Spiritual growth objective: Grow in loving other people in Christ-like ways in all of our relationships.
Introduction to Relationships
We are made in the image of a triune God who has relationships at the core of his being. Therefore, we are relational beings who cannot exist or thrive apart from healthy, loving relationships with other people. To be human is to participate in the eternal, loving relationships of Father, Son, and Spirit and to share and reflect that love of God in relationships with other human beings.
We see this illustrated strikingly in the very beginning of the biblical story. When God had created Adam and placed him in the garden, a sinless world and an uninterrupted relationship with God was not enough for him because he lacked human companions (Genesis 2:18). So God created Eve, and through their relationship God fulfilled his purpose to fill the world with his image in multitudes of human beings (Genesis 1:28). When human sin ruined and corrupted every relationship, God’s rescue plan through Noah, Abraham, and the nation of Israel was a social plan for redeemed human relationships among the people of God. When God fulfilled his plan by coming to us in Jesus Christ, he continued the pattern of calling a community of disciples to love one another and to invite the whole world into the renewed humanity that God is forming in the world in Christ by the presence and power of his Spirit.
Because loving relationships are so central to being human and to God’s mission in the world, our spiritual formation requires us to give high priority to pursuing loving relationships with others. Indeed, Jesus named loving others as the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God himself (Matthew 22:36-40). But why is it so important?
Others are a means of grace for us. God’s ordinary means of transforming us is to work through other people. We receive both physical and spiritual life from God through other people. This is why God insists that we not forsake assembling with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25) and devoting ourselves to one another (Romans 12:9-13;). We are baptized into the corporate and inter-dependent body of Christ in which we receive gifts of life and blessing from others who are different from us (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
We are a means of grace for others. God can use us to transform other people. As members of the body of Christ, we have a unique set of gifts and an indispensable role to play in serving and blessing others (1 Peter 4:8-11). The truth, forgiveness, acceptance, kindness, affection, encouragement, hospitality, and strength that we receive from God and others are meant not only to bless us but also to flow through us into the lives of others in the bonds of friendship and communion that reflect the life of God (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
The relationships of Christians are a sign and witness of the reality of God’s kingdom. Jesus teaches that love between Christians is a primary sign to the world that we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35). Loving one another makes our profession of love for God credible (1 John 3:14), and thus it is tangible evidence to the world that the Father has truly sent Jesus into the world as our Savior (John 17:21).
Study and learn how to grow in relationships
The following resources provide teaching about loving one another that is generally applicable to a wide variety of human relationships.
Bible study guides
The following resources are study guides of biblical texts with questions for personal study or group discussion.
Gospel Love (New Growth Press, 2012).
This 10-lesson study covers barriers to loving others, how love is an expression of faith, the role of the Spirit in relationships, honesty vs. judging, and how to live with forgiveness and compassion.
Gospel-Centered Community, 2nd ed. (New Growth Press, 2016).
This 9-lesson study covers the way the Holy Spirit shapes diverse people into a Christ-centered community that reflects Jesus with deeper, richer relationships centered on Christ.
Carolyn Nystrom, Friendship (InterVarsity Press, 2003).
This 10-lesson study examines the theme of friendship in the Bible to discover a practical theology of friendship and lessons drawn from examples of friendships in the Bible like David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi.
Paul Miller, A Loving Life in a World of Broken Relationships (Crossway, 2014).
This 17-lesson study draws insights from the book of Ruth to show us how to love when loving seems impossibly hard. Miller stresses that love is a pilgrimage that requires us to reflect the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection in enduring rejection and unfulfilled hopes, choosing to love unlovable people, and paradoxically discovering the life of God in us that sustains and satisfies us and makes us more like Christ. A separate leader’s guide is also available.
This eight-session study is an excellent introduction to relationships that teaches participants how on how to relate to others in wise and loving ways that reflect God’s love for us. The lessons teach that good relationships emerge from practicing the disciplines of being aware of and engaged with God, self, and others. The result is a growing ability to discern emotions, interests, and abilities in ourselves and others, to interpret this information in the light of God’s Word, and to use these insights to manage our responses and relationships successfully.
