Freedom in Christ Lesson 10: Relating to Others
Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV2011)
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Objective: To understand our roles and responsibilities in relationships so that we can grow together in Christ and express true unity.
Focus Truth: As disciples of Christ we will want to be part of the answers to Jesus’ prayer that we will be one. In learning to relate well to others, we need to assume responsibility for our own character and seek to meet the needs of others, rather than the other way around.
Have you ever done something that offended someone else without realizing at the time that you had caused offence? Tell the story briefly.
Worship – Suggested theme – praising God for those people he has brought into our lives.
Read aloud the following passages:
1 John 3:16 (NIV2011)
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
This lesson marks the start of the final section of the course in which we will look at how we can set out into the rest of our lives as growing fruitful disciples who will make a real difference in the world.
Habakkuk 3: 17-18 has always been one of Steve Goss’ favorite passages:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no fruit, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
When Steve was a teenager he used to quote this Bible reference in Christmas cards that he sent to other young people in his church group. His handwriting has never been a strong point and a lot of young people have never heard of a book of the Bible called Habakkuk so, Steve now knows, his scrawled “Hab 3:17-18” was usually read as “Heb 3: 17-18”, slightly but significantly different.
Anyone who bothered looking up the passage thought Steve was referring to in the book of Hebrews would find this:
And with whom He was angry for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? (Hebrews 3: 17- 18).
Apparently this happened to a lot of people until one courageous young lady took Steve aside and asked him what sin he thought she had committed!
Steve had discovered that it's very easy to go through life giving offense to people and to be completely unaware of what you've done! In this lesson we're going to consider how God wants us to relate to other people and why that is so crucial.
The Importance of Unity
Jesus’ Prayer for You
If you could ask Jesus to go to the Father and ask Him one thing on your behalf, what would that one thing be?
In the gospels there is an occasion where Jesus prayed a prayer specifically for you and for me. It comes shortly before He went to the cross and He's been praying for His disciples. This is what he says next: “My prayer is not for them alone, yet I pray also for those who will be in me through their message (that's you and me, so what does He pray?) that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21).
So the one thing Jesus in His wisdom decided to pray for you and me and every other Christian is that we would be one, that we would be genuinely united at a heart level. The strange thing, if you think about it, is that it is not a prayer that God can answer. What? Am I saying that God can't do anything He chooses?
Free Will Gives Us Responsibility
In His wisdom and humility God has given every human being personal responsibility for the choices we make.
He could have chosen to make us like robots so that if we wanted to criticize what someone else believes or wanted to lash out against them in anger, we'd find that we just couldn't do it, the words wouldn't come out. But God hasn't done that.
He gave us free well. We are completely free to choose not to be one and God does not overrule despite Jesus’ prayer.
So why does Jesus pray this prayer at all? Surely, He is sending a message to us. He is saying, “Look at this one thing I'm praying for you. This is absolutely the most important thing for you to focus on.”
“But, Jesus, isn't preaching the gospel more important than unity?”
Look at why He says He wants us to be one: “So that the world may believe that You have sent me.” It seems that our unity will in fact lead directly to people being saved.
Changing the Spiritual Atmosphere
How does this work? Well, why do you think more people in our community don't respond to the gospel? You may rightly point out that techniques could be improved, that there aren't enough workers going into the harvest, or any number of other perfectly valid reasons.
But with our western worldview we tend to overlook clear verses like:
Corinthians 4:4 (NIV2011)
4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Compare that with Psalm 133 which starts by saying:
Psalm 133:1 (NIV2011)
1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
3 …. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
There is more going on than each individual's response to God. Every community is a potential harvest field, but the seeds need light in order to grow. Satan wants to keep it in darkness, but as the church repents of its sin and works as the one body that it actually is, he can't do that, and light comes in. The result is that more people will respond to the gospel as the workers go out into the harvest field.
It seems that repentance and unity can affect a positive change in what you might call the spiritual atmosphere.
Let me give you a couple of illustrations.
Imagine a scene of a huge field of wheat ready to harvest. In one corner is a man cutting the wheat with a scythe, a small handheld blade. He works and works but makes hardly any impression. It's obvious that he can only harvest a tiny part of the potential of that field.
Yet back in the farmyard is a brand new combine harvester, the sort that could do the whole job in a couple of hours. But it can't be used because it's in pieces, all the parts are scattered across the farmyard.
Here's the second illustration:
Imagine a huge gushing waterfall coming over a cliff. A massive amount of water is flowing down.
