If you see a yard or building in disrepair you never wonder what happened.
You may wonder why it happened…why someone let it come to that…did they become ill, or die…or just not care?
But you don’t wonder how it happened…you know full well it was because of a lack of attention and effort…someone failed to maintain what they had and so it fell into a state of disorder.
That being said how often have you wondered as to why a relationship fell into a state of disorder?
You might say that there are many possible reasons so how could we know why…and that is true to an extent.
But there is in every case an underlying principle that comes into play when relationships fall apart…or become unhealthy.
Our hearts follow our investments.
-Luke 16:21 “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”
Whenever two people become friends or fall in love it is because investments were made in one another…energy, money, thought, forgiveness, grace…attention and effort over time.
These investments, that were willingly chosen caused the heart (the affections) to follow.
There is “wonder” in this (it is amazing) but we need not “wonder”(be puzzled) why it happens…it is how we are designed.
So the prevailing idea that people cannot help who they fall into or fall out of love with (or friendship, fellowship with): is simple wrong.
Please stay with me: if you have a broken relationship that is truly outside your control (or maybe not completely but partially so), we will address that shortly.
We are in week 3 of the 7 essential Heart attitudes: Biblical values that shape the culture of our church.
Last week we looked at “Living an open and honest life”
There we saw that as we walk in the light of God, then we can walk in the light with one another.
When John wrote of the light of God he was speaking of truth.
God sees everything with perfect clarity.
When there is light there is ability to see what is actually there…God lives in perfect light, perfect truth.
Darkness can hide beauty as well as dangers…it can cause us to be deceived as to what is real because we cannot see clearly.
But as we walk in his light…John wrote…we will have fellowship with one another.
-If we do not have fellowship with one another…then it indicates we are not walking in the light.
Relationship with God brings the power of God into our relationships with one another.
This week we are looking at “Maintaining clear relationships.”
The English word “Clear” comes from a Latin word that means to allow “light to pass through”…makes sense…
The clearer something is the more light can pass through and more you can see what is actually there.
A window can be opaque and therefore you are not able to see clearly through it…a bit of light can pass through but not enough to enable clear sight.
A window can be replaced with a wall and no light can pass through…no sight is possible.
But the clearer the window, the more of what is there can be seen and enjoyed.
Clear can also mean that movement is possible.
A “clearing” means no trees, an open field…there is freedom of movement and sight.
A “clear” path means no obstacles between you and a destination.
A “Clear relationship” is an idiom that describes a life with others that is without obstacles or walls between you, a life where light/truth is able to pass freely between you.
There is a window not a wall between you…there are not obstructions in the way.
So one of our heart attitudes is to “maintain” clear relationships…this is essential to interpersonal as well as overall church health and to our impact on the world outside the church.
Jesus said we will be known as belonging to him by the way we love one another.
The phrase “maintain clear relationships” demonstrates both the goal (clear, unhindered relationship) and the fact that this is not a destination but an ongoing process…”maintain” clear relationships.
Twenty years ago this field near my house was a wheat field…It was clear, completely free of trees and shrub.
Now it is full of cedar and elms and hackberry and other trees.
How did this happen? You know how…a clearing requires maintenance…the work was not done over the years to keep it clear.
The same is true for a clear window…it will not remain clear without continually cleaning it.
The same of course is true for relationships…they require maintenance.
We may be frustrated that our yard or a window requires maintenance to remain clear but we are not surprised but it.
Yet we are frequently surprised that clear relationships require continual maintenance…but we should not be.
Everything in your life that is good requires ongoing attention and effort…they require maintenance.
The world “Maintenance” or maintain” : Has as its roots a word that means to “hold in the hand”
It is related to the word “manual”…done by hand
Relationships cannot be put on autopilot…or mechanized…or left to themselves…they must be “held in the hand”…maintained through good attention and effort.
Your spouse or good friend may not like the word “maintenance” used in this context.
“Would you like to go do some relationship maintenance this weekend? Maybe dinner and a walk?”
But the fact remains, what is good in our lives require ongoing action and attention or it will cease to be good.
- How is this (maintain clear relationships) different from (live an open and honest life)?
-Live an open and honest life is closely tied to this HA but they are different in several ways.
- You can’t live with the same level of openness or “known-ness” or friendship with everyone but it’s important that you live with clear relationships (as far as possible) with everyone.
- An open and honest life requires clear relationships…how will you be able to have and open and honest life if there is a wall and not a window between you?
- Is it possible to have clear relationships with everyone?
No, unfortunately not always…but it is possible, and necessary to have a heart that desires it…or is open to it.
Paul was realistic; he knows that relationships require the willing participation of two parties…whether it is relationship with God (who is always willing, but we are not always) or relationship with each other.
So he said after a series of exhortations to love one another, to serve one another, to work together according to your gifting with one another…that we are to have clear relationships with one another…but with a caveat.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Rom. 12:18
Of course there are times when it is not possible, when it doesn’t depend on you…others have built walls on the other side of the window that you are trying to keep clean.
It doesn’t matter how diligent you are to clean the window…if they have blocked it with a wall.
