Life is far more than an exercise in doing (productivity), it is about being and becoming in the context of relationships, with others and especially with God, while understanding every relationship that has meaning involves cost, and healthy relationships are governed by boundaries to provide security.
Which relationships do I value most? What can I do to cultivate them further?
becoming strangers and what was previously a delightful interaction now a bitter memory.
Sin is the result of a relational breakdown, when we humans are unwilling or unable to relate to God and others in the most honourable way. Fear is never a good basis for any relationship, instead we are to love God with our whole being besides genuinely loving those around us as much as we love ourselves (Lev 19:18; Mk 12:30,31; Gal 5:14; 1 Pet 1:22). Thus, love is to be the over-riding element in all our interactions with others for without it whatever we do misses the mark (1 Cor 13:3). “All people will know that you are my disciples if you love one to another” (Jn 13:34,35). The first four commandments are instructions about how to live responsibly towards God, the other six how we are to relate with our other people (Ex 20:3-17).
1/. With GodOur primary relationship in life should be with God, as everything of eternal worth is dependent on knowing Christ as Saviour. What is the profit of gaining the whole
Do I consider this my top priority?
world but missing out on eternity (Mt 16:26; Mk 12:30,31). Each person must develop their own relationship with God through being bornagain through faith in Jesus; God only has children, not grandchildren as no one can get to heaven through their parent’s belief. When we become Christians we enter a new relationship as children or sons of God; protect this relationship as it will support everything else in your life (Jn 1:12; Gal 3:26; 1 Jn 3:1-3). The close relationship God desires with us is determined by our love for Him as outworked in obedience (Jn 14:15,22,23). He always makes the first move and is longing we accept His offer (Rom 5:8; 1 Jn 4:19; Rev 3:20). How close is my relationship with God? Do I commune as friend to friend with God just as Moses did or do I “stand afar off” like the people (Ex 20:18-21, 33:11)? This connectedness is based on our choice as He won’t overstep the freedom He gave to humans (Prov 1:24; Isa 65:1-3; Mt 23:37).
God offers joy, peace and satisfaction to anyone who has a relationship with Him (Ps 16:11; Jn 6:32-35, 10:10, 14:27, 15:11; Phil 4:7; 1 Pet 1:8,9). Place yourself under His Lordship, so you will be able to resist Satan’s attacks and temptations. Sin (in any of its numerous manifestations) breaks the relationship between God and humanity which can only be restored through Christ’s enabling, repentance and forgiveness (Ps 66:18; Eph 2:13; 1 Tim 2:5). If our relationship with God is not right neither will be it be with people, and conversely our relationship with others affects our connection with God. Indeed, our prayers being answered depends on right interpersonal relationships so deal with any issues and walk in the light (Mt 5:23,24, 7:3-5; Mk 11:24; 1 Pet 3:7; 1 Jn 1:6,7, 3:11-14, 4:20). As with any interaction, there are numerous times when our connection with God will come under pressure and we can take offense. The Bible records, "From this time many of the disciples following Jesus turned back and no longer followed Him" (Jn 6:66). As long as we are open to a relationship with Him, He will work in our lives. "This is eternal life that [we humans] may know God and Jesus" (Jn 17:3).
2/. Interpersonal relationships
We are social creatures – not designed to live in isolation without contact and interaction with other humans (Gen 2:18). The Bible gives instruction for various relationships, such as between husbands, wives, children, employers and employees. All involve being sensitive to their needs (Eph 5:21-6:9). Relationships are built by warm and honest communication, love, concern, going the extra distance, being united in a common cause, humility, meeting another’s needs, encouraging and complimenting them, being interested in the other person, recognising their qualities, submitting, being true to your word, forgiving and realising that none of us are perfect. Right responses and actions indicate you are treating other people with the utmost respect and dignity – loving them as much as yourself. The degree to which we get on with others indicates the level of co-operation, maturity, and goodwill that exist between us. All forms of communication should be glorifying to God (Col 3:17).
What areas need my attention?
there will come periods of conflict, testing and tension brought about by differing goals, values, attitudes and priorities that require times of confronting issues, saying sorry, seeking reconciliation, forgiving, reaffirming and restoring. Love, acceptance and believing the best about others should be reflected in all our interaction. Don’t walk away, offended when a problem develops, but be committed to addressing the issue and so remove any cause by which Satan can get an advantage over either you or them (Eph 4:26,27).
Relationships are the real-life arena where we interact with other non-perfect humans; we annoy people just as they annoy us! We are being perfected by the imperfections of others, and it is where we live out the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23). The closer the relationship the greater the hurt if it turns sour, but also the greater inner contentment when going well – so put in the effort to maintain them. Being considerate of others, impartial (fair), and just is what God requires (Mic 6:8). The golden rule is to treat others as we would want to be treated, responding to their needs as our resources and wisdom would dictate (Prov 3:27,28; Lk 6:31). Jesus is the greatest example; He came “not to be served but to serve”. By denying our own selves and giving up what seems important in the short term for true riches in the long term we will actually find real life (Mt 16:24-27, 20:26-28; Phil 2:1-18; Heb 12:2).
Increasingly people are in emotional isolation, for although they are ‘experience rich’ through involvement in a wide range of activities they are ‘relationally poor’ because of shallow or surface interconnection and consider they have “No one to rescue them” when tragedy strikes (Jdg 18:28).
