We’re continuing our series called Keep Christ in Christmas. Last week we hit on relationships while we talked about celebrating, particularly family relationships, and I want to continue that thought today.
I think relationships are one of the most difficult things about life. Relationships cause immense pain if done poorly and immense pleasure if done well.
Strong relationships can cause us to persevere through many difficult trials in life, but tense relationships can prevent us from ever moving forward.
Everyone wants good relationships, but relationships are hard.
People are like snowflakes. No two are alike. That makes every person beautiful in their own unique way, but that also makes us more or less compatible with others.
Relationships can be tense. Encounters can be frustrating or awkward. Family gatherings can become exhausting more than life giving.
I believe that keeping Jesus Christ central in the way we relate to others will help us to form authentic relationships and heal those frustrations and tensions.
So, we’ll begin with…
The point here is to give a brief introduction to ways that we should relate to others. And I believe all three are necessary if we want to have strong relationships.
The first characteristic is…
Most of you have at least one relative who gets on your nerves. You know you are going to have to sit down and talk to them this Christmas. You probably have someone in mind right now.
For some of you it’s an aunt or an uncle. For others its a cousin. Maybe it’s a little brother. Who knows? The funny thing about these relatives are that they can be anyone.
The easiest thing to do is to push that person away. Make sure they know you don’t want to talk to them. But, that’s not nice. So, many of us will just try to escape.
Some of you are already planning how to escape some of those conversations and Christmas isn’t for another week!
At the same time, we’re already planning on having some great conversations with the people we love and enjoy the most. Some of the kids can’t wait to play with their favorite cousin, but as adults, we often have the same thing going on.
Some people we love to be around and others we can’t hardly tolerate.
You might think that’s normal so it must be OK, but here’s what Jesus says about it. He said,
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:46, ESV)
Do you see what Jesus is saying?
If all you do is love people who are easy to love, you haven’t really loved. We don’t get to hate some people on the grounds that we love most other people. Like if I love 80% of everyone then I’m doing OK. A low B isn’t good enough in Jesus’s book.
We don’t get to decide to love some people and not others. As Christians, we’re called to a greater and more perfect love. We’re called to love others even when they irritate us, even if they say hurtful things about us, even if the smell weird or something like that.
If you think about it, real love, frankly, isn’t natural.
Love is a choice. Love is intentional action.
And since love is a choice, love is also going to require…
Some of the early Christians were being put in prison for their faith. They were being robbed and extorted. Some were even killed for being Christians.
But, they were able to sacrifice the comforts of life, because they knew there was a great reward for their patient endurance. Here’s what the author of Hebrews writes,
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:34).
When Christians were put in prison, they would take care of them. When someone was in need, they would sacrifice to help those with the need. They didn’t share out of their excess; they shared everything they had, no matter how little.
And they did so because they knew they had a better possession than this life had to offer.
We can endure difficult circumstances because we know that we have an abiding hope and a better possession, that is, an eternity of perfect relationships.
But, we aren’t there yet. We don’t have perfect relationships now. So, I want to give you a strategy for encountering difficult people so that you can talk to them without damaging the relationship.
And it’s interesting, because we do have limits.
We have limits but, God has no limits…And He has called us to love like He loves.
No matter how wretched and idolatrous we become as people, God still reaches out to us and calls us into His presence.
So, let’s talk about…
God plays an important role in all of this. John wrote,
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, ESV)
A simple verse. But, think about the implications. The only reason we are able to love others is because God loves us. We can only love others to the degree that we’ve experienced God’s love.
And the more we experience God’s love, the more we will be able to love other people. It’s foolish to think we can love or sacrifice properly without fist being loved by God.
I would argue that, your relationship with God is actually reflected in your relationships with other people.
Do you have tense and frustrating relationships with other people? You probably also have a tense and frustrating relationship with God.
Do you have meaningful and fulfilling relationships with other people? You probably have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with God.
Now, some of you have family members who think it’s absurd that you believe in God and the Bible and they want to throw it in your face. They’re like internet trolls, but in real life. You can’t just get off Facebook to avoid them.
They’re just waiting for the right moment to call you out for believing in fairy tails.
How do you deal with those sorts of people!?
Well, think back on what John said. If they aren’t loving people, there’s a reason for that. Fact of the matter is, they haven’t experienced God’s love, so they don’t have the capacity to love you.
So, they don’t need you to prove God is real to then. They’re trolling for an argument, but they don’t have any intention of being convinced by anything you say.
They don’t need you to argue that the world was created in 6 days. They don’t need to have a discussion about Jonah surviving in the belly of a fish. They don’t need evidence for God and the Bible.
They need to experience the love of God—and you have an opportunity to show God’s love to them.
So, this year, instead of starting an argument or getting angry or hurt, let’s follow the biblical advice on the matter. Solomon wrote,
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1, ESV)
Your tactic is to deflect their wrath, defer the topic to something else. Have a soft response, not a harsh response.
“Well, I know there are others who would agree with you, but I’d like to hear about Grandma and Grandpas vacation.”
Just don’t have the argument. If they keep pressing you, they just prove their own folly.
But, you show yourself to be wise when you withhold your words.
Solomon also wrote this,
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:27–28, ESV)
Don’t argue with a person who just wants to argue; you make yourself out to be the fool.
So, there’s three things you need to be able to really build good relationships with people. You need love. You need sacrifice. And you need God.
And you may think you’re doing pretty well because you’ve already got two of those things going for you.
