Sewlyn spends one more day on his third aspect of our spiritual journey – interpersonal relationships.
His introductory remarks, I think, Â contain the essential element of his discussion on this aspect: “Relationships … are more easily talked about than entered into. In my early years on the Christian pathway I regarded other people as the cause of many of my problems. But then I realised that relationships do not so much cause problems as reveal problems. The problems in my relationships were caused not so much by the way others treatedÂ me but by the way I reacted to them.The major problem was not other people, but myself. One of the greatest challenges of my life has been to consider others as more important than myself. NowhereÂ do I have a greater opportunity to demonstrate other-centredness than in my relationships, in moving to love those I might even dislike.Â ”
The way we react to what others, do or say, often depends on our background – what we consider to be ‘the right thing to do’, which is often based on our race, culture or creed. Our reaction, is often grounded in our own self-centred values. Some of our core Christian beliefs and values cannot be compromised. However, many difficulties in our everyday relationships arise because of our strong views on minor, disputable matters.
In Romans 14:1-18 (NIV), Paul gives us some excellent advice on how we should handle disputable matters [Note: When Paul uses the word ‘judgment’ – it’s in the context of condemnation – ‘looking down upon’,Â and righteousness ‘considering yourself better than another’;Â and, does not refer to spiritual discernment about right and wrong actions (non-disputable matters)]: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.Â …
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s or sister’sÂ way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother or sisterÂ is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men and women.”
If we go through a difficult time with a disagreeable person, the matter is best handled by taking the issue to God in prayer and I feel we should honestly ask the question – ‘Why am I reacting to these actions or words, in this way?’ Is it a disputable matter which we can, for the sake of our loveÂ for our brothers and sisters, let the matter pass and not cause them to stumble.
In some cases it is a serious matter which must be taken, in prayer; first to God, then our spiritual director or elders of our church community. Let the community handle the matter under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
At other times, after a lot of honest prayer, we may just have to walk away from the situation, with the issue unresolved, because the people involved do not have the spiritual maturity to understand what actionsÂ are required, at that point in time. Let God, in His perfect way, handle the matter. By giving it over entirely to God, including our feelings of hurt or injustice, we can move on in our journey without carrying a load of bitterness and resentment. Jesus loves you and will work in these cases to bring about resolution and peace – as the years go by, Â you will (I’m sure) look back in amazement at the wonderful ways He has restored the broken pieces of your life experiences.
Do you agree?