Authentic Relationships

Spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships.

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During Lent we’ve been studying several of the foundational habits and practices of disciples.  Through our Sunday teaching and our Foundations book we’ve discovered that one of the most important practices we undertake in discipleship is relationship building.  Relationships are at the heart of following Jesus and, in fact, the disciple of Jesus has three relationships we tend to: our relationship with God, our relationship with the church family, and our relationship with those who don’t know Jesus, yet.  Each is vital and each must be given the appropriate attention.

I’ve spent this morning reading and reflecting on 1John.  I didn’t intend to read the whole book, but my devotions led me to one confusing verse and I needed to put it in context.  And as I read through the entire book I was reminded of the high value of relationship among church family.  In fact, John equates spiritual maturity – living as Jesus did – to the depth of our love for one another (2:9; 2:6).  The way we love one another in the church family provides the evidence that we are walking in the light.  Conversely, “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister (God’s family) is still in the darkness” (2:9).

Since spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships, I thought it would be helpful to list the ways John evidences as the fruit of church family love.

How do I live as Jesus did among my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Practice sincere love for one another. In 1John 2:10, the author uses a variation of the word “agape” to propose godly love for one another.  This is the kind of love God has shown the world in Jesus and the type of love he calls us to in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22).  The love we express to one another in the Body of Christ reflects the exact love that God expresses to each person and to the entire world.
  • Speak well of the church family. In chapter 3, John reminds us that the love of God has been lavished on us and we are God’s children.  There was a time when we did not belong to God.  In fact, we were under God’s wrath.  But through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family.  In his grace, God has lavished us with his love.  So since we are each recipients of this love, let it be expressed in community.  As we treat one another well; show respect even in disagreement; recognize that Jesus died and rose for each of us – we express unity.  When you or I abuse one member of the family, we are abusing the whole.
  • Pay attention to the real enemy! We are not the enemy.  The enemy is personified three ways by John: the antichrists, the world, and human nature. The antichrists (2:18) are those who don’t really belong to the church family and tend to stir up trouble.  They lie, propagate unsound doctrine, and sow confusion.  Secondly, the enemy of the family of God is the world and the viewpoint of the world as it relates to God (4:5).  Thirdly, is the potential for our human nature to have sway over our relationships (2:15-17).  Our human nature left unchecked and unchanged by Jesus is ruled by our lust and pride and their selfish desires which separate.  Pay attention to the things that separate us from each other; pray for each other; and keep each other accountable (5:16).
  • Sacrifice for one another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (3:16).  This verse, often associated with patriotism, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with how the church family expresses love for each other. John is teaching the church how to be the church and be different from the world.  And, in this context, it’s about sacrificing for each other – “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister (church family) in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (3:17)

Loving one another like this is not natural.  We are accustomed to individualism.  Love like this is also risky.  It pushes us to invest deeply in each other.  John, aware of these challenges, writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  If I love you, I am not afraid of you.  If I’m not afraid of you, I can take risk in expressing my love to you.

Lent is a season of soul searching and reflection.  It is also a season of growth.  As you reflect on your relationship with your church family challenge yourself to ask, “Where am I growing?”  Are you loving one another greater than you did last year, or even yesterday?  Are you speaking well, even in disagreements?  Are you working hard at keeping the enemy at the gates?  Where have you noticed God inviting you to live sacrificially for the benefit of another disciple?

While it is indeed challenging to live in community, we have help.  We are each filled with the Holy Spirit and it is he who spreads the love of God in our hearts and connects us together as the church.  And everyone will know we are Christians by our love for each other.

Partnership

Membership says “what’s in it for me?” Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

Being a Partner is all about being connected. There is a big difference between membership and partnership. Let me explain it like this. It is possible to be a member of a gym, but only go there once a year, correct? But when you are a Partner you are connected, there is a connecting and a joining that takes place. You have a vested interest in everything that happens.  It is so much more than just being a member.

The same thing is true when it comes to be a partner in a church.  It’s not the fact that you visit that place, it’s all about that ministry – being a part of who you are and you are a part of what that ministry is. There is a connection, a joining and a communion that takes place in that. The purpose of this ministry is to bring you to the place where you fulfil the call of God on your life.

Think about it this way:  membership says “what’s in it for me?”  Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

This letter of Paul’s to the Philippians is often referred to as the letter of joy. We can certainly understand why it would be called that hearing some of the phrases that Paul uses:

“I thank my God…”

“I’m thankful for all of you”

“it’s always a prayer full of joy”

“I’m glad…”

“I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.”

“I’m glad…and I’ll continue to be glad.”

