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Trinity in Relationships

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Today we come to our last study on the Trinity. Three things we shall be doing (1) looking at the Trinity as a model for understanding ourselves; (2) then the Trinity as the foundation for building godly relationships; (3) the priority of trinitarian love.

opening prayer

‘I’m not a simple person. I have a complexity of feelings, often I do not understand why I am or who I am. My mind runs away from me. There is a depth to me that I do not know and which I cannot share because I do not fully understand. The universe within me is the size of universe around me, and both are uncharted and both are littered with surprises. Yet I persevere with my complexity, because I have no choice and I live for the day when I shall fully understand the real me’.

The essence of a person, Mounier insists, is indefinable. The French philosopher goes onto say that our person is a ‘living activity of self-creation, of communication and attachment, that grasps and knows itself’. The Teacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes says that ‘God has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end’ (Ecc 3:11). There is a indefinable mystery about our person. And so we ask, ‘who am I’?

The complexity of our personality is a reminder that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Or to put it another way, ‘since God is beyond understanding, his icon within humanity is also incomprehensible’ (Kallistos Ware). We are God’s workmanship, his icon created in his image, and so our nature reflects the complexity and mystery of God himself.

In light of this, we must understand ourselves as theological beings. And this understanding emerges from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As one of the early Church Fathers puts it, ‘man realises his true existence in the measure in which he is raised up towards God and is united with him’ (Nellas).

When we look at Jesus, we see an undefiled person. Jesus is the measure of humanity. He is the litmus test for life. Christ is in the image of God, and male and female are in the image of Christ. Man is a creator because he is in the image of the supreme Creator. Man rules the world because he is made in the image of Christ, the Almighty Ruler. Men and women are capable of relationships because we mirror Christ who is a relational person.

When we enter into union with Christ, we are introduced to the relationships that exist within the Trinity. ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8) means that the relationships with the Trinity are other-centred and sacrificial. The persons within the Trinity enjoy an eternal and joyful communion. In fact, the most wonderful description of the Trinity arises from this binding love, from the other-centeredness of the Trinity as described by Broughton Knox:

The Father loves the Son and gives him everything. The Son always does that which pleases the Father. The Spirit takes the things of the Son and shows them to us.

We learn from the Trinity that relationship is the essence of reality and therefore the essence of our existence.

We also learn that the way this relationship should be expressed is by concern for others. Within the Trinity itself there is a concern by the persons of the Trinity for one another.

The Trinity defines our personhood. We are people built for relationships. And as Broughton Knox points out, relationships are the ‘essence of reality’. Intellectual truth is not ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is not propositional—reality is not the sum of words and logical conjunctions. Ultimate reality is relational—its personal. It’s about knowing the Son and having life in his name. Relationship is the essence of our existence. When God made this world he spun it out of the web of relationships. God in relationship with his creation, man and woman in relationship with one another, Adam and Eve ruling the world. Relationship is the ‘essence of reality’.

The relationships which exist between the Father, Son and Spirit are the model for our own relationships. God exists in his own community. Father, Son and Spirit exist in a relationship which is never marred by disagreements and disharmony. There’s never been a fight in the Trinity. There’s no name calling and running-down and shouting at the other person. There’s no meanness and selfishness. The universe has never stopped working for a day or two because there’s a stoush between the Spirit and the Son.

The key to understanding relationships is go back to the Trinity and what we see is unity and diversity, oneness and other-centeredness. When we go back to the Trinity, we go back to the original design for human relationships. We need to look at our relationships from this great perspective because it is here we learn the nature of reality. And we see that we are created for relationships which glorify God.

Turn with me to Genesis 2 as we consider the situation in which Adam found himself. After a shortened account of creation, we read in verse 15, ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’. These were the days when men were happy to go to work. Then in verses 16 and 17 God is kind enough to tell Adam how to live according to his design. And there is no indication that Adam was anything other than content in this situation. Adam is perfectly content in his relationship with God and the world. Adam is secure in his singleness.

Why did God make a man first?

