When Christians talk about "radical love”, we often think of lofty ideals such as self-sacrifice, unconditional love, and unwavering forgiveness. But however unquestionably noble these goals are for any relationship, they have often been portrayed and applied with little thought to context and consequence.

Lived out, mutually, as God intended, these principles create relationships where two people can thrive. But when the onus of sacrifice, love and forgiveness starts falling on one half of a partnership while the other merely benefits from receiving those things, it leads to inequality, disrespect and in the worst cases where they have been manipulated, to the perpetuation of abuse.

That is why learning about what to expect and how to behave in a healthy relationship is so important. When we start to take care of ourselves while taking care of others, we learn that respect and dignity for both ourselves and others are equally important. Relationships like this are radical, but that doesn’t mean they are just for an exceptional few. What is so amazingly radical about radical relationships is that their ingredients are actually very straightforward and available to everyone.

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The most basic ingredient to radical relationships is taking emotional and behavioural responsibility for ourselves. Taking responsibility for our own feelings, actions, needs and happiness. When we are not dependent on others to fix’ any part of our world, when we do not punish or blame others for the way we are feeling or behaving, when we do not try to control or bend others to our will, we succeed in letting go of some of the most destructive relationship patterns. Respect and care for others naturally flow out of this level of maturity and it encourages us to set strong and healthy boundaries with others who may want us to take responsibility for their needs, happiness, emotions or behaviour. 

And what does the Bible say are some of the basic ingredients to radical relationships? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8). Choosing justice, mercy and grace in our interactions is a priority. 

When we see injustice, we need the strength to speak up and speak out for those who do not have a voice as well as to speak up for ourselves when we are not being treated with respect. We need to show kindness and compassion for those in need or distress. And above all, when we understand that we can either build up or break down others by our words or actions we can make the conscious decision to be an event of grace in our spouse’s, child’s, colleague’s or friend’s life – to regularly consider how we can build others up through our words and actions. 

The church can step up and support healthy relationships by not only talking about true love, servanthood and forgiveness, as noble and as godly as these things are. If we are to see radical relationships in our churches then we must also be encouraging healthy boundaries among our congregations, teaching them that the fruit of the spirit is self-control not the control of others and that we are each responsible for our actions, our attitudes and the impact we have on the lives of those around us. 

We need to start teaching about the power we hold, made in the image of an all-powerful God. Acknowledging that power, but holding it with humility, just as the beautiful hymn in Philippians 2 teaches that Jesus did: For he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather he humbled himself.” 

When the tough times come, we need to be ready to stand firmly behind what we teach. Supporting individuals in speaking truth when it is needed, being compassionate when it is called for, and holding those who have abused their power and harmed others to account, as uncomfortable as that might be. 

When our actions and our words align, we will begin to see a revolution in relationships. The truth is, radical relationships are for everyone – and the church can and should be a place to encourage healthy interactions with positive long-term outcomes benefitting all. 

Violence against women and girls (VAWG): explore the series

This article is part of a six-part series on challenging violence against women and girls. Click through to other articles in the series below:

VAWG series: Christians have a role to play

VAWG series: Christians have a role to play

Part two: biblical guiding principles to inform how we the church live out our faith in the public square as we speak out on violence against women and girls
VAWG series: How can men be allies?

VAWG series: How can men be allies?

Part four: conversation with student Caleb French on his experiences with Restored's First Man Standing campaign, being an ally to women, and seeking cultural change