The greatest gift God has given His children is the gift of loving relationships. Man and woman were created to be friends with God. At creation God performed the first wedding where two became one. All through His Word, God uses marriage to illustrate the relationship He wants to have with each of us, the two as one. At creation He also gave the Sabbath as a special day to nurture and enjoy our relationship with Him and His children. You might call it a family day. Sabbath is a special day out with our Father.
God’s law given at Sinai is all about this relationship. He doesn’t want to share us with other gods. He wants a relationship that is personal and close without any objects between. He wants a relationship where respect is mutual. He reminds us of the day He set aside at creation. It’s a day for building our relationship with Him without the distractions of our daily lives. We might view it as a weekend away with God. He loves us so much He wants to share this closeness every Sabbath. In the last six commandments, I believe God is saying, “If you love Me, you must love My children, because each one is important to Me.” This is a principle that is easy for us to understand. We all want the people we love to love our children. Jesus summed up the law with a definition of total relationship: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
God uses the human relationship of marriage, the relationship between siblings, the relationship between friends, the relationship between parents and children, and the relationship between young people in love to illustrate the relationship He wants with the special objects of His love, the ones He created in His image to be friends with Him.
God’s enemy, Satan, has used every weapon in his arsenal to destroy loving relationships. The focus of Satan’s existence is to destroy the special relationship between God and His human family. He knows that the heart of a loving God is broken when relationships are destroyed. He also knows that when we experience broken and defective relationships, we find it more difficult to understand the eternal, unconditional love God has for us. This has inspired Satan to focus his efforts on destroying the relationship gifts given to us at creation—marriage and the Sabbath.
One relationship that is natural for our fallen selfish natures is the business relationship. It is based on everyone looking out for their own interests. It is a relationship that has remained constant and predictable since the first trade was made. The business relationship has infiltrated human relationships, the ones God based on the principles of love, until love is almost gone. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:44-48 that mixing a business relationship with a love relationship will destroy love:
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48).
Combining a business relationship and a loving relationship brings much heartache. It fosters sexual immorality, divorce, abortion, child abuse, spouse abuse, and all other negative relationships.
Understanding our selfish natures and our desire for a bargain, God uses the reward-for-good-behavior model to get our attention and begin building the relationship He wants with us. We understand this approach because we do much the same when we attempt to build trust while taming a frightened animal. God meets us where we are. Since the fall in Eden, God often finds us frightened, hiding in the bushes. This may be where our relationship with God begins, but it isn’t the relationship His loving heart yearns for. He wants a relationship where our response to Him comes out of pure love. Nothing pleases Him more than when we come running to Him just for the joy of being with Him. He longs to remove our business motives and replace them with a love like His. Business is such a part of our natures that even our efforts to build a relationship with God are based on looking for a good deal. Only God can remove our business heart and give us a heart of love.
A story found in Luke 15 tells of a young man who had a business relationship with his father. He saw his father as the one who could satisfy his desire for an easy life. He was so self-focused that he didn’t want to wait until his father died for his inheritance. He wanted it now. We can feel the heartbreak of the father as he honored the wishes of his selfish son. We sense his feeling of loneliness and rejection as he watched his son head down the road to the big city and the “good life.” It wasn’t the inheritance that broke the father’s heart. He had always planned to give it to this son he loved so much. What tortured his soul was that his son wanted nothing more than a business relationship.
Arriving in the big city, the young man began spending his inheritance on all the desires of his heart. He was soon surrounded by friends who made him feel important and accepted. Life was just as he imagined it would be. Then his money ran out. He discovered that his friends only had a business relationship with him; they were not true friends. This prodigal son began to experience a little of what his own father felt the day the young man turned his back on his home and walked away. Feelings of emptiness and hurt in our relationships occur when we bring the self-interest of the business relationship into relationships that God has grounded in love.
In the story of the prodigal son, there was a famine in the land, and the young man was reduced to feeding pigs. He was so hungry that even the pigs’ food began to look good. Suddenly he had an idea. His father’s servants had plenty to eat. Why not offer his services to his father as a servant? With the possibility of a warm meal in mind, he headed for his father’s house. As he traveled, he practiced his speech. “I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be called your son. I will be happy to serve as a servant for a servant’s wage if you will just take me back.” He still had a business relationship with his father. He didn’t understand his father’s love.
The Bible says that the father saw his son a long way off and ran toward him. He didn’t even let the boy finish his businessman’s speech. He started giving orders. “Bring my best robe, kill the fatted calf, prepare a great party. My son who was lost is back home again.” The father did not have a business relationship with his son; he had a father’s heart of love that never lost hope that his son would return home.
There was another son in the family who had stayed home and done everything right. He had followed the rules, worked hard, and been obedient to his father’s wishes. When he heard the noise of the party and realized it was for his “no-good brother,” he was angry and would not go in to celebrate. Once again the father took the initiative and came to find his son. He asked him, “Why are you angry?” The son spilled out all his frustrations. “I have stayed and done everything you asked, yet you haven’t thrown a party for me.” This older brother also had a business relationship with the father. The relationship was based on what he might get in return for what he had done. The father again showed his heart of love. He said, “My son, everything I have is yours.” We can hear his heart’s cry: “Why can’t you rejoice with me, my son? Your brother who was lost is found.” The brother who did everything right and the brother who did everything wrong had the same relationship with their father—a business relationship. They both missed the joy and satisfaction of the true loving relationship their father wanted so much.
The Gospels, in fascinating detail, follow the relationship between the disciples and Jesus as they grow from a business relationship to one based on true love. In Matthew 19 we find the story of the rich young ruler. As he went away weeping, Jesus pointed out the danger of riches in man’s relationship with God. Peter’s response in verse 27—“Lord we have left everything to follow you! What will there be for us?”—shows the business side of his relationship with Jesus. Jesus makes clear that leaving everything is an embarrassing and pathetic offer for the gifts He promises out of love. Heaven with Jesus, in a loving relationship, is worth more than all we can give. It emphasizes that a business relationship with God will never work because we bring nothing of value to the table.
A business relationship with God always leaves us in the frustrating position of wanting something that we do not have the resources to buy. It leaves us fearful that we can never obtain what we want. When we allow God to move us from a business relationship to a love relationship, we break into the sunshine of His presence. We understand that out of His great love, He has given us the desires of our hearts. This new relationship based on love will fill us with an overwhelming desire to please Him. We will no longer think about what we will get in exchange for our “hard work.” We will just want to look in God’s eyes and see Him smile.