Sermon Podcast Audio
We are in a series we call “GetFit – Being Whole and Holy in the New Year.” Statistics show that after the first week, already 25% of you would have given up or failed. So, way to go, quitters! Just kidding.
Even though many of us, me included, are not resolution makers, for many of us, the new year represents a fresh start, a chance to start over, to begin with a clean slate and attempt to make the necessary changes we would like in our lives to make life a little better. And that is where “GetFit” comes in. We want to spend several weeks looking at different areas of our lives and see if we can figure out how to become more whole and holy in those areas.
By drawing the short straw, Ryan had to talk last week about “BodyFit.” We began with that topic because it is the most obvious place to start. More people make resolutions or begin diets and fitness plans to become healthier in January than any other time of the year. So, we start that new diet. We promise ourselves to lose 25 pounds. We hang that favorite dress or pair of pants up, looking at it everyday, hoping it will motivate us to stick to our goal. But sadly, all too often, life gets messy, our diet is thrown out the window at the first opportunity for chocolate cake or some cookies, and that membership to the Y sits unused after a few weeks or the new treadmill turns into quite a lovely place to hang our clothes.
I wish I was joking, but as we talked about last week, when it comes to being BodyFit, we have to move beyond the scales and the numbers and figure out how we can simply be healthier, if for no other reason than the fact that we can accomplish more when we are healthier than when we are not. We can serve better, we can give better, we can love better when we are healthier. So, we start with a challenge to get BodyFit.
Today we move to another difficult topic for many of us. How can we get RelationFit? How can we make sure our relationships are healthy, encouraging, and Christ-centered, without cutting everyone off, moving to a monastery and living in complete isolation?
I know what some of you are already thinking: “Wow, these guys are really meddling in my stuff this year. First they want to talk about how much I weigh and now they want to go after my relationships.” Yep. You are getting the picture. If we are going to be people who are whole, complete, holy, pure, and set apart for God, people who go into the world to serve others, we need to be willing to shine the light into every crevasse of our lives. Our personal health certainly has a part to play in this. And so does our relational health.
The relationships we have with those around us matter.
The Bible is All About Relationships
You don’t have to look very far in the Bible to see that this topic is important. In fact, the entire Bible is all about relationships, from the beginning of Genesis where we see God the Creator bringing humanity into existence for the purpose of relationship, to the creation of not just Adam, but Adam and Eve, and the idea of man not being alone but living in relationship with other people.
We are told that the greatest commandment in the Bible is all about our relationship with God:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. —Matthew 22:37
And the second greatest is all about our relationship with others.
Love your neighbor as yourself. —Matthew 22:39
And even at the end of the story, we see that the ultimate outcome, what God has been working toward this entire time, is the restoration of these relationships. What sin destroyed in Genesis and continues to mess up today, we see in the book of Revelation that there is coming a day where the garbage in our relationships will be gone and we will live in peace with God and with one another.
So, the entire Bible is about relationships. But what does it mean to be RelationFit?
What it Means
To understand what we are talking about when we say we need to be RelationFit, we need to understand that today, we are looking at this from a 30,000 foot view. Every one of the points to be made about relationships could be subdivided into specific relationships, like marriage, or parenting, or work relationships, or the friends we keep.
But we want to look at this as general overall guidance that can be applied to all our relationships. You can take what we see in the Bible about relationships and apply it first in the home, to your spouse and your kids, and then move it to the broader arena of your life: to those you work with, your neighbors, your extended family, those you go to church with or hang out with, your friends.
And just another quick note: each point in itself could be its own sermon. I promise I will not make each point a sermon, but I will keep it direct and to the point of what Scripture is teaching us today about being RelationFit.
So, where do we begin?
We start by looking at our relationships with others, specifically with our behavior and attitudes that might have damaged or caused difficulty in our relationships. Now I understand, we never want to start here. We never want to begin by looking at what we do, because it is easier to talk about what others do wrong, or how they get it wrong, or have been the problem in the relationship. But if you are married or have been married, you know just how far this line of thinking will get you. For those not married, let me tell you, the answer is not very far.
We start with what we’ve done because the one thing I learned very early on is that I am not responsible for anyone else’s behavior other than my own. I cannot control what anyone else does. I can only control what I do. And so that is where we must start.
In Matthew 5, Jesus is preaching his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. After he spends some time telling the crowd that it isn’t just our actions that matter, but that our attitudes are equally if not even more important than our actions, he makes this statement:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” —Matthew 5:23
Can I let you in on a little secret that Jesus is pointing out here? There are times in your relationships where you are wrong! Shocking, I know! You’ve said something stupid. You’ve slighted someone. You’ve done something offensive. And this can be accidental or on purpose.
Now I understand that often when this happens, what we want to do is say, “I hope they forget about it and when they do, everything will be okay.” Or my personal favorite, “They shouldn’t be so sensitive. They need to toughen up.”
But what Jesus is saying here is that if you are wrong, and there will be times you will be, if someone takes offense with you and you know it, you need to take care of it. We need to seek forgiveness.
And by telling us that we should stop our worship or sacrifice, right in the middle of it, to go and seek forgiveness, it tells us just how important it is to seek forgiveness in our relationships. We must stop justifying, stop blaming, be man enough or woman enough to go to the person we’ve offended and do what we can to seek reconciliation.
Not long ago, someone at Ashworth Road came to me with an issue that was important to them. I could make all the excuses in the world about how they came at me right after I had preached and I wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time, or how they were being ridiculous, but when this person spoke to me, I must admit I was dismissive, harsh, and rude.
