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About this series
God's Wisdom for Building Great Relationships
Relationships can be tough. Everyone has expectations of how relationships should work. Whether it's our behaviors, words, spending habits, how to raise children, or views of God - these factors affect how we interact with others. In this series, Chip explores eight essential life lessons that will help you build GREAT relationships that last!More from this series
I’m talking about basically life lessons in terms of building a great family and just great friendships. Principles that have to do with marriage, parenting, friendships, your boss.
And so Principle number four: you cannot impart what you do not possess. You say, Well, what’s that got to do with relationships? I’ll get to that. Relationships, it all begins with God. What does He say? Then I understand every person, beginning with me, is desperately insecure. And then I begin to look at and process by saying, “People act in all these unusual ways, but it actually makes sense to them. It makes sense.”
And then, finally, you can’t impart what you don’t possess. In other words, if you do not like you, you will never love others. And I don’t mean that like pop psychology. I mean like Jesus. We say, “What is the Great Commandment?”
Matthew 22:38 and 39, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor” – how? “as yourself.”
Now, if we are desperately insecure and I don’t like me, it’s really hard if I don’t feel whole, if I don’t feel loved, it’s really hard to give away something I don’t have. When I grew up in those early years in high school, I was, as I shared, very desperately insecure for lots of reasons. In
seventh, I really liked sports, my dad – we are impacted by our family – my dad was a great athlete. Drafted into the pros and won the state of golden gloves in boxing and all kinds of great stuff.
And so, seventh grade, I am four foot eleven. Eighth grade, I shoot up to five feet one. Ninth grade, I am five feet four in a junior high of seven or eight hundred students and I weigh, like, a hundred and probably three pounds. In your childhood memory, when you can look at all the students of an entire school and you want to be a basketball player and there are only two people that are shorter than you are: Cindy Christian and Brad Starr. Is that bizarre that I still remember their names? Right? Tell me our childhoods don’t impact…
So, here I am, this super skinny, super short, feeling desperately insecure, desperately inferior. So, what did I do? I did what you do. We all compensate. And so, some of the amazing, good things I got from my father was: set goals, develop a strategy, and work harder than everyone else. If you are working while they are sleeping, good things will happen to you.
And so, I became a workaholic at about thirteen and driven and I practiced when no one else practiced and by God’s grace I bumped up a few inches eventually. But here’s what happened: what I learned was that performance in school, in sports, in grades, relationship skills to get people to like me, and appearing in ways that people would approve would buy me affirmation. And affirmation feels a lot like love, but it’s not.
See, affirmation is: I affirm you for what you did. I affirm you for how you look. I affirm you for what you accomplished. I affirm you because you are good with the guitar or good on the drums or good at basketball or good at lacrosse. I affirm you because, wow, you’re on the prettiest people I have ever seen. I affirm you because your dad is really rich and I like going on vacations with you.
And so, most of us at some point in time figure out how to get affirmation and then by God’s grace, many of us come to know Jesus and we know, intellectually, what has happened? We are pulled out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. All of our sins have been forgiven.
We have a new Father. We have a new family. We have a new peace. We have a new future. We have a certain[ty]. Our significance has been established, we are the object of God’s love, the prayer of the upright is His delight, we are loved like we will never ever be loved totally apart from our performance, and we are brand-new creature in Christ that we live out in this fallen world.
But see, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man or if any woman is in Christ, the old things pass away,” tense of the verb: they are gone forever. “Behold, all things become new,” tense of the verb: it’s a process.
Yes, I was in darkness, now I’m in light. I was a child of the darkness, now I am the son of the light. Yes, I am forgiven, I am significant, I am loved, I have the Holy Spirit, I have gifts, I have been sealed, my future. I am the object of God’s affection but it’s a process and so when I begin my marriage, some of these things that I have learned, they stick, don’t they? It’s called “the flesh.”
And so, I thought to myself, not consciously, Let’s see, if I want to have a good marriage and I want the most important person to love me, accept me, and affirm me in ways that really matter to me, I’ll figure out what she wants. And so, okay, a good husband is this, this, and this? I’ll do that. Ooh. I guess it’s this too. Then I need to do this.
