I have a love-hate relationship with relationships.
I love them when they’re going well, but I hate them when they’re going poorly. I love them when they are well-established and comfortable, but I hate them when they are new and awkward. I love them when they fulfill me and make me happy, but I hate them when they hurt me and leave me empty.
Fortunately/Unfortunately, people are made for relationships…with each other and with God. Even us more introverted folks are made for relationships, and we cannot be well emotionally without participating in a few.
God knows this, which is why He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) and makes relationships the fabric of His Church.
As much as I wish it was the case sometimes, relationships are not optional.
And given that relationships between two people are always relationships between two broken relaters, we’re going to find ourselves in relationships that are hard and messy and make us want to quit and move to the beach alone forever and ever, amen, far more often than we’d like.
Which is probably why the subtitle of the New Testament letters could be “How to Get Along with People in Ways that Make God Happy.”
Every one of Paul’s and Peter’s letters is brimming with instructions on how Christians are to relate to themselves, non-Christians, other Christians, and God, in a variety of different circumstances.
I’m not excited to report that I am currently in the middle of a great friendship that is going through a very not great rough patch. As I prayed about the situation this morning, I didn’t get any direction from God on what needs to occur next in this relationship. So I opened my Bible to read it in preparation for a Sunday School lesson my teacher would be leading me in a couple hours later.
We’ve been going through the whole book of 1 Peter, and it “just so happened” that we were going to be on chapter 4 today. And it “just so happened” that this morning I couldn’t remember which portion of chapter 4 we’d be learning about, so I decided to go ahead and read the whole thing.
In the letter Peter is encouraging believers who are experiencing severe persecution to live godly lives in the midst of their suffering. And in verse 8 Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
My eyes stopped and re-read that verse three or four times.
I pretended to not know how this instruction I “just so happened” to read had anything to do with my prayer for direction in a difficult friendship I had literally prayed 1 minute and 28 seconds prior to reading this verse.
I put on my best pensive face and said, “Lord, what do you mean? How does this verse apply to me right now?”
He didn’t even dignify those questions with a response.
I went to church and successfully avoided thinking about the verse 98% of the morning. But this afternoon I started praying about my struggling relationship again, and the verse popped right back in my mind. So I grit my teeth a little and said, “Ok, Lord, let’s look at this again.”
I opened my Bible and started reading 1 Peter 4 again. But this time verse 7 stood out to me in addition to verse 8. Verse 7 reads, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”
I had never considered that when we are not clear-minded and are out of control that we really can’t pray. But I think it’s true.
I was just telling the Lord prior to reading this verse that my friend and I are both out of control. We’re both very passionate people who have big emotions that can cloud our minds and blow our judgment out of the water.
And when I am in that kind of heightened emotional state, my prayers are hindered. I still pray…but my prayers are not usually efforts to understand what God is doing so much as they are efforts to tell God I want things to go differently than they are going.
And pushing my agenda on God is not an effective way to pray. Mostly because I am a moron who can’t discern a “good” plan from a “bad” one, meaning my agendas are usually not what’s best for me or anyone around me.
I need the Spirit to override the stupidity that comes with being fallen and to lead me into truth…the truth about what’s best for me and for others. That’s the purpose of prayer: to allow the Spirit to align my heart with God’s heart. And I just can’t go to God in prayer with a level-headed aim like that when I am not clear-minded and self-controlled.
I prayed verse 7 for my friend and me, and then I went on to verse 8.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Loving each other deeply is more important than being clear-minded and more important than being self-controlled.
On the one hand, that sounds like good news for those of us who struggle with being clear-minded and self-controlled in the heat of emotions. If we can’t master those two things, maybe we can put all our energy into this most important thing and still come out all right…
But it’s really hard to love other fallen humans deeply without first having gained God’s heart for them through prayer.
He’s not giving me a pass on the clear-mindedness and self-control. He’s not saying loving each other deeply trumps having clear-mindedness and self-control, so don’t worry about those last two.
He’s saying we have to be clear-minded and self-controlled so we can be strengthened by the Spirit through prayer to love each other deeply, the most important thing of all in relationships.
Because love covers over a multitude of sins.
When we love each other deeply, we will still sin against one another. We will still blow it. We will still hurt each other. And when that happens, those things will still need to be addressed. But our deep love for one another will enable us to forgive quicker and get on with the business of loving one another all the more.
And when a watching world sees Christians who live this out–even and especially when we love/forgive/love over and over and over again–they see a picture of Christ. They see a picture of grace and mercy and redemption and unconditional love.
And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be known for?
Didn’t Jesus say, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:34-35)?
Loving is hard. Relationships are hard. I have yet to ever be in any relationship of any value that didn’t have its rough patches…but when both parties commit to persevering through the hard times, both parties become better and better at loving one another deeply, above all.