THE LAW OF RELATIONSHIPS
I taught this at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, November 11, 2018. The Bible passage is James 2:1-13.
INTRODUCTION: EVERYTHING IS RELATIONSHIPS
Back in the 1980's when Kim and I were dating, we sat in on a talk given by Joe Stowell to a group of college students. Back then, he was a pastor in Indiana, but today he is the president of Cornerstone University. I don't remember much from ther 80's, but I remember his talk because he said something I had never even thought of before (I know, I know) and it rocked my world. He said, "Everything is relationships." That's not what I believed at the time. But he was correct then, and I believe it now. Everything is relationships.
That's why we're taking three weeks to look at EQ: Relational Intelligence. Today, our focus is on THE law of relationships. It's a very simple principle found in James 2. We'll look at it in a moment and then we'll figure out a simple way to put it into practice.
The other day, I was listening to Evan Marwell speak. He's a very successful and very busy entrepreneur, but he spends one-third of his time cultivating his network. He was talking about his relationships with hundreds of people around the world. Why? He knows that business is relationships.
The law of relationships is simple to remember, tough to follow, and really helpful everywhere - home, work, neighborhood, wherever. It always works. This is why James gives us some detailed teaching in 2:1-13. Before we go any further, let's figure out what he said ...
JAMES AND THE LAW OF RELATIONSHIPS
Let's take a moment and get a bird's eye view of James 2. At first glance, it seems sort of long and complicated, but it's actually really simple. Take a look at the chart on the screen. The passage goes like this:
Verse 1-4: Illustration of the law of relationships: favoring some people over others.
Verses 5-7: Theology of the law of relationships: 1). All people have the same God-given value. 2). God loves all people and does not play favorites.
Verses 8-11: The law of relationships - "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31). It's the royal law because King Jesus taught it to us:
Verses 12-13: Application. We keep the law of relationships when we show favor, love and mercy to everyone.
The law of relationships is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself" - James 2:8. If we follow this simple principle, we'll never be short of friends. We'll heal our marriages and families. We'll gain favor and promotion at work. People will seek us out for counsel, encouragement, wisdom.
Why does such a simple law work so powerfully?
WHY THE LAW OF RELATIONSHIPS WORKS
A. IT WORKS BECAUSE IT'S SIMPLE
It's simple to memorize. One short sentence. "Love your neighbor as yourself." I remember in high school trigonometry trying to memorize the formulae. There were so many of them and I just couldn't do it. I really struggled to remember them on exams. But the law of relationships is simple to memorize.
And it's simple to explain: love everyone, no exceptions. Jesus made it real simple to understand. He told a parable to answer the question, who is my neighbor; ie., who should I love? We call it the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). It's a clever story about two enemies. One got beaten up and left for dead on the road. The other found him and bandaged him up and took him to a hotel. He paid for his room and board until he got better.
What was the point of the story? Everyone is a neighbor. Therefore, love everyone. Even enemies, strangers, and people who aren't like us: they don't believe like us, look like us, dress like us. You get the point. King Jesus says, love everyone, no exceptions. Simple!
B. IT WORKS BECAUSE IT'S EMOTIONAL
Why do animal shelters raise money with pictures of puppies? Because what we feel directs what we do. Emotions are powerful motivators.
The law of relationships works because it doesn't just say, be loving in a general sort of way. No, it tells us to love our neighbor, a real flesh and blood human with hopes and hurts, and needs, and dreams. When we walk in their shoes, our emotions kick in. We feel what they feel. Empathy and compassion are like shots of adrenaline and we want to do something to help.
Jesus showed us how this is done. When Lazarus died, Jesus visited with his sisters, Mary and Martha. He felt their grief and sorrow - that's empathy and compassion. And the Bible says that Jesus wept (John 11:35). Then he raised Lazarus back to life.
The law of relationships works because it speaks to head and heart.
C. IT WORKS BECAUSE IT'S PERSONAL
That little phrase, "as yourself," makes it easy to know what to do. Say someone you know is sick and needs a hand. You ask yourself, what should I do to love this hurting person? Answer: Well, if that was me in that situation, what would I want done for me?
James wants us to take some of the energy we use on loving ourselves and pour it out on someone else. Jesus said it like this:
(Matthew 7:12) "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."
When I turn from "I" to "you," my relationships change. "I" is proud, bitter, jealous, angry, vengeful, wants its own way. All the stuff that makes healthy relationships so challenging.
