Along with the Festival season come many opportunities to meet new friends and to renew old acquaintances. In this article you will not only learn how to strengthen these friendships, but how to build and develop all your relationships with others.
You always hurt the one you love." So goes the modern song, and so say the modern song writers. This line is accepted by most of us as a truism of human life. Each of us has the power to love and hate, cherish and rebuff, like and dislike. Not only that, we are both these opposites to people important to us, and thus we can love and dislike the same loved one at different times. Why are we so inclined? What factors are involved? What destroys human relationships, and what builds them? Human relationships are delicate. People are fragile and need to be handled with TLC (tender loving care) to ensure the growth of friendships. The qualities that provide nutrition for the positive growth of good relationships are identifiable and, with understanding, can be successfully applied. But before we look at the positive applications, let's examine what destroys good relationships, with the hope that we can avoid these attitudes.
When writing to the Christians "scattered abroad" James wrote, "From whence come wars and fightings among you?" He went on to explain that the cause was "lusts that war in your members" (Jas. 4:1). Lust, greed, uncontrolled desire these qualities tear apart the thin fabric of human connections. Lust separates friends and drives honesty out of that friendship. Rather than caring and sharing, lust sets up an atmosphere of getting. When taking advantage of others enters, the relationship dies. James gives an answer to this lust that lies within. He tells us to look to God for our needs (verse 3) and resist Satan (verse 7) who is the author and prompter of lust. Another destructive factor is distrust. Distrust cripples relationships by creating an atmosphere that strangles warmth, caring and concern. Distrust or suspicion of another stops closeness that is essential if two are to feel at one. Romans 14 deals with this subject showing we are not to "judge another man's servant" (verse 4). But Paul goes on, if you wish to judge, judge whether or not you are causing your brother (or mate) to stumble by your critical attitude of him (verse 13). Paul points out that the Kingdom of God is not in critical attitudes of what your brother choses, "but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (verse 17).
Avoid "sowing discord"
Perhaps the best way to destroy a relationship is by talebearing. Proverbs warns against this gross sin over and over again, stating that "sowing discord among brethren" is one of the seven abominations God hates (Prov. 6:16-19). Repeating gossip "separates very friends" (Prov. 17:9), and once accomplished the rebuilding of that friendship is nearly impossible, as "a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city" (Prov. 18:19). When I was a child, we sang a song to those who were trying to hurt us. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Not only is that wishful thinking, but it is biblically untrue. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Talebearing, gossip, unkind remarks, slander, all destroy relationships as well as lives. Another attitude that destroys friendships is prejudice. Prejudice stops a relationship from forming at the very possible moment it could occur by creating feelings of superiority. Jesus condemned this attitude and taught His disciples: "But he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth" (Luke 22:26- 27). To help His disciples and all of His people down through the ages to understand further, He established the foot-washing service explained in John 13. Lust, distrust, talebearing and prejudice all work against a relationship. These negative attitudes strangle friendships and cripple the possibility of growth. Now that we have reviewed the negative qualities to avoid, let's survey the positive factors that create the environment for healthy relationships.
Perhaps the best medicine for a relationship is the recognition of human need. When God made man, He created certain needs that He then went on to provide. Man needed food and water, which were plentiful in the Garden of Eden. Beyond physical needs, God said in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good that the man should be alone." This need was fulfilled by the creation of woman, who was created to be one with Adam in marriage. As Christ Himself set the example, not everyone can marry, and while marriage may be the best fulfillment of this human need to not be alone, it can be satisfied through other companionships. And people need to be needed. This mutual need is vital in any relationship. Without this two-way fulfillment in marriage, two being one is impossible. All parents know that children need their love and support, but happy is the parent who knows that he or she has reciprocal needs that are met by the child needing the parent. Recognizing our need for God is one of the most fundamental lessons of the Christian life. Obviously God wants us to learn to meet each other's needs and our own through service one to another. For any relationship to grow, trust is essential. Trust is simply positive expectation, as opposed to negative expectation. Positive expectation is "believing the best," " hoping all things," "thinking no evil," "rejoices not in iniquity." These qualities are described in I Corinthians 13 where the Bible expounds 16 qualities of love. This positive approach is again explained in Philippians 4:8. "Whatsoever things are true... honest... just... pure... lovely... of good report ... any virtue... any praise, think on these things." In today's hard and cynical society, such approaches seem naive, simplistic. But can we allow our thinking to become hard and callous as the world's? No, even though seemingly simplistic, these are biblical principles. Paul demonstrated this attitude of trust when he wrote Philemon and asked him to receive Onesimus as a brother. In verse 21, Paul said, "having confidence in thy obedience." That is positive expectation. That is trust. And that attitude produces growth in friendships, because it nurtures confidence, concern and thus good will. All relationships need caring to survive. Caring is the ability to help the other grow. It is the antithesis of using the other person to satisfy your own needs. Perhaps it was best said by a 10-year-old boy who wrote a definition of a friend as "a fellow who knows all about you, but likes you anyway." Proverbs 17:17 says, "a friend loves at all times." Through thick and thin, good and bad, a friend is always there. Caring is not possessing. Caring is loving concern and help with no thought of gain. Others are not objects to possess or own, Rather they are individuals to be respected as separate entities and cared for.
Compassion is essential
Along with caring, compassion is essential for good friendships to develop. Compassion is ascribed to Christ 14 times in the gospels. When Christ saw suffering, He experienced compassion. Compassion is the ability to feel the hurt the other is experiencing. It is the feeling of pain when others feel pain, and it is the feeling of joy when others feel happy (I Cor. 12:26). Compassion comes from the Latin, and literally means "with feelings." To experience the feeling of others, to put yourself in their shoes, this is compassion. Enormous comfort comes from being understood — the result of another's compassion and understanding. As humans we are often limited in our ability to help. But for those beyond human help — the terminally ill, the handicapped — we can always express compassion and in so doing give an enormous gift. I knew a couple who lost a child in a tragic accident. One who had suffered the same loss sat silently by their side. No verbal communication occurred, but by the presence of one who had also experienced the same incredible pain, nonverbal language was spoken. Compassion flowed through the eyes, the body, the entire being of the visitor, and those grieving were comforted. The final and most important quality necessary for the growth of human relationships is commitment. Commitment is the determination, the energy behind all successful relationships and is essential. One of the best definitions of love I have ever read states, "love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person." Such love, whether it be husband-wife, parent-child or, in the spiritual sense, brother-brother, is based on commitment. Once a commitment is made, the effort put forth doesn't seem like work. It comes willingly from within, not forced by duty or obligation. Love grows with commitment, and as love grows, so does the friendship or the relationship.
Grow in your relationships
We have examined the qualities that stifle human friendships, and we have seen the attitudes that enhance such relationships. As we learn to eliminate the negatives, and accentuate the positives, so we will grow in all our relationships. And as we grow in these qualities — needing, trust, caring, compassion and commitment — we will fulfill the Christian goal: "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink" (Matt. 25:35).