What makes a relationship Work?

What makes a relationship Work?

Preached at 9am Worship on Sunday 5th May
Series: Relationships

Bible Readings: Colossians 3:12-17
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain

We have just ended the Easter Season.  For me it was another reminder of just how personal the Easter Story is.  Easter is about the forgiveness of sins through the cross and the life that comes through the resurrection … but more than that, Easter is about the forgiveness of MY sins and the life that I personally discover and receive through the resurrection.

When the disciple Thomas saw Jesus for the first time after the resurrection – and Jesus offered his hands for Thomas to inspect – Thomas didn’t say, “Wow, you really are THE lord”, he said you are MY Lord and MY God!  Easter is personal – and so it should be because the Easter Good News is about the God who loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us.

God is a relational God.  God is relational within the Godself – the Father relates to the son who relates to the Holy Spirit.  And we are made in the image of God – therefore we are created to be relational as well.  We are created to be in relationship with God and with each other. 

And relationships when they are working right are amazing.  They are fulfilling and loving and life-giving – that is the way that God created relationship to be. 

But our life experience would also tell us that sometimes relationship can also be hard and hurtful and draining … and even can lead to be toxic and damaging.  And my heart breaks when I see relationships go bad, because this is not what God wants for us, or for relationships.

So today, we are starting a new series on relationships – exploring some Biblical principles and wisdom on how to make our relationships that we have the best that they can be.  And by relationships I mean all relationships – relationship with our families, with our friends, intimate relationships, colleagues, our best mates … all of them, the best that they can be.

Let me say upfront that this topic can be a little tricky.  Mainly because most of us have had at least one experience of a bad relationships – and many of us still might be living with the hurt of a dysfunctional relationship or a fracted or broken relationship.  I want to be clear that my goal is not to make anyone feel worse or judged or shamed or anything like that.  I certainly do not want to stir up the hurt or pain again.  Rather, I want us to be real and open to God’s grace and wisdom and see might make all our relationships a little healthier.

To help us with this I wanted to share with you a portion of a document written by the Uniting Church about 30 years ago.  They got a small team together to look at this exact issue – what makes a right relationship.   They used the bible, the teachings of the church over the years and their own experiences and they came up with a list of 10 characteristics which are helpful in any relationship.

I have shared this list with many people over the years and I think it is really great wisdom.  Can I share with you this list:

  1. Honesty

This is important.  Relationships are enhanced when people can share openly and listen to one another’s feelings and thoughts. Col 3:9 – just before the bible reading we had from Colossians – tells us not to lie to one another.  Whether that is you’re your boss at work or between parents and children … relationships always work better if there is honestly.  Research has shown that one of the main reasons that relationships break down is when dishonesty and secrecy as a problem. 

  • Vulnerability

Being vulnerable involves giving yourselves to the other.  It is the act of opening up and sharing the deep parts of yourself – your thoughts and feelings, your hopes & dreams, fears & failures.  It is lowering the protective wall that we naturally put around ourselves.

The danger of being vulnerable is that you can be hurt.  Really hurt.

The benefit of being vulnerable is that you discover profound freedom. It is the most amazing experience to find a person who knows everything about you and still loves and accepts you. 

If both people in a relationship are being honest and vulnerable with each other it builds a powerful safe space in a relationship.  But I will admit, being vulnerable in a relationship is hard, especially when we have been hurt before.

  • Trust

A Good relationship is built on and is sustained by trust. As trust increases people become more honest and vulnerable with one another.

Trust in a relationship must be more than just intention.  We need to be true to our words and follow through with your actions.  We need to think carefully before we promise something and we need to try to the best of our abilities to keep those promises … because the harsh reality is that a breakdown of trust in a relationship is hard to heal – not impossible, I have seen – with God’s help – a number of people to rebuilt trust that has been broken, but it is hard. 

We will talk about this much more next week.

  • Faithfulness

Faithfulness is a key element in the way that God relates to us.  Our God is a faithful God.  Over and over again scripture declare how great God’s faithfulness is to us.  And we are called to be the same. 

Faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) and as it grows in our lives it should also be a critical element of all our different relationships. 

Faithfulness is more than just not cheating around in marriage – it is about being there for the other person – having their back when they need it.  Romans 10:11 tells us that Because God is faithful, we will never be disappointed.  If we are faithful in our relationships then people should not be disappointed with us or our actions.

  • Equality and Mutuality

This is a huge one.  Equality is treating the other person in the relationship with respect, valuing them greater than yourself.  Equality is the absence of one person dominating the relationship and the absence of double standards.   The goal is a mutual dependency and empowerment. 

Have you ever seen a couple in love when the conversation goes something like:

So what do you want to do tonight?

Anything that you want to do

But I just want you to be happy, so you choose

No you choose, because I am happy when you are happy

You know what I am talking about?  You just want to bang their head together and tell them to make a decision … but it is equality and mutuality in action. 

But seriously, this is really important to make sure that there is no power imbalance in a relationship … or when there is power involved (such as a boss and an employee) that that power is not being used inappropriately.  And it is not only the way that we act, it is the way our actions are perceived.  We might not think that there is anything wrong with what we did or thought but it can still cause great hurt or uncomfortableness to someone else if we are not being super aware of this idea of equality and mutuality.

