How To Strengthen Relationships Through Problems

You know, there’s a common need that everybody has. Do you know what it is?  It’s relationships.  Everyone has a need for relationships. God built this need in us.  God knew Adam needed someone.  Everybody wants to be loved. Everybody wants to know that somebody cares about them.

Does anyone know the show Andy Griffith?  There’s this little ole mountain man named Earnest T. Bass. Earnest T. Bass was this guy who was raised up in the mountains. That’s were he was born, that’s where he was raised, living in caves, living with animals, just a wild man and does all kinds of crazy things. But every once in a while ole Earnest T. would come out of the mountains and go into the town of Mayberry. What in the world would motivate a mountain man to leave his comfort zone and go into the town? He was hunting relationships. He was especially hunting him a woman. The subtle message behind those particular episodes were this; even a half little crazy mountain man, who lives with animals and caves up in the mountains, even a wild man like that, needs relationships. He wants somebody to love him.

Did Jesus need relationships? Jesus didn’t soar in from heaven and then take up residence off in seclusion somewhere away from everybody else. He was born in a family. He had a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters. He had relationships. Then when he started his ministry here on the earth, Jesus surrounded himself by 12 disciples. I want to show you what Jesus said about these guys.

John 15:15:

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

“I have called you,” what? “friends.”

What a name to be called.  When Jesus started his ministry he knew he needed relationships. He immediately chose out 12 other men.  This was his close circle of friends, and they ate together, they traveled together, they spent time together, they hung out together, they did the ministry together, and I’m sure they laughed together. Jesus was God in the flesh, but he was also a man, and he needed relationships.

But here’s a major issue that we all deal with.  No matter what relationship we are involved with – be it friends or relatives – every relationship eventually encounters problems. I don’t care how good it is. It may not even be problems within the relationship; it may be outside forces coming in on that relationship. But the point is, every relationship encounter problems and those problems threaten to destroy the relationship. Maybe you have experienced that in your own life. Maybe you had a friend at one time who was very close, I mean, at one time nobody could separate the two of you!  But now you’re not even friends anymore. The friendship dissolved.  Look at marriages where two people were so in love at one time, but the marriage dissolved.  We have family relatives who won’t even talk with one another.

I have learned that relationships do not have to dissolve when problems arise, they can become stronger! Jesus and his disciples are an example. They went through terrible problems, but He called those guys, “friends.”  These are the same guys, when Jesus was crucified, forsook him and fled. These are the same guys who were confused, they didn’t understand, they doubted that he rose again, and they went through all kinds of turmoil. Do you know what happened? The relationship with Christ and his disciples came out stronger than it had ever been before, after the problems!

We must, to the best of our ability, seek to strengthen a relationship when we go through problems. How do we do that? Well, we’re going to learn that from our Master, Jesus.

The first way we can strengthen relationships through problems is:

1. By maintaining open communication.

How many of you have a Bible where the words of Jesus are in red? Look at something. Look at John chapter 13. Now, from John 13 all the way through, this is within 24 hours of the cross. They are about to enter the most turbulent time of their life. If you have Jesus’ words in red, look at how many words are in red. Look at John 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and then you start getting to the cross in chapter 18.  There’s a lot of red ink there. What does that tell me?  As the disciples were about to enter the most turbulent time of their life, Jesus kept those lines of communication wide open. He was talking, he was sharing. In fact, in John 16:25 Jesus no longer spoke to his disciples in parables, but he spoke to them plainly. Jesus knew as the problems were about to come into their relationship, he knew he’d have to have some open and transparent communication with his friends so they would understand.

There is a reference I would like for you to look at. Look at Luke 24. This is after the resurrection. They are confused, they don’t understand. After Jesus rose from the dead, look what the Bible says.

Luke 24:44 and 45.

“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,”

“Then opened he their,” what? “..their understanding.” “That they might,” what? “understand the scriptures.”

Further down in Luke 24 I like to picture this as Jesus with the disciples by a campfire.  This is after his resurrection of course. Jesus is sitting around a campfire eating broiled fish, eating honeycomb, and just hanging out talking. He’s just sitting there talking with these guys. And he’s saying, “Look guys. Let me explain to you why I had to die on that cross.” And he’s opening up the Scriptures, and he’s explaining, and he’s trying to bring understanding to them. What is He doing? Open communication. They’ve been through some problems! They have been through some hurts. They felt like Jesus let them down. They thought he would rule and reign and here he died on the cross. And Jesus is opening their understanding while sitting around a campfire, just talking, helping them understand.

