The Myth of Mr/Ms Right – The Relationship Challenge #2

Read: Ephesians 5:21-27

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Not sure if it has happened to you, but as one who goes to his fair share of weddings, some of my worst wedding experiences have not been with bride or groom, or the in-laws.
The worst times are when you are seated, next to someone’s obnoxious relative.

They have probably only been invited because they are the filthy rich, or they’ve whinged their way onto the guest list, or they own a beachfront villa which the happy couple are hoping to nail for the honeymoon.

I remember one experience where we’d been making small talk over a not too shabby main course when Uncle Bruce leant right in and said, eyeball to eyeball, ‘can I talk about something with you?’ For the next hour or so lectured me on the evils of food additives, conspiracy theories about supermarket domination, and underhanded government policies of diet control. What was I supposed to do? I realised I was trapped. I started hoping someone would ring me with news of a tragedy and I would have to leave…

I walked away thinking, ‘don’t worry about food additives, the conversational style (which I call ‘the Tsunami’), was enough to give me hives!

The last thing you want is to get stuck with someone you can’t stand.

That’s why we talk about compatibility when it comes to relationships. People dream of Mr or Ms Right, who will come along and steal their heart. Behind that whole dream is a belief that if you find the right person, compatibility will just follow.

The Myth of Compatibility

This dream of Mr Right involves the idea that there’s one person out there who will make all my dreams come true. But look at what’s happening there:

It’s all about “me”.

I will have fun.

I will be happy.

I will find true love.

Tim Keller, in his book ‘The Meaning of Marriage‘, identifies some problems with this ‘me centred’ view. The first is that the other person will probably also be operating with the same “me centred” view of relationship.

Keller’s pretty right: Just about everybody out there is hoping for someone who will make them happy, who will sweep them off their feet, who will be the man or woman of their dreams.

The next problem is that when two people are both operating from a ‘me centred’ perspective, they both come with a relational vacuum. And when you add one vacuum to another vacuum, all you get is a stronger vacuum. A great big sucking sound.

Christian counsellor Lawrence Crabb uses a different image. He says, people who are looking for someone else to change their lives and meet their needs have a parasitic view of relationship. He calls it a ‘tick on a dog’ relationship. And then he adds, ‘the only trouble is that you have two ticks, and no dog.’

This doesn’t mean we should jettison all hope for compatibility. Neal Warren says
“The most stable marriages are those that involve two people with many similarities.”

And some will know, when two people go through pre-marriage counselling here at Gateway, we use a questionnaire which, while it does not determine compatibility, it does identify areas of agreement: where a couple have similar views and expectations. Compatibility is important. But what’s more important is that compatibility rests on the best foundation.

Christ’s selflessness

The Bible says the best way to build compatibility in your relationship is to share your relationship with Jesus. That’s what we read about in Ephesians 5.

We read about submitting to one another.

About loving one another.

About giving up oneself for another.

These words come in the context of what has gone before:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 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 4:29–5:2, NIV)

In other words: you are in relationship with Jesus, let his relationship with you define all the others. Let the character of Jesus’ relationship with you define all your other relationships. And the first way we see that is in a call to selflessness.
To give up your rights.

Are you thinking about relationships? What kind of relationship you might have in the future? As a Christian you need to understand that the Gospel of Jesus is a direct challenge to the ‘me first’ view of relationship, so common in our culture.

In Jesus’ culture, his alternate culture, his new life, it is ‘them first’, ‘the other first’.

Are you really saying I should let them go first? Put their needs before mine?

Not a popular notion, is it?

In a world where people are taught from an early age to be themselves, that their wants matter, that they are important, this idea of serving another is confronting and disturbing. People think it’s humiliating. Condescending. ‘Why do I have to think less of myself?’

Keller has the sound bite here: “It’s not thinking less of yourself. It’s just thinking of yourself less.”

When Christ calls us to submit to one another, he is calling us to put the needs of the other first.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV)

Now I know someone will point out that in v.22 the word ‘submit’ is used for what the wife must do, and in v.25 ‘love’ is used for what the husband must do. As if the husband does not have to submit to the wife.

What we need to understand is that in the original, the word ‘submit’ does not occur in v.22. Verse 22 is really a run on sentence from v.21, and translators borrow the verb ‘submit’ – quite properly – from v.21.

What all this means is that submission, as defined in v.21, is essentially a mutual thing. And this idea of mutual submission as expressed in v.21 defines what follows.
It is misusing this passage to assert that submission is what the wife has to do, and love is what the husband has to do.

So understanding that submission is something for both husband and wife, we understand this is a call to both of them to place the needs of the other above their own. This can only come at a considerable cost to the giver.

We see this in Philippians 2. Jesus submitted by placing the needs of his people, their rescue, above his own claim to glory, honour and power. He made himself a servant of the church. He made himself your servant. Your slave.

We read about submission in 1 Cor 13. In that great chapter on love, a whole lot of things are said about love. And one of the things said is this:

“Love… is not self-seeking…” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

Can you see what this would do to our quest for compatibility? It totally reverses the typical direction.

We move from “I’m looking for someone to meet my needs and make me happy” to “I’m looking for someone I can serve, someone whose needs I can meet. I want to do whatever I can to make them happy.”

The words “I want” are replaced with “I am here to love you and serve you – your needs matter more than my wants. I want to help you thrive. I submit everything I am and everything I have to your needs.”

Christ’s sacrifice

Can you can see why this is such a challenge? Here we are, thinking that it’s all about us, and then in the Gospel we learn it is not actually about us at all. Tim Keller is right to say:

All Christians who really understand the gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to people

A radical change, friends. A change the penetrates right to the heart, right to the core of who we are and how we live.

How does this change happen?

Well, it is not simply using Christ as a model. It is being in relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is having His Holy Spirit poured into your life through this relationship with Jesus.

“… be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV)

“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, NIV)

This change comes to those loved by Jesus, those whom he has given himself for. To those who bow the knee to his rule, who bow to the transformation of their life and their values, who are empowered and enabled by His love.

Once again, Keller:

Without the help of the Holy Spirit, without a continual filling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. … It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.

Did you catch that last sentence? “It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.”

You want relationship grounded in compatibility?

It can only happen, you can only do this with Jesus’ supernatural power, his redeeming grace, his enabling Spirit empowering you.

Imagine that! Through his death and rising, Jesus enables a change, a complete change of life direction. A complete change!

From me first, to them first.

From my wants, to their needs.

From my happiness, to their growth, to them thriving.

I stop thinking about myself first, and I make their needs more important than my own.

For those of us who are married: think about how this would change your relationship.
Think about the areas of tension or disagreement in your relationship. That argument. That disagreement with your wife. That clash with your husband.

Jesus says to you, right here, right now, “I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

Are you listening?

“I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

Jesus is saying: “I want you to be prepared to do all the giving, all the letting go.”

The emphasis becomes ‘how can I make myself, my interests, my behaviour, my love, compatible to theirs. How can I direct my entire self to serving them?

Isn’t this revolutionary?

You may ask, how far do I have to go with that? Do I really have to bend that much? Give up that much? Go that far?

Well, how far did Jesus go? God’s word is crystal clear:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8, NIV)

This revolutionises relationship, doesn’t it? To count myself as nothing. Take the nature of a servant.

It changes the whole sense of waiting for Mr Right, and exposes it for the myth it is.

Single people: It’s not true that there’s only one person out there for you. There are any number of people out there with whom you could form a healthy relationship.

Relationship is not about you finding the right person. It’s about you – through Jesus, like Jesus, in the power of Jesus’ selflessness and sacrifice – being the right person.

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