Principles of Relationships
As we begin 2011, it is a good time to take stock of our lives. Human tendency is to get into a rut, put our heads down, and go step by step down the rut. We have no concept of where the rut will take us, and we rarely lift our heads out of the rut to survey the option of getting out of the rut and changing directions.
This is true for many areas of life. Not until something major happens do we consider our ways and the advisability of changing things in our lives.
But Wisdom says that we should consider our ways in light of the Scriptures. My grandsons have chosen this verse for 2011: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By paying attention to Thy word." Psalm 1 is also a good clear picture of the person who follows Scripture versus the one who ignores Scripture.
Relationships is one area where we easily get into a rut. Day after day passes without consciously taking the reins through self-discipline to obey the Scriptures. The life of Jesus and the life of the apostle Paul are excellent examples to us of how to deal with all kinds of relationships. And as I have studied their lives these past months, I have come up with 10 basic principles. Of course, this is not exhaustive, but it is what God has brought to my attention.
Principle One....We can never force a relationship. If the relationship is forced (demanded), if it is driven by guilt or obligation, or if it is purchased by favors, then it is not a relationship based upon love. Love is God-given and person-focused. It must be spontaneous, coming from within the heart, as God works it out. We cannot over-ride another person's will in a relationship. (Of course, the great example of this is the way in which the Lord gives us freedom to accept or decline His offer of relationship with Him.) Our focus should be upon asking God to give a relationship, rather than forcing a relationship against another's will.
Principle Two...We must allow others the freedom to fail, just as Christ allows us to fail. This means a person must be given the freedom to act responsibly and godly, or to act selfishly and irresponsibly. It is better to accept another's failure than push them to act responsibly and godly. Again, this is modeled by the Lord, as He waits for us to repent of our selfishness and turn back to Him.
Principle Three...As with all other kinds of investments, our investment in a person can produce either a negative or a positive return in the short-term. It is not until the End that the value of an investment can be rightly judged. So we must resist the urge to judge an investment in a person before the time of judgment. Paul clearly discusses this issue in I Corinthians 4. Note: we must always be checking our motivation for investment in another person....it should be for Kingdom purposes, not for our own gain or manipulation as noted in Principle One.
Principle Four...We should expect much investment in other's lives to be non-productive, as Jesus demonstrated with the seed parable in Matthew 13. But we should not get discouraged by a poor return on our investment. We should still make Kingdom investments in others' lives because when the investment scores, it scores big (reproducing even a hundred-fold). Our lifestyles should be about investing in others; this is the way of Jesus.
Principle Five...We must give grace and patience for immaturity, as evidenced by narrow-mindedness, self-centeredness, and failure to grasp situations. We should remember that once we were also less mature than we are today. In fact, we are still immature in some ways. Immaturity is not necessarily sin, and our response to immaturity should be grace and patience.
Principle Six...Within a relationship, preferences and needs can be communicated. But (according to Principle One and Two) we must give freedom for the other person to disregard or disdain our preferences and needs. The Scriptures tell us to take our concerns to the Lord (Philippians 4), and they also assure us of His commitment to meet our every need (Matthew 6). So we must be careful not to confuse the role of people and the role of the Lord in our lives. (See also Principle Nine)
Principle Seven...It is OK, even normal, for relationships to involve pain and tears. Crying out because of pain due to sin was modeled in Jesus and many of the prophets. Surrendering to the Lord in trust of His care is the best response to pain due to separation issues (e.g., kids moving off to college). Always, in the crying and surrender, remember that Heaven is Coming, where there will be no more pain.
Principle Eight...Emotions are God-given. They are part of His declaration ("It is very good") at man's creation. But rash venting of emotions is no substitute for the virtue of self-control (Galatians 5). Pain, anger, frustration, confusion are valid emotions and are often totally justified. But the expression of those emotions must be under the control of the Holy Spirit, remembering our place as His people.
Principle Nine...Never substitute a human being, however nice and godly, for the Lord Jesus. To do so is to lay the foundation for great heartache. On earth, hold all relationships at arm's length; hold only Jesus in the closest spaces. We must long only for a relationship with Jesus; all other relationships are to be enjoyed, suffered, used for Kingdom purposes. In Heaven, all human short-comings will be corrected and relationships will be whole. But until then, only the Lord Jesus will never disappoint us or hurt us.
Principles Ten...Remember what Jesus said: Our true family consists of those who do the will of the Father (Mark 3). Being an obedient follower of His means that we must divide our relationships accordingly. Every aspect of our lives must revolve around His Kingdom...even the "family" aspect, even close friends, even business associates. Remember the words of Psalm One and read 2 Corinthians 6 about being "unequally yoked" (although this passage is in specific reference to marriage, it is applicable to all close relationships). Those actively following Jesus as Lord cannot closely relate to those who are apathetic about His Lordship. As the prophet Amos put it, "How can two walk together, except they be agreed?" He asked that question of the Israelites who had maintained close relationships with their godless neighbors and had started worshipping the gods of their neighbors. As obedient followers of Jesus, we must divide our relationships according to His criteria, not ours.
As we move through this new year, may God help us to order ourselves in our relationships according to His Word, and the example of His Son.
February 4, 2011