Today is week three of the sermon series called Relationship Status. Relationships are a part of what it means to be human. Yet loving one another is one of the most challenging and difficult things we do every day. So in this series we are talking about how to relate properly to one another.
So first, think about what your relationship status is. Are you single, in a relationship, married or is it a bit more complicated than that? Because let’s be honest, relationships can be messy, hard, they are complicated. So all in all, we need God’s help if we want to do relationships well.
The question I’ve been asking you is, are you living out your relationships in a way that honors God and honors others?
Two weeks ago, we looked at the status of singleness. Whether you are single for life or single for a season, is it a gift that allows you to focus on God without a divided heart, to give Him the whole pizza. It’s a special opportunity for us to become more like Jesus.
Last week, we talked about when our status changes to being in a relationship, and how the healthiest relationships flow out of a deep love for God. Remember the triangle, when you both are aiming towards God, you end up getting closer. So in order to really love others well, we must first love God with all that we have, every part of us. Because when we love God first, and then just as important, we love ourselves in a healthy manner, then and only then, are we able to care for someone else in the way they really need to be cared for.
Relationships are Complicated
No matter what status we find ourselves in, the truth is that relationships are not easy. Whenever you have two individuals, each with their own history, personality, quirks deciding to be in an intentional relationship together, you can bet that things will get complicated from time to time.
When someone posts their relationship status as “it’s complicated”, (which I don’t recommend by the way; please don’t post things that are so personal on social media), or when someone states or acknowledges that their relationship is complicated, what they mean is that they may be unsure of where their relationship is headed, they may be unsure if both parties are equally committed to the relationship or they may be frustrated by how they are being treated by their significant other. This is a difficult status to find ourselves in, but God always gives us ways to handle any complications that come your way.
No matter who you are, marriages are difficult in the first few years. There’s a lot to figure out and to learn how to do together. But God will always give you ways to handle the complications. Just don’t give up.
Ever have your kids get frustrated trying to put their shoes on because they have big knots in the laces and your child just cannot get it undone no matter how hard they try? You come to find them struggling yanking and tugging at the laces, only making the knot tighter and the problem worse. You ask them to give you the shoe, and they watch you carefully began to unwind the mess that has been made. You hand them the shoe back. They wipe their tears away, put the shoes on and tied them.
I have watched people in my congregations enter into relationships and leave relationships. I have watched some relationships that have been smooth and steady while others have been bumpy and complicated. One of the first things any couple needs to understand about relationships is this: we should expect relationships to be complicated. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes we have to ask for forgiveness. Feelings are not always shared. We have a tendency to be selfish. All of these things can complicate a relationship. However, too many of us find ourselves yanking on the shoestrings of love and in doing so, we may actually be making an already complex matter all that more complicated.
Maybe you are in a new dating relationship and everything was going well until all of a sudden it wasn’t. It got complicated. Maybe you are in a marriage that you sense has some things that need to be addressed. It’s complicated. Maybe you are still healing from a past relationship and want to handle the next one in a way that avoids some of those same complications. Either way, the Bible gives us wisdom in this arena.
Paul writes to the Corinthians in his letter about the complicated issue of learning how to love one another well. The early Church was struggling with it, so we shouldn’t be surprised that we struggle with too.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
Paul has one major truth he wants his readers to understand. He voices it multiple times in these three verses. He says, in relationship with one another, we can do all the “right” things and even look good doing it, but if we don’t have love as our driving force, then it is all worthless.
When love is absent, there are many complications that can arise from one side of a relationship or both.
POINT #1 – THE ABSENCE OF LOVE MEANS THE PRESENCE OF FRICTION
Paul points out the need for love to create true relationship. As we learned last week, this word love is the word agape. The love Paul is speaking about is not some sappy and sentimental emotion. Rather, this love is agape love. This love is self-sacrificing and selfless to the core.
When this kind of love is present, all of the circumstantial and situational things that could come along to disrupt a relationship are navigated with the other person’s interests in mind. Without this kind of love, there is always friction because each person is looking out for themselves. We become clanging gongs with nothing to show for our efforts. It may seem small, but it is an ingredient that must not be missed in the recipe of a relationship.
My mother makes the best chocolate cookies ever! Everyone loves them. The recipe she uses is not that complicated. In fact, it’s the recipe printed on the side of the chocolate chip bag you buy at the store. So if others use this recipe, they should taste the same as my moms. Nope! We’ve joked for years that she has a secret ingredient….her spit. Now if you’re grossed out by that, my family would say good. Then they get all the cookies!
In reality, the cookies are simple to make. They don’t take a lot of ingredients and they don’t take long to make. However, I can attest, firsthand, that if you forget to add one simple element of the recipe, it will throw everything off. See I can’t have chocolate, so my mom always mixes the dough, takes out a portion for me and makes my cookies without the chips. So I can really tell if something is missing. There is not a lot of salt to be added, but it makes all the different. It is just a tad of vanilla flavoring, but without it, the cookies aren’t quite right.
In this scripture, Paul reminds us that without love, we gain nothing. If your relationship status right now is “it’s complicated”, I invite you to ask yourself, am I approaching it with love? Have I demonstrated selflessness? Do I demand the other person to bow to my needs? Am I handling my significant other the way Jesus would?
