8. Five Environments (Part 3)
We need to have relationships. We need to have a relationship with God, other believers, our families, and the lost. This is what it means to be fully human. It’s all about relationships. Life is not about work per se but about relationships. We work because of relationships. We study in order to pursue these relationships. We worship because of relationships. Everything we do is about relationships. To miss this very important truth is to miss the meaning of life altogether. Unless I pursue these relationships I will not experience real life.
Now these relationships do not just happen. They must be initiated, developed, maintained and deepened over time. Only God can transform my heart so that I will stop living for myself and start living for relationships. God created me to love Him with everything I’ve got and to love my neighbor as myself. This is the purpose of my life and this is the purpose of every person’s life. Everyone who has come to understand this wisdom and who are now obeying God’s call for them to pursue relationships are well on their way to becoming all that God wants them to be.
In my former blog post I talked about the need to initiate relationships. Let me reiterate at this point that when it comes to God, you and I do not really initiate a relationship with Him. Instead it’s the other way around. He is the One who initiates a relationship with us, especially in and through His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is through the Gospel that we begin to have a relationship with God. Apart from believing in the Gospel we cannot become children of God (John 1:12). And so this is the starting point of all true relationships. It begins and ends with God. I cannot really love my neighbor unless I experience first the love of God (1 John 4:9-10). I can try but I will not succeed because real love comes from God alone (v.8 of the same passage).
By believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God is poured out in my heart in and through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Then and only then can I begin to love God and pursue a relationship with Him. Apart from that experience, I will only be pursuing works righteousness in the hope that I can have a relationship with Him. Such a grace-less approach is doomed to fail. It is only by grace through faith that you and I can be saved and have a relationship with God (Eph 2:8-10). This is also the basis of all other relationships in my life.
Now after having a relationship with God I am commanded to initiate a relationship with other believers (1 John 4:7). Specifically, this involves initiating relationships with those in my community of faith where I belong. But it also includes, in a more limited sense, other believers in other communities. This assumes that I have come to understand that being a Christian also means being part of the universal body of Christ and also a local expression of it.
Again I am not a mere spectator. I am not in my church to watch and criticize others. I am not there to be a consumer Christian. I am there to be deeply involved and to help fulfill God’s mission together with others. Sadly many believers today are consumers by heart. They come to church to be blessed rather than to be equipped in order to bless others. This kind of mindset is totally opposed to what God reveals in His word concerning His people.
To initiate relationships with other believers in my community means that I must be willing to trust others. To do so I must be set free from my hang ups. I must learn to reveal who I really am, taking the risk that I might get hurt in the process. Honesty is the key to experiencing healing in the community (James 5:16). I must tell my real story and not fabricate it to make an impression. I am not in the community to impress people; I am there to be healed by God in and through other people who can speak the truth in love to me (Eph 4:14-16). They can only do so if I am willing to trust them enough to know the real me.
initiating relationships with other believers also means that I must be willing to accept people for who they are, and not pass judgments on them based on outward appearances. I must be willing to accept their revelations of themselves. I must accept differences. In fact, I need to know how different I am from them and vice-versa, and celebrate that difference in Christ (1 Cor 7:7). I must not force my preferences on other peoople, even though such preferences may seem so right to me. Unless it is based on God’s truth, it is simply a preference for me, not a Gospel truth or a command. We are all different and yet we are united in Christ, belonging to one body (Eph 4:1-6). I must remember this in order to initiate relationships among fellow believers in my community.
Last but not the least, I must learn to commit myself. This is the only way to initiate relationships within the body of Christ. Sadly, many believers today do not understand this truth. They come and go without making real, authentic commitments in their local church. They are there only because they are happy with the religious services that they receive. They stay only because they are satisified. They leave once they feel any kind of discomfort or dissatisfaction. The church is full of such fickle consumers today!
So church leaders are forced to cater to the whim of people, hoping they will stay. They come up with all sorts of entertainment, under the guise of ministry, so that people will be happy. This quest for happiness is really weakening many churches. What is needed is commitment. The Bible has a word for this. It’s called “covenant.” It’s the seal of every true and long-lasting relationship. Just like in marriage, believers must learn how to be in covenant with others in the local church. Churches who believe in covenant commitment last longer than those who do not. Without covenant commitment communities disintegrate, relationships end, fights begin, and churches split. People choose conflict rather than resolution and peace. Thus the message of the kingdom is undermined.
I must learn to commit myself to the people of my community. I must promise to care for other people’s needs, not just my own. I must promise not to be the cause of hurt of other people in my community. If it happens, I promise to seek reconciliation and restitution immediately. Also I must promise them my time. I cannot develop relationships with them apart from time. Time is needed to grow any kind of relationship, including those in my community. Lastly, I must promise to speak the truth in love. Only this can grow my community to become all that God wants it to be (Eph 4:14-16). In other words, I will speak truthfully to my neighbor, hoping that he will do the same to me.
Therefore, to begin the process of initiating relationships with other believers in my community, I must learn to trust, accept and commit. This creates true fellowship, which is a love relationship with God and others based on the truth (John 1:1-4).