The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people, President Theodore Roosevelt once said. NASA has said the outlier of all space missions is the people dynamics. This makes sense. They can get all the science, math, and engineering figured out but the people dynamics can be up for grabs. I guess that could be true for all earth missions as well.
Relationships can be the source of our greatest joys and our greatest pain. They can be the glue that holds things together or the wildfire that burns, incinerates, and destroys with indiscriminate direction and destruction.
The better our relationships are, the better our life will be. And the inverse is true: the worse our relationships are, the worse life will be for us. Here are four guiding principles grounded in the Scriptures to help us to flourish in relationships:
- Simple relationship implementation is more important than complex relationship theory.
When it comes to relationships, it comes down to what you do and how you act and respond. It is not a matter of how much information you have been exposed to and how many theories you have stored in your head.
The Scriptures tends to give less “broad theology” and more specific guidelines when it comes to discussion on relationships. It focuses less on theory and more on practical application. That makes total sense, doesn’t it?
Here are some examples:
- “Don’t covet what others have.”—Exodus 20:17
- “Don’t steal from others and don’t lie to each other.”—Leviticus 19:11
- “Watch your language.”—Ephesians 4:29
- “Love one another.”—John 13:34
- “Put others ahead of yourself when possible.”—Philippians 2:3
- “Be a peacemaker if possible.”—Romans 12:18
Theologians and pastors for years have called the relationship dynamic “One-anothering … one another.”
God’s relational laws are not mysterious topics that lend themselves to lofty theological discourses, like, say, the study of God’s omniscience, the end times, or the Trinity. They’re not theoretical; they focus on implementation.
The business community gets this, too. Whitney Johnson wrote an article titled, “For a Career that Lasts, Build Real Relationships.” It’s not that difficult of a concept—relationships matter and doing them trumps talking about them.
- Good relationship guidelines apply equally to everyone.
Relationship guidelines apply to everyone, regardless of position, economic status, gender, race, or culture. It was just as wrong for King David to lust after Bathsheba, commit adultery with her, and then murder her husband as it would have been for any anonymous Israelite to do such things.
There isn’t one set of rules for someone just starting a career and another set for someone who just received a 20-year service pin. Nor is there one batch of guidelines for the successful stars in society and another for the rest of us. When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves in Matthew 22:39, He included everyone from the corporate attorney to the factory line worker.
- Relationship wisdom is linked to our ability to receive instruction from others.
We all need tutoring along the way and some of us need more than others. (I’m definitely in that group.) Relationships are like dancing or playing tennis—one party moves and then the other party moves. Or one person volleys then people on the other side of the net respond. Relationships by definition require more than one person.
Living every day puts us in a never-ending laboratory of relationship development. Proverbs 19:20 says, “Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.”
But of course, the key word is “getting” the help. Getting advice and instruction means asking for it from others and accepting it when it is given. Accepting help is its own kind of strength.
- Relationship renewal is a sign that we understand God’s redemption.
Much of the Bible focuses on renewing relationships. The Gospel is the framework for all vertical and horizontal renewal. And yes, they are interrelated. Sometime, cruise through the Gospels looking for any and all references to relationships. You will be astounded.
For example, Jesus tells one story that highlights this—the parable of the unmerciful servant. It’s the story of a master who responds to the pleas of his servant and cancels a massive debt, letting the servant off free. Then, the servant walks out the door, sees a co-worker who owes him money and immediately throws him into debtor prison.
That’s exactly the response Jesus wanted to get in His listeners. The parable reveals that if we aren’t willing to forgive others—that is, if we refuse to renew a breached relationship—then we don’t understand redemption. And if we don’t understand redemption, then we don’t understand the Gospel.
People in all walks of life have long known that relational skills are key. I work in the business world and it’s certainly key there. Years ago, Mark McCormack wrote a best seller titled What They Don’t Teach You in Harvard Business School and said, “Whether it is a matter of closing a deal or asking for a raise, of motivating a sales force of 5,000 or negotiating one to one, of buying a new company or turning around an old one, business situations almost always come down to people situations.”