Important: As we proceed this morning don’t get stuck on broken relationships that you cannot, no matter how much you try, “fix.”
There are times when it is not possible as far as it depends on you…to maintain clear relationships.
However, it is also important that you do not discount the role you may have in a relationship that has become walls without windows.
Start here: “Yes, Lord…I will obey when I clearly understand that that looks like…now please show me.”
*Take time if need be, to get feedback from trusted friends…to determine what, if anything, you should do.
*The outcome may not be what you hope for…but you can only control your own heart and actions…not those of others.
I have told people who were trying to build a window to a person who was determined to build a wall
*”Do what you can do, be faithful…and whatever the outcome between the two of you…you will be whole in the end.”
“You maybe hurting and you maybe not in a whole relationship when all is said and one…but you can come out personally whole…if you say “yes” to whatever God calls you to.”
Some people will remain bitter and obstinate no matter what you try…but many times people will respond well when we listen to God and move towards them in genuine love.
It may take time…sometimes months or years.
It doesn’t mean you must put your life on hold for what might happen…but even as you look to be found faithful now…realize God may do something in the other person(and in you) that is much longer term.
Again…do not put your life on hold…hoping they will change…but just realize there are times when reconciliation happens after a long time.
The tragedy of this is the wasted and lost opportunity that occurs during this time: so if it depends on you…act as soon as you know what to do!
If not within your power to act to gain a clear relationship…then trust God and remain soft towards him in your heart.
Ken Burns has a 10-part documentary “Vietnam War”
-The end of the last episode had me wiping my eyes on the treadmill at the Y where I was watching it.
-It showed scenes of American and North Vietnamese soldiers becoming friends…the hate of war dissipated by the years and by perspective.
-There was also a now much older anti-war activist who cried as she said how sorry she was for how, as young person, she had treated American soldiers…she was bitterly sorrow for the things she had said.
-Not that she now believed the war was valid…but she was deeply ashamed of how she had treated others…she wanted a window to them, not the walls she had built.
*It was beautiful…but how many years had they wasted hating each other and how much had they suffered and those around them suffered because of it?
*Some with devastating PTSD and Moral injury lived for years in brokenness until they forgave and sought forgiveness…then they experienced significant healing…so many wasted years.
It often takes time to see relationships become that clear…but again, we must give attention to our hearts and our choices…now.
Let me read our passage for today: This is Jesus speaking
Matt. 5:23-24“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Before we look more closely at this passage let’s look at the preceding verses to see what Jesus was referring to when he said “therefore”
Here we will see the principle behind his application given in verses 23,24.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matt. 5:21-22
Few would argue that a murderer should not face justice and judgment
And statistically relatively few people actual commit the crime or murder.
So not many people argue with the commandment “don’t commit murder or you will be judged”
But, Jesus said, if have you lived with ongoing anger towards another person then you are in danger of judgment.
He went to the heart of human strife when he said that…
“If you speak and live towards others as if they are “fools” then you are in danger of hell.”
This certainly got their attention then as it should ours now.
The word translated fool is a Greek word that we get the word “moron” from.
It was a word that meant a “morally corrupt person”
This is about passing judgment on people.
The point is not the specific word “Don’t call them a fool (moron) but you can call them an idiot if you want.”
But it is from the heart that the mouth speaks…this a heart attitude (that often shows up in words) that treats others with contempt and disrespect and judgment.
Then Jesus makes the startling claim that people who live this way are in danger of hell.
How can this be so?
Listen to what John said about this…
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21
People who live in continual hatred toward, and judgment of others…do not have relationship with God.
And if they continue in that state…they are in danger of remaining eternally out of relationship with God…otherwise known as “hell”
The pollster Barna polled many self-described “born again” people: (From D.A. Carson: The God who is there)
-Of course to do that you have define to what “born again” means.
-Barna defined it something like this…”I believe I will go to heaven when I die. I have confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.”
*The poll didn’t ask any questions related to lifestyle change, transformation of values and behavior
*Therefore not surprisingly the poll showed the way of life of these people, claiming to be born again, was not substantially different than people of the general public.
The problem is the pollsters were running their logic in the wrong direction.
Its not do you call yourself “born again”?
“Yes?” “Okay, then how do you live your life?”…”Oh, then born again makes no difference.”
If you want to know if a person has been born again…you must look at their lives not merely listen to their claims of being born again.
“Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 7:20-21
Jesus coined the term “born again” and he had a certain thing in mind when he used it.
And of course the implication was that “born again” was going to lead to a “new life”…change…transformation.
What bigger change is there than being born?
So Jesus says that our relationship with others to a degree reveals our relationship with God…and our relationship with God transforms our relationship with others.
I will say again…it is about new direction not life perfection.
If you struggle with certain people it doesn’t indicate you don’t know or love God…we all struggle in relationships in various degrees.
But there are people who don’t struggle to love and forgive…they fully embrace brokenness and hatred and unforgiveness.
Those people…if they truly embrace that kind of life over the long haul…do not have the life of God in them…how can they?
However those who do have the life of God in them…will often struggle in relationships
But they keep pursuing closing the gap.
