“Thumbs Up” Illustration
It can be challenging to keep all our relationships in order. If we don’t, life can become confusing, frustrating and devoid of God’s love. Yet, God offers us direction on how to align our priorities in His way. God’s directives can be summarized in a SIMPLE and MEMORABLE way using the “thumbs up” illustration for prioritization of relationships.
The first point of the “thumbs up” illustration is that our primary relationship is to be with Jesus Christ. This can be represented by making a FIST with the hand and then extending the THUMB upward. The thumb pointing upward, extending from the center of the fist, reminds us that our attention must be focused upward on Jesus Christ. All other relationships in life wrap around this one primary relationship. This focus on Christ gives us our identity. We’re claimed and shaped by the grace of God in Christ. Even when we make mistakes in our balance of relationships, we’ll always receive a new start through Holy Absolution for Christ’s sake. This unmerited forgiveness from Christ is the essential starting place before we’re able to enter into a loving relationship with others. We must begin with our “thumb up” to remind us of our primary relationship with Christ that provides us with the free forgiveness and strength we need.
Once we’re clear on our relationship with Christ as our first priority, we can then apply what we learn from Him in our other relationships. These other relationships can be illustrated by the fingers of the “thumbs up” illustration. The four fingers wrapping around the central axis are representative of all our human relationships in life. The FORE-FINGER represents the relationship with spouse. A husband is to be “one flesh” with his wife. In this relationship, a husband is to practice and model what he’s learned of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. Understanding this relationship is a key to life in God’s way and will be considered in greater detail later. Briefly now, as an introduction, we note that in Gen. 2:24, Mat. 19:6 and Eph. 5:31, God repeats this mandate for marriage, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This directive from the Creator of man and marriage indicates that the husband is to cherish the relationship with his wife as his most precious earthly gift. Since marriage is the first institution that God established among men, it fits that a husband should make it a first priority to take care of the relationship with his wife. When a husband and wife receive and then share the sacrificial, unconditional, and incarnational love of Christ on a daily basis, they’ll build a strong foundation for the other relationships in their life.
Children & Extended Family
This brings us to the next finger in the “thumbs up” illustration. After the marriage relationship represented by the fore-finger, next is the MIDDLE FINGER as a representation of the relationship with our children and other extended family members. This includes parents, siblings, in-laws, step-family members, and any others in our extended family. These relationships prosper when Christ remains on top and the relationship with spouse is in good order. The love of Christ will flow down to this next level of relationship when the relationships with Christ and spouse are secure. The first commandment of the second table of the Ten Commandments is directed to the relationship between children and parents as the Lord commanded, “Honor your father and your mother.” The marriage mandate also speaks of the great importance of the relationship between a man and his parents as it directs the man to “leave father and mother” in order to be united to his wife. These passages indicate that after the relationship between husband and wife, the next highest priorities in our human relationships are those with our children and parents. As a general guideline, the middle finger can serve as a reminder about the importance of all our extended family relationships.
Next, we consider the RING FINGER of the “thumbs up” illustration. This finger represents our relationships with fellow Christians. These relationships hold precedence over those with the general population as we are called by God to show special care for those in the household of faith (cf. Gal. 6:10). Relationships at this level will prosper when they’re modeled after healthy relationships at all the levels mentioned previously. If a Christian has poor relationships with Christ, spouse and/or extended family, then his relationships with those of the church “family” will also be negatively impacted. However, when we practice Christ-like relationships in these higher levels of priority, then we’ll have ready illustrations to draw upon in our church family relationships.
Finally, we come to the “PINKY” in our “thumbs up” illustration. This finger represents our relationships with those who have not yet been baptized into the name of Jesus. We must have concern for these relationships as the Lord commanded us in Mat. 28:19 to “make disciples of all nations.” This necessary level of relationships in life will and must flow out of all the other relationships mentioned above. As we remain strong in our relationships with Christ, spouse, family and church family, we’ll be a model of Christian love for the world to see. We’ll have many opportunities to then speak of the reason for the way we live. We’ll be able to speak clearly the Law and Gospel of Christ. Most of all, we’ll be able to proclaim the greatest love of all, the free grace of God in Christ.
The “thumbs up” illustration can be very useful in keeping relationship priorities clear. It’s consistent with the teachings of God’s Word. It’s clear throughout Scripture that we’re to place our relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ, as our number one priority. As we hear in the first commandment, from Ex. 20:3, the Lord declares, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Not even wife, children or church family are to be above our relationship with the Lord.
Next, concerning the four fingers, the fitting word is BALANCE. We’re to value all our human relationships – with spouse, children, family, church family and those yet to be reached with the Gospel message. And, it’s helpful to keep each relationship in mind using the four fingers of the “thumbs up” illustration. However, the priority in importance and time usage of these four fingers will shift according to the most pressing need at any given time. Such balance is only achievable when we continually return to the forgiveness, model and strength of Christ. Maintaining balance is never a simple task, yet the “thumbs up” illustration may be useful in keeping the priorities in order. This illustration can serve as a “check list” as we consider, in order, the well-being of our spouse, children, extended family, church family and those yet to believe. Thus, the “Thumbs Up” illustration is a very helpful tool for maintaining the proper prioritization of our relationships; a key to life in God’s way.