Keys to Healthy Relationships
THE BIG IDEA: Relationships are one of the most important aspects of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we need to learn these key principles from God’s Word to have healthy and loving relationships with one another.
“When love, acceptance and forgiveness prevail, the church becomes what Jesus was in the world: a center of love, designed for the healing of broken people, and a force for God… One of the greatest services a church can offer a community is to provide a place for people to be brought to wholeness – to be healed physically, spiritually and emotionally.” (Jerry Cook, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness).[i]
In the last couple of chapters, we have been reviewing the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas. They travelled all over the island of Cyprus and the mainland, telling people the Good News about Jesus. They had taken Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, with them as their travelling companion. But in the midst of their missionary journey, John Mark left them and returned toJerusalem. Whether it was because the persecution was too great, or he was homesick, we don’t know for sure. The point is that John Mark left before their mission was completed. After Paul and Barnabas finished their journey, they returned home.
“Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” (Acts 15:36).
See the heart of the Apostle Paul revealed here: He felt the need to go and check up on the churches that they had planted, in all the places where they had helped people to find Jesus as their Savior. He knew that it was important for them to go back and disciple them, and make sure that they were still growing in the Lord, connected to local churches.
“Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:37-41).
Here we see two godly preachers – Paul and Barnabas – both believers who loved the Lord Jesus with all of their hearts, loved His church, and felt a responsibility to go love and care for other people. Then an issue came up that Paul and Barnabas saw from two different perspectives. Paul said, “Our mission is the most important thing. John Mark made a mistake and deserted us. We’re not going to take him again because he might abandon us when we need him most.” The great encourager Barnabas said, “Come on Paul, let’s give him another chance. He messed up once, but that’s okay. Relationships are the most important thing.” However, the Bible says that their contention was so sharp that they couldn’t come to an agreement. They couldn’t pray or work through this issue. That word contention comes from a Greek word, paroxysm, which means violent, hostile, and angry.[ii] Describing this event, Eugene Peterson says, “Tempers flared.” (verse 39, msg). Finally, they concluded that they needed to go separate ways.
Are you surprised that they had relationship challenges in the powerful, glorious church in Acts? I’m thankful that Luke didn’t gloss over some of the messes in the early church. One of the most interesting Proverbs says, “Where there are no oxen, the stalls are clean; but much is produced by the strength of an ox.” (Proverbs 14:4, cjb). You might wonder how that Proverb applies to our discussion on relationships. Wherever people are, you’re going to have messes. Whenever you get more than one person together, there will be tensions and disagreements. It’s inevitable. Jesus said, “Offenses will come.” (Luke 17:1b). We can’t change that, but when offenses do come up, we can make sure we deal with them in the right way. Thank God that the Bible is full of practical wisdom to having healthy relationships.
Relationships are one of the most important aspects of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we need to learn these key principles from God’s Word to have healthy and loving relationships with one another.
“Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).
In these two commandments, Jesus defined Christianity and the message of the church: Loving God and loving people. Jesus said, “All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (verse 40). In other words, if we could love God and love people, we would be keeping every other commandment in the Bible. Do you know that there are 613 commandments in the Old Testament law? How are you doing at keeping those rules? It might seem overwhelming to try to keep all of those commands, but Jesus simplified it for us when He said, “Love God and love people.” That’s Christianity in a nutshell.
Because love is the most important principle in the Kingdom of God, our enemy Satan will do whatever he can to keep us from loving God and loving people. So don’t be surprised when relationship challenges arise, because the devil is hell-bent on driving a wedge between us and God, and between us and other people. From the beginning of Creation, Satan’s greatest goal has been to destroy relationships. In Genesis chapter three, we see him causing Adam and Eve to disobey God, which impaired their relationship with the Lord. In the very next chapter, we see Cain rising up against his brother Abel and killing him (Genesis 4:8). It is the devil’s mission to keep you from loving God and loving people. Therefore, we must be on our guard against his attacks, and contend for unity in our midst. People who get into strife or offenses are caught in “the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26b). James tells us, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:16, kjv). That word confusion means instability, a state of disorder, disturbance.[iii] James also tells us that every evil work has at its root envy or strife. Therefore, strife must be avoided at all costs – it is deadly!
Trouble, disagreements and offenses are going to happen in our relationships, and there’s nothing we can do to stop that. When those issues arise, however, we need to know how to handle them in a godly manner. Where do we go to find answers to relationship issues? To the Word of God. That reminds me of this humorous anecdote:
“Here’s the scenario,” the truck driving instructor announced to his class. “You’re in an 18-wheeler with a heavy load, barreling down a mountainous two-lane highway. Your co-driver, Ed, is asleep. There are six trucks behind you, and as you come over the top of a hill, they pull out beside you to pass. Suddenly, you see several trucks coming in the opposite direction, pulling into your lane to pass. What do you do?”
“That’s simple,” a student called out. “I’d wake up Ed.”
“Why would you do that?” asked the instructor.
“Because,” replied the student, “Ed ain’t ever seen a truck wreck like this before!”
Every problem has a solution! When it comes to our relationship issues and struggles, God’s Word has the right answers that will work every time. I promise you that if you will live according to these keys to healthy relationships, you will have stronger, deeper, more intimate friendships. Notice that was a conditional statement. You can read through this entire chapter on healthy relationships, and memorize every Scripture in the Bible that talks about friendships, and have it not make a difference in your life. It’s not good enough to just learn these principles, you need to obey them. “So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself.” (James 1:21-22, nlt).
