We are continuing in the sermon series on ‘Rest’. Last Sunday, we had time to think together about ‘Entering into God’s Rest’. The Lord has already opened the door of salvation and is inviting us into His sabbath rest in all different areas of our lives. Among them, relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives, and this morning, we are going to focus on hope and rest in our relationships.
A group of renowned researchers conducted a long study on human happiness. They studied participants’ trajectories and their broader lives in detail and reached a conclusion. The biggest overall predictor of our happiness and fulfillment in life is our meaningful relationships with family, friends, and community. The director of the group said, ‘according to the study, loneliness kills; it is as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.’
However, many survey results on stress show that when people were asked, ‘what are the main causes of stress in your life?’, their answers always included relationship problems with their spouse, family, friends, or co-workers. It is not hard to find broken relationships around us. Actually, we all live with this challenging issue every day.
You may have wounded someone or you may have been wounded by what other people have said or done. In some cases, the scar is deep and seems like it cannot be healed at all. Many of us are experiencing hurt or relational stress. Our relationship problems are causing a lot of unrest within us.
This world is also full of broken relationships between different genders, generations, social groups, political groups, religious groups, races, and nations. They can even cause serious violence or war against each other as we can see on media every day.
Good relationships can be the greatest source of joy, but broken relationships can become the greatest source of pain. Whether we like it or not, whether we can see it or not, our lives are all impacted by one another in many ways directly or indirectly.
People often react in different ways. Some people are still active in their relationships with others while dealing with their relationship problems. However, they will get tired and exhausted when their efforts don’t work that well, and it seems like endless work. Some other people are just trying to avoid or minimize interacting with others out of fear, but loneliness grows in their hearts, which is a greater threat to their mental and spiritual health and their lives. God did not intend for us to live this way.
Why are we experiencing many relationship problems? Where do we need to start? What should we change? How can we find peace and rest in our relationships with people?
Let’s see what Paul says in Colossians 3:1-15.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Relationships in Pagan Religions
In Apostle Paul’s day, there were various other religious groups in his mission fields. Generally speaking, what they did was, they ‘came to their worship place when they needed to, bowed before an idol, put their offering on the alter, prayed for what they wanted for their lives, and went back to live the same old life that they had pursued for their own benefit.
They had said little to nothing about a relationship with their God, renewing of their hearts, direction for life, or personal morality. That makes sense because what they believed in was an idol, a counterfeit God with no life.
So, regardless of their religions, their lives were thoroughly self-centered based on human sinful nature. The relationship with God and others was not in their consideration. They were self-seeking. Atheists are similar because they believe in themselves. This is happening in this world today too.
Everyone or every group is busy to pursue what they want. Their words and deeds towards others reflect their self-seeking hearts, and this ruins all their relationships with other people. This is a fundamental reason for broken relationships. We can name many other reasons, but all our relationship problems start from there.
So, this morning, I am going to focus on this fundamental reason for relationship issues and the solution for it first, rather than talking about all the other causes of problems or answers including forgiveness. I hope we can talk about them on other days in this sermon series.
Captivating Christian Relationship
On the contrary, Christianity was totally new to societies during Apostle Paul’s days. God came to the world as a man from the heaven. He suffered, died and was resurrected for His people. In faith, all believers were united with Him in His death and resurrection and were declared as God’s children. Their hearts were renewed by the Spirit.
The perspectives of the believers dramatically changed. They highly valued their relationship with God and other people in their community. Their purpose of life was for God’s glory, not for earthly things. They desired to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Christian faith brought a whole new concept into society.
We remember that, in the early churches, their primary focus was their loving relationship with God and with one another as one family in Jesus Christ. Christian life looked very captivating and new to people at the time. So, many of them wanted to join the emerging community. God blessed the early churches with those who were brought into their relationships.
I hope our life is quite different than the pagans’ and closer to the early Christians’ in terms of our identities, values, priorities, and relationships with God and others.
Our Relationship Model: The Relationship of Our Triune God
There are many books out there to help people deal with their relationship issues. They often suggest a lot of man-made strategies or tips. Their suggestions are helpful but do not work fully because they don’t talk about the need of fundamental changes within our hearts. So, people continue to struggle.
We are followers of Christ. We always need to go back to the Lord, learn from Him, and find wisdom and peace. There is no better way than that. Unfortunately, we often look for help elsewhere.
In terms of the relationship, if we have a good model we can refer to and learn from, that would be helpful and encouraging. We are going to look at the model of the true relationship that God intends us to pursue.
The perfect relationship originates from our triune God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You already know the meaning of Trinity. So, as I say more about it, think about how your relationship with others compares to the relationship of our Triune God.
Our God is one but always exists in three persons. They are equal in power, knowledge, love, mercy, holiness, and all other qualities. Our triune God exercises and shares everything in their perfect relationship within the holy community of three. They always point to the other and serve the other. They are in an eternal loving relationship as one being. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of who He is. God Himself is love and is the perfect loving community.
