“STEWARDS OF OUR RELATIONSHIPS”

COLOSSIANS 3:12-17

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            In doing my normal research for a sermon, I came up with some startling discoveries about relationships.  For example, in a survey missionaries listed the biggest problems they faced.  They ranked them in order of severity.  Number six on their list of problems was financial pressures.  We understand that because missionaries do not get compensated very well.  Number two on their list was cultural adjustments, and number one on their list was getting along with other missionaries.

            I also discovered that the higher you climb the corporate ladder the more important relational skills become.  For rank and file workers, promotions are ninety-percent dependent on technical knowledge and ten-percent on relational skills.  For a supervisor, promotions are based fifty-percent on technical knowledge and fifty-percent on human relations.  For executives, however, promotions are based twenty-percent on technical expertise and eighty-percent on relational skills.  

            Finally, in a study conducted by the National Institute of Education one thousand thirty somethings were asked, “What skills do you wish you had been taught in school?”  Their top answers had to do with relationships.  They wished they had been taught things like, “How do I get along better with my roommates?” and “How do I do a better job of handling conflict?” and “How can I be a better parent?”

            Of course, the Bible is a book about relationships.  It’s a book about perfect relationships, like Adam and Eve in the Garden prior to that sneaky snake, and Jesus and his Heavenly father.  It’s a book about broken relationships like that of Cain and Abel, Israel and God.  It’s a book about romantic relationships like Jacob and Rachel, Ruth and Boaz.  It’s a book about restored relationships like the Prodigal Son with his father, and John Mark with Paul, and sinners with a holy God, and today we are going to explore one of the most important relationship passages in the Bible, and in this passage the Apostle Paul instructs us, encourages us, commands us to do three things. 

            Command number one: if you want to have growing and healthy relationships then center your life in Jesus Christ.  Verse 15, Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, and verse 16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

            Paul reminds us that Jesus Christ is the fountain of healthy relationships.  Christ is the gasoline in our relationship tank, and the key to healthy relationships is to allow Christ to flow through us to others. 

            And I’m glad the Apostle Paul reminds us of this because if he did not, I would be in deep weeds.  By that I mean, I could get quickly depressed reading over the sort of person Paul wants me to become here because it’s humanly impossible to become such a good and fine person.  I do not have the wherewithal to pull it off.  I may want to become this person.  I may work hard on becoming this kind of person.  I may strive for it, but it’s not going to happen apart from Christ.  I can’t do it on my own, but I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me!

            I think of the man who heard the great Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne one night.  M’Cheyne preached on the text, I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he or she will be saved.  The man listened to the message and after the sermon he went up to M’Cheyne and said,

 

            I’ve been a church member all my life, but I never felt close to Christ until now.  When I heard you preach tonight something clicked and I felt that Jesus was very near to me.  Listening to you preach about Jesus’ being the door, I realized what my problem has been all these years.  I had been trying to enter the wrong door!  I have been trying to go through the saints’ door, and I just couldn’t make it.  You made it clear today that I need to go through the sinners’ door.

 

            If we want to make our relationships all they can be, we need to go through the sinners’ door!  We need to face the fact that we can’t pull this off on our own.  We need to admit our need for Christ, and the more we center our lives in Christ, the master of relationships, the better our relationships will become.

            Command number two: cultivate five relational virtues.  Look at them with me.  Verse 12.

 

            As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

 

            Every one of these virtues has to do with personal relationships, and the first relationship enhancing virtue is compassion.  This is a rich biblical word.  It’s the word the Gospel writer Mark used to describe Jesus’ feeling toward the people of Galilee.  He wrote, “He has compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  Luke used the word to describe the action of the Samaritan for the injured man on the road.  It’s the same word he used to describe the response of the father for his prodigal son.  It’s a great biblical word and it suggests a deep feeling that expresses itself in action.  Got that?  It’s a deep feeling that expresses itself in action.

            It’s what the green hospital chaplain, straight out of seminary, expressed to a young couple after the woman give birth to a stillborn baby.  The young mother said to the green hospital chaplain, “We want our baby baptized.”

            The young chaplain did not know what to do.  He set an appointment with them to meet in the chapel.  In the meantime he tried to get a more experienced chaplain to fill in for him, but with no success.  When the parents arrived with the child, he could not say what he had prepared to say.  Instead, almost without realizing what he was doing, he took a tissue, wiped at the tears at the eyes of the parents, then wiped his own tears and touched the tears to the baby’s head and said, “Nicole, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

            Compassion is a deep feeling expressed in action.

            The second relational virtue to cultivate with Christ’s help is kindness.  Someone recently referred to this as the “neglected” virtue.  It sometimes seems that way in our day, that it has been largely forgotten, but it still pops up, and sometimes kindness pops up in the most unexpected places.  Listen to one woman’s experience in New York City of all places!  In a letter to Ann Landers, she wrote,

 

            A friend and I were in New York for our first visit.  We boarded a bus, unaware that we were supposed to have exact change.  The bus driver and those behind us were visibly annoyed as we fumbled in our purses in a futile attempt to find the exact change.