And so, I performed, performed, and worked and worked and worked and worked. But an amazing thing happened. I was working in the relationship to get my wife to love me in ways that I thought were significant to me and it was all built, came out of what? Came out of a hole. It came out of my need. It came out of manipulating and trying to do the right thing to push the right buttons to get someone to love me. I wasn’t loving her unconditionally. I was loving her in a way that I hoped I would get loved back.
The passage is Ephesians 5:1 and 2. It says, “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
If you’ll open your Bibles to this one, you’ve got to do a little work, okay? There are two commands there. But you’ve got to open your Bibles because the “therefore” means something happened in verse 32 and 31 of chapter 4. As you turn there, you’ll notice that the point is you can’t impart what you don’t possess. In other words, if you are not sensing, knowing, accepting the love that you already have from God, you can’t give away love to others. You will be forced into some dysfunctional means of trying to manipulate, pretend, image cast to get people to affirm and to love you.
But notice it says, “Therefore, be,” command one, “be an imitator of God,” a mimic. Well, what are you supposed to mimic? Look in your Bibles. What does verse 32 say? Go ahead, look in your Bibles. “Therefore, be kind to one another,” – right? “tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God also in Christ has forgiven you.”
Well, what is verse 31? Skip up. “Therefore,” he says you are this brand-new person in relationships do something, “let all malice and wrath and anger and slander and all these negative attitudes,” what does it say? “Put them away but instead be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”
And then the verse that we looked at is, “Therefore, be a mimic of God.” You are to mimic God. Well, what is a mimic. A mimic, if one person does this, they do that. They do that, they do this. So, what are we to mimic? We are to mimic to be kind in relationships the way God is kind. We are to be tenderhearted with people the way God is tenderhearted. We are to forgive or release or let people go the way God has let us go and forgiven us, based on Christ’s work.
And so, you have a command that says, “Mimic God,” and did you notice the second command? It says, “Walk in love.” And then it describes what love looks like. This isn’t an ooey-gooey feeling. How do you love? “Just as Christ loved us.” Well, how did He love us? An ooey-gooey feeling in His heart? Well, I hope there was some of that, but the Bible says the way He loved us – He gave Himself up for us, sacrificed, and He made his life a sacrifice. He gave, He radically gave Himself whether we responded or not.
Now, here’s what I want you to do. Between mimicking God and walking in love, in parentheses, and you could put a circle around it in your Bible, what is the little phrase between those? “Mimic God” – how? “as a beloved child.” Or literally, as a dearly loved one. Do you understand what the passage is teaching?
He is saying, I want you to love in this impossible way. Forgive like God forgives, be kind like God forgives, be compassionate like God. And I want you to live this amazing, supernatural, sacrificial life toward others. But where is the resource? “As a dearly loved child.” You can’t give away what you don’t possess.
My experience is the average Christian may intellectually know they are loved. The average Christian doesn’t feel loved. You are significant. You are valuable. You are loved by God today, apart from anything you could ever do as much as you will ever be loved. There is nothing you can do to diminish His love, there is nothing you can do to get more of His love. He loves you.
And the basis of the Christian life is not: I’m going to read my Bible, I’m going to pray, I’m going to go on a mission trip, I’ll try and be a good Christian, I’ll try and have really good morals. Now, God, will You accept me? Do You love me? No, no, no, no, no. Completely opposite. It’s you have already been forgiven, I love you, I care for you, the object of My affection. You are My child. Now, walk in a manner worthy of who you already are. And you don’t read your Bible to get brownie points. It’s because you like being together.
I don’t go have coffee with my wife and say, “Okay, excuse me, dear, do we have the little box?” Talked with wife today. Okay. The next little box, oh, helped clean up around the house. “Now do you love me?” I do that, are you ready for this? I like her. I just want to be with her. She loves and accepts me. The Christian life is knowing, believing, and feeling that you are so loved and accepted that now you can be a giver in relationships.
And no relationship works if ultimately your desire is to get something from it. If you pretend to give affection or give it but the string is: I will be affectionate if you do this. If you give gifts so that this will happen. If you play little games to manipulate one another, what happens is as soon as the other person isn’t coming through, then what happens? You’re hurt, you’re rejected, you’re angry. See, God is not asking you to be nice to your mate or nice to your kids or nice to your parents or be a good old Joe out there in the marketplace. He is asking you to mimic God. Treat them the way Jesus would treat them if He was walking around inside your body. And you do need to remember He is, right? He dwells in you.
