November 9, 2014

Strained Relations I: Where Envy Abounds, Strife Will Also

There have been continued relational issues that I encounter as I continue to associate with fellow Christians. I realized a while ago that my dogmatism and strong convictions made me tedious to be around but over the last year or two I have made inroads to stem the tide of these abrasive behaviors. They might have been the primary factor for relationship hiccups in the past but I believe lately, that has not been the case. I have struggled to make myself more approachable but to some extent, most would not view me as a legalist goon or arrogant self-assured theology geek…at least not as bad as I used to be. Yet, the interactive strains with some Christians persist. So as a compassionate and inquisitive person I ask why?

Well, firstly I must state that every single one of the issues I will bring up here I have either been guilty or I am still guilty of in a sin-laced life that is nearly impossible to clean up at times to become more holy. As a matter of fact, SoulJournaler (my blog) in general has taken a more emotive and relational turn due to these struggles. The blog has taken on more topics that revolve around these issues because its author has been turning in this direction also. I have turned in this direction mainly because of the Holy Spirit but also because most of the Christian walk is about community in the Kingdom and that means godly relationships.

The first thing that presents itself to me after prayer is that two people could still both be Christian saved by the grace and still have relational issues. Rocky marriages are a perfect example. Why? It is because, in a relationship there are two fallen sinful people involved. Two broken, flawed thinking creations capable of a great relationship but due to their broken condition in a broken world, it is more prevalent for relationships to fail or fall apart. The irony is that the thing that saves us from our fallen nature and brokenness is the very same thing that will allow us to fix a broken relationship with the other person. 

It is God’s grace towards us which entails, patience, humbleness, gentleness, kindness and love. It also helps to bear with each other and forgive just as God forgave us. Many of these behaviors should be directed towards others or our neighbors too, not just God.

Another hurdle I see between people is a failure to take a meek roll and a willingness to be poor in spirit. Many Christians in the United States have an entitlement mentality as Christians. This might be the attitude of the land but for the Christian it is a bad attitude. Part of this attitude is a complacency and desire to always be comfortable. Many wish to be comfortable financially and socially. If any restrictions arise in this pursuit they are avoided or ostracized.

Another wall that often gets erected in a relationship is envy. The envy might be one-way but sometimes it can be both ways. I find that this is often one of the largest mitigating factors in poor Christian relationship and fellowships.

We can begin to fix a bad relationship by releasing the envy that we sinfully harbor in our heart. How many of us are caught up in bad relationships that are corrupted by envy? We see others with better jobs that make more money and they can afford to drive new cars when we are stuck driving run down old ones. We see people with nicer clothes and the current fashions and we cannot afford anything above Wal-Mart Puritan brand or Faded Glory. Sometimes we even maintain these relationships because of the status they bring us and not for any Christian purpose (James 2). This is sinful and it should not surprise us that the relationship is strained or failing at the seams.

1 Corinthians 3:3 ~ “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”

This envy is a symptom of pride and overestimated self-worth. It is usually the case that the one suffering from envy feels entitled to what someone else has or believes that they deserve it. This mindset alone shows that in God’s economy, they probably do not. This even carries over to positions of power and control. When we go to work in environments where we believe we could do a better job than our bosses over us…we are attempting in our hearts to usurp power not given us from God. God has put these people over us for a reason. If he wanted us to be supervisors, bosses or company owners…we would be. Not only would we be envying here but also not submitting to authority (Romans 13).

1 Peter 2:1 ~ “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”

It is clear envy solicited by pride needs to be removed from our lives. We will never be able to remove it while pride reigns. Scripture tells us that we must refrain from envious thoughts in a relationship. We need to stop feeling we need to look as good as the other person. We need to stop feeling we need as much money as others do. We need to stop thinking we are smarter than they are. Conflict is only resolved when there is peace and no envy between two people or groups.

James 3:14-16 ~ But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 

What does Scripture say is the answer? It says wisdom comes from above. True unity is in God and with God.

God First

James 3:17-18 ~ “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Godly relationships include encouragement where two people minister to one another. For any human relationship to be good, the relationship must put God first. We must go to the cross first and trust in Christ. We must also trust that our current situation is the exact situation that Sovereign God wants us in and stop wanting something other than where God has us. If he wanted us to have a better paying job, we would have it or be stirred to move in that direction. Murmuting is not the correct response to these situations, submission is. We must pray that He guides us. Essentially, when we envy...we desire something that we do not have and something God has not given us. If we continue to kick against the goads and strive after wind, we will reap wind. Envy’s most prominent fruit is frustration.

The bottom line for me with strained relationships with other Christians is that instead of finding fault in others, I must turn inward. I found that many times it is not the other Christian, it is me that needs to start to change. When someone has to change to improve a relationship we must always focus on ourselves not others. Why? We cannot change others, only God can. The truth is that even changing ourselves is a mighty task that cannot be easily accomplished. Perhaps that is why many of us avoid it and focus on getting others to change instead? 

Of course there are other things that come to the fore when dealing with failing or failed Christian relationships (including marriages). At all their roots lies sin(s). What are some of the other problems we will find? More on those in the next post.

[Continued In Next Post]

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