The last two posts have been more theoretical, setting a foundation of why we take time to build relationships. I want to begin now to focus more on practical application to issues we face in our everyday relationships. One of the biggest struggles I have within relationships is trying to navigate how to love others.
I want to approach issues we face from as Biblical of a perspective as possible. God has laid out boundaries for us to follow and keep, which actually give us freedom rather than take it away. Relationships without boundaries end up being more like a black hole, sucking any life, energy, and time away that God may have a plan for elsewhere.
1. Loving people (commandment)
The foundational boundary to consider in any relationship is found in Matthew 22:36-40.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
It sounds so simple, but it is virtually impossible to love others as ourselves unless we love God with our entire being, and it is impossible to love God with our entire being without His Spirit’s help and presence. Without God’s Spirit, who is to say that our idea of love is even the correct kind of love, or who is to say that the way we love ourselves is what someone else will want? Relationships need to be intentionally built around the Spirit’s guidance. Doing this in our own strength is very difficult, and it explains why so many relationships in families, friendships, and marriages fail.
2. Salt and Light policy (freedom)
Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
One boundary that I have found exceptionally freeing is being called to be a salt and light. There are two reasons I find this freeing. One, many people try to set boundaries on who is an “acceptable” friend, based on their salvation, personal standing with God, life choices, or whatever. Jesus has a lot less to say about avoiding every wicked person out there than He has to say about sharing the gospel with people out of love.
Secondly, this policy frees me to be myself. Not that I am naturally salt and light, but rather my relationship with God is where I place my identity (Galatians 2:20). From what I have observed, in every level of relationship, people love talking about themselves. When you want to get to know people better, you ask them questions about themselves. When they want to get to know you better, they will ask you questions about yourself. It feels a lot like freedom to be able to respond and talk about my faith with others, which is a huge part of who I am.
This policy does come with a warning though. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” 2 Timothy 3:12. Salt stings cuts and dirty spots, and light blinds eyes that are used to the dark. I have continually struggled on how I am going to show love to people that directly reject God without unintentionally enabling them to continue rejecting God. From my experience I rarely get the chance to continue enabling for very long, because being a salt and light will either make them tender (want to come to know God better) or it will repulse them and they will dislike and avoid you.
This means that if you are using this policy to be in relationships that are not God honoring as a free pass, then you do not understand what it means to be a salt and a light. A majority of the Psalms and Proverbs are directed towards people who just befriend the wicked and foolishly follow them. We need to do our best to love and be a part of these people’s lives, but we cannot hide who we are or Who is living inside of us. If that happens, then we are as worthless as salt without any taste or light hidden in a basket.
3. “Law to the proud and grace to the humble” (witnessing)
James 4:6, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
Ray Comfort uses this statement in his witnessing course through Living Waters, and it has been a huge help to me. As a boundary, this again feels a lot like freedom to the person not knowing how to be a salt and light to others. Some of the hardest moments to work through in relationships are made obvious because of how diverse people and struggles can be, but God’s perspective simplifies decisions.
First of all, I want to go back to the foundational boundary for every relationship, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that look like? A mature individual does not want flattery and compliments all the time, and most people do not even consider that loving. A mature individual usually feels closest to the individuals in their lives that challenge them in a kind way and are able to softly point out areas to work on. I know for myself, discussing things to work on has become one of my favorite parts of conversation with my closest friends. Bringing up harder topics may not always feel great, but in retrospect a mature person is going to value that relationship so much more.
God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, and He will help us to know who we need to “show the law to” and who we need to “give more grace to.” When witnessing to people, the good news of Jesus’ salvation does not make sense unless we realize that we have broken the law of God and therefore are rejected by God. Bringing up the law of God and helping others see where they fall short (whether before they are saved or after they are saved) is part of truly loving others versus flattery and cover-up compliments.
This can only happen in love when the Spirit is present in our lives. It is impossible to give the law to the proud and grace to the humble if we ourselves fall into the proud category.
Matthew 7:1-5 warns us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”