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A Relationship

by Tim O'Hearn

There is a buzz word popular in many circles today. That word is “relationship.” People talk about their relationships with relatives, friends, and even strangers. Psychologists and psychiatrists especially try to understand us in relation to our relationships. The word has come to mean a sexual liaison, licit or illicit, between two people. Instead of what we used to call an affair, people are in a relationship.

The word has even crept into the religious vocabulary. Songs on Christian radio stations emphasize having a relationship with Christ. Christian writers and speakers are talking about how to better our relationship with God. It seems a natural consequence of the “let Jesus come into your life” movement. We are expected to have an intimate, familial relationship with Jesus, and if we don’t have that relationship then something is supposed to be missing in our spirituality. We are supposed to love God and Christ. After all, the greatest command, according to Jesus and rabbis before him, is “thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut 6:5) There is a big difference, though, between loving God and being in love with God. We are commanded to love in the sense of seeking the highest good for another (the Greek word that is “agape” in Latin spelling). The idea of being in love, though, bears a strong emotional content.

We can love our neighbors without being in love with our neighbors. We should love God, but need not base that love on our own changeable feelings and emotions. God does not change, and our love for God need not be based on our changing chemical makeup.

God does want a relationship with his people. Christ wants a relationship with those who would follow him. That relationship, though, may not be exactly what the current trend seems to think it should be.

The book of Judas (commonly called Jude in English Bibles) was probably written by one of the physical brothers of Jesus. “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James…” (Jude 1) If anyone had a right to brag about his “relationship” with Jesus, it would have been Judas (not Iscariot). He grew up with Jesus. Even during the time Jesus was wandering the Holy Land preaching he had regular, loving interactions with Jesus. He does not, however, refer to this relationship when addressing his letter. He mentions he is the brother of James, who was a leader in the Jerusalem congregation. In contrast, he calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. His relationship to Jesus was that of a servant to a master, not a brother to a brother.

When the gospel writers speak of Jesus during the time before he revealed himself with power at the resurrection they use various phrases, often simply calling him Jesus, and sometimes Lord. In all of the books of the New Testament outside the gospels, the most common phrase (occurring 150 times) is “Lord Jesus” or “Lord Jesus Christ.” It seems that even those who had spent years with Jesus, and had the right to some familiarity, become very formal. Peter and John, two of his closest friends on earth, write about “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whatever their “relationship” might have been on earth, once they realized fully who he was the relationship became that of servant to master, subject to king.

We should have a relationship with Christ. However, it appears that relationship is one of submission, not familiarity. God wants our obedience, not our friendship.