            Suddenly, two bus tokens mysteriously appeared, having been passed from hand to hand to the coin box.  Relieved, we turned to those on the bus and asked, “Whom can we reimburse?”  No one on the bus spoke out.  All we saw were a sea of smiling faces.  So, Ann, tell your Iowa readers that there are some warm hearts in New York City too.

 

            Thirdly, if we want to be a good steward of our relationships, we need to cultivate humility.  There is an “earthiness” to this word.  “Humus” is the root word for earth, and it’s from this word we get “humility.”  It carries with it the meaning of being “of the earth,” or “down to earth.”   It’s not thinking too highly of ourselves.  One might say it means “staying grounded.”

            The next relational virtue is meekness.  This may be the most difficult to cultivate because by and large our culture does not seem to prize meek people.  We equate “meek” with “weak.”  We think of a meek person as a doormat, but that is not what this word means at all.  The Greek word used here for “meekness” means strength under control.  The term was used in secular Greek literature to describe a wild horse that had been tamed.  Applied to us, it implies the strength to hold back.  Instead of going on the offensive, a meek person waits to be consulted. 

            The last relational virtue is patience.  The Greek word carries with it the thought of having a long fuse.  It’s what God has with us, a long fuse.  I like the story of the pastor who was greeting people after the service.  A man in line said, “Great message on patience, Pastor.  I especially liked the way you illustrated it by telling those kids to sit down and shut up.”  Even pastors need to cultivate patience!

            So we need to center our lives in Jesus Christ; we need to cultivate these five relational virtues; and finally, Paul commands us to commit to two relationship mending practices.  Even after centering our lives in Christ, and cultivating relational virtues, relationships still go awry.  The Apostle Paul is very honest about that, so he commands us to commit to doing two things.  Verse 13.

 

            Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.

 

            I’m going to make an educated guess at this point.  My guess is that we like the idea of centering our lives in Christ and cultivating these relational virtues, but we are not as keen about bearing and forgiving.  Am I right?  Someone said, “There are four kinds of people in our lives: the people around us either add, subtract, divide or multiply.”  We like being around the adders, those who add things to our lives, but not those who subtract from our lives or sow division or multiply our problems.  We don’t want to bear with them.  We don’t want to forgive them.  Yet, to become good stewards of relationships, that’s what we need to do.

            How do we do it?  How do we become bearers and forgiver?  Well, the Apostle Paul gives us the key: just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  In other words, there is a direct correlation between our acceptance of God’s forgiveness and our capacity to forgive others.  If we are having trouble forgiving others, it’s likely that we have not fully experienced God’s forgiveness in our lives. 

            We are going to Southern California this week for a short four days.  We’ll be back on Friday, in time for Sunday, and we are taking our seven year old grandson, Edison to Disneyland.  Disneyland is now fifty-five years old, and I grew up in Southern California, and my parents took me that opening year when I was seven years old.  And if you have been to Disneyland you have no doubt been through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, the entrance to Fantasyland.  You may not know, however, what happened there one day.

            One day Sleeping Beauty entered the castle.  She was gorgeous, every hair in place, flawless skin, beaming smile.  Children rushed to her, surrounded her, wanting to be touched and acknowledged, all except for a boy about our grandson’s age, and my age, when I first went to Disneyland, about seven years old.  This little boy stood back, watching quietly and wistfully, holding his older brother’s hand.  He was disfigured, deformed, the result of some rare disease, and you know what he wanted.  He wanted more than anything else to be with the other children.  He longed to be in the middle of the kids reaching for Sleeping Beauty, calling her by name, but he was afraid of another rejection.  He was afraid others would be shocked and repulsed by his appearance.

            And then it happened.  Sleeping Beauty noticed the little boy and politely, but firmly, she began inching through the crowd of children until she broke free.  She walked quietly across the floor, knelt at eye level, and placed a kiss on the little boy’s deformed face.

            I love what Sleeping Beauty did, but Jesus did more.  Much more.  Sleeping Beauty only gave a kiss.  When she stood to leave, she took her beauty with her.  The boy was still deformed.  But what if she did what Jesus did?  What if Sleeping Beauty had assumed the little boy’s state?  What if she had somehow given him her beauty and taken on his disfigurement? 

            That’s what Jesus did.  He took our suffering and felt our pain.  He was wounded for the wrong we did.  Don’t you think those actions would make Jesus‘ followers more forgiving?  I mean, when Jesus‘ followers reflect on all he has done for them, don’t you think forgiveness would just ooze out of them?  The Apostle Paul certainly thought so.  Deep down, so do we.  Amen.