Relationships: Building Deeper Friendships

This entry is part [part not set] of 10 in the series Relationships - Buck McCallum

Relationships: Building Deeper Friendships

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Relationships and ministry

I want to talk about our relationships here because there are very few things as foundational as this to the Lord’s work.  In fact, sometimes I wonder why even make a distinction between relationships and the Lord’s work, because if we’re conducting a biblical relationship with someone (practicing biblical love), then we are ministering.

But there is a distinction.  Because sometimes I can minister without a relationship.  And we have had some worker’s meetings on that issue.  For example, often times we are ministering the Word of God.  In these cases our relational contact with that person can be very shallow.  In fact, when we teach, which is also ministry, we may not even know the people we are teaching to.  So it is possible to have ministry without relationship.  But let me go on and say, not very much ministry.  Not very much at all.

In I Cor. 13, where Paul talks about the uselessnes of knowledge, tongues, prophecy and even sacrifice without love, I think one of the things he is saying is that the real business isn’t getting done without love.  In order to truly be serving God and making an impact, we need love in our lives.

Requires a friendship

One thing I would like to establish right away is that in order to have biblical love practiced in our lives, this requires deep friendships.  I say this because some people feel like they can love people, in general.  But does love require depth and commitment to an intimate friendship?

I know that people ask this question because I have asked it repeatedly myself.  Do you really have to practice biblical love in the context of a close and commited friendship?

Pro. 18:24 – A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  He is saying that a true friend is truly close and loyal–closer than a brother!.  And that many of these cursory friendships we have may come to nothing.

And of course there are the many descriptions of what is involved in a relationship which simply require commitment and loyalty.  We’ll get to some of these in a moment.

A shortage of good relationships

Before I go into saying a few things about relationships, let me say that there is always a shortage in this area.  I mean, if we had it together in this area our church would be explosive.  Jesus made the connection between effective witness to the world and our love for each other in John 13.  I don’t need to elaborate on this too much.

The funny thing is, I ask home church leader after leader how they think the relationships are in their church.  “Do you think enough people have close relationships?”  And the answer is almost universally, “Yes, I think we are doing pretty good there.  Our problem is with outreach.”  Or, “Our problem is with follow up.”  And then I always feel a little bad because when I look at my church, and this is nothing new, I see a real shortage of the depth of relationship that I see described in the Bible.

So, I begin to suspect that maybe this is something people are unaware of.  Maybe we are using different standards when we say, “I think the relationships are pretty good in our church.”

Our standards need to be high in this area.  Because if they aren’t, then people will start getting the impression that this is something they can do–which is a most grevious mistake when it comes to relationships.

Example: Take me for example.  I have always been really bad at love relationships.  But I’m actually glad for that.  I’m glad because I’ve never been able to say to myself, “Well at least I’m a loving person.”  So many people tell themselves that.  I was talking to one person lately (who would be upset if I used her name, but she lives in my house with me) and she said, “I’ve always been good at relationships!”

Love relationships are impossible.  Love, in the biblical sense, is the one thing in our life which definitely requires a miracle.  If we think that the relationships are great in our church, that’s one in the same with saying we’ve got a lot of people who are really walking in the Spirit.

So, there is a strong case to be made for setting our standards real high.  It calls people to pray, to be humble, to see their need for God’s hand in their relationships.

I want to talk about just a couple of things that I see rarely see happening enough in relationships.  Obviously we could go on and on, but I just want to talk about a few things.


Put the thing in here from Jourard (p. 29 of F.F.).

The Bible agrees

Is this so according to the Bible?  In fact, the Bible  says precisely this.

Ps. 32:3 – “My bones wasted away,” what a powerful way to talk about the effect of silence and secrecy.  He is saying that his bones felt old, weary, worn out.  He felt like he wanted to flop down in evey chair he saw.  In the morning, he would feel sore at the thought of getting out of bed.

And this is just from one sin!  Some of us have a lifetime of secrets we are holding.  Some Christians aren’t honest with anyone!  There’s some real sadness going on there.