Misunderstandings kill relationships.

Isn’t that true? Why do relationships dissolve? Well, because you misunderstand what he said, you misunderstand what she did, you misunderstand an action, you misunderstand what they said, you misunderstand their heart, and you misunderstand their motive. Most of the time relationships dissolve and it’s not over MAJOR issues, it’s just over misunderstandings or over a person’s personal convictions in what he allows (Rom. 14:22).

Look at the picture of this beautiful mountain.  However, there’s a problem.

Why can’t we see the beauty of that mountain? Because of the fog. But what does that scenery look like when the fog is gone?

You see the beautiful mountain and how pretty it is?  What can this illustrate for us?  So many times we don’t see the beauty in the relationships that we have with people, because misunderstandings have clouded them. There is the fog of misunderstandings.

Communication clears the way of the fog.

If misunderstandings have clouded our relationship with people, it’s communication that clears away the fog.  We have failed to see the beauty that was there. It was there. Why don’t we see the beauty anymore? Misunderstandings have clouded it up. So what we have to do is communicate. We have to talk. And what that does is, it’s like the mountain with no fog. We begin to see the beauty again.  Granted there may be people where you try to dispel the fog and they refuse to listen, but as long as we have not neglected our duty to try and communicate and leave that door open.

The strongest, closest relationships will have conflict. Jesus and his disciples did. When that happens, when conflict comes, we have one of two choices. Either:

  • Talk it through.
  • We turn and run.

We have that choice. We either talk it through or we turn and run from the relationship. And many, many satisfying relationships have been terminated because one or both parties decided to quit talking. “I’m done. I’m not talking about it anymore.”

What a lesson we can learn from the Lord Jesus. Do we want to strengthen our relationships when we go through problems?  Let us take a lesson from Jesus by maintaining open communication.

How do we strengthen relationships through problems?

2. By staying committed to the relationship.

Unfortunately, there are people who do not want to be committed to a relationship. There are some who will continue to sling mud, even after the relationship is over.

I am amazed at the level of commitment that Jesus had toward his disciples. His disciples fell asleep on him when he asked them to pray with him in the garden. These are the guys that cursed and swore and denied even knowing him. These are the guys that when Jesus was arrested, and falsely accused, they turned and  fled. These are the guys that doubted that he resurrected from the dead. These are the guys that went back to fishing after they have already seen the resurrected Christ twice. The same guys.

Look what Jesus said to them after he rose from the dead.

Luke 24:49

“And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”

Do you mean to tell me that these guys that forsook him and fled, these guys that fell asleep on him when he needed them the most, these guys that doubted him, and he said, “Upon you?”  Do you know what?  Jesus knew the condition of their heart.  He knew they were confused.  He knew Thomas doubted him.  Jesus knew Peter denied him and how regretful Peter was.  Jesus was a man of forgiveness.  He stayed committed to his friends.

Because of Christ’s commitment to the relationship with these friends, they went on to incredible exploits for God, leading thousands of people to Jesus. What if Jesus had ditched the relationships? Think about what would have been lost if Jesus would have ditched the relationship like we do so many times and say, “Ah, forget you. You hurt me. You really let me down.” Jesus did not ditch the relationships because his friends failed him. Jesus stayed committed, he did not hold a grudge even after they repented, and the relationships grew stronger through the problems.

Question: What do the following three things have in common?

  • A diaper,
  • a pair of contacts you put in your eyes,
  • and a trash bag?

You don’t have a clue? They are all disposable. When the contacts get old, pitch them. When the trash bag is full, pitch it. When the diaper is soiled, pitch it. Pitch it! Done with it! History! We live in a society that loves disposable things.  Now we live in a society of disposable relationships. If the marriage isn’t working, pitch it, I can find someone else.  Problems in friendships?  Pitch it.  Forget them, I can get a new friend. Problems in family?  Pitch it.

We live in a society of disposable relationships. And that’s why so many people have problems keeping a friend. Because when problems come, instead of the relationship getting stronger, they ditch it.  And it’s so un-Christ like. We miss so much when we do that. Running never solves problems. There’s nothing more rewarding than a relationship that’s been through problems, and yet it comes out stronger.

