Relationships are messy. Family, dating, friends, co-workers, you name it! Complicated relationships are everywhere, in every area of life. We all have someone in our lives who is challenging to be around, but we can’t avoid either. How do we navigate these sticky situations? How do we respond to those conversations? How do we love them the way that we are called to as believers?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
Think about that seriously. Where were all of Jesus’ friends, his best friends, the ones who left their homes and families to follow him around for three years, when he laid down his life for them? They had all abandoned him! Relationships are hard. They require love and sacrifice. Christ is the ultimate example of this.
Our relationship with God was severed by our sin, and we neither wanted to nor could fix it. Jesus, God himself, came in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose to life on the third day in order to restore our relationship with God, with Him. The Spirit moves in the hearts of those who will believe, keeps our souls safe until we finish our race on earth, and we are fully restored with God in heaven. That’s a lot of work for a relationship with a people who didn’t want to be saved in the first place!
In light of all the hard work – let’s not forget, including Jesus’ death – that went into our restored relationship with God, Paul reminds the Ephesian church that they are called to hard work in relationships with others:
“I therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Think about the words Paul uses in these verses, and put them in the context of those challenging relationships with others in your life:
All Humility – Are you being humble? Are you preferring their wants, opinions, and style over your own? Don’t forget that little word “all”! All means all!
Gentleness – How’s your tone of voice, and timing of actions? Are you harsh? Even if what you’re saying is true, how and when you say it can be devastating! (This is a hard one for me!)
Patience – “No one has arrived” my mom wisely reminds me. Allow people to grow (something else my mom says)! This doesn’t mean to allow for sin, but also give grace and time for obedience. This is huge in parenting relationships. As parents we want immediate change in our children, and can get really frustrated and depressed when it doesn’t happen. Patience is key. Prayer, I think, is a big part of patience too.
Bearing with one another in love – This is the big one, the “umbrella” phrase. Maybe it’s the way someone says something, that they keep bringing up such and such a topic. Maybe their personality is just a challenge for you. Maybe their personal preference, political views, wardrobe choices, etc. just bother you! Here’s the phrase that tells you that, yes even them, are those you are called to be at peace with and love.
How can we do this? Why do all this? Paul answers that too. “… eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Good, strong, functioning relationships are peaceful relationships. That may seem far away in some of our more challenging situations, but we have a great hope as we begin to work towards peace. This hope is God himself, the Spirit, is with us always, enabling us with the power to be humble, gentle, patient, and bear with each other in love, His love.
This is God’s plan for the life of the believer. He called us to this. He made it possible for us to be saved in the first place. He is the one giving us the power, the grace, to do it. At the end of our lives, we will enter eternity and glorify Him for all this, with these people we are called to love!
Here is another great way to think about those challenging relationships: It’s not ultimately about you at all. It’s about God. If this other person is not a believer, this relationship may be the means God uses to bring them to himself. If they are a believer, they are you brother or sister in Christ, loved by Him, redeemed by Him, bought by His blood. They are called to love you too! God is glorified when His children love one another, with an unconditional love that can only come from Him. Every person, believer or not, is an image bearer of God. He made them in His image, that alone is reason to pursue peaceful relationships. They aren’t just another human, another combination of cells, but they are image bearers of the eternal God, who are created to glorify Him. To deal harshly, rudely, in anger, wrath, lust, selfishness, or any other way that is not loving is to fail in what you are called to do as a believer.
Relationships are important. Relationships take work and time. Relationships are worth is because in them we obey our God and bring Him glory.
I hope this encourages you to strengthen your heart, rely on God’s power, and dive into those challenging relationships. Go and glorify your God.
Soli Deo Gloria!