Pastor Tom Millner
John 15:12-17; Ephesians 2:4-10
“The ultimate calling upon the follower of Christ is to live a life that reflects the essence of Christ.” This is the statement that was used two years ago as the foundational truth for a series of lessons on loving intentionally. Love is a verb which demands action. We confuse hormonal changes that are triggered by psychological and emotional imprinting (sometimes known as lust) with love. Love is greater than our feelings; it lives before, during, and after our good or bad feelings have subsided. Every relationship is not intended to be intimate, but every relationship is made whole in the presence of love. Not only does Jesus assert the imperative to “love each other,” but He also summed up the whole of the commandments in loving God with all we have in us and loving others as we would ourselves as being the fulfillment of those commands. Armed with this truth, how do we live our lives response-ably (able to respond to love’s call) in relationships? What do we do when relationships go sour? How do we respond when someone offends us? How do we nurture and value our relationships?
The offense: In every relationship there is the potential for one or the other of the parties to be offended by something the other says or does. I’m sure that’s never happened here (not), but we’ll go there just in case it ever happens to you. We teach the Biblical principle from Matthew 18:15 that states; “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” I have seen folks quick to jump on this and confront someone in a way that was itself offensive to the one being confronted. That winds up being a defensive tactic, rather than a loving act of reconciliation seeking to dissolve offenses. If you want to understand what are the true “sin” offenses to which this scripture refers, look at the list of the Ten Commandments as a guide. Failing to say hello at the grocery store is not a sin offense worthy of confrontation that requires forgiveness. It is a good idea, however, to disclose to someone our intent to acknowledge each other where time, focus on the task, or distraction may have been the impediment. We are such creatures of the habit of walking around with the belief that someone will see us for who we believe we truly are (less than they or others), or that they will not see us for who we try to project (our contrived self). Don’t fret, it’s a human condition. Everyone does it to one degree or another. That’s why Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” That scripture followed a discourse on not worrying about what you eat or wear; common concerns during the time of Jesus. Today, we worry about what we eat or wear for very different reasons than folks back then. Today our major concern is how we appear. The Biblical truth still applies; But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Seeking His kingdom first is acknowledging and living in the truth of who we are because of who He is. He has redeemed us, justified us, made us His friend, united us in one Spirit with Him, made us next of kin, opened a direct pathway to God, made us whole before God, freed us from condemnation, assured us that God’s got our back eternally, we’ve been given the spirit of power and love, appointed to produce good fruit for Him, made into God’s holy temple, and we are able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. What more need I seek? About what more do I need to worry? Seeking the kingdom of God is engaging the process of living in the reality of who we are in Christ. Living in the light of this truth, brightens our path and helps to ensure that we do not so easily give or take offense. Dialogue with one another is in the essence of relationship. Often we confuse our monologue with dialogue. The former takes only one and renders only one. Dialogue takes two and renders the possibility for more to be multiplied. Dialogue begins with God, and is multiplied with others.
The sour one: Sometimes relationships grow sour. Misunderstandings, misgivings, and or miscommunications may be the culprit. It may even be theological or philosophical differences that bear heavily upon relationship. What do you do when there seems to be such a strong and deep divide between you and another? Maybe it’s a parent, a child, a brother, sister, other relative or friend that stands firmly at odds with your personal convictions. More times than not there is something on a deeper level going on than is apparent. It could be deep seated fear (of any number of consequences), pride, or just plain ignorance that is at the center of the divide. Without dialogue and self-awareness, however, the chances of resolving these issues are slim. Ignorance doesn’t have to be terminal; it is curable, but one has to want to be cured. It is unlikely that one who is not willing to probe deeper than the surface will find the true source of the discord. If you’re the one holding the affront and position of rejection, you can probe more deeply within yourself in prayer and supplication to God. We are told that He is faithful to deliver us into the light of truth if only we ask and remain open to His prompting. Often it is not sufficient to listen in a vacuum. God places us in fellowship so that we may seek counsel among the wise and thus grow stronger in our faith. If you are on the rejection end of the sour relationship and the other seems not willing to discuss or be open to finding a common ground for the good of the relationship, you cannot force the resolution. What you can do is to continue to seek God first in your own life, pray fervently for the person with whom the relationship has been lost (pray for that person’s well being, not that person’s demise), and allow yourself the space and time to grieve the loss of a dream of a relationship that was not possible. We are called to trust God for the outcome and not insist upon things being “our way.” Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 “that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” We don’t know the end of the story…God does! Let’s trust Him with the outcome rather than trying to force it to be our way.
The Nurture: God gave us the example of how to engage a nurturing relationship. He gave of Himself, came to live within our world, rejoicing and hurting just as we experience. To nurture our relationships, we are called to follow Christ’s example. In a world filled with timelines, meeting schedules, more yet to do at the end of “to do” lists, we find it hard to allow ourselves to glimpse at what it must be like to experience life as the other does. The Christian is called to be the face of Christ to an un-Christian world. So what does that mean? What does that look like? The Bible gives us a clear picture of the nurturing relationship. In the New Testament Jesus is seen as the Good Shepherd, always looking out for the best interest of others, even if it cost His life. Seldom does the care of our relationships literally cost us our physical lives, but we have much to learn about relinquishing our possessive notions and behaviors when it comes to nurturing relationships. We could even say that we are even metaphorically called to surrender our agendas to God for sake of the greater good. That’s how we find truth in our reading from Romans Chapter 8. But let’s look deeper at relationship nurturing as Paul was teaching in Romans 12 (pg 788). Romans 12:1-3 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” The good rule of thumb here is to spend time with God each day as you reinforce who you are because of Him, not because of you. We are neither as great nor as minor as we would think. When Paul encourages us to be transformed by the renewing off our minds, he’s speaking to each of us here. Begin your day in the renewing mode and you’ll see the disappearance of the “chewing” mode! Let’s see what else Paul is sharing with us as food for renewal. Romans 12:9-21 “9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
How are your relationships faring? How are you living out the character of Christ in your relationships? What place is the Kingdom playing as you seek out relationship with one another?
Pastor Tom Millner, Sr. Pastor
http://www.cohssnj.org (Sister church in NJ)