If you are a follower of Jesus and in a relationship with him, do you realize how committed God is to you?  God expects us to model the relationship we have with him in our relationships with each other.

Fence Mending

Now there may be some people who need to do some fence mending. They threw away a relationship they shouldn’t have. It wasn’t over Biblical reasons; it was just over pride or over misunderstandings.  But for the moment, let’s bring up a Biblical reason.  Just about everyone can back up what they believe with Scripture and another doesn’t quite see it the same way.  There are quite a few people who have developed strong relationships until they come to that fork in the road over doctrine.  I have seen many doctrinal wars and sad to say, I have been in a few myself.  And because of the doctrinal differences, people part relationships. But God showed me something. Yes, even though we should earnestly contend for the faith, are we all living for Christ? I believe in time God will convict pure truth if a person is open to the truth of God.  But do you know what the crutch of the matter really is?  Are we living morally upright before God? We are to love our brothers and sisters and even our enemies!  I only know of one time (outside of Titus 3:10) where we are to part company from another and that is when one claims to be a believer and living in outright sin. If our pleas fall on deaf ears, then it’s time to walk away or remove the person from the assembly.  For those outside the faith?  God will judge those.

What an awful position to be in to have perfect doctrine and know all the right scriptures but yet not know Christ. In knowing HIM we will LIVE out what we believe.

Are we a living epistle? (2 Cor. 3:3) Love opens doors, not words. By our fruit we are known.  We shouldn’t be a dead letter. The world is reading us by our actions, by our words, and by what we do.

You see, a person can be 100% knowledgeable in pure doctrine, but if the same person does not do what Christ has commanded, it shows he really does not believe God, nor does he belong to God (1 John 4:7,8). If we are living for Christ, we can’t go wrong.  The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor.  The Sermon on the Mount is our guide to living for Christ.  A person doesn’t need to know one lick of doctrine if he follows the example of godly living from Jesus’ teaching on the Mount.  On Judgment day we will be judged by our works, not by our gifts or doctrine.

Do you know that song  “Bind Us Together”?   Bind us together with chords that cannot be broken.  It’s saying, “Look, no matter what comes, Lord, bind us together in these relationships with each other so that the chords will never be broken. God, keep us committed to that relationship.”

This is the last point.

How do we strengthen relationships through problems?

3. By forgiving past mistakes and offenses.

This is so VERY important.  Now some people might be thinking, “Oh yeah, do you know what that person did to me?”  “Do you know what that person said or even implied?”   It doesn’t matter.  Simply put, Unforgiveness destroys relationships.

Jesus said, Therefore if you offer your gift on the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to our brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23-24)

Staying committed to a relationship is very difficult because no two people will agree with each other at every point.  At some point in any relationship there are going to be problems and misunderstandings and unintentional or intentional hurting of each other. The relationship cannot stand when there is a record being kept of past offenses.  When we keep a record, maybe not written but in our mind, of every past offense, every past mistake in word or deed, and then we get in a good old fashion fight with our friend or with our spouse, we bring out the heavy artillery.  We start spouting off the past offenses.  We’ve got all the past mistakes, all the past blunders, all the past hurts, and it’s displayed all over again.

Again, Unforgiveness destroys relationships.  We’re talking about having a relationship and having it become stronger through problems, but until we learn to forgive past mistakes, it’s not going to happen.

What were Jesus’ words to his friends when he rose from the dead?  What did He tell those guys who forsook him, fled, and doubted Him?

John 20:19

“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. “

It doesn’t say, “…and saith unto them, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME? You ought to be ashamed. You guys are so pathetic!”  No.  What were his words? “Peace be unto you.”

Very clearly, do you know one of the things he was communicating to these guys?

You are forgiven. 

Forgiveness is the main ingredient in keeping a relationship with someone, but be warned, there are people who don’t care about the relationship even though you have forgiven. One of the facts we must face is that in some of our relationships there will not be complete reconciliation.  Some will continue to hurt us as often as they can, or those who could care less if they ever spoke with you again.  It doesn’t even matter if the person knows you have forgiven them.  Forgiving is for our benefit.  Forgiving simply means let go or put away.  Holding onto bitterness and unforgiveness is like YOU drinking poison hoping the other person dies.  We need to let go of feelings of resentment, grudges, and the need to get revenge to the person who has hurt us.

John 13:34

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should also love one another.” 

 More later….

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