God made a man first because he wanted him to be the leader, and a man cannot lead unless he has a good relationship with God. God was preparing Adam for his role as a leader as each day went to work and took care of the garden. Everyday at work Adam was the ruler of the world and he lacked nothing. It was not Adam who said, ‘Lord, I am so lonely down here, please give me a wife’. Adam is secure in his singleness. It is God who says in verse 18, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’. If you had gone up to Adam and asked him, ‘are you lonely’? he would not know what you mean. He had God and life was fantastic and wonderful, what else did he need?

Adam was secure in his singleness.

Selwyn Hughes has a great set of talks for couples, and he says that single people make the mistake of going into marriage seeking security when this ought to come from their relationship with God. Adam was secure in his singleness which meant that when he entered into marriage he wasn’t in emotional debt. He was free to be other-centred because he was feeding on his relationship with God.

So the husband must be able to look at his wife, and the wife to her husband, and both must both be able to say, ‘I can live without you’. Now the way that’s said is very, very important! Not ‘I can live without you’, but if I must, when that time comes, ‘I will be able to live without you’ because I am drawing from God my security, my self-worth and my significance.

If we look at Adam’s relationship with God, we see that it rested on the three foundation stones. Adam drew from God his sense of security, his sense of self-worth and his sense of significance (slide).

Security is a sense of being unconditionally loved. You and I were built to be loved. The people who break down most easily are the people who don’t feel secure, who don’t feel loved. Marriage breakdown robs adults and children and society of security. For you don’t know who you are until you know whose you are. We need to be loved by other people. We need families who love us as we love them.

Self-worth gives us a sense of value. We all need a sense of value before we can give ourselves to other people. I get my sense of value by looking into the eyes of others and assessing what they think about me. Our self-worth comes from our perception of what others think about us. Our sense of value arises from how we think the world thinks about us. We cannot live without a sense of self-worth. We need to feel valued and important on the basis of who I am.

The third foundation stone is Significance which is a sense of meaning and purpose. We are men and women made in the image of God with a tremendous sense of destiny. We need to know where we are heading and why we are heading that way. We need to have a reason to live. We need to feel significant and meaningful in this hugely complex world.

Our ability to have relationships is God given. And as Adam drew his sense of security, self-worth and significance from God, he was free to enjoy God and he was able to enjoy life in the garden. Adam was able to love others because he knew he was loved by God. Just as the persons in the Trinity love one another, so Adam was able to love. But he had no-one similar to him to love. The giraffes and the elephants and the snails were great—but not a suitable partner for Adam. In Gen 2:19–20, Adam is given the task of naming the animals, ‘But for Adam no suitable helper was found’. There was no-one in creation comparable to Adam whom he could love.

Indeed, the image of God in humanity was not complete until the woman was created. ‘In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27). God’s image in humanity was not fully represented until he created male and female. So although Adam was content in his singleness, there was someone missing.

The way in which God prepares Adam for the arrival of the woman is intriguing and remarkable. God puts Adam to sleep and from one of his ribs he shapes woman. And the woman is presented to Adam, and Adam delights in his partner. Can you imagine that moment when they first see each other?  Adam cries out, ‘Thankyou Lord, she’s a little ripper’! Or in Hebrew, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man’ (Gen 1:27).

Matthew Henry wrote this poem:


She was not made from his head to top him,

Nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him,

But out of his side to be equal with him,

Under his arm to be protected,

And near his heart to be loved.

When God brought the woman to the man there took place the world’s first wedding. The male is designed to lead and move confidently and strongly into the female world. The female is receiving, she warmly welcomES with a desire to nourish, nurture and enjoy. The female soul comes alive in the atmosphere of relationships.

But with the intrusion of sin in Genesis 3, Adam’s authority is disturbed. He no longer complements Eve, now Adam is competitive. Eve suspects that her husbands decisions are not in her best interests and she fights for her rights. Adam is threatened by Eve’s criticisms and he attempts to control; he imposes his authority in a harsh and high-handed fashion. The result is that men struggle with their SELF-WORTH and women with their sense of security.