How in the world can you do that? You can only do it when you so accept, know, and believe that you are dearly, dearly loved by God. Otherwise, I jotted a note in my notes: Until I find my significance, security, and value from my relationship with Jesus, every relationship will be a dysfunctional attempt to get love and acceptance from others through my performance, manipulation, looks, barter, or deceit.
Can I tell you, the greatest thing that will ever happen in any of your relationships is for you to really believe, not just with the head, but from the heart, that you are so loved by God that you are now secure enough to risk loving and caring and giving even if it doesn’t come back.
And so, I have come to the point where you get up and talk in front of people – do I want you to like me? Are you kidding me? Yeah! Do I want your approval? Yeah. Do I want my wife’s approval? Yeah. Do I want my kids’ to think this and that about me? Of course. But if that is my motivation, guess what, I will pretend to be something I’m not, I won’t say what God really wants me to say. So, I have come to: it’s okay to want that. I just don’t need it. And you don’t need it either.
And there is no person that will ever come through for you a hundred percent of the time, there is no next job, no wonderful house, no amount of money, no accomplishment, no big goal that you can achieve that when you achieve it you go, “Oh! Now I’m a somebody! I’m significant! I’m valued!” You know what will happen? About three minutes after you achieve that or have that, you’ll realize, This doesn’t deliver. I’m the cat chasing its tail. Well, I guess I just need a bigger thing. Or a new model. Or a prettier or a…
And so, here’s the practice. loving others demands I learn to know, accept, and feel God’s unconditional love for me. You need to know, accept, and feel God’s unconditional love for me.
And if you feel like you are a little behind on this, I was probably a Christian at least ten years and a pastor before I realized how much of my energy and my service to God was really about trying to gain His approval and people’s approval rather than living out of being already loved.
Let me give you some specific ways to go to work on this. The first one is: how do you know? Knowledge is an intellectual issue. Jot down, if you would, Romans 5:8. Romans 5:8 says, “While you were yet a sinner, Christ demonstrated His love for you in that He died for you.”
So, before you even joined the family, and those people who choose not to join the family, those people who – God loves them! They won’t receive the benefits of that love because of their pride and their unwillingness to surrender to His love, but isn’t it good to remember to know God loves you apart from your performance.
Now, it doesn’t mean your performance isn’t important, because that’s the way I express my love to Him, but you can’t earn it.
Well, then how do you accept God’s love? How do you get where just being the regular old, normal people that we all are – how do you get where you begin to know and accept that you really are loved so you don’t have to manipulate and perform and do all the stuff that, by the way, we will all do to some degree until we die. Right?
Well, first of all, I think, jot down if you would in your notes, Psalm 139. Here’s what God thinks of you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God doesn’t compare you to the person on the front of Cosmo or People. God doesn’t compare you to someone on the front of Fortune 500. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
The all-knowing, all powerful, all-wise God of all the universe and we are just this one, little, tiny part of it created you and He loves just what He made. Like we say, “Oh, that’s a Rembrandt. What a great work of art.” God says He made you and then He steps back and goes, You want to see greatness? There it is. It’s the pinnacle of My creation. There’s not another one like it in all the world. There’s a DNA, there are eyes, there is a way of thinking, there’s a background, there’s a family. All this put together to bring Me honor and glory. My image is stamped on this person. The color of eyes, the color of hair, the personality, the how your mind thinks, what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, He says, Whoo! You are exactly what I wanted to make.
But most of us spend most of our energy looking around at what the world says and trying to be like someone else or look like someone else or perform like someone else instead of saying, you ready? Try looking in the mirror this week. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I look exactly how God wanted me to look. God’s standard of beauty and value and significance is the only one that matters. I’ll tell you what, you begin to renew your mind, I started writing these things on cards and that verse, Psalm 139, and began to pray them back to God. Because, see, in my mind, the people that are wonderfully made are 6’6” and can jump a lot higher than me, okay? All my life.
