Christ-Centered Relationships

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Text: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

If you were to ask me what in this world matters to me most, I would say, family. I believe that I am not alone. One of the things that matter to us most is relationships. Relationships, especially family, affect everything about us. When they are healthy, life is good. When they are struggling, we struggle in almost everything. Every relationship is built upon certain principles and values. If I may ask you, what are the foundations upon which your relationships are built? What are the values upon which you have built your relationships?

Every culture has its own values upon which relationships are built. Every kingdom has its own principles. People are expected to relate with others in certain ways depending on their ages, genders and other social aspects. There are many voices out there trying to show you how to live and relate with those closest to you. Not every voice is from God. Some of our cultural values are helpful and should be upheld but others contradict the Word of God.  

When we accept Christ, we become citizens of heaven. Jesus is our King. We, therefore, run our lives and relate with those around us based on the principles of Jesus’ kingdom. It is rather unfortunate when we decide to run our lives based on the principles of other kingdoms and not our own. God calls us to turn to Him and let Him show and teach us how to relate in ways that honor Him.

As believers in Jesus Christ, our relationships with others are built based on our relationship with Christ and our new life in the Holy Spirit. Without Christ at the center of our lives, we cannot have wholesome relationships. This is true, because without Christ at the center of our hearts, we are essentially selfish. We do not always act in the interests of others. Instead, we want other people to serve our interests. We get frustrated when things—even family relationships—do not work out our way. Even when we do the best for the other person, we hope that they will return the favor.

Some of us have been hurt or even abused in the previous or even current relationships; we do not know how to relate in wholesome, life-giving ways. Some of us come from cultures that despise virtues such as submission or love. Some cultures have misused concepts such as submission to abuse, especially women. So, we hate anything to do with submission, at least in the way we understand it.

Christ our Model

Let us look at the Word of God to see what it tells about how to live in wholesome relationships. Ephesians 5:21 tell us that “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This mutual submission out of our reverence for Christ is the basis for all other forms of relationships. The immediate context of this passage is household relationships between spouses, parents and children or workers and employers. But the principles can extend to other relationships as well. Our submission to other people should be mutual regardless of our gender, age or social status because we are all equal before God.

Christ is our model. He is our Savior and Lord. He is our example of self-giving love. He is also our ultimate Master. When we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow His love to fill our hearts, He teaches us how to submit, love, obey and respect others. Whether you are a wife, a husband, a parent, a child in a home, a worker or employer, you can look up to Christ as the example of how you relate with others.

Christ-Centered Relationships

The Word of God tells us to Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2). It is important to put Christ at the center of our relationships because we relate with imperfect people. However good the people around us are, they are not perfect. Some times they will fail us, they will not meet some of our expectations. Some of the people closest to us are anything but good. They are deeply flawed and very difficult to love or submit to. We too are deeply flawed. Without Christ transforming us, it is difficult for us to submit, love or respect others.

The Bible also reminds us not to get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). So, when we put Christ at the center of our relationships and allow the Holy Spirit to fills us, He enables and empowers us to do what is humanly impossible. The Holy Spirit, can teach us how to relate in ways God intended us to. So, the starting point is not our cultures, or experiences but rather the Word of God. We need to look at Christ Himself.

These instructions from God are not given to be obeyed in ideal situations. These are not conditional instructions. The Word of God does not promise that other people will always appreciate our acts of love or kindness. You cannot say, “I would have loved my wife but she is very difficult to love. She is not submissive.” Wives submit to their husbands not because the husbands will necessarily love them back but rather out of reverence for Christ. The wife submits to her husband because she is obedient to Christ. Similarly, husbands are to love their wives by following the example of Christ’s love for the church.

Learn from Christ

We should learn from the way Christ loves us. He does not love us when we are perfect or because we are perfect. He does not wait for us to first clean up. He loves us despite our flaws, brokenness, lostness or sinfulness. He loves us the way we are. We are to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (verse 22). Husbands are to love their wives with self-giving, sacrificial love—in the same way “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27). The husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies (verse 28).

The same principle applies to other relationships, whether it is between parents and children, children and parents or work-related relationships. Children, are to obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1). Fathers are also called up not no drive their children to anger but rather bring them up in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1). Workers and employers are to relate knowing that their ultimate Master is Jesus Christ.  

Some of the ways God calls us to relate with those around us are contrary to our cultures. If you choose to live and relate God’s way, people around you might think that you are out of your mind. Some might even become hostile to you because you threaten their status quo. If you, as a wife, choose to obey God’s Word and submit to your husband, people might think that you are old fashioned. If as a husband you choose to love your wife in self-giving and sacrificial ways, people around you may think that you are not man enough. But that’s okay.  We must choose God’s ways rather than the ways of the world. We must live and relate as God intended.

What we need to realize is that family ministry is spiritual warfare. The enemy has put families as one of his primary targets. That is why Christ-centered families do not come the easy way. When we live and relate according to God’s design and principles, Christ will be honored.  The devil will be defeated.