We are not God, but we can get a sense of what a good relationship looks like from our Triune God: everyone is equally honored and respected. Their highest value is unconditional love. There is no competition or discrimination. There is no one controlling others. They love each other. They trust and submit to each other. They serve one another. They are so close and become like one body as a community.
Can you imagine a family or community like that? Isn’t this the relationship that we are dreaming of, and God wants us to live in? Yes, but it is not possible. We won’t be able to fully become like that, but we can set the direction and continue to pursue it with the help from the Lord. We can journey towards it.
Our Triune God extended the Relationship to Us
Our triune God eternally enjoys each other. They have never been lonely or in need of other beings. They still wanted to create us and extended the circle of the relationship to us. This action was from the loving nature of God. Everything that God wants to do or does flows from His loving heart. He created the heavens, the earth, and us.
God created us in His own image, which means we also have a deep desire and a longing for a loving relationship with God and other people within our hearts. God said, in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” What this means is that we are designed to live life with other people, not alone. If we go alone, we are going to wander and experience emptiness that can never be filled and miss out on God’s best for us.
Called to Live in the Loving Relationship with God and People
In Mark 12, Jesus talked about the greatest commandment: ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ He said, ‘There is no commandment greater than these.’ What He was talking about was that the relationship with God and other people should be our highest priority.
We have various church ministries. Aren’t they all there to improve the relationship with God and other people? No wonder Christianity is all about loving relationships. As God extended the relationship of the Triune God to us, we are called to continue extending the relationship to others.
You may still not be sure about what you should value most and what you need to pursue to live a better life. We as Christians may want to say, ‘I value relationships most’. We can check our schedule on our calendar to see where we are spending our time. Our calendar will let us know what we truly value.
People are pursuing what they think is the most important for their lives. They may have different ideas, but when the final moments come to us on the edge of eternity, it becomes so clear. What do people want or do during their last moments?
They want to see or meet once again with those who they love. They want to be with them and spend their last moments together in love. All other achievements that they pursued throughout their whole life become meaningless. The power or position they had before, awards they received, or the money in their bank account do not mean much anymore. Relationships are going to mean a lot more to you than your achievements.
During the final moments, we are going to realize that our relationship with God and those we love is what life is all about, and what Jesus said about the greatest commandment is true. I pray that people learn this truth before it is too late. We are called to live in the loving relationship with God and People which was extended to us from our Lord.
Take off the Old Self and Put on the New Self
So, we want to pursue the relationship that our Triune God extended to us. Let’s go back to today’s passage. It includes a list of what we must not do and what we must do.
Verse 5 listed what belongs to our earthly nature that we must put to death: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. Verse 8 says, ‘now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.’
These earthly things are all coming alive in our hearts when we become self centered and self-seeking. They are not only hurting others, but also ourselves. They are destroying our relationship with God and people: family, friends, and others. These self-centered desires are our enemies because they cause a lot of unrest within us and makes us lose peace and rest in our relationships. Paul is asking us to put our earthly nature to death.
In verse 12, Paul suggests that we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. These are what Christ had in His mind for us. We can find peace and rest in our relationships when we clothe ourselves with these virtues.
But these are not the things that we can do or not do by our will or strength. It is possible only when our hearts are renewed by the Lord.
Let’s look at verse 9 and 10.
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Paul is using an analogy of a person changing clothes which reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When He arose from the dead, He left the grave clothes behind, and entered a life of resurrection. With Jesus, we have also taken off our graveclothes, our old self and put on our new self.
Abide in the Lord
In the past, we committed sins because we were sinners. Now, our new self is hidden with Jesus in God. Our new self is being renewed not by our work, but in knowledge in the image of our Lord.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
You are branches. You cannot bear good fruit yourself. Everything on the list of today’s passages is not for our work. Cling to the Lord, and God will let us bear holy fruit, which will bring peace and rest to you. You will never keep the earthly nature in your hearts. Not because you have to, but because you desire to. It is not a matter of action; it is a matter of heart.
Let’s watch a one-minute video clip that was on the media.
(Video clip: Toddler besties share huge hug on sidewalk)
I don’t think these two kids had to work hard to remove all earthly natured things to have a great relationship. They just love each other. This covers all. Maxwell’s dad said ‘This is just so beautiful. If we could all be like this.’
After I watched that video, I imagined all our church members hugging each other like them and journeying together towards our next adventure.
When you set your hearts on Christ, you will be motivated by love for God and His people. Love always leads us to think that others are more important than ourselves. Jesus came to earth to give us His life. Giving and serving brings peace and joy in relationships. Our old self expects or wants something in a relationship, but our new self just loves others and wants to serve them.
Our Triune God extended their loving relationship to us and called us to enjoy His peace in that relationship. Abide in the Lord always and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, family, and community and be thankful.