Part 6: Joy of Relationships
Pastor Terry Inman
Relationships can be the source of great joy or anxiety. If we are honest there are difficult people in our lives that we have a hard time getting along with. There are the whiners, bullies, the short-fused, the judgmental, and don't forget the crazy-makers.
Over twenty years ago Joyce Landorf wrote a book on getting along with “Irregular People”. Irregular people are the people in our life who have the knack of wounding us. They say the wrong thing, they ruin our day and they keep our emotions in constant turmoil.
An irregular person is someone you can't seem to escape, like a close relative - mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, or in-law. It could be a church member, a boss or maybe even that co-worker from hell.
We can’t change folks but we can change our reactions to them.
Learning to maintain our joy in the face of challenging relationships requires real spiritual maturity. God wants us to experience The Joy of Relationships.
Paul begins another chapter with a transition that could serve to close out one chapter or begin another. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! (Phil. 4.1NIV)
This introduction leads right into some sensitive relational issues that inevitably come up where Christians are living and serving together. Paul addresses his “dear friends” in the Church of Philippi as “brothers”. They are like family. He loves them dearly and can’t wait to see them again.
He refers to them as “His joy and His crown”. In the last chapter he said,
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The “crown” (stephanos ) was the Grecian wreath of victory awarded to athletes.
The people he served, the people he worked with, the people of the church he planted brought him great joy. He considered them his award.
He repeats his earlier counsel, “you should stand firm in the Lord”. In chapter one, Paul shared his desire to be released from incarceration in Rome so he could visit them again. But if it didn’t happen he was concerned that they, “stand firm (persevere) in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1.27 NIV)
In the last chapter he warned them about adversaries from the outside. Today he challenges them to “stick together”, no matter how difficult, and contend with threats to their unity from the inside.
Apparently there was a dispute between a couple sisters that was affecting the whole community. “I plead with Euodia (yoo-od-ee´-ah) and I plead with Syntyche (soon-too’-khay) to agree with each other in the Lord.” (Phil. 4.2 NIV)
This was probably more of a clash of personalities than an actual disagreement over something. We don’t always have to agree but we do need to love and respect each other. Because we are human this can only be accomplished “in the Lord”. We need his help with relationships!
The KJV says, “I beseech Euodias, (yoo-od-ee´-ah) and beseech Syntyche, (soon-too’-khay) that they be of the same mind in the Lord.”
We can have different opinions as long as we have the right attitudes.
The Lord doesn’t always agree with me but he loves me unconditionally.
If there is any potential for disagreement we need to work hard at loving and respecting people in the Lord. Paul enlists the help of a brother…
“Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
(Phil. 4.3-4 NIV)
Unfortunately conflicts never stay with just two people. They spread. We talk to our friends to get some support. All of a sudden a whole community of good people are divided.
That’s why Paul says, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions…Keep away from them.” Rom.16.17 (NIV)
Paul is asking one of the brothers named Suzugos (sood’-zoo-gos) translated here as “yokefellow” to live up to his name and help these women reconcile who had “contended” side-by-side for the gospel.
Paul has used this word “contend” before. It’s an athletic or competitive word. It means to wrestle, labor or battle together. In this case it was contending together for the gospel.
Contending with each other is totally counterproductive to the gospel.
If we are really “in Christ” we are on the same team. Our names are registered in God’s “book of life”. We may have our differences and even disputes but we have got to learn how to resolve issues quickly so the enemy cannot divide and conquer.
When we let issues go unresolved we give Satan space in our relationships. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Eph. 4.26 NIV)
Paul quickly moves to solutions for resolving conflict. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Phil. 4.4-5 NIV) Again Joy in the Lord is Paul’s dominate theme.
Some relationships can be pretty stressful. So how can we make them more joyful? Followers of Christ then and now are not exempt from distress. Whether its attacks from religious antagonists, personality clashes among believers, persecution, or like Paul the threat of death or imprisonment we are to maintain a spirit of joy in the Lord.
Rather than react we can learn to respond with gentleness toward everyone. “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Does that mean we just lay-down and acquiesce to whatever people want to do to us.
This word “gentleness” is a difficult one to translate it can mean mild, moderate or temperate. The bible says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15.1NIV)
I like the word restraint. Gentleness is a measured response. A powerful horse under control is called gentle. So how can we be joyful and gentle? Acknowledge the Lord’s presence especially in challenging circumstances.
Paul says no matter how you are suffering; “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”(Psa. 34.18 NIV)
Paul is probably suggesting that the suffering we face now will come to an end with the return of Christ. He will bring justice. “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5.8 NIV)
So in the mean time, how to we cope with all the challenges of this life? How do we deal with our reactions to the irregular people in our lives?
Paul gives some very practical advice. It was probably something he was learning and practicing in prison. It involves thinking, feeling, and doing.
Long before psychology came around, cognative therapy, emotive therapy and behavioral therapy, God said your thoughts determine our feelings and our feelings determine our actions.
If you want to change your life-- control the way you think.
So first we need to be aware of our thoughts, feelings, and frustrations and then express them to God. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil.4.6 NIV)
I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. (Psa. 142.2) God can handle our emotion.
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psa.34.17)
Paul mentions four expressions of prayer that counter anxiety. The first word for “Prayer” is a worshipful attitude. It simply means we turn our thoughts and feelings toward God instead of our problems.
“Petition” is prayer that fully expresses our desires. Tell God how you feel and what you want to see happen. What is your desired outcome?
“Thanksgiving” acknowledges that whatever God sends is for our good.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1Th. 5.18 NIV)
Thanksgiving reminds us of God previous blessings. It turns our anxiety to gratitude--negative feelings and fears to positive expectations.
“Requests” are the specific needs asked for. So when we feel anxiety we need to talk to God, pour out feelings, our fears, our hurts and our needs. We express our thanksgiving as we ask for his intervention.
Our stress will soon give way to God’s peace. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4.7 NIV)
Transcendent peace is not mind over matter. God’s tranquility trumps our reality! God’s peace surpasses our anxiety. It protects (safeguards) our hearts (feelings) and our minds (thoughts) in Christ Jesus. Paul may have used his own reality to paint this picture. He was under Roman guards.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Prov. 4.23
Now its one thing to overcome anxiety but we also need to replace it with wholesome thinking.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, (facts not false) whatever is noble, (honorable) whatever is right, (moral and ethical) whatever is pure, (uncorrupted, innocent) whatever is lovely, (pleasing) whatever is admirable (praiseworthy) —if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4.8 NIV)
Paul could go on and on with more adjectives but he summarizes our thinking into two things…if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things! Is this a good thought? Is it worth my focus?
Anxiety is the result of poor thinking. Negative or fearful thoughts distort our feelings and affect our behavior. So when we redirect our thoughts, prayers and thanks to God, we will experience His peace.
We replace the wrong thoughts with the right ones. We can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any false beliefs and reveal His truth.
Now here’s the final step. We change our thoughts we change our feelings and then we change our behaviors. Paul says,
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4. 9 NIV)
These are the best practices that will give us Joy in our Relationships!