So, I want to go over…
The point here is to present dangers in trying to relate to people without having all three characteristics.
The first danger is…
I don’t mind telling you that this is the danger I struggle with the most. I’m well aware of my own brokenness, my own sin, my own faults. And I’m thankful that the Lord has been merciful to me. I’m thankful that He has forgiven my sins and allowed me to move forward in life without guilt. I’m thankful that in many ways I’m not the man I used to be.
More so, I’m confident that God empowers me by His Spirit to accomplish His purposes in this world.
And because of that, I find it pretty easy to be sacrificial. I don’t hold onto most things tightly. Jesus sacrificed so much more for me than I could ever sacrifice for others so there should be no limit to what I sacrifice or the betterment of others.
Where I really have to focus is on love, the kind of love that the Apostle Paul wrote about,
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. (1 Corinthians 13:4–5, ESV)
When you don’t have love, it’s easy to look at your circumstances and say, ‘Well, God is on my side,’ and, ‘I’ve done everything I was supposed to do.’ … ‘Look at all I’ve given for this relationship!’
Have you ever been there? Have you ever said something like that to someone? Have you ever listed off everything you have sacrificed for someone, just to throw it in their face because they failed in the relationship?
I’m reminded of the humility of Jesus. Even when people spit on him, ridiculed him, and beat him, he endured the persecution. He willingly went to the cross to die so that we could live.
Speaking of the coming day of judgment, the prophet Isaiah said,
The haughtiness of man shall be humbled [humiliated], and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (Isaiah 2:17, ESV)
The reality is, only Jesus is to be exalted. Our position is humility.
I’d correct this translation slightly by using a parallel word, humiliate. In the Hebrew language that this passage was originally written in, the word for humble is shahah. It means to make low. In English, we use the word humble when you make yourself low. But, when someone else makes you low, we use the word humiliate.
The idea here is that if you do not humble yourself, in the end, when you go before the judgment seat of Christ, you will be humiliated. Arrogance leads to humiliation.
When we lack love, we are in danger of arrogance. We need to love if we are to build relationships.
A second danger is…
I suspect this is a far more common place to land. This is the person who knows God and genuinely loves others, but refuses to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of others. This is the person who is nice and kind to everyone, who never insists on their own way, and never rocks the boat.
That can almost seem like a good thing. This is a humble person, full of grace. But, far too many Christians go through life as good and nice people without anyone knowing they are even Christians.
I call this danger apathy, because the Christian who lives this way seems so worried about protecting their own comforts that they won’t be bold enough to tell others about Jesus.
The Apostle Peter said you should always be, “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).
We can be so afraid of the trolls that we don’t want to talk about our faith with others and that is a huge overcompensation from what we are called to do.
It’s important for good and kind Christians to be bold enough to tell others where that character comes from.
We don’t just want to get through Christmas without any fighting; we want to make much of Christ. We want to keep Christ in Christmas.
Solomon gave us wisdom on this matter. He wrote,
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (Proverbs 15:23, ESV)
And he wrote,
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11, ESV)
It’s good that we speak up, sacrificing our own comforts in order to speak truth to others when the time is right to do so. And I pray you will have opportunities to do so as you relate to others this Christmas.
A final danger is…
There are a great many people out there who love others even though they don’t follow Jesus. There are people out there who live sacrificial lives even if they don’t know Jesus. There are many people in the world who do good things that don’t have any clue about Jesus. But there is a danger in living life this way.
We’re all a little different. We have different thresholds for pain. We have different tolerances for the unlovable people we encounter in life. Some of us can take it longer than others. But, we all have one thing in common. We all have a breaking point.
None of us can carry the load of love and sacrifice on our own.
So, you might ask, Why do I need God to love other people?
And the answer is, because as a human, you have a breaking point. You can’t love and sacrifice for others all the time, not on your own strength. We’re all weak at some point. We all break.
I’ll tell you a part of the Christmas story. An Angel of God named Gabriel came to visit a young woman named Mary. This is the Mary that would become the mother of Jesus.
Gabriel tells Mary this fantastic story about the son she would have and how he would rule as King over all of God’s people forever and ever.
But, Mary was confused by Gabriels words, because she wasn’t even married yet. She asked the angel, how could she become pregnant when she isn’t even married.
And Gabriel makes this profound statement.
…The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God…For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:35–37, ESV)
We are weak. On our own, our relationships will falter. But, God is unfailing. Nothing is impossible with God.
If the power of the Holy Spirit is upon you, then there is nothing you can’t endure. There is no one you can’t love. There is nothing you can’t sacrifice in order to love others.
So, here’s where I am at with this. If you want to have great relationships with family, friends, and others—you try to love and you try to be sacrificial, but you just don’t seem to have enough in you to carry everyone else on your own shoulders—the answer is to go to the one who can.
The answer is to go to Jesus.
If you are here and you are not a follower of Jesus, I’d encourage you, as we come to Christmas to make a commitment to follow Jesus. There’s three simple steps to this.
If you are ready to make a commitment to follow Jesus, I would encourage you to mark the ‘Commit to follow Jesus’ box on your Next Step card and turn it in in the collection basket, and one of us will contact you this week to talk about what that looks like more practically.
And if you are here and you are already a Christian, but you feel too weak to build relationships with someone in your family or someone in your inner-circle, then I would encourage you to make an intentional strategy to love that person this Christmas when you see them.
But, even before then, make sure that you go to God in prayer. He is the one who empowers us to overcome our weakness. Let’s do that even now.