Example: Now when some of these non-Christians or even Christians go around acting like their life is so good, that they are enjoying their money or their good times with women or men, don’t you believe it for one second.  They have only temporary relief.  They have only moments of relief from the feeling that accompanies them all the time–and that is the feeling of the sinking heart or the weary bones.  But they focus on those few moments of relief they get and pretend that’s what their life is like.

Some Christians dispute the need for this.

Now if you’re like me, or if you have worked with people like me, then you have found that some Christians doubt the need to be really honest about their problems and sins.  There are a lot of people that feel the scriptures do not necessarily teach honesty with one another.  Have you ever been challenged with this?

Example: Even the passage we just read in Ps. 32 can be construed to say that David was wasting away as long as his sin was unconfessed before God.  Because David says, “I finally acknowledged my sin to you.”  However, if we recall the story itself, David was also exposed publicly.  So his confession to God also involved exposure to people.

Nevertheless, this passage is not where I would stake the case that there is a need for real honesty between us.  I would simply point out from Ps. 32 that dishonesty and hiding issues has the effect of wearing away at us.

I think a couple very good passages on honesty are Heb. 3:13 and James 5:16

I think the passage of James 5 is significant because v. 16 is in contrast to what comes before.  What comes before, you will remember, is a discussion of what should happen if someone is so ill that they need the prayer and attention of the elders of the church.  So here is a situation where things have gotten so extreme that the elders have to be called in (I don’t want to get into what might cause that.).  The point is that v. 16 starts, “Therefore confess your sins to one another.”  The “therefore” is used to resume, or infer something slightly different than that which preceeds it.  James is saying, “Rather than letting things get to the point of calling the elders, confess your sins and pray for one another to stay well.”

The idea is that a regular diet of confession and prayer for one another is going to result in our well-being.

Likewise, Hebrews 3:13 is very important in our teaching of honesty.  Note that he says we ought to encourage one another daily.  And this is an excellent point in itself for saying that the majority of our work with each other ought to be building each other up and encouraging one another.  But see the point of encouraging at the end of the verse, “in order that no one is hardened by the decietfulness of sin.”  The point of encouragement is to help each other with our sins.  The point is to set our perspective straight, to clear away the cobwebs that come from sin.

I think there can be no other way to work this out practically except to say that we are being honest with each other about our weaknesses, and then getting help from each other.  We’re airing things out and then getting another brother or sister’s perspective on things so that we won’t be hardened.  And look!  He says, “Do it every day!”

I kind of doubt that very many people in our churches follow this guideline.  I’m not trying to get negative about the relationships we have.  I’m just trying to point out that we probably have a lot of work to do in this area.

Honesty brings understanding

This McGinnis guy, who wrote, The Friendship Factor, says that you never really understand yourself till you reveal yourself to someone else.  I see this as true.  There is something about having to explain ourselves to someone else that brings clarity.  They want a logical presentation of random, often unconnected feelings.  And this brings things together for us.

They bring clarity to things that otherwise we would have decieved ourselves about.

Here’s the thing I want to say about honesty in our relationships.  Is their anyone in your life, that when you don’t disclose something, your conscience bothers you?


Beyond our marriages

I want to take the time on this point to talk about the issue of relationships outside of marriage.  Because I think a lot of people feel that their close friendship is with their spouse, and then if they can be generally friendly with other folks, that’s nice too.

I want to disagree with this notion.  First on the biblical grounds that our love should not be so limited.

Luke 6:32

Probably most of you have heard Luke 6:32 applied to the idea that we ought to have love relationships outside our families.  This is where Jesus says, “What credit is it if you love them that love you?”

And I think there is an application here.  Jesus is challenging us to go beyond that tight circle that we call “my kind of people,” whether it’s our family or some other group.

Love your neighbor

But remember, the very command to love–what Jesus called one of the two greatest commandments–is directed not at our families, but at our neighbor.  The command to love is directed out there.

Biblically speaking, loving your family is another way of loving your own self.  You are one.  You spouses are one flesh.

