Not many people are happy with themselves. We all want to be thinner or stronger, taller or shorter, happier, healthier, smarter, you name it. There’s a myriad of things we’d like to change about ourselves. And in most cases there are any number of things we would like to change about our relationships as well. The question I would ask about change in the area of relationships is this: how often are we asking others to change and how often do we change ourselves?
Relationships can be challenging in the best of times. Whenever there are two people there is the possibility of differences in perspective and view point. Even for believers, in spite of the fact that we are new creatures, there is the possibility of our old self rearing its ugly head. And when we are facing trials in our life, and some generally hard times, then problems are magnified. They seem bigger. It is times like this when we say things to others that we would never normally say. We are angry and disheartened and the spouse, brother, aunt, co-worker, business partner, or neighbor is on the receiving end of those pent-up emotions. “Yes, I really let them have it with both barrels. And yes, I hit below the belt. Still, I feel justified. I can’t recover those words anyway, so what do I do now?” That is an easier position to be in than most people realize.
The instinctive reaction to that question for Christians is to pray. But when we are in the midst of a bump in the road or an event that has left us devastated, we often pray to blame God for not preventing the problem, or spend large amounts of time explaining to Him the problem in detail. It seems a bit funny to explain to God what our problem is, but I am confident most of us, me included, has done it. The bottom line is that this prayer is about God “fixing” the problem; and fixing the problem involves showing the other party in the relationship where they went wrong. Because God knows they could use some straightening out.
“Wow, Marty, I felt that one. Fifteen yards for unnecessary roughness.” Maybe. But I want you to consider that it may be that you are the one who is wrong. At least, more than likely, there is enough “wrong” to go around. When I reflect on the relationships over my lifetime, I have been either wrong or partly wrong a good number of times. Especially when I look at relationships from a Biblical standard.
The Bible is full of instructions on getting along with people. The way that God changes people is by His word. I believe that if you took the time to let His word speak to your heart, there would be some transformation taking place that let you see that other person from God’s perspective and allow you to love them with His kind of love. That doesn’t mean you have to approve of his or her actions or words, or go along with whatever that person does. I’m not asking you to condone their actions, but rather just to see them through the lens of Jesus. The Bible doesn’t tell us that people have to think before they speak or harness their words before we love them, forgive them, or live at peace with them. Nor do we need to seek revenge or retribution. Romans 12:17-19 says: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
Fortunately, God doesn’t accept our good part and reject our bad part. He doesn’t write us off because we fail occasionally to meet His standards in our relationships. He sees us as a whole person. God does not expect you to have “arrived” in any area, including how we use our words. Or in relationships. In fact, He makes it very clear that you will never be all you can be in this life (Romans 8:18-25). That being the case, to have a goal of being a “finished product” in the area of relationships is to set yourself up for failure. We will make mistakes. We will say things we wish we had not said. And yes, we will have relationships that we wish to improve. Remember small changes can make a big difference.
So, are you working on you rather than the other person? Are you taking small steps to being more Christlike? Are you taking small steps to becoming all God wants you to be? Remember our study of Philippians. Paul had no problem asking the Philippians to follow his example because he was modeling a process, not a finished product.
1. What percentage would you give of the times you were wrong or partly wrong in your relationships?
2. Are we obligated to forgive someone who harmed us with their words? What if I am still hurting?
3. Words can hurt people. Should we treat repeat offenses different than the first offense?
3. Psalms 86:5 says, “ You, Lord, are forgiving and good abounding in love to all who call to you.” What does this mean to you?
5. How would you rate the quality of your relationships? Friendships? What is the one thing you would change to improve them? Pray and ask God to help you in that area.