What about you: Is there a relationship that has become ultimate in your life; it governs the way you feel and act? Or, is there a relationship you don’t have, but you want it so much that it consumes you? Repentance in this situation involves confessing to God that you have broken the first commandment by putting something before him. Faith in this situation involves believing that if you put God first, that friends will follow.
Make friendship with God more important than friendship with people, and you will have plenty of friends. That is how we live in the joy of community.