Example: Paul says in I Tim. 5:8 that “if anyone does not provide for his own, especially his own household, he is worse than an unbeliever and has denied the faith!”

It is absolutely basic, fundamental that we love our family.  Even the non-Christians at least try to do that.  Christian love goes beyond our own selves, though.  The love of Christ goes to those outside.

Our relationships reflect our marriage

But secondly, I want to object on the grounds that these marriage relationships that people say is their begin- and end-all, are not as healthy as we think they are.  Often our marriages are where we get used to the rut of various sins.  For the first couple years we fight about the sins of the other person that bother us.  Then we start to accept them and figure out how to cope.  But after many years, if people haven’t divorced, they are often resigned to some very lazy and damaging relating styles.

Example: A wife will get used to a husband’s lack of involvement to the point that she is amazed when he takes a whole day away from T.V. or work to spend with her and the kids.  “What’s wrong honey?  Have you been having an affair or something?”

Example: A husband will get used to his wife’s pushing and whining to the point that the frequency of her voice is one he doesn’t even hear anymore.  He can go right on reading, watching T.V. or whatever it is even though she’s screaming at him in the background.

The point is that we have a subtle feeling of closeness, but the truth is that we have just grown numb to things.

And this goes for the more faithful, tribal relationships that we would often be tempted to call “successful.”  The infantile-difuse types of people just get divorced as soon as they can’t take it anymore.  Then they move on to the next love of their life.

I am going to say that the quality of relationship you have outside your marriage is a gauge of how things are within the marriage.

Example: Why is it that most American men, by the time they are 40, have absolutely no real friends outside their families?  They may have budies that they pal around with.  But they are at such a personal distance that it would be totally awkward to share, for example, how he has been feeling about himself lately.  Are these friendless American males this way because they are so busy loving their families?  NO!  It’s because they are the same way with their families!  They are just as distant and cold . . .

And we could come up with examples for women, but I’m already accused of being sexist all the time so I think I’ll keep my mouth shut and just pick on men.

So, when you ask yourself, “How are my love relationships?”  Don’t look at your marriage.  We have too much of an ability to decieve ourselves their and just grow numb to our own sinfulness.  Like I said, marriage can be the rut-builder for all our pet sins.  Instead, look to the people who don’t have to live with you.  Look to the people who don’t have to tolerate you.  how are things with them?

Practical steps towards honesty

Now it’s all to easy to say that we ought to be honest with each other.  Everybody probably kind of knows this anyway.  But when it comes down to it, I find that honesty is kind of hard to do.

Example: Here you are after a meeting with a few friends, and you say, “Look, I’ve been having these lustful thoughts lately . . .”  It’s just as likely to be met with a joke as with a good ear.  It’s an awkward situation.

This is why it is that we need to have the right setting for self-disclosure.  You have to be intentional about this kind of thing.  It won’t do to have a regular time with someone and hope that you are honest with each other.  You could just as easily spend your whole time talking about other people, or about sports or anything.

So we need a setting for being honest about ourselves.  I will say two things need to be there.  First, the setting needs to be intimate.  By intimate I mean a setting which is conducive to conversation . . .

Secondly, the setting needs to be long-term.  I mean that honesty doesn’t happen in one hour unless you are with a counselor.  Then you feel, “I’m going to get me $50 worth, so let’s get down to it!”  But with friends it’s not that way.  It takes a long time to come out with stuff.  I mean a long time.

That’s why, if you are considering getting a relationship going with someone where you want honesty, consider taking a weekend together to go somewhere . . .

Once one of these relationships is started, you still have to keep things going with long periods of time together.

Example: If you’re like me, I don’t even think about telling someone about myself until I’ve been with them a long time.  This is because I have such a natural inclination away from honesty.  There are tons of more interesting things to talk about before me.  So I have to exhaust those first, then I’ll get around to myself.

Lot’s of time.  If you are face to face with someone for a long time, you eventually have to get down to some content.

