Strange, isn’t it, that building Christian relationships, something we all really do want, seems to be illusive and slippery and hard to grasp. Sadly this is born out in the divorce courts and counseling rooms across our nation and around the world. It’s born out in the lives of young women who choose to never have children because their own childhoods were so difficult. It’s born out in relationships where couples are afraid to commit to marriage because of—well, a myriad of reasons. And to list them will not shed a ray of light on how to build a relationship or even define a Christian relationship.
So let’s start at the beginning. What is a relationship anyway? Webster’s New World Dictionary simply states that a relationship is a “connection between or among persons.” The connection can be anything such as blood relationship, common interests, shared responsibilities or friends.
The next questions tumble one after another. What is a Christian relationship? What makes it distinctive? How do you build it? How do you maintain it? What are the distinctive marks that demonstrate you really have it? All good questions deserving specific answers so let’s back up and take one at a time.
What is a Christian relationship? For Christians who are serious and intent on being Christ-followers, we soon find as we begin studying the Bible that Christ’s thinking on relationships is radically different than ours. For example, He says to forgive our enemies, yet we all know Christians that hold grudges, verbally back-stab or find reason to speak against others; Jesus Christ teaches us to forgive 7 x 70 times. i.e. don’t bother to count the times you’ve forgive someone, just keep on forgiving. He teaches us to be faithful to one spouse, to not be drunk, to not lie and to look out for the interests of others above our own interests. He says if we love others, then we will be patient. To be kind, which is to do only what is in the best interest of the other person. Now, that’s radical when we live in a society whose philosophy is to look out for number one. And of course, we’re left with the question of how to make all this happen? Yet, the Bible is very specific.
Many of you reading this probably know that the two commandments given us by Jesus Christ deal with relationships. Both have to do with love; loving God and loving others as ourselves as stated in Matt.22:37-39. You likely know that Christ-like love is unconditional. And all this means is that you have the “why” and “what” of Christian love down pat.
What most of us know little about is “how” to love with the kind of love that Jesus Christ is talking about in His command. Oh, we have the loving down pretty well that comes at Christmas or birthdays when we demonstrate love to family and friends or someone in need. We know what it “feels” like to fall in love. We nearly burst with a kind of love when we look into the trusting smile of our little toddlers. I’m sitting here with my little dog on my lap, and I love my little Sophia dearly. Many who don’t know Jesus Christ do this kind of love very well. But the love that Jesus wants to mark our lives is different from all l these kinds of love,
John 13:35 says He wants those who know nothing of Jesus to see Him by our love.
Although the loving character of God is demonstrated all through scripture and lived by example in the life of Jesus Christ, the central passage about love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Keep in mind that these truths about love are what we seek to learn and live in our live out of obedience to God who said in John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments, ” and as already stated, the primary commandment for Christians is to love God, ourselves and others. And to do this, we need to know what Christ is talking about when He says love.
Back to 1 Cor. 13, there are eighteen specific facets about love listed and although we can’t look at them in depth here, a glance is well worth our time. They divide into three segments and for our purpose here, I’ve named them as follows. The Governors of relationships, the Gremlins of relationships and the Guardians of relationships.
The Governors, patience and kindness, as defined in scripture, set safe boundaries so that true loving attitudes and actions can flourish. These governors help us to discern and protect others from our unloving attitudes and actions and they help us discern what we receive from others. We could say they keep the love gates open.
The Gremlins listed; envy, boasting, pride, rudeness, self-seeking, anger, holding grudges, and rejoicing in evil are like termites eating away at our loving attitudes and actions. They will destroy, over time, very deep feelings of love. These gremlins creep into our lives in all sorts of subtle way. And, from my experience I’ve discovered the main way they creep into our lives is because we don’t recognize them for what they are. Remember, the enemy of our souls and our Christian relationships glories in keeping us ignorant and deceived. He did me for many years.
I memorized these verses when I was a child, yet it wasn’t until my marriage of then over 25 years was in trouble that I began to realize how little I knew about “how” to love as Jesus Christ because I didn’t know what He was talking about when He said “love.” I didn’t know what attitudes and actions, yes gremlins, were slowing destroying my love for my husband so and I didn’t know “how” to love as Christ. Over the years I have found this true of nearly every Christian I’ve counseled, mentored, disciple and coached.
When people just like you and I discover how to identify the Gremlins in our lives and deal with them, change happens. Building Christian relationships happens . Paul speaks in Hebrews 12 1-2 about laying aside every encumbrance that entangles us and run with endurance the race before us. This truth applies to our relationships. Consider for a moment how much it will help in building relationships if you know specifically what trips you up whether in your self-talk and conclusions about yourself, your family relationships or your work and social relationships.
The third cluster of facets that describe love I refer to as the Guardians of our relationships for two reasons. First of all, coupled with the two governors, patience and kindness, these guardians encompass who God is. After all, God is love. When these components of love are active in our lives, we experience loving relationships at a whole new level. These guardians include what we all long for; truth, protection, hope, trust, endurance, joy and praise God, this love never fails us! These characteristics of love are truly the guardians of our relationships.
Building Christian relationships is a process, implied by the word building. Let me put it into the framework of what I refer to as “The Three “R’s”. Reframe, Refocus and Reclaim.
We start this relationship building process by first looking at what you have, seeing what’s lacking and assessing what’s out of alignment with what the Bible teaches about loving relationships. Then, through a conversation process I coach and instruct clients to see patience and kindness within the framework of God’s definitions from scripture. Then, again through conversation begin to focus on who needs to change and what needs to change so that Christ-like love is actually being lived out. Easy? No way. This takes work, patience, prayer and reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. But you will see and experience change!
With new understanding and skills, you will lean new options of resolving conflict, and identify underlying issues and how to begin to experience for yourself the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. The promises of the Bible will take on new life and your relationships will become more Christ-like. You will be building relationships on love as defined by God Himself. A love that is unfailing.
This whole reclaiming business is something like the grand finale of the fireworks or the grand finale of a great symphony. You’re beginning to see yourself and others through God’s eyes and live from a whole new framework, a whole new perspective. You’re gaining a new focus, not looking back, not focused on real or perceived obstacles but forward to new things God has for you. And your beginning to see it all come together as you learn to reclaim all that is yours, as promised by God Himself, and made possible by the grace and loving mercy of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, at work in your heart and mind will give you the will (desire) and ability to do all that brings glory to God. Phil. 2:13 Now, that’s life.
It’s available to you. Are you ready to say yes, I need help, I want help, I will invest in myself so that I can be the right person in all my relationships. So that I can fully be the best “me” that God intends and desires me to be?
Say yes now. You become the person who is all about building Christian relationships.