James tells us the "I" must die. Then, I'm free to love "you." That's why he calls it "the law that gives freedom" - verse 12. It frees us from self and it frees us from God's correction - "judgment" - verse 13.
PUTTING THE LAW OF RELATIONSHIPS TO WORK
Let's talk about how to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is sort of generic, so it's helpful to use another word James uses - verse 13 mercy. We love our neighbor by showing mercy to everyone, everywhere, always. What does mercy look like?
I have so many stories about Cornerstone people who show mercy. I'm inspired by them and I wish I could share them all today. But we have to settle for a brief bullet list. All of these can be found in the stories about Jesus. He did mercy all the time: healing, feeding, delivering, encouraging, forgiving, accepting. Just read the Gospels.
Mercy brings healing, not hurt. Situation: When someone is at rock bottom, maybe by their own poor decisions. Avoid criticizing. Focus on encouraging.
Mercy offers restoration, not condemnation. Situation: When someone has done wrong, especially to us. Avoid rejection. Focus on connection, such as positive touch and words, anything that communicate love, forgiveness, acceptance, or blessing.
Mercy makes bad things better, not worse. Situation: When someone is in a pickle and does not know what to do. Avoid gloom and doom. Focus on positive steps towards a solution. Teach faith in God's promises. Give hope.
Mercy is loyal, not conditional. Situation: When it's tough to stand by and watch a spouse or friend, or stranger who is broken, down and out, or de-humanized by such things as addiction, bad choices, godlessness. Avoid walking away. Focus on being there through thick and thin.
is active, not passive. It does something: whatever is loving, best, needed.
I could go on and on. Work on showing mercy to everyone, everywhere, always. That will improve every relationship in your life.
EMBER LIDDIARD: MESSENGER OF MERCY
This is a small excerpt of Em Liddiard's victim's speech to the man who caused a tragic car crash that resulted in her broken back and the death of three of her friends. She spoke directly to the man in court.
This was an act of mercy. She told the district attorney that she did not wish to pursue charges against the man because God told her to be a messenger of mercy:
I had a desire to somehow send you a letter or let you know that I don’t hate you, but rather want to extend forgiveness to you. I know that in a very true sense of the word, this was an accident. You had no intention to hurt anyone, nor do I think that you realized that your choice to keep driving would result in such a tragic outcome.
Nevertheless, we can see now in retrospect that had you chosen to stay home or pull over, all of this heartache, pain, and the loss of 3 lives could have been avoided. And so I can only imagine the feelings of guilt or regret you may feel, perhaps wishing you had made different decisions on February 3. There are consequences to our choices that we and others still have to bear, but God can forgive us for those poor choices themselves.
Likewise, we will bear the scars and devastating loss of life as a result of your choices February 3, but I want you to know that I do not hate you or harbor anger or a grudge towards you.
CONCLUSION: RECEIVE GOD'S LOVE AND MERCY
Showing mercy is a foreign concept to many people. It doesn't take long to see examples of that in our politics, justice system, schools, families, and even our churches. There is so much hate, name calling, intentional hurt, discrimination, revenge, and cruelty. Why?
It is very difficult to show mercy when we haven't ever experienced mercy. The beauty of the Christian faith is that God pours into us what he wants to channel through us. We give away what we have received.
The greatest act of love and mercy ever was shown to us in Jesus Christ. He is God in human form. God humbled himself and became a man for us. He lived a truly human life for us. He obeyed God for us. He went to the cross for us, bore our sins in his body for us, rose again for us, is interceding in heaven for us, and will come again for us.
It was all for us. Was it because we're all so good and perfect that we deserved his attention and sacrifice? Had we earned his love? Nothing could be further from the truth. God came to us because we had rejected and run away from him. It was while we were awful sinners that Christ died for us, took our punishment and cleansed our guilt in order to forgive us and restore us to God.
Christianity in its essence is about God's love and mercy on undeserving, spiritual failures like us. That experience, in turn, leads us to become people who show love and mercy to all, even those who do not deserve it.
Before you leave here today, I want you to be sure you've received God's love and mercy like that. He did not hurt, he healed. We weren't rejected, he connected. We weren't condemned, we were restored. He brought hope into our darkness.
Have you received all that? Just open your heart to his free offer. Tell him something like this:
"God, I don't deserve your love and forgiveness, but I desperately need it. I can't earn it, so please show me mercy and give it to me free of charge, as a gift. I receive like a spiritual beggar, empty handed, in need. Thank you God."