Affecting each other’s feelings

The second area I want to talk about is the area of affecting each other’s feelings.  Now, when you are in a relationship with someone this is how you touch that person in a relational way, through their feelings.  It’s amazing how simple this is, but a lot of us don’t understand it or believe it at all.

Example: I went for years as a Christian asking the simple question, “Why do I have to have a feelings-encounter with someone in order to be their friend?”  And the funny thing was how few people were able to answer my question!

The Scriptures demand it

Jesus said we are to love God with our emotions (Mark 12:30).  This is what the saying, “Love God with all your heart” means.  The heart refers to turning your emotional engergy towards God.  And one of the ways we are to do this is in worship, but also in our times of prayer with God . . .

I Pet. 1:22 – I like I Peter 1:22 along these lines because Peter uses the same idiom for the way we ought to be with each other, except he really exaggerates it.  In effect he says, “wholeheartedly love each other from the heart.”  He is saying, “really pour it on.”  And he is emphasizing that we show all the loving emotions we can.

Beyond these passages there are those that tell us to be “kind” and warm to each other, which are the more positive types of emotion (2 Pet. 1:7; I Cor. 13:4).

And there is Paul’s own example of emotional attachment to his co-workers like Timothy and Titus (2 Co. 2:13; I Cor. 4:17)

Do you effect someone?

Now, when I say that there has to be an emotional exchange between people, let me quantify it in this way:  Is there anyone in your life who you consciously, intentionally, and even by way of declaration, intend to affect their emotions?

What I mean is that there are obviously people who I have good talks with and warm times with.  These are emotional exchanges.  In fact, it is hard to have an encounter with someone without effecting their emotions.  We do it automatically.  So I am not talking about just having an emotional impact on someone.

When you work on a deep, biblically loving relationship, you are consciously trying to sharpen your impact on that person.  You are trying to make yourself better at it.  What I’m talking about is someone who you say, “I’m going to effect his emotions.  And I’m going to let him effect mine.”

Example: This is the kind of thing you ought to declare somehow with someone.  Because your intention needs to be clear.  This is a way of being vulnerable and putting yourself on the line, to state up front that you intend to have a good effect on someone’s emotions and you would very much like them to have an effect on yours.

How can we do this?  The way I have described it is somewhat clinical.  But it boils down to some very simple, yet hard to say statements like,

“I feel good to be around you.  I want to really work at this relationship.”

“You’re one of the few people I really feel comfortable around.  I consider our relationship to be kind of stabilizing and needed in my life.”

These kinds of statements communicate that the other person has an effect on you, but also that you are commited to the relationship to make it work better.  But this is just the beginning.

You have to regularly sharpen your ability to have an emotional effect on someone.  This is only done by communicating about how we effect each other.  This is something that some married folks have learned–that you have to have regular dialogue about how you effect each other or else you will get calloused and numb to the sins of your marriage.

So, you have to ask, “How did I make you feel when I did this or that?”

Or the general question, “How have you been feeling about me lately?”

The sad truth is, very few married couples do this, and even fewer single people do it.

Example: When I was talking to my cell group about feelings, and I suggested that they might want to have this kind of conversation with someone, their mouths dropped to the floor.  “No way! (they thought I was being wildly exaggerated) You mean you would actually ask someone how you make them feel?!  What a bizzare question!”

I just had to shake my head and wonder “what have I been teaching these guys?”

How else do we know we are impacting someone personally?

Think about it.  How else do we know we are impacting someone personally?

Example: I might be having an effect on the things someone knows.  I might as well program a computer.

Example: I might be having an effect on someone’s behavior, I might as well be a trainer, or a Bible teacher, or a paid counselor.

That’s not a love relationship.

But it is when I, as a person have an effect on you as a person that we start to talk about how we make each other feel.  There is no such thing as personal impact and interaction apart from our feelings, whether we acknowledge it or not.

So, if we are going to grow at love, then we have to consciously hone our ability to effect someone’s feelings.  We have to be vulnerable by stating our intention to do so.  And we have to follow through with regular discussions about how we make each other feel.

Now, how many people in your home church do this?

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