So the truth of the Trinity brings home to us several things:

1.      God places a high value on relationships

2.      A good relationship is where we use our resources for the well being of another

3.      The relationships within the Trinity help us measure the effect of sin in our own relationships.

Please turn with me to Phil 2:5–11. It is here that we see the priority of love.

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’.

The incarnate Christ followed a path of obedience and humiliation which led to a cruel and culturally shameful death on a cross. Unlike the fallen Adam, Jesus didn’t look to his own interests, but to those of others. The eternal Son did not exploit his divine status. Instead, he lowered himself, he accepted that obedience to the Father was the pathway to exaltation and glory. Christ accepted his appointment by the Father, and we are to follow the eternal Son’s loving, self-sacrificial obedience. ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). We are to follow the example of Christ who sought to glorify his heavenly Father and in so doing bring many people into glory.

The Father loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son, the Son went to the cross in obedience to the Father, and the Spirit went into the world to glorify the Son. The Son is glorified by the Spirit and the Father is glorified by the Son. The persons in the Trinity glorifying one another. This is other-centred love. And apart from the existence of this perfect, eternal love, there can be no explanation for love in our world.

The priority of love.

In the Gospel of John the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us’ (John 1:1). Jesus shares the divine nature. He and the Father indwell one another (there’s that little word perichoresis again). So there is an amazing bond between Father and Son. Later, Jesus says that ‘The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands’ (John 3:35); and ‘the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does’ (John 5:20).

The priority of love.

In 1 John the apostle insists that the Son who has existed for all eternity became a man. And we who believe in the Son have fellowship with him and through him we have fellowship with the Father. According to John, God’s commandment is that we believe in Jesus Christ his Son and that we love one another (1 John 3:23). Then followS these words, ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’.

Love is the acid test of our discipleship. Love one another: love other family members, love your brothers and sisters in Christ, love your non-Christian friends enough to share the gospel with them. If we love others, we belong to Jesus Christ. Let me tell you about love, says the Apostle Paul, ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor 13:4–8a)’.

The priority of love.

The relationships within the Trinity are relationships of love. We love one another because we are made in the image of our triune God. So loving one another is more than a nice, polite thing to do. As we love each other we are imitating God himself. Loving one another is God-like, its an expression of our holiness, its an expression of our Christian freedom. Our morality is not driven by a god who is harsh and vindictive. Christian morality flows from the God who loves us and calls us to be like him.

There is nothing more god-like we can do than to love one another. This is how we are to love ourselves and one another: ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another’ (Col 3:12). Then in Colossians, the apostle goes on to describe love in the kitchen, ‘Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord’ (Col 3:18–20).

The priority of love.

The unity and purity of the church requires that we love the Lord—with our heart, with our mind, our strength, our soul—and that we love one another as Christ has loved us. This is our calling as Christians. To deny our calling, is, in the words of Letham, to become an ‘abusive church’ (Letham, The Holy Trinity, 477). A church where the leaders hijack the church for their own personal agenda. A church where the leaders become arrogant because they think that God is automatically on their side, right down to the fine print. But the Lord Jesus did not travel this road, he emptied himself. He became obedient to the cross.

An ‘abusive church’ is a place where the people treat one another with contempt. It’s a church where the members become arrogant because they think that God is automatically on their side, right down to the fine print. It’s a church where people fly-off the handle, where character assignation happen behind the scenes. It’s a place where people have forgotten their first-love. But the Lord Jesus did not travel this road, he emptied himself. He became obedient to the cross.

Jerome records the story of the Apostle John being carried around in his old age by his disciples. In his travels, again and again he repeats these words, ‘Little children love one another’. When asked why he said only these words, he replied, ‘Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough’.

The conclusion is inescapable. In the words of Letham, ‘we are called to worship the Holy Trinity, to live in loving and joyful union and communion with the Holy Trinity, and—precisely because of that—to live in loving communion with other human beings’ (Letham, The Holy Trinity, 475).

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