Chapter Eleven


Strained Christian Relationships

We have been studying the question, "How do I love God?" First, we learned that we must have a personal relationship with God. Second, we have been studying that we must love God's family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. I want to conclude this part of our study by taking a practical look at some real situations.

In any context of life, this business of loving people is a demanding, complex responsibility. There is no relationship in which it is always easy to maintain love. There are moments when loving your wife is a demanding, complicated matter. There are moments when loving your husband is a demanding, complicated matter. There are moments when loving your children, loving your father and mother, loving other relatives is just plain hard and complicated. In any love relationship in life, there are those times when loving the person is hard and demanding.

Our society is filled with examples of men who sincerely love their wives, but whose wives do not return that love; of women who deeply love their husbands, but whose husbands do not return that love; of parents who wholeheartedly love a child, but the child does not return that love; of children who have great love for a parent, but the parent does not return that love. It is possible for you to love someone, to commit to someone, to do everything you know how to create and maintain a relationship of love, and not have that love returned.

The same thing is true among Christians. We may want to live in love with a brother or sister, we may accept the responsibility to love that brother or sister, we may do all we know how to do to create the circumstances that will let love exist between us, but the brother or sister rejects the love, or the brother or sister just is not able to relate to us.

What are we to do when we are unable to live in a relationship of love with a Christian brother?

