Someone criticized our church for being a “relationship church,” as though we weren’t spiritually mature enough, or doctrinally sound enough to be a great church. I felt it was a compliment. One of the key impacts of Christ changing us from the inside out is our relationships show it. It seems spiritual growth is about more than learning facts and skills, it involves the deepest parts of our hearts, which is what shows up often in how we connect with and continue with the people in our world. When you hear about church splits and fights, or watch the divorces that split Christian families, we see what happens when love isn’t ruling our hearts. What an irony: we are created for relationship, but it is so difficult to build deep, long-lasting relationships, especially with our family members who often see us at our worst.

Eleven times in the New Testament we are told to “love one another” as well as many related ideas like being kind to each other, accepting each other, and forgiving one another. In John 13:35, Jesus says it is the mark of a disciple, and in John 15:12, Jesus says we are to love like he has loved us. The way we treat people within the community of Christ, as well as those who are not believers, should show people that Jesus is at work. At Family Church, we want to become people who learn to love others in the crucial relationships at home, at church and at work. Why is it so hard?

We are all broken people. The hurts and unhealthy lessons of our childhood, even if we come from pretty good homes, tend to follow us into adulthood. When we become followers of Christ, all of our habits don’t change automatically. Our tendencies to hold grudges, be selfish, manipulate to get our way and other dysfunctions are the opposite of what Jesus modeled and taught. Most people have a trail of broken relationships behind them they never intend to repair, yet Jesus called us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). How can this happen? There are several steps in the process.

One of the first things in which we have to see change is our depending on others to give us worth, happiness and approval. If we are desperate to get what we need from those around us, we will slide back into our old habits. As we transfer our core source to God, we can come to love others, serve others and even challenge them as needed.

We also have to understand that the grace we have received from Jesus (getting adopted into God’s family when we deserved punishment for our sin and rebellion) is the foundation for how we treat others. We have power to forgive when we realize our own forgiveness. We have faith to believe that God can change people as we love them and pray for them, instead of trying to change others to fit our desires.

Another key step is learning to listen and speak as God wants us to. Not only do we need to cut out the garbage that often fills our minds and mouths, we need to seek to be actively responding to God through the day. He wants us to listen carefully to the Spirit as he directs our daily contacts. There may be people you randomly meet in a store with which you are supposed to interact. You may be God’s means of encouraging them. We also need to listen to others, even when they seem critical of our behavior, because it may be God’s way of sanding away some of the rough edges. If we listen all day to see what God is doing, it will change our relationships.

Key thought: How do your relationships show God at work in you?