Christ-centered relationships are as a result of lives that are completely submitted to Christ. When we accept Jesus Christ, He transforms us in and out. He also helps us to change the way we relate with other people. We start valuing them as worthy of our love and respect. We do not wait for them to change or become good people before we start loving them. Christ teaches us to accept them as they are just the way He accepted us. If we put Christ at the center of our relationships; if we make Christ our model, then we will have wholesome families. Strong families will lead to wholesome communities. Consequently, we will have a strong nation.

As I close, I ask you to:

  • Surrender your frustrations, hurts and struggles concerning your relationships to Jesus Christ.
  • Determine to put Christ at the center of your relationships.
  • Ask Him to enable you do His will.
  • Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower you to do the right thing.
  • Remember that our primary calling in relationships is to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

God bless you.

Wholehearted Lovers

Text Matthew 22:34-40

The world of sports is now used to setting and breaking of records. It has no place for mediocre or even average performers. The world craves for superstars like Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda or Usain Bolt. The average performers are overshadowed by the best. Its not that the average performers prepare less or even don’t do their best, but they are simply not as good as those who emerge as the best performers. Sometimes church is like that. We feel that may be church is not a place for me, after all I am not a good Christian. I have never gone to any mission trip, I don’t sing in the choir, I don’t pray as much as my friends do, I seem to do everything wrong all the time….

Have you ever wondered what it means to be “a good Christian?” If someone asked you, “are you a good Christian?” What would your answer be? Yes, no, or something like, hmmm well, let me see….. What does it mean to be a good Christian? Does it mean going to church regularly, giving your tithe, singing in the choir, going for mission trips? Sometimes, actually much of the time, being “a good Christian” can be an illusion.

Let’s turn to our text for today: Matthew 22:34-40

 34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [NIV]

Pharisees were religious experts, the most respected people of that time. They were always competing with Sadducees, another religious group but who did not believe in the resurrection, or spirits and angels. On the other hand, the Pharisees were highly learned regarding the Law of Moses; they were regarded by the people as the holiest of all.  Paul said that as a Pharisee he was blameless, he kept every single law. And do you know how many laws they were; ten? They were actually 613! Paul said that he kept every single one of them; can you imagine?! (Philippians). Jesus had a bad taste for Pharisees. Do you know why? Because God looks beyond our religious actions. He sees the intentions of the heart – our motives. It is not enough to impress people. Sometimes it is easy to be fooled by what people say about us. Ohhh Pastor Emma you’re so godly. As a pastor that’s a very nice complement but is it what God would say of me? Would he look right into my heart, beyond what other people see and say Emmanuel I commend you; you love me, you are humble and kind? Sometimes the things people recommend about us are manipulative mechanisms that we use to have our way. We sometimes act kind so as to have other people do the things we want them to do for us.

Back to our text, the Bible says the Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Would Jesus be able to figure out which one was greatest out of the 613? Would he zero on the Ten Commandments and just choose one? Don’t we somehow ask the same question? What is the most important aspect of Christian life? Or like I first asked, what does it really mean to be a good Christian?

This was Jesus reply: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (v.37)

He was actually quoting a reference from the Book of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:8. Jesus said that these two laws summarized the entire Mosaic Law and were actually the basis, -the foundations for every other law.

What then does loving God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind mean? We like to pick and choose how we are to love and honor God. Someone may say, I will honor you during Sunday Worship services but whatever happens between Monday and Saturday is between me and me. I will honor you with my skills and talents but not my money, or I will keep my relationships to myself. Actually the word integrity means to be whole – having every aspect of our lives intact – having nothing lacking. The opposite for integrity is hypocrite, which is derived from a Greek word meaning “stage actor.” When we don’t give God our all we are simplly living like stage actors; we are hypocrites.

Friends, God is looking for wholehearted lovers. Our ultimate goal is not to be good Christians but rather wholehearted lovers of Jesus Christ. When we faithfully love God, we will serve him faithfully, we will be committed to pleasing him, we will speak words that honor him. When we live in a wholehearted, loving relationship with God, perhaps others will look at us and say: “she is a good Christian.” God wants our all. When you love someone you don’t want to hurt her. You want to do things that make her feel great! You want to give your best to her. You don’t mind what other people say about her because she is your best friend. You are unconditionally committed to her – or at least that’s how it is supposed to be. You are always there for that person. You commit your time, your energy, and your resources for the sake of that person.

God is looking for our whole being, our minds, our hearts, and our strength – everything that we are.  We are called to demonstrate our love for God in everything that we do. Whether we study, reason, relate,… anything. Walking with God means involving him in everything that we do. As I said, our ultimate goal is not to be good Christians but rather wholehearted lovers of Jesus Christ. God is looking for wholehearted lovers. My prayer is that you and I will be one of them.