But this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  In the reading from Colossians, Paul encouraged us in all our relationships to show compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience to one another – once again, this is equality and mutuality in practice.

  • Freedom and Responsibility

A good relationship allows each person to grow and retain their individuality, while each is enriched within the context of the relationships. 

If a relationship is demanding that you change who you are, or for you to hide the real you, to keep the relationship going – then it is not a healthy relationship.

Mind you … having a close relationship with another person CAN often change us for the better – but that shouldn’t be forced on us.

In a good relationship you should have the freedom to be yourself yet at the same time be willing to be influenced by the other.  They seem to be mutually exclusive things but in a good relationship they work together.  

  • Communication

Most of this stuff we have been talking about can be summed up with the goal of communication.  In the pre-marriage counselling that I do, the two main topics that I always cover are communication and conflict resolution.  For any relationship – from a marriage to a friendship to good work colleagues – for any relationship to be strong and healthy, you need to talk with each other.

Good skills need to be learnt and practised in listening and communicating our thoughts and feelings clearly.  By doing this it will go a long way in resolving conflicts and deepening our understanding of each other. 

Now the next three are a little more biased to a close relationship or an intimate relationship … but still can be found in any relationship.  

  • Giving and Receiving Affection

Enjoying being together and when separated, looking forward to being together, are all part of the warmth of relationship.  Affection is sometimes a natural expression of our love for another… giving a hug to your BFF, a pat on the shoulder by a mate, a kiss from our loved one … these things are good and things that nurtures the relationship. The need to “feel” loved is a deep need in all of us.  

However, note that the way people enjoy affection will differ from person to person so care needs to be taken not to make assumptions in this area.  Just because you love feet massages does not mean your everyone does … or thinks that this is appropriate.  If in doubt, go back to number 7 – communicate

  • Discovering Intimacy

For me, intimacy is when you experience a depth and closeness in a relationship that is different from other relationships. Intimate relationships are built on trust, good communication and on the willingness to be vulnerable with each other.  In a real sense, Intimacy is the process of two people becoming one in mind, spirit and body.  The way that God has created the fullness of relationship to be.

  1. Setting Limits and Self Control

Part of the honouring of the other person requires us to set limits on our own needs and behaviour; that is, to exercise self-control for the sake of the other. 

You know the old line … “Not tonight honey, I have a headache”.  It is a sign of a healthy strong relationship when you can put on hold your needs and desires for the sake of the other person.    But it is not just in intimate relationship, being able to say “I’m not up to going out tonight, I just need to rest” or “you need to stop texting, I have gone to bed” … are also a sign of a good friendship.

So was that helpful?  If you are in a relationship or considering a relationship I would encourage you to try and build as many of these characteristics into your relationship – because these are the things that will help make a relationship healthy and strong. 

I also need to add that if you are in an unhealthy relationship at the moment – and this list confirmed just how unhealthy it is … then I would encourage you to address the healthiness.  Find a friend you can trust, or come and speak to me, and talk through it.  Maybe there might be a way of rebuilding some of these things into your relationship … or maybe we need to find another way forward which is most caring for you.  Just know that you don’t need to do this alone.  That is what they church family are hear for!  

Now … sermons are supposed to be hopeful, so although this sermon has been long already, I wanted to finish with an example from the bible of a healthy relationship and a great image that might be helpful for us.  This is an example of a romantic relationship – not to say that a romantic relationship is the pinnacle or goal in life, it just happens to be one.

Have you ever read the Old Testament book, Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon)?  It was supposed to have been written by King Solomon but I doubt it because he ended up initiate relationships with 1000 women so I doubt that he knew that relationships were all about.  But the couple in this book are amazing.  The book is all about these 2 people expressing their love for each other … it jumps around through their courtship, engagement, wedding, marriage etc.  The book begins with the couple in those “new love” feelings…

  • 1v2 kiss me with the kisses of your mouth– for your love is more delightful than wine.
  • 2v5 I am faint with love

It goes on for a number of chapters … these two lovebirds expressing their love for each other.  But the key verse in this whole book is chapter 6:3, when the woman says … “I am my beloved and he is mine”.  (Song). 

What is the woman saying?  I am willing to give myself completely to my beloved because I know that he cares about me and puts me above himself.  They were living in a right relationship, they were being together in the way God designed us to be in relationship and in doing so, experiencing the real life that Jesus promises.

But it gets better… by living in this way God becomes involved in the relationship too.  Song of Songs 2:4 has the line, “his banner over me is love”.  There are many idea of what this line means, but one is a reference to the Jewish chuppah (HOO-pah).  The Hoopah is a sort of canopy or sheet which represent the presence of God.  You may have seen picture of it.

When a couple gets married they have place the Hoopah on four sticks and the whole service is conducted under it.  It reminds them of God’s unconditional love and how they are also called to love each other unconditionally and give themselves to each other.  They get married under the Hoopah to show that God is part of their marriage.  Nice idea isn’t it.

I actually think that we need this idea of the hoopah in all our relationships – whether it is with a romantic relationship, or the way we treat our families or kids, the way we interact at work or with our good friends or even with our church family … in all our relationships we need to imagine that they are covered by God’s presence – the Hoopah. 

I encourage you to make all our relationships right – work on the characteristics within the relationship to make it the way that God designed it to be.  And include God in your relationship.

May all your relationship be life-giving.