  1. Let's begin with a brief view of what we have studied thus far about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
    1. In 1 John, John wrote:
      1. The message that was taught from the beginning was that we should love each other.
      2. A proof that we have passed from spiritual death to life is our love for each other.
      3. We are to love each other because that love is from God and is the evidence that we were begotten by God.
      4. If a Christian claims to love God and hates a fellow Christian, he or she is lying--if we are incapable of loving a fellow human being who also loves God and Christ, we are incapable of loving God whom we cannot see.
      5. God's commandment is this: If we love God, we also love our Christian brother.
    2. Paul also placed powerful emphasis on the importance of Christians loving each other.
      1. To the divided, sin-filled congregation at Corinth, he wrote the longest and most impressive statement on Christian love--1 Corinthians 13.
      2. To the church at Rome he gave these admonitions.
        1. Be tenderly affectioned in your love for your fellow Christian.
        2. The only debt you have and continue to have is the debt to love each other.
        3. Love does not bring harm to another person; therefore, love is a fulfillment of the law.
        4. He made specific application of those teachings in Romans 14 by instructing weak and strong Christians on the manner in which they were to love and respect each other.
      3. To the church at Ephesus, he wrote this:
        1. Replace all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, railing, and malice with mutual kindness, tenderheartedness, and mutual forgiveness.
        2. As God's children, imitate God, and walk in the same kind of love that Christ had for you.
    3. Peter also gave powerful emphasis to the importance of Christians loving Christians.
      1. He declared that the natural result of purifying one's soul by obeying the truth is developing an unpretended love for fellow Christians.
      2. Therefore, Christians should love each other from the heart fervently.
      3. We are capable of doing such because we have been begotten by imperishable seed of God's word, and not by perishable human seed.
      4. It is God's will that we love the brotherhood.
      5. Christians are to love in harmony, be sympathetic, love each other as family, be compassionate, and be humble.
      6. Brotherly love was also listed as one of the Christian graces
    4. Last Sunday we studied the fact that when Christian relationships are distressed, the love will continue, but the way in which that love is expressed with be different.
    5. Let's summarize this material in this manner.
      1. God's commandment is for his Christian children to love each other.
      2. God gave us the example of the kind of love he wants us to develop for each other in Jesus--he wants us to love each other like Jesus loves us.
      3. The spiritual ideal is to create and maintain close, real, loving relationships as brothers and sisters.
        1. In many of our relationships, we can work toward that ideal.
        2. In relationships which have been distressed by wrong doing or by misconduct, in love we seek to get the person to accept his responsibility, repent, and restore his relationship with God and his spiritual family.
  2. This still leaves one more question: What can be done when you have two Christians who simply cannot establish a loving relationship?
    1. First question: Is it possible to have two faithful, committed Christians who love the Lord who just cannot work together and struggle in their association? Absolutely!
      1. Many different reasons can create such situations.
        1. At any given moment there are all levels of spiritual development in the congregation.
          1. Some people have come out of hard, devastating sin to Christ; others come from Christian homes and environments.
          2. Some people come from backgrounds of complete ignorance of the Scripture; others come from homes where the Bible was always studied and shared.
          3. There will be different understandings of right and wrong, good and bad, and the proper way of doing things.
          4. It is possible for two sincere Christians to hold such different opinions and judgments that they are in frequent conflict, and they have a hard time working together and relating.
        2. There are all kinds of personalities and cultural backgrounds in a congregation.
          1. Some Christians have very strong personalities, and they don't follow easily.
          2. Others have nonassertive personalities, and it is easy for them to be bypassed, overlooked, or taken for granted.
          3. Some are very insecure and easily feel threatened by others.
          4. These and other personalities often find themselves in conflict with one another.
        3. We all have a different set of spiritual priorities, and at times those priorities clash.
        4. We all make mistakes, and at times we really hurt another Christian by our mistakes; such can certainly create this problem.
        5. In all these situations, both Christians can be faithful, love God, be committed, love the church, and be deeply sincere in their spiritual lives and Christianity.
        6. The problem is that they simply cannot get along with each other.
    2. I can certainly testify that this situation is true, is real, and cannot be merely wished away.
      1. I have maintained a strong determination for most of my life to get along with and to live at peace with all people.
      2. I have long understood that such was my Christian responsibility.
      3. I can assure you that there have been some Christians in my associations with whom I could not find a way to build this relationship of brotherly love.
        1. It was by no means always my brother or sister's fault.
        2. Many of those times the other Christian was a very sincere, committed Christian.
      4. That creates a very hard, demanding, painful situation, and it is not a situation that is easily and simply addressed.
    3. Let me share with you some illustrations, one from experience and two from Scripture.
      1. This problem likely occurs on the mission field more than anywhere else in the brotherhood.
        1. As a rule, uncommitted people do not go to a foreign country to do mission work.
        2. As a rule, people with a weak faith do not go to a foreign mission field.
        3. As a rule, people who are spiritually weak, indecisive, who have to lean on other people, who are in constant need of leadership do not go to the mission field.
        4. As a rule, followers do not go to a foreign mission field.
      2. Typically, the men and women who go to the mission field are:
        1. Strong leaders.
        2. Independent.
        3. Self-motivators.
        4. People who are strongly goal-oriented and who have some specific goals.
        5. Decisive.
        6. People with definite ideas and plans they have thought about a lot.
      3. Such people do not work well together.
        1. Put them is a situation where they must associate constantly, must talk and work together every day of every week, and it worsens the situation.
        2. Put them in a situation where they are together so much that they can look at each other and know each other's mood, where they have heard every joke, every argument, every idea the other has, and it worsens the situation.
      4. These people can knowingly be risking their health every day on the field, working their hearts out, literally trusting God with their lives.
      5. Yet, some of them may not be able to get along at all, and most of them have to work at getting along.
    4. Let's look at two clear examples of such in the New Testament.
      1. First, I call your attention to Acts 15:36-41. (Read)
        1. After the Jerusalem conference ended concerning the question regarding the conversion of Gentiles, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they return to all the congregations they established on their first missionary journey.
        2. Paul wanted to visit all these Christians and see how they were doing.
        3. Barnabas thought that was an excellent idea, so Paul and Barnabas were agreed on the need and on the work.
        4. However, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them on this visit to the churches.
          1. Acts 12:25 states that Paul and Barnabas took John Mark with them to Antioch on a return trip from Jerusalem.
          2. When Paul and Barnabas left on their first missionary journey, they took John Mark with them--evidently he had proven his worth as he worked with them in Antioch.
          3. John Mark remained a part of the team as they taught on the island of Cyprus, but when they arrived at Perga in Pamphylia, John Mark left the team and returned to Jerusalem.
          4. The text does not tell us why he returned.
        5. Whatever John Mark's reason was for going home, Paul obviously was not impressed.
        6. Obviously, Paul regarded him a liability rather than an asset, so he simply refused to consider Mark going with them.
        7. The KJV, ASV, and RSV say that there was sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas--this was not polite, mild difference of opinion.
          1. TEV translates, "They had a sharp argument."
          2. NIV translates it a sharp disagreement.
          3. JB translates it a violent argument.
          4. NEB translates it a sharp dispute.
        8. Just how serious was this disagreement?
          1. They split the mission team, parted company, and discontinued working together.
          2. Consider: This is the Barnabas who stood by Paul's side and vouched for his genuine conversion in Jerusalem when the whole church was afraid of him. (Acts 9:26-28)
          3. This is the Barnabas who personally went from Antioch of Syria to Tarsus--a trip of over 200 miles by foot and boat--to find Paul and bring him to Antioch to work with him where they spent a year working together. (Acts 11:25,26)
          4. This is the Barnabas the Holy Spirit selected with Paul for the first mission journey among the Gentiles. (Acts 13:2)
          5. This is the Barnabas who shared all the dangers, trials, threats, and suffering of that entire trip.
          6. Paul felt very strongly about this matter!
        9. Did they both still love God, believe in Christ, even love and care about each other? Yes.
          1. But they could not work together.
          2. It had nothing to do with faith, or Christ, or commitment, or the church, or correct teachings.
      2. We have less information on the situation in Philippians 4:2,3. (Read)
        1. Obviously, Euodia and Syntyche are not getting along.
        2. RSV--entreat them to agree; TEV--try to agree as sisters in the Lord; NIV--agree with each other; JB--come to agreement with each other; NEB--agree together.
        3. He asks a faithful Christian to help them.
        4. They have worked hard with him in the gospel.
      3. It is possible to be godly, devout Christians and not get along with each other.
  3. What can be done when that is the case?
    1. Accept the personal responsibility to never provide a reason for the continued existence of the situation, or the worsening of the situation.
      1. In Paul's admonition of Romans 12:18, If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.
      2. NIV--If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
      3. TEV--Do everything possible, on your part, to live at peace with all men.
      4. If a problem exists, do all in your power not to be the reason it exits.
    2. Regardless of the difficulty of working together, do all in your power to show respect for each other for your work, your faith, your commitment, and your service to Christ.
    3. Allow yourself to see, admit, accept, and appreciate each other's good qualities.
      1. In such cases there will be good qualities.
      2. Focus on the good.
    4. Don't measure each other by our own private yardsticks.
    5. Never let your personal difficulties become congregational difficulties.
    6. See the differences for what they actually are.

Successfully being God's family is no simple task. Being successful as a family of any kind is never simple. Just as our earthly families never become perfect, neither do we as God's spiritual family. But we never stop trying, never stop growing, never stop improving. Blessing is found in trying; it is never found in giving up.

transcribed by Christy Hesslen
Copyright © 1992, David Chadwell
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