Today we begin a new series called Life Rules and over the next six weeks we are going to look at some of the rules God has given us for relationships. Our lives are a complex mix of rules that direct all relationships, situations and interactions. Sometimes these rules are clear and direct; sometimes they are more subtle and sometimes they aren’t even spoken but we know them because they have been impressed upon us since childhood Think of all the rules we learned growing up. My Mom talks about how at the dinner table when she was a child the rule was that children were to be seen but not heard. That is a rule for relationships at the dinner table. My mom was also taught that if you were to speak, it was to be appropriate and polite. One day when her family had the new minister over for dinner, my Mom knew the rules. She was to be seen and not heard, and if she wanted to speak at the table it was to be appropriate and polite. When my mom wanted some butter for her rolls, she used the most appropriate words she could think of for when a minister was visiting and very clearly said, For Christ’s sake, will you pass the butter. Her parents were mortified, but the new ministry laughed until he cried.
In most homes with more than one child a life rule that is often heard is an eye for an eye. Now it might be said this way, most of the time it is said like this, but she hit me first. At least that is what I said many times growing with two sisters. Jesus gave us a life rule for relationships in what has come to be known as the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you and while we might want this to rule our lives, many of us follow a very different version of this rule. Do unto others as they do unto you or even, do unto others before they do it unto you.
So in all of our relationships there are rules that we follow. There are rules for parents, children, friends, teammates, coworkers, teachers, roommates, neighbors and yes, even rules for God. There is an entire set of rules we have when it comes to our relationship with God and if you grew up going to church, many of these rules we learned by just going to church. One of the rules I learned was that we had to look our best for God – so when we went to church we had to wear our Sunday best. When I was a child, my Dad’s parents came to visit and my Grandmother was mortified one Sunday because we couldn’t find my good shoes and I had to go to church in sneakers and I was the minister’s son. Breaking this rule just about killed my Grandmother. Now what she didn’t know is that I knew where my shoes were all the time, they were hidden under the bed, I just didn’t want to wear them.
Even as a child I was beginning to figure out what rules were going to guide my relationship with God. Many years later I worked in Yellowstone NP and helped lead worship services there and I got into an argument with another member of our ministry team because he held firmly to the rule that we had to wear our Sunday best. His rule was that I had to wear a coat and tie to help lead in worship. My rule was that as long as I looked neat and clean, I could wear what I wanted. We argued about these rules and I used scripture to back up mine saying that in 1 Samuel 16:7 it says, Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. I challenged him to find where in the Bible it said I had to wear a coat and tie and he couldn’t do it. I didn’t wear a coat and tie that summer.
There are many other rules we follow in our relationship with God. For example, we watch what we say when we are in church because there are just certain words we wouldn’t use here. A few weeks ago I really had to stop and think about using the word dog poop. Was that acceptable? There is one set of rules that govern our language at home and work and even in the car as we drive to church but then another set of rules take over when we get here. It’s a silly game we play because God hears what we say as we drive to church just as much as he hears what we say when we get here, but these are often the rules we live by in our relationship with God.
So there are different sets of rules that govern our different relationships and we often have one set of rules for God and another set for everyone else and many of us work to keep these rules completely separate. We often see our relationship with God as vertical where it is just me and God and therefore has no impact or bearing on anyone else. All of our other relationships are horizontal and these relationships are often messy, difficult and chaotic and lots of different sets of rules apply and as long as we keep these rules and relationships separate from God then how we treat other people has no bearing on our faith. As long as our religion just looks at the relationship between me and God, the focus is on things like worship, prayer and reading the Bible and if this is true than I can have a strong faith regardless of the way I treat other people, but Jesus makes it clear that our relationship with God is not separate from our relationship with others.
Jesus said that the health and maturity of our relationship with God is actually determined by the health and maturity of our relationship with others, look at Matthew 5:23-24. Jesus is clear that we can’t come and talk to God until we are willing to talk out our issues with others. We can’t be at one with God as long as we are divided from those people God has placed in our lives. There can’t be two sets of rules we follow. We can’t hold others at arm’s length in anger while asking God to open his arms up to us in love. The health of our relationships with others determines the health of our relationship with God.
Look at 1 John 1:6 and 1 John 2:9. So we can’t claim to have it going on with God and be strong in faith when our relationships aren’t reflecting God’s light and love and grace. If we think our relationship with God is strong but the relationships in our lives are a shattered mess that we aren’t willing to do anything about, then we are kidding ourselves about our relationship with God. Again, look at John 13:34-35. The way the world knows we are followers of Jesus isn’t by what we wear on Sunday or by how often we pray and read the Bible or even by the nice words we use when we are here, the world sees our faith by looking at our relationships with one another. The two are permanently connected and they were connected by Jesus.
In Jesus day there were life rules that governed everything and there was an ongoing argument about which rule was the most important. When asked, Jesus said the most important rule is to , Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. This was exactly what the people thought Jesus would say, but he didn’t stop there, he added this, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus is saying that our love for God is linked to our love for others. We can’t separate them. We can’t have love for God govern this vertical relationship and then turn around and hate those people God has put in our lives. Jesus is linking together our relationship with Him and our relationships with others and saying that the same rules apply. If we love God – we have to love others, in fact the world will know we love God because they will see our love for others.
Let’s face it; our faith would be a lot easier to live if it was just a matter of loving God. If all we had to do for a strong faith was attend worship, pray and read the Bible – things would be easy, but our faith is not like that. The health and strength of our relationship with God is determined by the health and strength of our relationship with others, so for the next few weeks we are going to look at some of the rules God has given to help make our relationships strong. We are going to see that faith development is relationship building and healing and if we aren’t willing to work on these personal relationships – then our relationship with God, our faith, will not be healthy and it will not grow.
