by John Mehl on January 30, 2023
I want to talk about relationships a bit. Whether it is applicable to our marriage, dating, friendships, or any of the other relationships we navigate, biblically caring for a relationship is critical to its success. That's because left to ourselves, we can trip over any number of the numerous landmines we leave for each other — whether intentionally or unintentionally.
At the start, end, and all throughout the middle of this is Jesus.
And I know, I know, you and I are tempted to think, “Well of course Jesus would be able to navigate relationships with perfection. He's Jesus.” But not so fast — God's people are intended to act more and more like Him, and he has given us His Spirit within us, when willpower just won't cut it. And, most often, it won't. Look to Jesus. Act like Jesus. Be inspired by Jesus. Know the other person is loved by Jesus (and is a work in progress just like you).
Whenever I get the privilege to engage in pre-marital counseling with a couple, very early on there is a saying that we explore together. It is “Communication: The blood of relationships.” By definition, a body without blood — or without enough blood — is dead. But not only that, even if a body has a sufficient amount of blood, if the blood is toxic, there's at least a mortal threat there too. Similarly, a relationship without communication, without enough communication, or with toxic communication is mortally threatened as well. If we care about the health, strength, and survivability of our relationship, then healthy, sufficient levels of communication are critical. And if we don't care about those things, then it's a whole other conversation.
This is why God is constantly teaching us about relational care throughout his Word, and so often in terms of communication. Jesus's brother, James, was all over this in his letter, and he would know a thing or two about watching his mouth since during his brother's earthly life he most often criticized him rather than worshiping him - Oops! James 1:19 – “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” And 1:26 – “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” And 3:8 – “No human being can tame the tongue… With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God… My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so.” And so on…
To the extent we feel compelled to biblically care for our relationships, especially in terms of our communication, there are five practices we can look to in order to infuse Christlike health and strength into our relationships.
- It starts with: Do what YOU can do. Romans 12:18 says, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with others.” You can’t control the other person. You can only bring your own sense of peace to the relationship. Their reactions and their motives are their response-ability. But my reactions and motives are my response-ability, and I can commit to being a peacemaker from the very start.
- Be others-oriented first. Ask yourself questions — maybe even before communicating with the other person — like, “How are they seeing things? What are they looking for?” Be others-oriented first. And even when we can't, listen to the shift Jesus tells us to make in Matthew 7:12 — “Ok, even if you are inclined to think of yourself first, then whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.” Most of the pressure in conflict will dissipate if the other person even thinks you’re trying to think of them first.
- Partner up with God. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 encourages us to pray continually, practically aligning our thoughts, actions, words, and listening with God. This is that crucial piece of the matter where we are able to live by the Spirit’s leading and not just our natural dispositions. Vulnerably, humbly, and authentically partnering with God will yield high levels of self-awareness and grace.
- Practice listening. Beyond just conflict management, which has admittedly been the predominant angle thus far, try putting proactive listening into practice when your relationship is healthy and peaceful. Once again, James encourages the people of God to be “Quick/swift/ready to listen, and slow/restrained in speaking, which will help us be slow/restrained in anger” (James 1:19-20).
- Extend unmerited forgiveness. Back to conflict management aspects: understanding that mistakes and offenses are all over our relationships, extending forgiveness needs to be proactively reintroduced at very generous levels. Paul says to “Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Our forgiveness was given to us way beyond any level of merit we had (or even before we asked for it), and that can serve as a model for how we extend it to others.
More than just “do better, try harder,” these are five biblically-informed practical actions we can at least try to take in our relationships. They are WAY easier said than done (coming from the guy writing this, just ask my wife). Moreover, they are not only applicable when others are undeserving, they are ESPECIALLY applicable when others are undeserving!
There isn’t a relationship in my life that wouldn’t be stronger if the other person was trying any/all of these things with me. So why wouldn’t I take the initiative to let Jesus fill me with more of his patterns first? May be contagious. May avoid serious relational landmines. Or, may just be a new, fresh way for me to worship in my day!