Paul’s Keys to Healthy Relationships:
It might seem ironic to you that we are going to glean these principles of relationship wisdom from Paul, the man who had a sharp contention with Barnabas and who said he wouldn’t give John Mark a second chance. However, Paul learned a few things along the way as he grew and matured in his relationship with the Lord that enabled him to be able to teach on healthy relationships. We need to remember also that beyond Paul’s natural wisdom is the supernatural wisdom of God in these principles, because every Scripture is inspired by God.
1. Be Patient:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, nlt).
If love is the primary way that God wants us to relate to others, then we need to understand how to love someone. The first thing we learn about love here is that love is patient. Every person you’re in a relationship with has weaknesses and faults. The closer you get to a person, the more clearly you will see their negative attributes. Therefore, God tells us to be patient with one another. If someone does something really mean to you, chances are that they’re having a bad day, and maybe that’s because someone else has done something bad to them. Extend grace to them. They’re in the midst of a battle. In fact, everyone you know is facing a battle today.
The Bible also says that love keeps no record of when it has been wronged. If you want to have loving, healthy relationships, you need to get rid of your list. Too many people keep a running total of every wrong thing that people have done to them in the last 25 years. “I’ll never forget the things that John (or whoever – fill in the blank) has done to me, and I’ll keep adding to the list. In fact, the list is so long that now the list is a book!” You will never have a healthy relationship until you get rid of your list. To say that love keeps no record of wrongs means that you forget what happened yesterday and let go of the past.
Paul also encourages us to, “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2, nlt). When someone makes a mistake, forgive them, the same way that God has forgiven you. People will make mistakes and hurt you, but be patient and gracious towards them, because love is patient.
2. Don’t be Controlled by Anger:
“And “don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, nlt).
God’s Word gives us this sobering warning: Anger is dangerous, because it can give the devil a foothold in your life. When you are hurt or offended by someone, choosing to hang onto your anger is like a poison on the inside of you. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Don’t be angry! This doesn’t mean that you stuff your feelings down on the inside of you, or pretend that they’re not there. When those angry feelings arise, deal with them in a righteous manner. If you have a problem with someone, deal with it today. Don’t let those negative feelings fester inside of you for a week, a month, a year or longer. If you hang onto that anger too long, it can turn to bitterness.
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14-15).
God wants us to pursue peace in our relationships with everyone. He warns us that if we allow anger to take a root in our hearts, it will turn to bitterness. Until you deal with the roots of the dandelions in your garden, they will grow back again and again. That’s what bitterness is like. If you don’t deal with the root, it will grow up into an ugly thing that causes trouble and defiles many people. At that point it’s no longer just you being upset or hurt by the offense; many other people become corrupted by that poison. We need to guard against those weeds of anger, bitterness and resentment in our lives. If you’re angry with someone, deal with that situation right away. Jesus said, “So if you are standing before the altar in theTemple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (Matthew 5:23-24).
An interesting observation on the situation with Paul and Barnabas: Their contention was so sharp that they chose to separate from each other. Pastor John Piper says that “Sometimes, separation is preferable to continued disagreement.” Because Paul and Barnabas couldn’t mutually agree upon a solution to their dispute, they went their separate ways. Some people might argue and say, “No, you should never go separate ways; we should all stay together forever.” That’s just silly. If you take a look at the fruit of Paul and Barnabas’ separation, you see that Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed forCyprus, and Paul chose Silas, and they traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia to strengthen the churches there. Now instead of having two men going out on one mission trip, there were four men going out on two different mission trips. That being said, I still believe the ideal situation for believers to part ways from one another is with love, grace and peace. However, the Lord took a bad situation and turned it into something good. Thank God He causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.
3. Watch Your Words:
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29, nlt).
The Bible has a lot to say about our words. Words are powerful – more powerful than an atomic bomb! When God spoke, His words created the universe. “God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21a). What an important truth. The words you speak can bring life to someone, or they can bring death. Few people realize the power of their words. We were taught a little rhyme as children that said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” There is no truth in that statement. Can you believe the nerve of that sneaky little devil, getting his lies into the hearts and minds of children on the playground? I would rather have someone punch me in the face, kick me, bruise me or make me bleed than to have them speak negative words to me. Words pierce our very hearts. Consider this passage on the power of the tongue:
“So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:5-10, nlt).
Do you ever wonder why some people have such a low self-esteem? Perhaps it is because they have had people cut them down or call them names. Hurtful phrases like, “You’re a loser, you’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything.” Do you struggle with a negative self-image because of some hurtful words that have been spoken over you in your life? You can be set free from the destructive power of those words.
God gives us some very clear guidelines in regards to what words we should be speaking: “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Do you see what the Lord did in that single verse? He set out a boundary for our speech and said that the only words that can ever come out of our mouths are words that will encourage and build up someone. We do not have the right to say something negative about another person – either to them, or about them. If you’re about to say something hurtful to someone, bite your tongue. Don’t let that word come out of your mouth, because it has the potential ability to destroy them. We wonder why there are so many hurting, broken people in the world. They are the product of the power of negative words. Watch your words!
Remember Bambi, the animated Disney film from the 1940’s that tells the story of a white-tailed deer and his woodland forest friends, Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk. In this tale, the young Thumper shares with Bambi the sage advice he acquired from his mother: “If you can’t stay anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Those are good words of wisdom for having healthy relationships.
Pastor Chris Jordan
[i] Jerry Cook, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. (Gospel Light and Regal Books, January 1990).
[ii] The New Testament Greek Lexicon.
[iii] The New Testament Greek Lexicon.