Deep relationships involve mutual respect, trust, loyalty and a desire to share on a deeper level than with acquaintances. Although we interact and are sensitive to their needs and value their friendship we are answerable to God not them (Act 5:29; Rom 14:12; 1 Cor 10:24; Eph 4:29).
Jealousy and favouritism create tension and problems that plague many families (Mt 10:36). Wherever there is conflict in our personal world, the Bible commands us to love, bless and pray for those who cause us problems (Prov 25:21; Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27,28; Rom 12:14). However, we should start within ourselves for as our hearts are dealt with, then we can effectively reach out to others with less of the old self-life blighting the relationship (Prov 4:23; Mt 7:3-5, 24,25).
Humans are created to be in relationship – with God and each other
natural to spend quality time together, enjoying each other’s company and doing things with them, it is also healthy to have personal space or time apart to pursue individual goals (Prov 25:17). Be wise how you act, minding your own business, not meddling in or gossiping about others affairs (Col 4:5; 1 Thes 4:11). Live with integrity and purity, especially around those of the opposite gender and guard your reactions and words – do they build others up, assisting them to become what they are capable of, or are they critical and destructive? (Prov 18:21; 2 Tim 5:1,2). Express consideration and show friendliness to all regardless whether they are young, old or helpless ( Phil 2:3). Love does no harm to anyone but serves and helps to ease the load when it is beyond their capabilities (Rom 13:10; Gal 5:13, 6:2). Our love, or at least respect, for others because they are made in God’s image should govern our lifestyle (Gen 1:26,27). Good works are ‘love in action’ not just words.
Acts of kindness done in Jesus name brighten up another’s day. Be patient and kind to others, they have their trying days too, and we may not know the pressure or tension they are experiencing. A smile brings benefit both to be giver and to the receiver while costing nothing. An encouraging word, letter, phone call or bunch of flowers can help a person to keep going or ease strained relationships; spread ‘good gossip’ about how much you value and respect them because you disregard God’s command to love one another if you speak against others (Jas 4:11).
The degree you give will be the measure you receive, so be nice to folk, the roles may be reversed and you may be at their mercy one day so as you have opportunity do good especially to those who are Christians (Mt 7:2; 2 Cor 8:13,14, 9:6; Gal 6:10). When feeling down, resist defeating self-pity by taking the initiative and doing a loving act to someone else, for it is more blessed to give than receive (Act 20:35).
As we are significantly affected by close interpersonal relationships they should not end when someone falls into sin – their need of quality people to help rebuild their lives is even greater. When you have made an idiot of yourself, a true friend loves you just the same and doesn’t consider it’s a permanent change, but helps you sort it out!
3/. With other believers
Remember our fellow Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, so allow them to speak into your life about what they perceive as not being right or detrimental to your Christian life and therefore to the example you portray; rather than criticism such comments should be pointers to change, spoken in humility and love (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:14, 4:15). Continually develop and maintain strong bonds of friendship with others to provide comfort and help especially in times of need. There is incredible power in genuine caring relationships as healthy support is provided by submitting in mutual commitment and co-operation, whereas if people are in isolation they are vulnerable to attack – this is why we are exhorted to gather together with other Christians (Heb 10:25). Communication is a vital component to uplift, encourage and challenge another to reach for greater life-changing encounters with God, being impacted by the one who gives real life (Jn 10:10). Paul considered Timothy a spiritual son because of the level of interaction between them (1 Tim 1:2,18). Do I have that level of consistent and valuable input into the lives of other Christians?
4/. With the unsaved
It is important to befriend non-believers, journeying with them through life with the aim to bring them into their own relationship with Christ – by being with them yet not embracing their ungodly ways. Jesus was called the friend of sinners and this friendship evangelism is what the Bible refers to as ‘being in the world but not of it’ (Mt 11:19; Jn 17:14,16,18; 1 Jn 2:15-17). We must be on our guard not to be entangled in sinful practices compromising our faith or unequally joined together in marriage or close business partnerships with a person who is a non-Christian as this would lead to compromising our Christian integrity and commitment, for “how can two walk together unless they be agreed?” (Jdg 3:5-7; Am 3:3; 2 Cor 6:14-17; Jas 4:4). Even though he was the wisest man to have lived, Solomon’s downfall was the result of compromise in his close relationships (1 Kgs 3:12, 4:31, 11:1-8). This is a lesson to choose friends wisely and maintain Godly standards as they subtly influence our behaviour and values, affecting our spirituality, by either helping or hindering us in the Christian walk.
5/. Wrong relationships
One of the key strategies Satan used to bring about the breakdown of relationships (between God and humanity) when he attacked in the Garden of Eden continues through unhealthy, dysfunctional, inappropriate dependency, manipulation, peer pressure and wrong sexual conduct. Ungodly and unfulfilled emotional desires lead to fantasies (soul ties) while any form of sex outside marriage is a powerful destroyer of relationships, yet within a marriage, sex is a relationship builder. A relationship should be beneficial to all involved, without manipulation or control, however when one party considers they are consistently being imposed on or abused they may terminate it. Shattered feelings and loss of self-esteem will likely result but Christians should be quick to help (Jas 2:16).
See also: born-again, boundaries, brother/sister, children, communication, conflict, connection, co-operation, courtesy, family, fellowship, forgiveness, friends, golden rule, honour, hospitality, husband, marriage, neighbours, offence, parents, reconciliation, relate, relatives, salvation, sexual sins, soul ties, submission, wife.