Jesus and Relationships
One of the major themes in the Sermon on the Mount is relationships. Jesus talks about being a peace-maker (5:9), about handling our anger carefully (6:21-26), about controlling our sexual desires (6:27-30), about faithfully keeping our marriage vows (6:31-32), about keeping our word (6:33-37), about not seeking revenge (6:38-42), about loving our enemies (6:43-48), and about not judging others (7:1-6).
Life is all about relationships – our relationship with God and our relationship with other people - and therefore learning to relate well to a wide variety of people is essential. Healthy relationships are the key to success in all areas of life. It starts in the home and then includes our neighbourhood, our church family, as well as our school or work place.
Well-known psychologist, Daniel Goleman, has done much research on the components of success in the workplace. His conclusion is that technical skill and intellectual intelligence (IQ) are important but that the quality of “emotional intelligence” (EQ) is the most essential. Emotional Intelligence is twice as important as the other two and it is the ability to relate well to a whole variety of people. Without emotional intelligence, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive analytical mind and an endless supply of smart ideas, but still not be effective in the workplace environment. For those of us who are Christians, emotional intelligence is simply a description of what it means to be a loving person, something that is at the very core of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus spent a lot of time training and teaching his disciples on how to relate well to other people.Jesus Golden Rule for Relationships
Jesus gave his disciples the perfect rule for establishing quality human relationships. Some people call it the Golden Rule, a name it was given sometime around the seventeenth century. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matt.7:12 NIV).” The Message Bible translates Jesus’ statement this way: “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get.”
Following Jesus’ instruction can help us get along with almost anybody . Imagine the difference in our church and our world IF we all just followed this simple but powerful advice. The best way to become a person that others are drawn to is to develop the kind of qualities that you are attracted to in others. What are the qualities and attributes that attract you to others (the IDEAL friend)? Adopt these! What are the qualities and attributes that repel you from others (the friend from hell)? Avoid these! In other words, think about how you like to be treated and then you make a choice to treat others in the same way. You go first! You’ll be surprised in life how you tend to reap what you sow. Do not wait for people to do the right thing to you. You start by doing the right thing yourself. We all want others to accept us, to encourage us, to listen to us, to understand us, and to forgive us. Let’s go ahead and treat others the same way.Getting Along with Difficult People
Of course, some people can be difficult to get along with. Jesus tells us to do good to those who may be hostile towards us, including our enemies (Matt.5:38-48). These words are so challenging that it can be difficult to get our minds around them. Of course, first of all we need to realize that Jesus is talking specifically about personal issues, not broad political ones (such as war or national security).
Relationships often do not go the way we want them to go. Jesus’ way of righting a wrong is not to act in revenge but to act in love. Jesus challenges us to treat other people as we would want to be treated. This rule needs to be applied not only when relationships are going right, but also when they are going wrong. Jesus gives some real-life examples of what it means to love an enemy. He calls his followers to a new level of love.
- Jesus talks about receiving an insulting slap on the cheek and tells us to turn the other cheek too. This seems shocking. Are we to let someone injure us? Can you not defend yourself? Are we to be spineless cowards? After all, Jesus himself overturned tables and drove out those who were taking financial advantage of others (John 2:14-16). I believe that Jesus is primarily referring to situations where we are personally insulted – not to situations where we are threatened by a bully or a thief breaking into our house or a violent, abusive spouse. What Jesus is telling us, is that when we are insulted, instead of seeking revenge, we should choose love. Revenge slaps the other person back; love turns the other cheek, with the hope that it will change the situation. But even if not, we decide to not allow their insult to turn us into an insulting person. We choose to love. Jesus is encouraging an act of courage, not cowardice.
- Jesus talks about what to do when someone wants to sue you and take away your shirt. He tells his followers to give their coat too. He is teaching his disciples to value relationships over possessions. Of course, he is not talking about legal cases between businesses. He is talking about relationships and telling us that a spirit of vengeance or bitterness is much too high a price to pay for the loss of a shirt and that the gift of a coat is not too great a price to pay for the possibility of a restored relationship.
- Jesus talks about a soldier demanding a civilian to carry his gear for a mile. He tells his disciples to go two miles. He calls for sacrifice – for doing more than is expected or required.
- Jesus then talks about giving to those who seek to borrow from us. We are called to help those who are truly needy but not the lazy (see 2 Thess.3:10).
In all of these surprising examples, Jesus is teaching the same thing: when someone is trying to take from you, surprise them and choose to give to them. Instead of becoming revengeful, decide to love. Jesus is not talking about allowing someone to control us or walk all over us. He is encouraging us to stay in control of the situation by choosing to act in radical love toward someone, even if they treat us as an enemy. The only way to win over an enemy is by doing good. Instead of allowing our enemy to take our rights away, we choose to give to them. After all, God himself loved us while we were still his enemies (Rom.5:8). There is no better example of loving your enemies than God. Jesus can teach this because he lived it.
If you want people to act right towards you, act right towards them and many times you'll change them. Whatever your position in a relationship, if you are aware of a problem, it is your responsibility to make a concerted effort to create positive change. Determine not to be a reactor but an initiator. Be a thermostat, which is a device that affects the atmosphere, not a thermometer, which is an instrument that merely reacts to the atmosphere. When we work on ourselves we can help improve any relationship. Jesus tells us to look at ourselves first and to deal with our own faults and shortcomings before getting caught up with those of others (Mt.7:4-5). With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can become more loving people – to everyone.Sample Discussion Questions
- Discuss the Golden Rule. When did you first hear of it? Does it really work? What has been your experience of this principle in your own relationships?
- Discuss the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’? What does it mean to you and is it important?
- Make a list of the qualities that you look for in a friend. Make a list of the characteristics of someone you would not like to be friends with. What are some things you could do to become a better person?
- If you have a strained relationship, what are some things that you could do to improve it?
- In what situations is applying Jesus’ teaching about ‘turning the other cheek’ not applicable?
- Share an example of an ‘enemy’ who you chose to love. What did you do and what was the result?