It’s people who could do this. Where did I get all that? Until I came to the point where, are you ready? Until you like you, you can’t love other people. And by “like” I don’t mean that you’re content with behavior or issues that you know are ungodly. I mean where you say, You know something? I have these strengths and I have these weaknesses and this is the package that God made. And the strengths are to build confidence a part of God’s glory and the weaknesses are so that I’m always dependent on other people and realize that I can’t make this little world by myself. I can never make it without others.
The second way I think you get a grasp of how loved you are is by the price or your value to God. If we lined up, can you imagine? What if we lined up everyone on this back wall, every single person, and then we brought in a multi, multi billionaire. And we said, “You can only choose one person and you have to pay one billion dollars for this one person. And when you pay that, you can have them and they are yours.”
And what if he looked and looked and looked and did research and did all kinds of things and looked at everything that everyone in this whole room brought and then he said, “You! One billion dollars for you!” Or he said, “You!” Or he said, “You!”
And then everyone, all of us are here and he writes out a check for one billion dollars and you step out, would you not feel pretty good about yourself? Huh?
Jot down, would you, 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 20? God didn’t pay a billion dollars for you. “Do you not know that you are not your own, that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that you have been purchased with a price?”
Jesus, all-knowing, all-powerful, looking down all the corridors of all time and eternity said, when your name comes up on the computer screen of the eternal Godhead, I’ll pay the blood of My Son for the person sitting in your seat. That’s how much you matter.
If we have a little diamond and it costs a thousand dollars, we say it’s worth something. If we have a big diamond, and it cost a million dollars, we say it’s worth a lot more. Why? Because of the cost. See, part of us, we just need to begin to grasp how valuable we are because of who made us and how valuable we are because we have been purchased.
And then I think we need to practically not just know, not just accept, but my journey has been: how do you feel? How do you get that from here to here? And as I read Scripture, for the last
thirty years, I took this little book on the character of God and there are lots of chapters. It’s a book on God’s character, The Knowledge of the Holy by Tozer. But I have read the goodness of God probably ten times more and on the love of God ten times more than any chapter in this book for thirty years.
In some stages, for a decade at a time, I read at least a chapter a week or more. And then I would write on a card a little quote and a passage and the only way I could learn to get it from my head to my heart was to take that truth and pray it to God and ask Him to make real in my heart what is true and help me to feel it.
And then I learned from Scripture, from David, that if I would sing that and share that with God and rejoice over it, I would begin to emotionally experience it.
What if you said to yourself, as your eyes open in the morning, you could hear the Lord saying Zephaniah 3:17, “I am the Lord your God. I am with you. I will protect you and cover you with My love. I rejoice over you with singing.”
What if God wasn’t down on you? What if He really likes you? What if He has a great plan for you? And what if you are so significant and valuable already that what other people think matters, but it doesn’t dictate who you are?
You see, you can’t impart what you don’t possess. And as you listen to the apostle Paul building the Church, what did He pray? Chapter 1, “I pray that the eyes of their heart might be enlightened, that they might grasp or understand the strength of Your power, the power of Christ’s resurrection dwelling in them.”
And then in chapter 3 he says, “I bow my knee with all the family of God, that you might be strengthened in your inner man so that you could comprehend beyond just intellectual aspects what is the height and depth and length and breadth, and to know,” and the word is by way of experience, “God’s love for you, having been deeply rooted and grounded in faith.”
See, I’ll tell you what, relationships begin with really understanding, hey, it’s all about God’s way of doing it. Accepting yourself and one another – we are all a bunch of desperately insecure people, that people really do behave in ways that make sense to them but not usually to us, and that I can’t give away, I just can’t give away what I don’t have. And maybe the greatest thing I could do for every relationship is to know, accept, and believe and to feel that I am loved for who I am apart from any performance today by the eternal God of the universe.
And then take the pressure off of trying to impress you all as much as I try to impress you and try and look or do different things that get your affirmation. And just say, Lord, if they like you today they hate you tomorrow. That was the way with You, right? They are cheering one day, crucifying You three days later.
There was something to the heart of Christ who said He didn’t entrust Himself to people. We are all a bunch of fallen human beings. But you are valuable. And He wants you to be a giver and He loves you just the way you are.