We Can Get Along — Really!

Instructions for Christian Households. This is the heading in my Bible for Ephesians 5:21-6:9. It is way too generic or vanilla for my liking. And it certainly doesn’t motivate me to read further. I mean, who wants a bunch of boring instructions?

Let’s face it, simple instructions just won’t do when it comes to handling the complex and often complicated dynamics of relationships. As we all know, family life can be tough, painful and sometimes too much to bear, even for those families who know Christ and are in Christ.

Household is another word I’m not crazy about. Again, it reeks of everything plain, common and domestic. It misses the “wow factor” of the passage. This section of Scripture is about people – husbands and wives, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and sometimes, other folks as well – who are sharing life together in a very intimate setting.

The point that Paul is making is that families can experience powerful and genuine relationships. The home does not have to be a place of tension and stress and angst. Living together under one roof, we can get along.

But how?

Paul begins this section with these words: “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.” Yes, he is specifically writing to Christians, Christians who know after reading his letter that they

  • have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3),
  • have been adopted to sonship in Christ (Ephesians 1:5),
  • have redemption through the blood of Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7),
  • have been marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who guarantees their inheritance (Ephesians 1:13, 14),
  • have been given God’s incomparably great power, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19)
  • have been made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5),
  • have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8),
  • have been created anew in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10),
  • have access to the Father through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18),
  • have the freedom and confidence to approach God through faith in Christ (Ephesians 3:12),
  • have Jesus Christ dwelling in their hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17),
  • have the power to know and experience the love of God (Ephesians 3:18),
  • have been added to the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16) and
  • are light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8).

The entire book of Ephesians provides the context for Paul’s vision for family relationships. This vision is moored to the wealth of riches that are ours in Christ Jesus, and it is animated by the incomparable power God has given us through His Spirit.

Submission one to another, wives submitting to their husbands, husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church is the fruit of God’s grace and power. Otherwise this section can be reduced to a set of instructions that are impossible to carry out.

As children of God, we are alive in Jesus Christ, empowered by His Spirit, and blessed with all the treasures of God’s grace. Perhaps we should give this section a new heading – Grace Filled, Spirit Led Relationships. This tells us that yes, we can get along, really!

Skateboarding, the Law and Relationships

The doorbell rang. Jeanna opened the door and there stood a police officer. A neighbor had registered a complaint against us. According to the officer, Coleman and his friends were making too much noise on his skateboard ramp.

We knew the ramp was loud. We had spoken to our neighbor several times about the noise issue. He asked that Coleman limit his skateboarding on the ramp to 45 minutes and only skateboard during the day. Coleman was willing to make this concession, so these terms were agreed upon.

Our neighbor held to a strict interpretation of the agreement. 45 minutes meant 45 minutes. At the first sound of Coleman zooming down the ramp, our neighbor would appear at his back door with watch in hand.

But soon even the 45 minutes was too much to bear. He was retired, and dealing with noisy neighbors was not part of his retirement plan.

He went to City Hall to research the noise ordinances. He pored over the documents,  highlighting all the possible violations on our part. He then met with the police officer, shared his findings and asked that he issue a citation to us. The officer did not agree with our neighbor’s interpretation of the code, but he was obligated to meet with us to discuss the problem.

Soon the problem took care of itself. Coleman lost interest in skateboarding and the ramp began to rot. The interesting aspect of the story is that when our neighbor brought the city ordinances into the picture, a code that he believed stood against us, he stopped talking with us. The law had placed a barrier between us. Any vestiges of a relationship were gone.

We eventually took the ramp down. Our neighbor watched from his window as we did, but he never ventured out to speak with us. That was sad to me. We wanted to be good neighbors, and I know in his heart of hearts he wanted that as well.

This story reminds me of Peter’s actions in Antioch. Paul told the story in his letter to the Galatians. Under pressure from the Judaizers, Peter decided to rebuild the Jewish law in his life regarding the Gentile converts, which meant they had to follow Jewish customs, including circumcision, in order to be embraced by Jewish believers. This became a barrier that stood between Peter and the Gentile believers. As a result, Peter  withdrew from them and ended all relationships. Law does that. It is not the foundation on which to build relationships.

Jesus is the One who brings us together. As Paul wrote, “for he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Ephesians 2:14, 15). The law divides and causes hostility. But all that changes when relationships are built in Christ. He is the foundation for strong, healthy relationships.

Some six months after we tore down the skateboard ramp , my neighbor saw me mowing the yard and stopped to speak. He shook my hand and said, “We got off on the wrong foot, can we start over?” The barrier was gone. And now we’re on the road to becoming good neighbors.

How about you? Has the law become a wall of hostility in any of your relationships?

How to Have More Meaningful Relationships

God’s process in our lives is this: first life, then change. Transformation occurs after we have been made alive together with Christ. Most often we think in terms of internal changes, such as fear turning to peace, or restlessness becoming contentment. But the Gospel also transforms our relationships.

As we grow in our knowledge of Christ and learn to abide in Him, we bear the fruit of His love for others. That is the key to more meaningful and fulfilling relationships. John and Paul explain:

  • “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 (NIV)
  • “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
  • “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7 (NIV)

Healthy relationships are built on the foundation of God’s love. If you want to love others, forgive others and accept others, start with the love of God. Ask the Lord to teach you the “as I have” truths. As I have loved you, forgiven you and accepted you.

From that foundation, you can experience meaningful and fulfilling relationships.