They do ongoing heart and relationship maintenance…because it what God wants and it is what they want…because God lives in them.
Now look at the “therefore”…for instance…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
This is a very pointed application/illustration of the principle importance of maintaining clear relationships with one another.
This is so important to God that he doesn’t want you to finish in worship…When you remember that your brother or sister has something against you that you have not confessed or dealt with…go get right with them first.
Go do appropriate maintenance on the relationship…repair it if you can.
Jesus said when you “Remember”…but he is likely indicating that “God reveals” this rather than you merely happen to recall it.
Many times for me as I have still before God or in his word…I “remembered”…meaning…”I realized” my own culpability…he showed me…where I was at fault…whereas before going before him I saw the other person’s fault.
When we are “still” before God and our hearts are open to him…then we are positioned to hear from him telling us where we are not in clear relationship with one another.
Often this “remembering” is more like “realizing” or even “hearing”
This principle is clear in Scripture: clear relationship with God and with one another go hand in hand.
Divorce is common. War is common. Broken relationships are common. Division and separation are common.
What is common is not normal.
People living in long-term harmonious relationships is uncommon but it should be normative for the fellowship of the light.
We were designed to live in community and ongoing harmony but sin has reordered relationships where disharmony has become normal.
The gospel is God’s intrusion into the disorder of what has become normative to bring back the order of his original intended norm.
We all know the psalmist was right when he wrote, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers (sisters) live together in unity!”(Psalm 133:1)
Of course it is good and pleasing to see two people living in harmony…it is good to experience that.
There can be no doubt that when two people purpose to live in unity they can and they will…but they need power more than they can muster themselves.
This power is available through the gospel.
When both sides of a relationship are equally committed to the good of the relationship then that relationship will be good and pleasant for them, others and God himself.
Clear relationship with one another is to be a bottom line, basic fact of life for followers of Christ.
You may believe you have good reason to hold a grudge or to not forgive.
But if at all possible to regain a relationship then you must do so because you have better reason to do it than to not do it.
You belong to Jesus; your life’s purpose is to bring him glory and joy.
The Lord’s demand that we maintain clear relationships is not a burden it is an opportunity and a privilege.
When Jesus told the worshipper to stop his worship and go make things right with his brother this was Jesus inviting the worshipper to experience life as it has been designed.
It was Jesus inviting the worshipper into his kind of life.
- Remember: Circle of confession=circle of commission
- Do what you can and should do…not more or less (don’t take on you what is not yours to carry)
- Do not demand others respond in a certain way…to your idea of right timing, emotions, words.
- “Clear” does not mean “close”…it is possible to have a clear relationship with someone and not be in a close relationship with them.
- But don’t settle for “bare” minimum…you may not be close to certain people…but ask God to give you a genuine heart of love for others…he may surprise you with who he makes into your friend.
*I have been surprised.
Application question: What if I don’t want to be in a clear relationship with someone…what is wrong with me?
Am I not a Christian?
That is of course possible…the solution there is to ask “Have you surrendered your life to Christ? Are you surrendered now?”
But struggle can a good sign…those who don’t know God may not struggle at all…they see their lack of clear relationships with others as perfectly normal and acceptable.
Perhaps you have been hurt and are cautious…remember this is a heart attitude…not a law
-It starts in the heart but it will show up in certain actions…it is about doing what you can appropriately do to maintain right relationships with others.
If you are a Christian…the struggle will remain to love others and to live by faith.
Thus we will spend our lives “closing the gap on faith and love”…we will be always arriving and never fully arrived in this life.
This of course is not an excuse to accept our current experience of faith and love…we want to grow and we can if we will.
God is all for it, it only remains for us to be all for it…we must give attention and effort…empowered by his Spirit to closing the gap.
Look at that great passage in Eph.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph. 2:8-10
What a tremendous life balance:
-You are saved by grace through faith…not by your works.
-You are saved by grace through faith…in order to do good works
We receive the power to change from God…then we are to live with intention and effort in this power in our lives.
- God has given us a will now empowered by his Spirit
-We can obey him in this and other things he desires for us…it is not beyond us to do so.
- And in addition to an empowered will…he has revealed to us his will.
We can know what he wants and we can do what he wants…this is called “freedom”
-We can: God has given us a will and his Spirit that empowers us…we can choose the good.
-We can: God has told us his will…we know the good to choose…we see what God wants in regards to relationships with other.
*It may be confusing as to what it looks like to have a clear relationship with others…relationships can be complex.
*I will say it one more time…it takes two to have a relationship…you cannot choose for others.
*But it only takes one to have a “heart for clear relationships”…this is clearly what God wants for you…start there.
*Finish gentle (I hope) challenge:
If people cannot walk near you without stepping on your toes and when they do your heart is too small to forgive them…then will you see your life as it really is and repent of this?
You don’t have to live this way…there is joy available for you…Joy in God and others.
God offers the power to shrink your toes and enlarge your heart for him and others.
There is no joy, no life in living in continual broken relationships…and it is just not necessary to do so…will you move into his freedom?
To do so is not contingent on what anyone but you choose to do…you can have this heart…he offers it to you.