 

He sounds pretty joyful for someone writing a letter from jail. But it’s not necessarily that he’s joyful because of his circumstances. But more than that – I think he’s so joyful because of the way in which the Philippians, the people of the church, have partnered with him, have taken care of him, and have been working in the ministry of the gospel with him

And so, as I was reading this passage, I kept being drawn to these two verses about partnership: Verse 5: I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  And verse 7: I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel.

Now, when we think about partners…we probably have different responses. Perhaps some of you have partners who you work with professionally, and those may be good relationships, but it’s possible that some of them are strained.

And I don’t know about you, but when I was in school I would cringe a bit whenever a professor informed us that we’d be working in groups for a certain project. I didn’t necessarily always want partners – sometimes it would have been a whole lot easier if I could have just taken care of something on my own and did it myself.

Perhaps it’s because of the very individualistic society that we live in, but I’m sure that many of us would admit, if pressed, that we often prefer to be lone rangers…taking care of things by ourselves, rather than having the help of others.

But the thing is…we can’t do it alone. Sure maybe I could have knocked out a project quicker by myself…but when we are talking about the stuff of life, when we are talking about the work that God has called us to participate in, in the world…that’s not something that is easily done as lone rangers.

And we’ve known this from the very beginning. As we look back to the creation story in Genesis…after God had created Adam, God said, “It’s not good that the man is alone. I will make a helper that is perfect for him.” We were not meant to be alone…and we were not meant to do this work alone…

We need partners. Here in Philippians, Paul is profusely thanking the Philippians for being partners in the ministry of the gospel. They supported Paul during his ministry with them, and continued to support him while he was in prison…most likely that was made manifest by the Philippians providing Paul with food and other necessities that he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

For us, this morning, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is how are we being partners in ministry with God and to each other? How are we supporting what God is doing in this church and in our world? This work of the ministry of the gospel is not something that I do…it’s not something that only the church council does…this is work that we all participate in.

We all need to partner together to accomplish the values and dreams that we have set before ourselves. We will become just like Jesus:

  1. We will create an atmosphere which welcomes and connects people to the Body of Christ.
  2. We were made to worship. So we will create an atmosphere where worship is the centerpiece of our lives.  We will create an atmosphere where people can experience the presence of God.
  3. We will create disciples who are increasing in their love of God and neighbor.
  4. We will create a culture of the call; an atmosphere where every partner takes the step into serving and ministry and transforms the world.
  5. We will create an atmosphere and expectation of extravagant generosity. We will live our whole lives for God and God’s purposes.

This isn’t going to be something that we do alone. But it’s not just that we’re partnering with each other and with this church…we’re actually partnering with God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.

God invites you and me to partner with him so that we can all be actively pursuing, and participating in, ushering in God’s kingdom…the ushering in of God’s hopes and dreams for our lives and for this world.  So that we can become just like Jesus.

I want to share with you a story called “Does God Have a Big Toe: Stories about Stories in the Bible.” It’s written by Marc Gellman. This story is called “Partners.”

 Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”  So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be…just rocks.”

Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be…just water.”

Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered…“NOPE!”

On some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” and God answered…“NOPE!”

God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me…really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”

“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”

The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” and God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on THOSE days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.

Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” and God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”

So we not only partner with one another to participate in this ministry of the gospel, but we partner with God.  We are working with God, so that God’s kingdom may come. We can read the news, glance at our Facebook News Feed, or even just look all around us, and see the ways in which this world is clearly unfinished…and not as God would have it.

Children all around the world die every day from lack of clean water, food and shelter. Single moms work long hours at multiple jobs, and can barely earn enough money to put food on the table for their kids. We hear about mass shootings, and are shocked and saddened for a few days, and then move on with our lives, not taking the necessary steps to prevent future tragedies.

We live in a world where cyber-bullying continues to be a huge problem for young people, so much so that many have decided it was not worth living anymore and have taken their lives.  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic, wrote the following:

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Since we all have different gifts and talents …partnering with God is going to look a little different for each person here.

There’s no end to the possible ways that we can partner with God.

But perhaps the most significant thing that we all can do is to simply reframe how we view ourselves in relation to God.

If we think that God is the one who just… does it all, that’s going to form and shape how we live in the world, how we engage with others throughout our day, how we treat other people.

But if we think of ourselves as God’s partners…if we realize that God works through you…that changes everything. That changes the way we view ourselves, the way we view God, and the way we view our place in the world.

When we realize that we are God’s partners, we know that we can’t just sit around and wait, expecting God to be the one to bring about change in the world.

As followers in the way of Jesus, we have been called to partner with God to embody and bring about the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now; the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in Heaven.