“When Relationships Get Hard”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

About a month ago, I had a conversation with a sister who requested a sermon on how one should honor one’s parents.  Her own father is not a Christian and has been doing some foolish things that she has trouble respecting, so she wanted to know how to navigate that.  Naturally, I agreed to help

As I was mulling over the topic, though, it occurred to me that though important, our relationships with our parents are not unique.  Instead, the Bible defines what we should do in a number of different relationships:  with spouses, with children, with employers, with governing authorities, and with other Christians.  When we’re happy with the actions of all of the above, we don’t have much trouble with the relationship. 

However, all of those relationships can go south.  We all know people who have struggled with foolish parents, jerk spouses, wayward children, harsh employers, unfair officials, and obnoxious brethren.  Maybe we are those people.  What do we do then?  How can we glorify God in a situation like that?  With these questions in mind, let’s consider what we should do when relationships get hard.

First, we must REMEMBER OUR RESPONSIBILITY.  Consider what Peter has to say in 1 Peter 2:18-20.  In fact, everything we look at this morning will come from 1 Peter 2, so you might as well put your marker there. 

Peter starts off with a familiar idea:  that servants should submit to their masters.  Paul says similar things in Ephesians and Colossians, and even though this was written about masters and slaves, we generally apply it to employers and employees.  Peter, though, adds another dimension to this familiar teaching.  He tells Christian servants that they don’t only have to submit when their masters are gentle and good, but when they are unfair and harsh too.  In other words, in the master-servant relationship, the responsibility of the Christian servant stays the same, regardless of what the master does.

Peter makes this idea explicit here, but this is implicit in every Biblical command about human relationships.  Husbands have to love their wives with the self-sacrificing love of Christ.  This is true when your wife is a wonderful woman, but it’s also true when she’s an ill-tempered shrew.  Wives have to respect their husbands.  This is true when the husband is a wise and godly uber-leader, but it’s also true when he’s an idiot who makes 20 bad decisions every day.  Children have to honor their parents.  This is true when their parents are a credit to the Father in heaven, but it’s also true when they don’t show the sense of a five-year-old.  Under God’s law, our responsibilities to others do not change.

To worldly wisdom, this seems nonsensical.  Why should we work as hard for a rotten employer as we do for a good employer???   The answer, of course, is that we don’t do what we do for the sake of people at all.  I’m sure you all will agree that my wife is an extremely lovable person, but fundamentally, that’s not why I as a Christian love her.  I love her because God commanded me to, and even though her lovability might change, at least hypothetically, God’s commandment does not and will not.

Second, Peter tells us to ENTRUST OURSELVES TO GOD.  Let’s look here at 1 Peter 2:21-25.  Notice that by bringing in the example of Jesus on the cross, Peter turns the intensity of his argument up to 11.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but a few verses ago, when I read about slaves being beaten by their masters, that makes me cringe.  It gets a whole lot worse in this section!

Even though Peter doesn’t say so directly, this is really about Jesus and His relationship with the government that was killing Him.  The actions of the chief priests and the Romans were utterly cruel, brutal, and unjust.  They tortured and killed an innocent man.  Nonetheless, despite the suffering He endured and the mental suffering of knowing that He didn’t deserve it, Jesus neither insulted nor threatened.  Under the most severe provocation that we can imagine, He was faithful to the will of God.

Instead, Peter says, He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.  He entrusted Himself to God.  I think this was true in a couple of senses.  First, He trusted to God to help Him endure and continue to be righteous.  We should do the same.  Whenever we find our relationships growing difficult, we should pray.  We should pray for ourselves.  We should pray for them, which, notice, Jesus did too.  We should lean on God for the wisdom and strength to continue doing right.

Second, though, Jesus entrusted Himself to God by looking to God for vindication.  Jesus knew that as long as He was pleasing God, the judgment of corrupt humanity didn’t matter.  So too with us.  No matter how much those relationships frustrate us, no matter what awful things the people in those relationships say and do to us, the important thing is that we remain faithful.  If we do, we will receive eternal glory from Him.

Finally, Peter encourages us to OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.  Let’s read from 1 Peter 2:11-15.  Here, Peter explains that when Christians remain steadfast despite the slander of their enemies, they silence them and put them to shame.  To put things another way, we exert the greatest influence on foolish and evil people when we respond with wisdom and goodness. 

This is the exact opposite of the wisdom of the world.  The wisdom of the world says, “Return evil for evil.”  If somebody hurts you, get them back.  If they do something dumb, be sure to let them know how dumb it was.  The problem is, it never works. 

Just look at the recent racial unrest in our country.  There were millions of people out there who were outraged and upset about the wrongful death of George Floyd, and rightly so.  However, some of them decided in their outrage that the thing to do was to go out and riot and loot and get in fights with police.  Let’s be honest, brethren.  Did their returning evil for evil persuade others to their cause, or did it harden hearts against them?

Sadly, as all of us know all too well, returning evil for evil is so seductive.  We want to hit our jerk spouse with that zinger.  We want to make our punk kid feel about six inches tall.  In every situation, though, retaliation only makes our problems worse.

As Christians, we are called to rise above petty revenge.  We’re called to rise above the thoughtless expression of our hurt and anger.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever speak truth to someone who needs to hear it, but we have to make sure that we are speaking truth in love, and that our actions speak even louder than our words do.  Worldly wisdom only knows how to make broken relationships worse, but God’s wisdom knows how to heal them.  Continually taking the high road, even when others don’t, might seem like the road to failure, but in reality, it’s the only path to success.