Understanding human relationships, especially how to mend them, is the subject of much study and concern in our present society. Countless self-help books and programs, thousands of counselors and attorneys to make people happy and provide justice, and a law enforcement system, that is breaking under the strain to keep everyone safe, attest to the lack of healthy relationships in our world today.

But according to the gospel message, reconciliation is possible between people as they become reconciled to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Memory Text: “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Romans 5:10 NKJV

One would think that following Pentecost, the disciples would have instant relationship recovery with each other and never have to deal with “people problems” in the early church again. Surely the church, so on fire for God with true revival and reformation in a big way, would never have to deal with friction amongst themselves at least in their lifetime, would they?

Unfortunately, this first church, so right in all their doctrines and beliefs, still experienced strained relationships and conflicts from time to time. And we explored some of these examples in our study this week. We must glean from their stories how to overcome barriers and experience true love for each other, for without this love our revival and reformation is doomed to failure.

Sunday: From Fracture to Friendship

The story of Paul and Barnabas and their temporary separation reveals much about the diverse personality, the weaknesses and strengths of character, that were still evident in Christians fairly soon after Pentecost. God does not make “cookie cutter” Christians. We retain our human nature; it just becomes infiltrated more and more with divine nature as we grow in our spiritual journeys. Becoming like Jesus doesn’t mean becoming like each other. We pattern our characters after His, not our fellow brothers in the church.

This is why Paul was not able to condone or accept the action of the young evangelist John Mark, when he left his fellow workers as their circumstances became too difficult and unpleasant for him to bear. It was not in Paul’s nature to allow for this kind of flighty behavior in the young preacher.

Barnabas, on the other hand, seemed to take a more fatherly role here and allowed John Mark this infraction of duty. He sensed that immaturity, not devotion to service, was the motivating factor in his departure and was more than happy to welcome him back into their missionary efforts at a later time.

Read about this difference of opinion between the two great evangelists and their later parting of ways it led to in Acts 15:36-39. Most amazing was the renewed relationships that sprang from this incident. We aren’t sure how the reconciliation happened, but Colossians 4:10-11 and II Timothy 4:11 indicate that Paul at some point did accept John Mark as a fellow laborer in the field.

Discussion Questions: What can be done to bring about this kind of agreement between church members today? Is it possible to design our ordinance of humility and communion services in such a way that this process of reconciliation is encouraged in the church? In what other ways can we learn to forgive those who have hurt or disappointed us? Does it always lead to a complete restoration of the relationship? Does it need to?

Monday: From Slave to Son

When Paul discovered that Onesimus was an escaped slave of someone he knew from the church of Colossae, it must has disturbed him to think of the hardship this life of a runaway slave would be, even though he had accepted the Christian message from Paul in Rome and given his life to God.

Philemon was a leader in the church at Colossae. Surely, with a letter of recommendation from Paul, he would accept Onesimus into his household and allow him to serve him again, as Christian brothers in these positions would be expected to do.

This letter constitutes the book of Philemon in the Bible. Here we see the curious enactment of Paul’s counsel to the Galatians, found in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” NKJV

Verse 16 of Philemon admonishes him to receive his former slave: “no longer as a slave but more than a slave–a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Of course, the tender tone of this letter shows that Philemon’s forgiveness should not be forced, but it should be given from a heart of love. And it also allows that Onesimus is willing for restitution to be paid for the harm he may have caused his former master. With each party offering love in different ways the cause of restoration would have success.

Discussion Questions: How can having a “classless” church environment improve the ministry performed by the church? Are the rich and poor truly integrated in our congregations? In what ways, can we encourage increased understanding and love for each member, even those on the fringes of society?

Tuesday: From Comparison to Complement

Several passages in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians revealed animosities among the church there. He reminds them repeatedly that all of God’s spiritual gifts are different, but the Holy Spirit is the same, and it decides what gifts are needed by whom for the total program to be effective.

The members seemed to be comparing themselves with each other in an unhealthy manner. They were not using cooperation, but competition, as a means to carry out the church’s mission. And Paul greatly admonishes them to stop the practice. They were to stop parading their gifts boastfully. Their purpose was for service, not for selfish display.

This atmosphere of comparison and competition leads to two dangerous mindsets. Some become discouraged and feel unworthy because their contribution isn’t as glamorous as their fellow members. At the same time, there is a tendency to feel proud of one’s accomplishments, when they are so eagerly sought by others in the church.

Thought Question: Have I ever felt left out and jealous of someone’s appealing ministry in the church? How often have I felt proud of a service I did for my neighbor or for those in the church? Did either of these feelings originate in comparing myself to other Christians?

Wednesday: From Friction to Forgiveness

Perhaps the most powerful form of forgiveness that we saw demonstrated by our Lord and Savior was when He was on the cross. At the pinnacle of His suffering, He announced, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Thought Questions: Did His forgiveness on the cross justify the behavior of the crowds who put Him up there? Is it possible and/or necessary to forgive someone who has horribly wronged me, does not deserve my forgiveness, and is not offering any kind of confession or repentance for the offense?

Sometimes we think that we take the initiative in seeking forgiveness or even in forgiving someone else, but in actuality, all instances of forgiveness, receiving it or giving it, are initiated by Christ. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly, we are told in Romans 5. Confession on our part is necessary (see I John 1:9), but does not change God’s attitude toward us. It is necessary to change our attitude toward Him.

When we are convicted by the Holy Spirit to repent, we are changed. Gradually, at some point, we are enabled to forgive as Jesus did. But it always remains our choice. Most come to a conclusion though that a failure to forgive can hurt us more than it hurts the offending person. By forgiving someone in spite of the other person’s attitudes or behavior, we are showing the true spirit of Jesus and allowing our spirituality to grow.

Discussion Question: How can focusing on Christ’s forgiveness help us learn to forgive others?

Thursday: From Rancor to Restoration

Jesus offers this advice to help with conflict resolution in the church:

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

This wise counsel reveals some important principles. First, try to settle your differences on a personal level. As few as possible should know about the conflicts and grievances between individuals. People respond to a loving, compassionate approach by one or two prayer partners. No one should be made to feel that people or the church is “ganging up” on them. Hopefully, the wisdom of several witnesses, if it gets that far, will prevent further complications and ensure that church-wide discipline be left only for those unresolved disturbances that negatively and severely impact the church as a whole.

It’s obvious in Christ’s message here that the purpose of these actions is for reconciliation, not to find and fix the blame on someone and drive him further away from God.

This quotation offers similar advice: “Do not suffer resentment to ripen into malice. Do not allow the wound to fester and break out in poisoned words, which taint the minds of those who hear. Do not allow bitter thoughts to continue to fill your mind and his. Go to your brother, and in humility and sincerity talk with him about the matter.” ~Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 499.

Discussion Questions: What about matters that involve breaking the law? We are reminded of cases of child molesting, embezzlement of funds, and even domestic violence perpetrated by church leaders. Almost all church denominations in the past have tried to cover-up these cases by sending the offenders to other locations, and thus preserving the name and reputation of the church. Is this a wise practice? When and how does an individual church member intervene, if an incident of this nature is brought to his/her attention? Should we continue to protect the church as a whole, or even a local congregation, from the consequences of these offenses?

Summary: Here is a laundry list of sterling Christian qualities that make it possible for relationships to be restored and maintained. Meditate on each one and try to emulate them in your life this coming week:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:12-17