Paul then goes on to describe what a relationship of love looks like. This is the wisdom that can untie even the tightest knot and un-complicate the most complex of messes.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
Paul works from every angle to try to describe the kind of love he is inviting us to live into. He speaks in the positive about what it is like. He talks in the negative about what it is not. He lays out, in the simplest of ways, the attitudes and actions we can take to bless one another.
POINT #2 – LEARN THE DOS AND DON’TS
If we are willing to implement all of the good ways of treating others in relationship, then we have a good chance of clarifying the complicated relationship we are in. In the end, we can only control ourselves. We are responsible for our thoughts, words and actions and so we are wise to listen to Paul’s advice.
Let’s take a look at each one of these attitudes and place them on one side or the other.
Patience – Paul would place this attitude in the “do” section. Love is patient. When you find yourself in a complicated relationship, you must choose patience in order to discern how to move forward. To talk about the issues or frustrations requires patience because it takes time to heal hearts or build trust.
Envy – Paul places envy in the “don’t” category. Love is not envious. Often times relationships get complicated because one person or another is envious of the other. Envious of their relationship with someone else. Envious of their success, their abilities, their time.
Pride – Paul places pride in the “don’t” section. Pride is when you lift yourself up by pushing someone else down. Someone who is prideful in a relationship thinks so much about themselves that they have little time to think of anyone else. Being in a relationship with someone who is prideful is exhausting, because you always have to compete for attention against that person’s favorite thing….themselves.
Selfishness – Paul places selfishness in the “don’t” category. Being selfish is the exact opposite of the nature of God. The love of God is always looking to give itself away while the selfish nature is always looking to keep things for themselves. Maybe you feel like you give way more than you receive? That can really complicate things which is why Paul says do not be selfish.
Anger – Paul, again, places anger in the “don’t” section. It is incredibly difficult to get clarity on a relationship when you find yourself angry. Anger can make us irrational. Anger can cause us to say and do things we regret. It is not that we should never get angry, it is more about how we handle our anger that matters. When we give our anger to God, then we keep anger from controlling us.
Truth – Paul places truth in the “do” category. Any relationship will only thrive when there is truth between the two whom are involved. This means being vulnerable and truthful about how you feel. This means being vulnerable and truthful about mistakes. This means being vulnerable and truthful about expectations. Truth will be the attitude that either clarifies the relationship or perhaps ends the relationship. Not every relationship will make it. That is okay. Just be truthful about it.
Protection – Paul places protection in the “do” category. Love protects and makes sure to be sensitive to past wounds, current fears, and future hopes and dreams. When someone chooses to protect the other, that means they are cautious about what they take from the other in the relationship. They are aware of what is appropriate to do or not do at any given stage of the relationship.
Perseverance – Paul places perseverance in the “do” section. When love commits to someone, it lasts for the long run. That love knows there will be challenges along the way, and it meets them with confidence and dedication to the other person. It never gives up. This love is modeled off the love of Jesus, which is steadfast and never fails us.
One more point…
POINT #3 – HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS COME WITH A COST
Paul knows that as he pens 1 Corinthians 13, anyone who is willing to take on this kind of love will have to take on the nature of Jesus. Meaning Jesus was willing to sacrifice His desires and His very life in order for us to experience real life. So if you want to develop and sustain the kind of relationship God wants for you, then it will take a sacrifice of some kind on your part.
That may be patience, giving up your wants to serve the other, asking for forgiveness or even harder, giving forgiveness.
Maybe this guide will help:
The SIX most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.”
The FIVE most important words: “You did a good job.”
The FOUR most important words: “What do you think?”
The THREE most important words: “After you please.”
The TWO most important words: “Thank you.”
The ONE most important word: “We.”
The LEAST important word: “I.”
It’s pretty hard to serve one another when you are more concerned with ‘I’.
But real love does not put itself first, instead, real love is patient and kind. Real love is not envious and does not boast. Real love puts the other person first by protecting them in the relationship.
Often marriages may crumble because these attitudes that Paul mentioned are not made a priority. But we can learn from our mistakes, and we can begin to enjoy healthier relationships right now.
I’m going to pray through each one of these dos and don’ts and give you a chance to ask God to help you.
Patience – please help us to choose patience in order to discern how to move forward in our relationships, to talk about the issues and frustrations so that we can begin to heal and build trust.
Envy – show us the way to not be envious of each other. Instead help us to be proud of each other’s successes and abilities.
Pride – help us to not think so much about ourselves that we have little time to think of anyone else.
Selfishness – Lord, we want to love our partners with your love knowing we are a team and that there is no ‘I’.
Anger – Lord, we don’t want our anger to control us anymore, therefore we give our anger to you.
Truth – may there always be truth in our relationships. Help us to be vulnerable and truthful about how you feel, our mistakes and our expectations. May the truth clarify the relationship and if who we are dating is not right for us, let that truth come out and help us to know it is ok.
Protection – helps us to protect each other, to be sensitive to past wounds, current fears, and future hopes and dreams.
Perseverance – help us to meet the challenges in our relationships with confidence and dedication to the other person. May we model the love of Jesus and never give up.