During the Second World War, a well-to-do woman was overheard criticizing Sir Winston Churchill at a social gathering. It was clear that she didn’t think much of him and so she concluded her unkind remarks by looking at Sir Winston square in the face and saying, “Sir, if I were you wife, I’d put poison in your tea!” Sir Winston famously replied, “Lady, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”
It never ceases to amaze me how easy we all find it to behave in a way that breaks relationships and damages people. Genesis 2:18 reminds us that we were created for family and friendship, and yet growing harmonious relationships with family members, friends, colleagues, teachers etc seems often to allude us. This brings us to our sixth disciple-making question…
How can you improve your relationships with people?
In Colossians 3:12-14, the Apostle Paul writes that “…Since God chose you to be the holy people God loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
What does this look like in practice? How can we develop God-honouring relationships with all people – remembering that the Greatest Commandment is to love God and love people wholeheartedly (Matthew 22:34-40)?
Firstly, choose to think the best. It’s easy to be critical. It’s easy to spot people’s faults. It’s easy to ‘mine for dirt’ but ‘mine for gold’ instead. Give people the benefit of the doubt. God doesn’t ignore our faults and failings, but God’s first thoughts towards us are loving, kind, and gracious thoughts. Why is this so important? Because what you think – you create. Think the best – and you’ll draw out the best.
But, I hear you say, what about all those annoying things that people do?.
Secondly, choose to forgive the worst. Unforgiveness is so destructive. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “He who plans revenge should dig two graves”. There are loads of important ingredients to a thriving relationship, but the truth is that forgiveness is the most important. To forgive means to let the debt go; to not bring it up again. That kind of action restores and builds a relationship. We are called to forgive, as God chooses to forgive us.
Thirdly, choose to love the most. Some people say that healthy relationships involve ‘give and take’. Rubbish! Love doesn’t ‘take’. The kind of love that Jesus demonstrates is a sacrificial love that gives generously without expecting anything in return. In Ephesians 5:2, the Apostle Paul writes “Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” Yes friends, love like that.
There’s a famous poem attributed to Mother Teresa that goes like this…
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.
In the final analysis, the best you do for others, is what you do for God!