As we begin to talk about how our relationship with others needs to follow the same rules as our relationship with God, it’s important to take a step back and not take for granted that we can have a relationship with God. This truth itself is amazing. We have been invited into a relationship with the living God. The one who not only created us but the world in which we live wants us to know him and love him. While we aren’t worthy of this relationship, we have just spent three weeks talking about how God invites us to come home again. God desires us to come back into a relationship with Him through Jesus. This is a relationship of unconditionally love. It is a relationship where God forgives us and accepts us and offers us a life that is powerful and eternal.
This invitation might be called salvation, abundant life or eternal life, but whatever we call it, it is a relationship with God that forever changes us and this invitation carries with it the implication that our relationships here will change as well. Look at Ephesians 4:1.
The word calling can also be translated as invitation. We have been invited into a relationship with God and to live a life of faith, but Paul doesn’t define this new life in terms of religion but relationship – Ephesians 4:2. Paul doesn’t say, now that you love Jesus you need to pray more, worship more, and read your Bible more; he says, now that you have entered into this relationship with God, be completely humble and gentle and patient. He is saying that our relationship with God needs to shape our relationship with others and that our relationship with others need to reflect and even mirror our relationship with God. How God has treated us now becomes the standard for how we treat others. Remember the golden rule we mentioned earlier – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – while we often turn this into do unto others as they do unto you or do unto others before they do unto you – God’s rule is do unto others as God has done unto you.
This needs to be our life rule #1 – Love others as God has loved you. Treat others as God as treated you. Do unto others as God has done unto you. Paul goes on to clarify some of what God has done for us and what love needs to look like in our relationships in Ephesians 4:2. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Paul has identified four ways that God has loved us which means that this is how we are to love others.
First, we are to be humble because God humbled himself for us, Philippians 2:5-8. Humility means thinking of others before we think of ourselves and putting the needs of others before our own. But you may be saying, Why should I put the needs of others first when they aren’t helping me or supporting me or even being nice to me? They don’t deserve this. That’s right, they don’t and neither did we. God humbled himself and came in the person of Jesus and Jesus died while the world was caught up in sin. We didn’t deserve Jesus taking on our sin, but he did it because he loved us and the reason we love others and humble ourselves even when they aren’t worthy is because God has done this for us. When we were not worthy of God’s love and grace, when we were living lives far away from God and all He wanted for us, God humbled himself and loved us. Today we still aren’t worthy of God’s love but God continues to humble himself and reach out to us in love which means we need to humble ourselves and love others. We do for others as God has done for us.
Not only are we supposed to be humble, but gentle. Now before you start thinking that gentle is not really a word you want used to describe your life and lifestyle, what the word really means is self-controlled. Being gentle means controlling our anger and frustration so that when we could be powering up against others we choose to gear down. In the news right now there is a lot of debate about domestic violence and how we parent our children and many times in our relationships when our anger and frustration kicks in, we need to learn how to bring down our emotions so that we can control our words and actions.
Again, we don’t do this because others deserve it, in fact we might be completely justified in our anger, but think about this – so is God. God is completely justified in his anger toward us because we choose to turn from him again and again. We all sin and fall short of what God wants from us, which means God is justified in his anger but he chooses not to act on that anger and instead is gentle. God is self controlled and that is why we are to be self controlled. We do for others as God has done for us.
God is also patient. Think about how patient God is with us. We fail God and fall into sin over and over again. We say we will never do it again and then we do it again. We have wandered into all manner of sin and at times even run from God and yet God is patient and like the father in the prodigal son, he waits patiently for us to return home. Since God has been so patient with us we really need to learn how to be patient with others. Think how foolish it sounds to say, Yes God, I know you have been patient with me and you have waited on me and for me all my life, but seriously, this is their last chance this person has. If they don’t come around this time – I’m done. When I think of how patient God has been with me during my life and how patient God is with me today, it makes me realize I haven’t even touched the surface of learning how to be patient with the people God has put in my life.
And then it says we are to bear with one another and this doesn’t mean putting up with people we like when they might rub us the wrong way, this means bearing with people who are unbearable. We will look at this more in a few weeks when we talk about acceptance, but this is an important part of our faith that the world really needs to see in us. We are so divided in our society that any kind of disagreement often leads to complete rejection. When we find people unbearable we dismiss them, but God says, bear with them because I have bared with you.
So our first rule is to love others as God has loved us and the key to applying this rule isn’t to focus what we need to do for others, but on what God has done for us. Let me say that again. The key to applying this life rule isn’t to focus on what we need to do for others, the key is to focus on all that God’s love has done for us. The more we understand and accept God’s love the more we will understand how and why we need to love others. In fact, the more we understand how God has loved us and forgiven us, and accepted us, and served us, and encouraged us and even submitted himself for us, the more these life rules will strengthen and heal our relationship. And the stronger our relationships become – the stronger our faith and trust in God becomes.
Life Rules ~ Love
1. What were/are the spoken and unspoken rules in your family? What are some of the rules in your relationships with coworkers, teammates and neighbors?
2. What rules have guided your faith? What rules about a relationship with God did you learn as part of a church?
3. Is the golden rule part of your life? How is the golden rule different from the life rule: do unto others as God has done unto you?
3. Read Ephesians 4:1-2. Paul calls us to be humble, gentle (self-controlled) and patient and to bear with one another because God has done these things for us. Identify times when God has been this way with you:
• Gentle (self-controlled)
• Bearing with you
4. In each of these four areas, identify specific people in your life that God is inviting you to love as He has loved you:
• Gentle (self-controlled)
• Bearing with them