We are relational beings by design. God created us to be in relation with both him and others. To have relationships with others is a blessing of God. This is one way God shapes his people, especially within the church, through godly relationships. There are few blessings of greater worth than godly relationships.
But with all good things, Satan, our culture, and we can twist what God designed for good to our own detriment. God has called us to love him with everything we have (Mark 12.30), not to love people more than him. When we love someone more than God, it will lead us away from the one who created us to enjoy relationships in the first place.
Now to be clear, God wants us to love others. But he wants us to do so underneath and as a result of our love for him. Our love for others must never overshadow our love and obedience to God. When they do, we have already been deceived, and the groundwork has been laid for greater and greater deception.
It is this potential for relationships to deceive us, and to even supplant God, which leads to some of the more difficult passages of Scripture. In Deuteronomy God tells the Israelites to not marry any of the Canaanites. The concern here is not ethnic purity; rather, it is that the Canaanites will lead the Israelites to worship false gods (Deut. 7.3-4). God gave this command for the good of Israel, because if they were to stray away God they would in turn receive his punishment.
Sadly, Israel did not obey. This is chiefly demonstrated by King Solomon who had many foreign wives who led him away from God (1 Kings 11). This was the genesis of the breaking of Israel and eventually their exile.
It is in this vein that Jesus utters a similar warning in Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Why would Jesus say such a thing? This is type of statement sounds harsh and backwards in our culture today. But he said this because he knows relationships can be deceptive which can lead them to being viewed as more important than God. It is easy to be blinded by what you can see and touch. It is easy to receive the acceptance, love, and joy of another person and thus elevate upon God. It is easy to value people over God precisely because they are right before us. Yet when we do this, we make them into an idol, a false god. When place people in the place where only God belongs, we will further compromise our relationship with him.
Sadly I have seen this all too often. Whether it is the pastor or theologian who has a close family member who “comes out” as gay, leading them to compromise what scripture teaches us about it. Or if it the Christian kid who appears rock solid in the faith until they “fall in love” with a Catholic. Now in pursuit of that love and being “complete” they convert leaving behind the teachings of Scripture. Or if it's the professing Christian who rightly desires to be married that he/she will use the term “Christian” as just a box which must be checked off. "You call yourself a Christian? That's all I needed to hear!"
The results in these scenarios are sad but predictable. When we value relationships over God we have setup a false god in this place. When we do that, inevitably we will walk farther and farther from God as we chase a false god.
When thinking about relationships, whether friendships, family, or romantic, I think there are three questions we should ask of ourselves.
1. Do I have a proper view of relationships, especially marriage?
Our culture tells us that life is about love, especially romantic love. Friendship, family, and spouses are great gifts from God, but they are not ultimate. Relationships will either lead toward God or away from him. A lot of this starts with what priority you place on relationships. If you value them too highly, to the extent that you are willing to compromise your beliefs or change them simply because of someone you know, then you have an idol problem. You have too high of a view of the importance of that relationship. Instead, our relationships should honor God by pointing ourselves and others to him and his truth. Godly relationships recognize that God is ultimate.
2. Is this relationship bringing my closer to God or farther from him?
Parents rightly fear that their children may fall in with the wrong crowd. But we rarely think about this for ourselves. God established boundaries in relationships to safeguard his people, not to be a fun-hater. Christians, you must only marry actual Christians. That is those who are actively seeking God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. If your relationship is in violation to God’s commands, then you need to rethink it. If your relationship is causing you to sin, then you must repent. If your relationship is causing you compromise, or to become more like the world, then you are being deceived. But if your relationship encourages you to grow in faith, to love other rightly, then enjoy it to the fullest extent and thus bring glory to God. One way or the other we must recognize that deceptive power relationship can present. Your relationships will either draw you near to God or pull you far from him.
3. Am I seeking to get something from this relationship it can’t provide?
Because of our natural desire for relationships we can sometimes go to them seeking something they were never designed to give us. Our culture tells us that romantic love is highest goal. That you must find that “soul-mate” who will “complete you”. This is utter nonsense. If you seek to find your worth, fulfillment, identity, or reason for life in another person then you have setup a false idol who is both deaf and mute. By this I mean this relationship cannot bring that about, and no relationship between humans ever will. Your relationship may take the place of God in your heart, but it can never actually replace the God of the universe. These things, can only come from God through Jesus Christ. If you are seeking them in other people, you cannot be seeking God as you should be. If this is what you are doing, then your relationship will not be God-honoring and it will, like with Solomon, lead you farther from God and not closer to him. Seek your purpose in God, not in man.
We must teach ourselves and our children to love God more than our relationships. If following God costs you a relationship, if it means you must be single longer than you want to be, if it means the world will despise you, then you must follow God and not man. Relationships are a good gift from God, but God is greater still.