The Young Man and
Most of life’s joys and most of its trials will result from our relationships with others. There is no area of our Christian life more vital to our testimony than this area of relating to others. I would suggest at the outset that our relationships with others will be controlled by our view of ourselves. What is your self-image? Is it positive? As you recognize the worth of your soul, and the infinite cost of your salvation, and the eternal and enveloping love of God who was in Christ, redeeming you to Himself, you must recognize that you are special because God loves you. An unhappy childhood, a lack of love and encouragement can leave deep scars on any personality, and there are more and more young people today who are so abused and ill-treated as to find it very difficult even to believe that God loves them, when His love is presented to them. Such persons will possibly always find it more difficult to respond to others, to reach out in trust and love, and put themselves at risk for another person, since they have had so little experience of love and encouragement as youngsters. Yet we have seen even such persons, once they were saved and came into fellowship and contact with other believers who encouraged them and loved them in Christ, learn to trust and to reach out to others less fortunate than themselves.
The Great Imperative
The single great imperative in our Christian relationships is love, because the Word of God tells us clearly that God is love. This selfless love which reaches us in our sins, cleanses us of our sins, and brings us into the family of God, is a part of the very essence of God Himself. God is love. The Word is quite emphatic on that point. His essential nature, His very core of being is agape love, selfless and everlasting. God did not love us because we were lovely, or attractive, or clean, or intelligent —no, He loved us because we were there, and in need of love. Lost sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, wandering in the kingdom of darkness without light and without hope, is how Paul describes us in Ephesians two. Then we come to those two glorious words “But God” and we see the richness of God’s mercy and God’s love extended to us in that desperate and hopeless situation, and we were sought and found and brought into the glorious light of salvation, knowledge of sins forgiven, and the family of God, with every other believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. We can never overestimate the love of God for us, nor His mighty power in saving us, and such thoughts should never become stale or commonplace in our thinking.
Because God has loved us so, and has come to live in us by His Holy Spirit, we are both encouraged and enabled to love others in a similar way. A great deal of the New Testament deals with ways in which we are to love others, and to show it in our words and actions. Husbands are thrice commanded to love their wives. Wives are commanded to love their husbands and their children. Every believer is to love every other believer, regardless of age, experience, appearance or personality. It is our duty to love those whom God loves, and that includes everyone.
A Possible Objection
Now you may be objecting at this point that it is not your personality or way to show love. It’s all right, you say, for those with the friendly, open personalities of warm puppies to show love, but I’m not like that; I am a cool, reserved individual who cannot take to people instantly, but need to get to know them first. This problem of personality is a big one, since there are many recognizable types, and each of us has his own unique and God-given blend of characteristics. Some are austere and aloof; others are demonstrative and cheery. Some are fearful and hesitant, while others are filled with confidence and impressed with their own abilities. We must never deny the existence of personality differences, but we must not allow ourselves to think that the possession of a particular personality is an excuse for not following God’s command to love others. If God made us as we are, then He made us that way for a purpose, and His purposes are always wise, loving, and will be achieved. Once we have gotten a firm grasp on the idea that God cannot make mistakes, that He is perfect both in His planning and the execution of His plans, then we can go forward confidently expecting that God will have a special place of service just for us, a place where our particular blend of qualities and gift will be just what is needed to reach out to a particular group of people. If we can be as confident of the wisdom of God and the power of God as we are of the love of God, we will be ready to go forward expecting Him to work in our lives.
Perhaps you are wondering how we can show or demonstrate God’s love to others. The Apostle Paul put love under a prism and broke it up into a whole series of characteristics: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right…” (1 Cor. 13:4-7, RSV). Kindness, patience and humility are all seen as parts of love. Giving way to others, and seeking the good of others, are also included. Things that are excluded are jealousy, boasting, pride, arrogance and rudeness. Irritation, resentment and selfishness are likewise excluded. The person who shows love does no harm or ill to a neighbour, and defines a neighbour as the good Samaritan did. Opportunities to show love will come to the Christian every single day. Even in the smallest kindnesses, the merest courtesies, love can be shown. No store clerk, no waitress, no gas station attendant or any other person that you meet is so insignificant as to be excluded from your love, as you express it in patience, kindness, and courtesy.
Some Bad Eggs
There is a Satanic fifth column of vile characters who can invade our relationships and destroy all evidences of love. Mistrust and suspicion are two of the leaders. Once these two are given the slightest room in any relationship, they will tenaciously hang on, blocking love and causing the relationship to fester. If they are found in both partners, it will take a major project, including much prayer and laying hold of God to remove them. Irritability and resentment may come and go with our moods, but they can be used to cultivate the ground for mistrust and suspicion to grow. The seed of selfishness is also hurtful, since it grows into such a dense bush as to block our view of the needs and wishes of others. Have you noticed that some people seem almost blind to the selfishness that is in their lives, yet very perceptive in finding it in others, even in much smaller quantities? Pride is still another odious characteristic which is hated by God, and can make any person hard and indifferent to the feelings of others. If we consider what we were before God saved us, and realize that all that we are and have has come from His bountiful and loving hand, there can be little room for pride in our lives. Satan’s fall was directly attributed to pride, and he is the father of it in all of our experiences.
How do we assess our relationships with others? One way is to measure our progress against the absolute standards of the Word of God. 1 Corinthians 13 is a good passage to refer to constantly. Try to remember that this is a lifetime process, and that you will doubtless stumble many times. Whether young, middle-aged or older, every one of us is susceptible to failure to love others adequately, and to demonstrate it effectively. As I write these lines, I can readily recall instances of failure in my own life and interpersonal relationships which have been less than Christlike in their expression of love. The important thing is to seek God’s face in prayer, ask His forgiveness, and then go out and do something positive about mending the broken relationships. Do NOT wait for the other person to make the first move. That can be disastrous. Assume that God wants His love to flow through you, at all times, and in all directions, to every person with whom you work or live. Then demonstrate the kindnesses, courtesies and faith in others that will make this a living reality in your life. In this way you will be able to live a Christlike life, and will not only encourage your fellow believers, but will also be instrumental in attracting the unsaved to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who is waiting and willing to save them too.