Afterward, I could have ignored it, blamed them, hoped it would go away, but I couldn’t. In my heart, the Holy Spirit was already at work, pointing out how I had not reflected the fruit of the spirit to this person. I had not reflected patience, gentleness, or kindness, just to name a few. And I knew what had to be done. I reached out to this person and apologized. I asked for their forgiveness for how I had treated them.
Relationships that are RelationFit are relationships where we seek forgiveness when needed. But sometimes, in those very rare instances, when it wasn’t you who messed things up, when someone did something to you, the next part of having healthy relationships is to offer forgiveness.
A little later in this same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching how to pray, and in what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, he models forgiveness for us.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” —Matthew 6:12-15
Again, I hear many times, “Why should I forgive? They really hurt me. They don’t deserve my forgiveness.” I also understand there can be a lot of ins and outs to forgiving someone. As I said, each of these points could be a sermon in and of itself. But as people of the kingdom, forgiveness should be a way of life for us. Regardless of what they’ve done to us, regardless of if they meant to or not, we need to learn to forgive.
Now I want to point out that forgiving someone doesn’t mean we become naïve or doormats or ignorant and let people take advantage of us, but it does mean that we exhibit to people around us the same level of forgiveness that we have experienced in Christ.
And just in case you don’t know or have forgotten, the forgiveness that those who follow Jesus have received is unfathomable.
What’s so critical to understand is that both seeking forgiveness and offering forgiveness have spiritual implications. They are not just a nice thing to do or something that will make us feel better about ourselves. If we aren’t seeking forgiveness from others and if we aren’t willing to forgive, there is a direct impact on our relationship with God. Our ability to forgive, whether someone has asked for it or not, demonstrates our understanding of our own forgiveness.
I could tell you story after story of times someone hurt me, offended me, lied about me, or just completely did me wrong. Trust me, I remember most of them. But I know that as long as I held onto the offense, I found that my unforgiveness did nothing more than keep that person in my life. My thoughts and emotions continued to be consumed with them and what they had done. But when I could finally release it and forgive, I was able to find peace. And the control that person had on me was no longer there. It was only through forgiving that I could finally move on.
One final note on offering forgiveness: sometimes it needs to be done in person. Sometimes it is healing to tell the person that you have forgiven, especially if they know they have wronged you. However, there are also times, when bringing that person back into your life only introduces more pain. And in these times, simply forgiving them before God is enough.
So, to have healthy relationships, we need to be willing to seek forgiveness and be willing to offer forgiveness. But there is one other thing I think is equally important to both of these. We need to have discernment to know when relationships are detrimental to our lives.
Know When Enough’s Enough
In Matthew 18, Jesus is settling a dispute among his disciples and he makes a very interesting statement about the relationships in our lives, especially those relationships that pull us away from God. Jesus tells his disciples:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” —Matthew 18:6-9
This is a difficult passage for us to read, because Jesus is saying that if we have relationships that are pulling us away from him, relationships that are making us look more like the world than like his children, then we need to be willing to walk away from them.
Now, Jesus is not saying that you can only have Christian friends in your life. In fact, if that were the case, the church would cease to exist quickly. No, we need relationships with those outside the church and with those who do not yet know Jesus. But we need to make sure that those relationships aren’t causing us to stumble in our walk with God. We need to make sure that our influence on them is greater than their influence on us.
Some of you have relationships that are bad for you spiritually. It is time for you to either become a greater influence for God in the relationship or it is time for you to cut it off.
If we want to be RelationFit, we must make sure that we aren’t allowing relationships in our lives to pull us away from our relationship with Jesus.
Be Intentional and Live Golden
As I close, I want to encourage you to be intentional in your relationships. I believe that being relationally fit means being intentional about your relationships. Too often we give little thought to our relationships and the effects they have on us. They influence us. They have a direct impact on our spiritual lives.
Begin to evaluate your relationships and figure out who you need to go to and ask for forgiveness. For some of you, it means going no further than your car after church. You simply need to look at your spouse and say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” For others, there may be strained relationships in your past and even now you cannot remember what the issue was. Seek forgiveness.
And offer forgiveness. Let go of the pain and the hurt. Let go of the thoughts of retaliation and retribution. Just forgive. And allow God to deal with the rest. We do this not because of what it gets us in return, but because this is what it means to follow Jesus.
I dare say that there are many of us that need a little workout relationally to become more relationally fit.
One final thing. Often in relationships there are no black and white answers. Black and white comes in if you are in a marriage and times are tough, you aren’t getting along, and you are wondering if I am telling you to stay or go. Let me make it easy for you. Unless your spouse is physically, mentally, or emotionally abusing you, I’m telling you to lean in, stay, work it out. But if you are in an abusive relationship, go. That’s the black and white of it.
But others of you listen to this wondering what is the right thing to do. For some, this is a call for you to lean into that strained relationship, to forgive, to re-engage someone. But for others, it is a call to move on.
Just this past week, I have had conversations with two different people at Ashworth Road, both having difficulty in relationships. Neither one is easy, but in one the person feels God’s call is to lean in and reconcile, while the other person feels like it is time to show some tough love and move on.
It may not be black and white, but I can guarantee you that if you earnestly seek God and his direction, he will guide you to what you need to do. I have seen this many times in my own life.
Ultimately, let’s resolve this year to be intentional in our relationships and get RelationFit.