Yet the riverbed at the bottom is bone dry because no water is flowing out, the land at the bottom is a desert where nothing is growing. The reason there is no water is because there are deep fissures in the riverbed and the water is simply disappearing down the cracks. If the cracks could be filled in, then the water would run down the riverbed and irrigate the land. And plants would begin to grow.
If God's people are not genuinely united, we will only reach a tiny part of the harvest. And even though God is pouring out His Spirit upon us, the effects will be nowhere as great as they could be, unless we are united.
We can pray to the Lord to save people and pray for Him to send His Spirit upon us, but He has already given us everything we need to do that. He is already pouring out His Spirit. But if we are not working together, in the way He has set things up there is nothing more He can do. He has given us specific responsibilities.
Paul's instructions to us in this:
Ephesians 4:3-9 (NIV2011) 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through
the bond of peace. 4 There is
one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were
called; 5 one Lord, one
faith, one baptism; 6 one God
and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This isn’t easy! But it's crucial. In this session we want to look at how we can do our part to keep the unity of the Spirit whether that's in our own family, in our friendship group, in our own church fellowship, amongst the various ethnic groups in our area or in the wider church family where we live.
Understanding How God Comes to Us
“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We give freely because we have received freely (Matthew 10:8). We are merciful because He has been merciful to us (Luke 6:36), and we forgive in the same way that Jesus has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
If we truly understand how God comes to us and we go to others in the same way, we won't go far wrong.
Being Aware of Our Own Weaknesses
When Isaiah was praying in the temple he saw a vision of God Himself “seated on a throne, high and exalted” (Isaiah 6:1). If that happened to you, would you immediately start thinking of the shortcomings of other people? No, you do what Isaiah did and cry out, “Woe to me I am ruined!... for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
In Luke 5 Peter has been fishing all night without success and Jesus says to him, “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Peter obeys, goes back to the lake, and starts pulling in fish after fish. He must have suddenly realized just who was in the boat with him. How did he respond? “Go away from me, Lord, I'm married to a sinful woman?” No! What Peter did say was, “I am a sinful man”.
When we see God for who He is, we don't become aware of the sin of others, but of our own sin. But when we are lukewarm in our relationship with God, we tend to overlook our own sin and see the sin of others and want to point it out to them.
Pause for Thought 1
To understand the critical importance of genuine unity in the body of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:4 says that one reason people do not respond to the gospel is that Satan has blinded their minds, and Psalm 133 says that where there is unity, God brings blessing. How do these verses help you understand why Jesus prayed that we would be one?
If God's people are not genuinely united we will only reach a tiny part of the harvest. What are your thoughts on this statement?
When we are lukewarm in our relationship with God, we tend to overlook our own sin and see the sin of others. Discuss this idea.
We are Responsible for Our Own Character and Other’s Needs
I don't know about you, but I have a friend, Mary, who thinks that what comes naturally to her as a wife is to feel the responsibility to point out her husband's faults. With the best of intentions, of course, she does it to look after his best interest. If Mary doesn't do it, who else will, right?
Is that the responsibility God has given her toward her husband and toward others?
Romans 14:4 (NIV2011) 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Yes, each servant is responsible to his own master. It's not for us to judge someone else’s character because it's none of our business. A growing disciple is someone who is becoming more and more like Jesus in character, no one else can do that for us and we can't do it for someone else.
I'm sure it doesn't happen to you, but Mary also gets tired of having to remind her husband that he should be meeting her needs. Hey, give Mary some credit; At least she doesn't expect him to intuitively know what her needs are, like she did in her first years of marriage. Mary now gives him a list!
Does Mary or any of us have the right to expect this from others?
Philippians 2:3-5 (NIV2011) 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Ouch! So not only do we have no right to expect our needs to be met by others, we have a responsibility to meet their needs!
So, our responsibilities can be summed up as: developing our own character and meeting the needs of others.
Those of us who are parents understand this well. We assume the role of serving and meeting our children's needs selflessly, and we assume it with joy. That is the Christ like attitude. Can we extend that to all our relationships?
Focus on Responsibilities Rather Than Rights
In every relationship we have rights, and we also have responsibilities. Where should we put the emphasis, on our responsibilities or on our rights?
Take a Christian marriage, for example. It's true that the Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands, and a husband might claim that as his right. But he is also given a corresponding responsibility: to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and just think of what that means. Which should he emphasize: his right or his responsibility?
A wife may nag her husband, because she thinks she has a right to expect him to be the spiritual head of the household. It's true that he has been given that calling by God. She on the other hand has been given a responsibility to love and respect her husband. Where should she put the emphasis, on her right or on her responsibility?
What about parents? Should they focus on their right to expect their children to be obedient? Or on their responsibility, to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord, and discipline them when they are disobedient?
