I have been discussing with several people recently how difficult I have been finding relationships. Relationships of all kinds, with all sorts of people. And how much I struggle to know and understand what God thinks about that particular issue, especially when that comes to pragmatics.
What should I do when deciding how to prioritise friendships?
How can I help my brothers and sisters to better serve God?
How does God want me to react when a colleague is out of line?
How should I behave when I’m unsure about where I stand with somebody?
All these questions are ones which I’ve encountered over the past few years. Having pondered over various issues like these, finding answers difficult to come by, and wishing someone had written a good Christian book on this can of worms, I thought to myself “why don’t I try to answer my own questions” (by referring to God through His word, obv)?
Although this is pretty brief, I’d like to consider these things more (time-permitting)! I know I don’t have all the answers and will not pretend to be an authority on anything but, wherever I can, I will appeal to Christ as my authority using His Word.
I was thinking recently about the “greatest commandment” which is given as not an optional extra but as a mandate to all who would “esteem others more highly than himself” (Philippians 2:3). What I was reflecting on is going back to basics but this was a helpful reminder for me.
Jesus, when He was here, somehow managed to live alongside us and yet remain sinless (Hebrews 4:15), which I believe is quite an amazing thing when I consider how many times I sin against or in relation to people.
He makes it clear in Mark 12:30-31 that if you truly strive to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, loving your neighbour naturally follows on from it. The NKJV version says in this passage that loving people is like loving God (“the second [commandment is] like it (Mark 12:31)). If you love God, you will want to love people. This basically means that you cannot love your neighbour well without loving God well first. If your relationships are suffering, perhaps (not always!) the root cause is that your relationship with God is suffering. This is something that I don’t meditate nearly enough on!
As Jesus gives us this mandate, loving others well must be attainable, but only through loving God first. You can see this in the pattern of the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21)– the first is to worship God and no other (v6-7). And all the rest follow on from that.
For example, if you were to covet your neighbour’s donkey (v21), you would not be loving your neighbour.
And you would not be loving your neighbour because you would not be loving God properly.
And you would not be loving God properly because you would be more concerned with what you can gain than with what God has already given you.
We love people poorly when our love for God is faint, like a flickering candle. When the candle blows out and we are not loving Him, it is difficult to love others well and be a witness to them. This is not to say that non-Christians do not know what it is to love others – many love others better than Christians do. But having the superior example of what true love is – Christ on the Cross (1 John 4:9-10) – shows us that standard by which we are to love and forgive others.
It goes to follow that the more we love God, the more that love will overflow into love for others. And the more we are made like Jesus, the more we will want to love others. In summary, I want to love others better by loving God best. I want to strive to know him better (Philippians 3:10), to love Him more and through it, to love others more. And it’s fruitless for me to try to do this in any way except through Jesus.