Central Presbyterian Church owns a copy of the videos, and members may borrow them for their group studies (contact Pastor Mike Farley). Participants only need to download the accompanying study guide and discussion questions HERE. (A hard copy of the study guide may be purchased HERE.)
Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Relationships (Zondervan, 2017).
This is an eight-session study on practical relationship skills for developing mature, loving relationships with others, including understanding our own emotional and relational formation in our families of origin, clarifying expectations, listening actively, engaging in conflict constructively with integrity and humility, and learning language to express appreciation, confusion, complaint, and hopes and wishes in relating to others.
Central Presbyterian Church owns a copy of the videos on DVD, and members may borrow them for their group studies (contact Pastor Mike Farley). Participants only need to acquire a workbook. The book of daily guidance for worship based on the book’s themes is also a nice complement to this study.
General teaching on relationships
Paul Miller, Love Walked among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus (NavPress, 2014).
This study of the love of Jesus shows us the ultimate revelation of love in action. Miller teaches us how we can learn to love by knowing Jesus, who loved with compassion and truth in deep dependence on God with a humility and faith that enabled him to endure great grief and suffering.
For group discussion, see the accompanying discussion guide.
Ed Welch, Caring for One Another (Crossway, 2018). 80 pp.
Ed Welch, Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love (Crossway, 2015). 176 pp.
These books are shorter and longer versions of the same message describing what it looks like for meaningful relationships to become a natural part of daily life in the church. Welch writes to equip friends to help friends walk alongside each other and share their burdens with each other through gentle words of wisdom and kind acts of love. It is how ordinary relationships and conversations between ordinary Christians work extraordinary support in each other’s lives. Both books have questions for reflection and group discussion at the end of each chapter.
Learning to love when relationships are hard
Paul Miller, A Loving Life in a World of Broken Relationships (Crossway, 2014).
This study draws lessons from the book of Ruth to show us how to love when loving seems impossibly hard. Miller stresses that love is a pilgrimage that requires us to reflect the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection in enduring rejection and unfulfilled hopes, choosing to love unlovable people, and paradoxically discovering the life of God in us that sustains and satisfies us and makes us more like Christ.
For a taste of this book, see the interview with the author HERE.
Tim Lane and Paul Tripp, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006).
Two Christian counselors address the stubborn problems that plague many close relationships and that often erupt in conflict. They show us how to explore the deeper issues that drive our reactions, choices, and behaviors, and they show you how God transforms us to help us build mature, loving relationships that are worth the effort.
For a taste of the book, read an extended excerpt or watch this introductory video:
Scott Sauls, Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear (Tyndale, 2016).
Pastor Scott Sauls describes the breadth of Jesus’ relationships and calls us to follow him by leaving the safety of our small, self-made worlds of people like us to befriend many other kinds of people. Separate chapters treat the opportunities and challenges of befriending many different groups of people.
For group discussion or personal study, see the related six-session video series on RightNow Media with its accompanying leader’s guide. To gain free access to RightNow Media, sign up for an account HERE.
For resources on more specific types of relationships and relational skills, see the following pages:
Peacemaking: Resources for biblical conflict resolution (coming soon)
Marriage (coming soon)
Parenting (coming soon)
Friendship (coming soon)
(1) Check your understanding.
- Why are healthy human relationships so important for being human?
- How do healthy human relationships play a central role in our spiritual formation?
(2) Study one or more resources on a Christian approach to relationships.
- Can you describe the qualities of a good relationship as well as the character virtues and practices that cultivate good relationships?
- Can you identify some key biblical texts that offer teaching about these qualities, virtues, and practices?
(3) Make a specific plan to work on one or more of your relationships.
- Make a commitment to pray regularly for the relationships you are working on. Keep these relationships in mind and bring them before God as you pray from the Scriptures in your practice of the daily office and your ongoing conversations with God as you live a praying life throughout your day.
- Make a plan to incorporate some specific practices into your relationships that will help them mature in Christ-like ways. Make sure that your ideas are concrete enough that you will can see and evaluate your progress. Discuss these with your growth group or some trusted Christian friend to seek their support, wisdom, and encouragement.