Does being a member of a local church give you the right to criticize others or to tear apart someone’s doctrine? Or does it give you a responsibility to submit to those in authority over you and relate to others with the same love and acceptance Jesus has shown you?
When we stand before Jesus at the end of our earthly lives, where will He put the emphasis? Will He say to me, did those guys give you everything they should have? Or will He focus on how well I love those He put in my care?
If we can learn to serve and love other people without expecting anything in return, it's liberating. And instead of being constantly disappointed by others, we will be truly and pleasantly surprised when people serve and love us.
Learning not to focus constantly on the failings of others and choosing to think well of them is so much easier in the long run than always feeling you've been let down and badly treated.
What about When Others Do Wrong?
So, we are to focus on our character and responsibilities and think well of others and meet their needs.
But what about when other people go wrong? Do we just ignore it?
Think for a minute about the last time you went wrong yourself. How easy did you find it to apologize to someone you offended? Did you even apologize properly, or did you say something like, “I'm sorry if what I said offended you, I didn't know you were so sensitive.”
What does that actually mean? In effect you are saying, “What I said was perfectly reasonable and you shouldn't have taken offense!”
A proper apology takes responsibility for what you did: “I'm really sorry I spoke like that. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
Most of us do eventually get to the point where we are honest about our feelings, but it can take a real struggle.
That's a very important thing to bear in mind when we consider alerting other people to their failings.
It's true that we can often see the issues in someone else’s life much more clearly than they can. But biblically, whose responsibility is it to be the conscience of another person and persuade them of their sin, which as we've seen, is no easy task?
That's not your role, it's the role of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8).
You can be sure that the Holy Spirit is on duty, not asleep, and is already gently convicting them. They've already engaged in an internal battle with Him. But the moment we try to intervene and point out the sin, they start to have the struggle with us instead of Him and it's not fun.
What? Leave it to the Holy Spirit to tell them their failings?
Yes. “But haven't I been given the ministry of condemnation?”
No, God has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
“But doesn't love expose a multitude of sins?
No, Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8).
Pause for Thought 2
Objective: To look in more depth at what it means practically to relate to others according to biblical principles that will foster unity.
Spend some time discussing the differences between our rights and responsibilities in relation to others. You may like to consider this in relation to specific people in your life, for example, spouse, child, parent, work colleague, church leader, or neighbor.
“If we can learn to serve and love other people without expecting anything in return, it's liberating. Instead of being constantly disappointed by others, we will be truly and pleasantly surprised when people serve and love us.” Do you agree with this? Why / why not?
What would it mean practically for you to focus on your own character and on the needs of others?
Discipline Yes, Judgment No
It's the role of the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin and Jesus was clear that we shouldn't judge others (Matthew 7:1).
However, Paul does talk about disciplining Christians who do wrong, for example:
Galatians 6:1 (NIV2011)
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
How can we reconcile the fact that we are told not to judge, but we are to carry out discipline? Judgment and discipline are different things. Judgment is always related to character. However, discipline is always related to behavior.
Discipline has to be based on something we have seen or heard. If we personally observe another Christian sinning, the Bible tells us to confront that person alone, the objective is to win them back to God.
If they don't repent, then we are to take two or three other witnesses who observed the same sin. If they still won't listen, then we are to tell the church (Matthew 18:15-17). The purpose of this process is not to condemn them, but to restore them to Jesus.
If there are no other witnesses, however, it's just your word against theirs. So the best thing to do is to leave it right there. God knows all about it and He will deal with it in His perfect wisdom. It is His job to bring conviction, not ours.
We are so often tempted to judge a person's character. Suppose I catch a fellow Christian telling an obvious lie, and I confront them. I could say, “You're a liar!” But that would be judgment because I have questioned their character. It would be much better to say, “Did you just say something that's not true?” That calls attention to their behavior not their character. Better still might be, “You're not a liar. So why did you just say something that's not true?” The truth is, they are a child of God who just acted out of character. The first expression implies that they have the character of a liar and indicates that they cannot change. The other two say nothing about their character. They simply call out a behavior issue.
If you point out someone's sinful behavior, you are giving them something they can work with but calling someone “a liar”, “stupid”, “clumsy”, “proud”, or ”evil” is an attack on their character and no one can instantly change their character.
Discipline and Punishment Are Not the Same
There is also a major difference between discipline and punishment.
Punishment is related to the Old Testament concept of paying evil for evil, an eye for and eye. It looks backward to the past. God does not punish Christians. The punishment we all deserve fell on Christ.
Discipline, however, looks forward to the future. God may discipline us in order to develop our character and so that we don't continue to make the same mistakes.
