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We all have relationships with others. We all face challenges in those relationships. We all understand that, sometimes, our relationships can seem dysfunctional. We all have felt the tug to just throw up our hands and get out when the relationship gets messy. And I have conversations with friends every week about such issues. Invariably, the question we are faced with is how to live well in the midst of relationships that aren’t perfect.

I’m coming to see that a lot of my struggle has to do with the kind of expectations that I bring into the relationship. It would seem that a lot of the trouble I face in relationship is that I am expecting reciprocity. And, just maybe, that is not what Jesus wants for us.

That thinking begins with Jesus words about loving others:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:28-35)

One of the things that is so startling about Jesus’ words here is that he calls us to live in relationships in a non-reciprocal way. That is, we are to love others regardless of how they respond to us. We are not to give, and lend, and love, and serve in view of what will come back our way. If we only love those who pay us back in love or serve others who only return the service to others, Jesus says we are only living the way those who don’t know him live.

And it is right here that we might taste freedom.

When I live with the expectation that others must or should or ought to respond in a reciprocal way to my love or service, then I begin to change or alter the way I live with them based on their reciprocation (or lack thereof). When they do not reciprocate the way I anticipate or the way I want, I can easily slip into altering the way I relate to them, the way I love, the way I serve. And the outcome is that I am end up not free to love the other the way Jesus invites me to. I am predicating my love, my serving, and my giving, on the behavior of the other. I end up finding myself shaped by the other, rather than shaped by Jesus.

Freedom would seem to be anchored in settling into being the person Jesus invites me to be regardless of how others might or might not respond. In each and every situation I can be the loving person–in Christ and through the Spirit–that I really want to be because I do not make the response I receive a determining factor in how I will love. I am free to love as Jesus calls me to love when I decide that I will live in my relationships in a non-reciprocal way.

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3 Comments

  1. Non reciprocation…..what a concept….so hard especially for married couples, families or even those in leadership, where you are the encourager. I have lived my life not expecting reciprocation and God has blessed me ten fold! Sometimes though I have been disappointed…I do unto others because it makes the Lord happy and in turn it gives me great happiness as well. You can say I’m a giver, givers do not expect anything in return….they give for the happiness of giving. The perfect example of non reciprocation……

  2. Tammy, you are right. There are times when living non-reciproally can be hard. But hard stuff is not necessarily bad stuff . . . only hard! If we are growing up into the image of the God who loves us, then we are granted the privilege of being “givers”–extenders of grace–to those who do not reciprocate. For, after all, grace is not grace if it is merited or repaid or if the intention is that those we “engrace” need to reciprocate us.

  3. Just thought I would tell you that I think your post was God prompted. I haven’t had a chance to read your posts in the last couple of weeks, but I did get to read this one. My sister called today with some bad news about someone who did something really rotten to her husband. She was ready to pray imprecatory prayers on the order of David’s in Psalms and wanted justice for the wrong committed. After having just read your comments a day or two ago, I was able to suggest to her what Jesus might have done and what he said about how to live when someone does evil to you, and how she might look at the situation differently. It was a big help. Thanks


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