It is incongruent with the Christian life to be ruthlessly and single-mindedly interested only in our own self-interest. This is true in every realm for the Christian and most assuredly in the relational economy. We cannot at once die to self and live for self. It does not work. "Compelled by the Spirit" the desires of our hearts must reflect the purposes of our Lord Jesus Christ. They must reflect his love.
When a relationship becomes a win or lose proposition in which the winner takes all and the loser goes home empty handed—we all lose. It works well under the business model if profit, gaining the advantage or benefit, is the goal of relationships. But coming out on top is not the goal in the Christian relational economy. For the Christian, winning is a shared benefit.
Our relational economy is not simply the pursuit of profit but the pursuit of "righteousness for his name's sake" (Psalms 23:3). In fact, the sole pursuit of profit belongs to Wall Street not to those who walk the "paths of righteousness" (Ps. 23:3). In the Christian relational economy dying is gain and loss is profit (Philippians 1:21). We do all things by his power and for his name's sake. What good is it if we "gain the whole world, yet forfeit [our] soul[s]" (Mark 8:36)? If you want real profit try "godliness with contentment" (1 Timothy 6:6). That "is great gain." That is true profit.
While profit is essential to every business, self-interested profit is destructive to the relational economy. Rather than growing a relationship it will quickly lead to bankruptcy. That is because in the relational economy profit is about spending strategically so that YOU come out on top. In the world's economy, profit is not about self-sacrifice. It is not about giving but getting.
Here is how the world's profit works in the relational economy:
We make a "profit" when our yield is greater than our investment.
We make a "profit" when our return exceeds our expenditures.
We make a "profit" when we spend little and gain much.
We make a "profit" when we hold back enough of ourselves to ensure we gain all we can from another person.
Whatever takes place in the world, this should NEVER be the case in the Christian relational economy. Part of the Christian relational economy is caring for hearts. We are to be rooted in that nearly absurd idea offered by Paul, to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3). This is the basis not only for the Christian relational economy but also for a very rich Christian life.
This means while it is okay to date it is not okay to date simply because you are otherwise bored. Your boredom can unintentionally dish out a lot of pain. Your casual pursuit can cause serious harm. And before someone asks the question let me answer it: as far as I am concerned there is only ONE purpose for dating—marriage.
If you need a friend get a friend, just know and carefully uphold those boundaries. But if all you need is entertainment, get a movie or take up a proper sport. Playing with hearts is not a proper sport.
If you want to date then you must be intentional.
If all you need is someone to play with—get a dog.
If you want to engage the heart of another person at a level beyond friendship then you must do it very carefully and with full disclosure.
Doing "nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit" means that no matter your own desires you must look out for the well being of the other person. It means that you do not simply seek to fill the hole in your heart without first considering the needs of the other person. I will say it again; if you just don't want to be alone get a dog. Even Adam had to do time among the animals before he was joined to Eve.
A Christian relationship at any level is one of mutual benefit—mutual profit. This means that we must all invest in such a way that the other person gains from their investment. You can leave a dog at home once you have fed it. You can throw a stick with it for a few minutes and then go to be with your friends. But you must give of yourself if you are in a human relationship. You must make sure that you are not the only one to profit.
If all you want from a relationship is your own profit then PLEASE stay out of the relational economy. You will be a threat to the whole market until you have put aside conceit and learned to think of others before yourself.
We are not used to thinking this way. We are more used to "selfish ambition and vain conceit." We are more used to self-centered profit than mutual gain. We are called always to "make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification" (Romans 14:19).
So as much as profit is about giving and spending strategically this is good. We must spend strategically in the relational economy. But for some, profit means coming out on top and thus spending with one thing and one person in mind—winning and self. This type of profit is nothing short of sin. It is not a relationship but piracy.
If profit is that thing we get when our investment is less than our return, it means that we may not have invested fully in the relationship. If it fails, our loss is predictable. In all things we love not by our own power but through the power given us in Christ.
This means that my concern, in the relational economy is to see GOD's stock rise. My concern is to make sure that HIS investment profits. Since God has planted each person, has watered and grown them, our interaction should reflect his investment.
Remember, "there are NO ORDINARY PEOPLE!!!!" Every time we relate to another soul" we see the work of his hands. Each person is a work of art greater than any Michelangelo, Picasso or Monet. They are more complexly fascinating than any Dali or Escher. Each Christian we engage for romantic relationship is worth the investment and worth the great cost—profit or no profit, return or no return.
So "be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil" (Romans 16:19). Treat everyone with the respect due God's children. God's relational economy is designed for us to both give and receive, to both profit and be a profit.
Looking back at the way the world does relationships, at the way some of us used to do relationships, we can say "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3:7).
Hudson Russell Davis is a Ph.D. candidate and adjunct professor of theology at Saint Louis University.
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**This article first published on February 1, 2011.