A parent who does not discipline their child for refusing to share a cake is not helping that child. Hebrews 12:5-11 tells us that God's discipline is a proof of his love.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11).
So the point of discipline is to help produce a harvest of righteousness and peace, to become more like Jesus.
The parent will get their reward when they see that their child has learned to share. And, of course, the child will be a better person for having been disciplined even though it felt painful at the time.
It's wonderful that we don't have a God who punishes us. Instead we have a God who loves us so much, that he sometimes makes the hard choice of allowing us to go through tough circumstances in order to prepare us for the future and to help us become more and more like Jesus in character.
When We are Attacked
What about when the shoe is on the other foot: how do we respond if someone attacks us? Should we be defensive? We certainly will be tempted to be.
Look how Jesus reacted when people attacked him:
1 Peter 2:23 (NIV2011) 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
We have to learn to do the same. We don't need to defend ourselves anymore. If you are wrong, you don't have a defense. If you are right, you don't need a defense. Christ is our defense. We need to entrust ourselves to God and leave the outcome with him.
I remember Neil Anderson telling a story about when he was a pastor. A woman in his church made an appointment to see him. She wanted to discuss a list of the good and bad points about him that she had written. There were just two good points and a whole page of bad ones! When she read each point, he was tempted to defend himself, but he kept quiet. When he was finished, he said to her, “It must have taken a lot of courage to share that list with me. What do you suggest I do?” At that point she started crying and said, “Oh, it's not you, it's me!”
That led to a positive discussion that helped her find a new more suitable role in the church. Now what would have happened if he had defended himself? She would have been even more convinced that she was right.
If you can learn not to be defensive when someone exposes your character flaws or attacks your performance, you may have an opportunity to turn the situation around and minister to that person.
Nobody tears down another person from a position of strength. Those who are critical of others are either hurting or immature. If we're secure in our own identity in Christ, we can learn not to be defensive when people attack us.
Let me read a poem that expresses how we can be the person God created us to be no matter what other people and the world throw at us:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for the underdog anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help, but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you've got, and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
Paul says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18).
The crucial phrase is, “as far as it depends on you”. Conflict is a normal part of life. It's nothing to be afraid of.
You won't always have happy, harmonious relationships with others. It's how you handle the conflict that matters.
So, are you willing to do the “as far as it depends on you” stuff? Are you ready to lay down your preferences and prejudices and come to others the way God comes to you? Are you willing to commit yourself to the unity of the body of Christ, so that you can be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer?
If so, let's pray:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you that You do not judge me, and that Christ took the punishment that I deserved upon Himself so I would not have to. Thank You for Your love for me and that You discipline me to help me produce a harvest of righteousness and peace. Thank You that You help me learn to love others well even when they have done me wrong or when I have done others wrong. Thank You that in Christ I now have the opportunity to live at peace with everyone. I choose to commit to walk in unity with the body of Christ so that the world may know that You sent Jesus. In Jesus name. Amen.
We have some homework for you this week!
At the beginning of the next session in your participants guide is a questionnaire entitled “What do I believe?” It will be very helpful if you can complete it before next time.
Objective: two consider practical ways to relate to others. This should be done individually
Spend some time asking God for wisdom as to how best to relate to others in your life.
First, consider who the main people in your life are. Then ask God for wisdom and how you can best relate to them.
Is there a need to stop judging their character and instead offer loving discipline? Or to forgive them?
How can you meet their needs?
Witness: How can you be a good neighbor to those who live on your street? How could you get to know them better, so that you would have a better idea of what their needs are?
In the coming week: Take some time to evaluate your faith by completing the “What do I believe?” questionnaire below (on page 184 of the participants guide).
Give some serious thought as to how you would complete the sentences.
What Do I Believe?
1. How successful am I? 1 2 3 4 5
I would be more successful if _________________________________________
2. How significant am I? 1 2 3 4 5
I would be more significant if _________________________________________
3. How fulfilled am I? 1 2 3 4 5
I would be more fulfilled if _________________________________________
4. How satisfied am I? 1 2 3 4 5
I would be more satisfied if _________________________________________
5. How happy am I? 1 2 3 4 5
I would be happier if _________________________________________
6. How much fun am I having? 1 2 3 4 5
I would have more fun if _________________________________________
7. How secure am I? 1 2 3 4 5
I would be more secure if _________________________________________
8. How peaceful am I? 1 2 3 4 5
I would have more peace if _________________________________________
Anderson, Neil T.; Goss, Steve. Freedom in Christ Participant's Guide: A 10-Week Life-Changing Discipleship Course (pp. 212-213). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.