For the most part, our lives are defined by our relationships. And the joy of life is often determined by how well we function in those relationships. Yet ironically, this is the area of life we get the least amount of training and instruction in!
As life unfolds the number and type of relationships we have increases greatly. As a child we have our family and a few school friends. As we go through life many different relationships are added…girl friend, boy friend, spouse, children, bosses, employees, employer, grandchildren, business partners etc.
There is no doubt we need as much help as we can get to prepare us for life’s complexities in this arena!
I believe there are two main areas we need help in: the skills in relating and the spiritual foundations of relationships. It is of course a very valuable exercise to get as much “up-skilling” as we can but my purpose in this article is to address the fundamental “spiritual” elements. A certain amount of relationship issues can be handled by learning skills; however most of it is best managed by continually applying the foundational principles and truths of God’s Word.
Here are 6 key scriptural fundamentals that help us build a good foundation for how we should relate to one another:
1. We are all flawed
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-11 we get an insight into Paul’s revelation from Christ that he is not after perfection…because his power is made perfect through our weaknesses and it is his grace that we need. As we accept our own weaknesses we can accept the weaknesses in others. This then gives us a grace for others.
People “feel” this grace from us because they know they don’t need to “be” or “act” perfect around us. Strangely it makes us more desirable to be around. People feel better about themselves in your presence!
If you relate with others on the basis that we are all flawed and all have weaknesses, you will connect better with people. You will be humble and not proud in your dealings with them.
I’ve also discovered that being on an equal footing with all others brings respect and grace into relationships.
2. Learn to forgive and forget
One of the most destructive forces in relationships is when we don’t let go of offences committed against us. Offences are inevitable, so unless we learn how to forgive AND forget, we will always be in conflict with the people we are closest to.
Forgiveness is both central to the gospel and a core principle to the way the kingdom of God operates. In Matthew 6 when Jesus is teaching the disciples to pray, he includes our need to ask God to for forgiveness, and then immediately connects it with our need to forgive people who have offended us. Here we see that the two directions of the cross are connected and inseparable. The vertical part of the cross represents our forgiveness before God. The horizontal aspect of the cross represents our forgiveness of others. The first part of Ephesians 2 (verses 1-10) is about God’s forgiveness of us and the second part of Ephesians 2 (verses 11-18) is about the breaking of hostility between us and others…the second and just as vital aspect of Christ’s crucifixion! In fact I would suggest the first is of no consequence unless we can live out the second!
Once we have the revelation and the habit of forgiving others as a pattern in our lives, our relationships will become a lot “sweeter” and far less traumatic!
Jesus led the way when he forgave the soldiers who were crucifying him (Luke 23:34) by showing us that the highest level of forgiveness is to forgive those who don’t even know they have offended you!
3. Have faith in others
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Probably the greatest “fuel” of our relationships is encouragement. When you love someone, you encourage them. When you have faith in someone, you encourage them. When someone you know is discouraged, you encourage them.
One of the keys for our relationships to flourish is to put faith in, hope in, and encouragement towards those we are doing life with. People are like emotional tanks on legs. As we live life our tanks are quickly drained; having a spirit of encouragement fills up the tanks of those around you. It’s almost impossible to give people too much encouragement!
4. Be firm in your identity
When you are secure in your identity before God, you can be relaxed and humble in your dealings with others. You are confident and can relate freely which will release others. Insecurity leads to actions that cause tension and the break down of relationships. In Philippians 2:1-8 we are encouraged to follow the example of Jesus who although he was God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped! He laid aside his status and humbled himself as a servant. What an amazing example of being secure enough in who he was to lay it aside for the sake of others!
When we are secure in who we are in Christ we don’t have to prove ourselves to others. We are not in a relationship to get acceptance but to give it. This makes a significant difference in the platform that the relationship is built upon. You are able to put yourself and your ambitions aside and instead be helpful to others. You are free to not cling on to your rights and privileges.
People wanted to be around Jesus. Why? He knew who He was, He was humble, and he focused on the needs of others.
5. Be aware of the fight for relationships
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Every relationship will have a fight. You can either fight in it, or fight for it. We generally don’t see the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:11) directly and openly. These “schemes” usually come through the relationships in your life via tension, conflict, confusion and communication breakdown. We need to understand that our battle is not against people but against the forces that are trying to breakdown relationships in our world. Once we begin to fight for people, rather than seeing them or their behaviour as our enemy then we can start to create a spirit of unity and peace that will enhance our lives!
And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Always ask for God’s will and wisdom to overcome when there is conflict or confusion. Fight for your families, homes, church family and community.
6. In my Father’s house
One of the major keys to maintaining great relationships is building them within the right context. I believe the best context is the house of God. When we live under the covering of our pastors and in the Christ-centred community of the church, then we have a protection and grace that is not found outside of that community.
Too often I’ve seen people forsake their connection with the house of God for some other priority in their lives. Jesus himself placed his Father’s house as a priority and in doing so challenged even his own parents who had lost him and were searching for him for three days! When he was found in the temple, his response was: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
When we place the seeking of and the commitment to the house of God at the top of our agenda, blessing and favor gets on our relationships. People often ask us why our kids are blessed and doing well. As much as I’d like to say it was our amazing parenting skills, I must admit it probably has been our commitment to the house of God that has created the environment for them (and all of us) to live under the blessing from God!