Cartoonist Charles Schultz was known to millions through his lovable loser, Charlie Brown. What many people don’t realize is that Schultz was a wonderful Christian, and through his cartoons drove home many biblical insights. In one cartoon script, Charlie Brown and Lucy are engaged in conversation. Lucy’s back is turned, her arms are folded, and she has a look of disgust on her face. Charlie is pleading, as usual, for her to be tolerant and understanding. With outstretched arms, he says: Lucy, you must be loving. This world really needs love. You have to let yourself love to make this world a better place in which to live! Lucy whirls around and screams (as Charlie does his famous back-flip): Look, blockhead-the world I love. It’s people I can’t stand!
It is one thing to say we love people as a general principle; the challenge is to love a specific person unconditionally. God gives us that opportunity by putting us in families. Yet many struggle in their relationships. Obviously, this comes from experiencing personal pain. Because of past hurts, we may try to avoid and withdraw from those God designed for us to relate to. We can never become what we need to become alone. We desperately need each other.
If there is one critical skill to really enjoy life, it is the ability to get along with people. Yet, we discover sooner or later that there are no problems quite like people problems. You can have a job that demands long hours and great physical effort, but neither the hours nor the energy demands drain you like difficult people can. You can have financial difficulties, physical pain, a tight schedule, and miles of driving, but these things are not the cause of our major battles.
Learning to live successfully with others is one of the most important keys to life. God knows that if we are going to impact others with the good news about Jesus if we are going to live healthier lives if we are going to enjoy life, we need to learn how-to live-in harmony with others.
In 1 Peter, we discover insight into dealing with difficult people. Peter gives us some incredible insight on how to maintain harmony, restore broken relationships, and just plan cope when being attacked. So how do we maintain healthy relationships? Every generation faces different challenges. Many people today are growing up facing life with poor relational models. One of the ingredients in long term relationships is commitment, but people are discarding others out of their lives like disposable dishes. The hard work of maintaining relationships are ignored. This is one of the reason for marriage failures, business partnerships ending, churches splitting, and long-time friendships faltering.
Many have only witnessed and experienced rejection, and don’t know the joy of being loved and accepted for who they are. It is hard to show love when you haven’t experienced love. While many are looking for others to show them love, we can experience God’s love and ultimately begin to show God’s love to others.
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble ( 1 Peter 3:8 NIV).
Peter outlines in this verse some elements of harmonious relationships. A couple of thoughts immediately emerge. Notice who Peter is encouraging to live in harmony. He is speaking to Christians. This tells me that even good people can run into differences. You know you are maturing when you learn how to work through differences with others.
People who live with the idea that there should never be relational difficulties have generally superficial relationships. They haven’t gone deep enough. Learning to accept others who are different is an element of relational maturity.
Obviously, we want to live in harmony, that’s the goal, but that goal comes through working through issues. Where there are people, you have differences of opinions and convictions, and you can have ruffled feathers and hurt feelings. That’s certainly true wherever close relationships exist.
The word harmony means to be of one mind. In music, it’s the idea of blending the right notes together. Two separate notes that blend. To be in harmony is to have unity. This is the one-mindedness explained for us in Philippians 2. It is only as we have the mind of Christ that it’s possible to become one-minded or like-minded.
Years ago, as Patty and I were serving as youth pastors on staff in Ft. McMurray, the church was experiencing tremendous strife and difficulties. Some were directing their anger at the Senior Pastor, but the problem wasn’t the pastor, but a certain dynamic that we didn’t understand, and were struggling to cope with.
Earlier, the church had been very small, and the people that attended that particular church had sacrificed much time, energy and finances to build a new sanctuary. With the development of the oil sands, workers were needed and many people from Newfoundland moved up to McMurray. Many started attending that church. Pretty soon, those from the east outnumbered those from the West. The people from the east soon dominated the church, while those from the west felt displaced.
The church was struggling with embracing two very distinct and different cultures trying to worship together. Two cultures with different values, convictions, and different approaches to ministry. Rather than blending, there was clashing. Contention grew.
It was at this point that Patty and I were called to serve on staff. It was like a war zone. People were hurt and alienated. I didn’t understand what was going on. One day as I was studying the book of Philippians, I was reading Bishop Lightfoot’s commentary on the book of Philippians, and in his introductory remarks, he began to describe that the church in Philippi was battling strife. He pointed out that there were two distinct cultures in that church. As I was reflecting on this, I realized that this was the very problem we were struggling with there in McMurray.
It was one thing to understand the problem, but now what could be done about it? What was the solution? The question that echoed in my mind was how to bring good people together who have real differences? Where do you look to find common ground?
Unity can be reached in a diverse group of people if they can come to a common denominator. One place every believer should come to is having the mind or attitude of Christ. We can all come to the same place if we accept the mind of Christ that teaches us to value others more highly than ourselves. When we consider others above ourselves, we will learn to make concessions.
That all sounds great until someone acts selfishly and destroys harmony. What steps can be taken to restore the relationship? 1 Peter 3:9 states: ‘Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.’ The New English Bible has a marvelous translation of those important instructions: ‘Do not repay wrong with wrong, or abuse with abuse; on the contrary, retaliate with blessing.’
Someone needs to break the hate chain. Someone must take the initiative to stop the escalation of hostilities. Forgiveness is always in order. Most marital conflicts could be resolved if people learned how to communicate forgiveness. For that matter, most strained relationships could be mended and strengthened if people would use this very tool in the communication with others. Too often, we do not listen or else we don’t understand what the other person is trying to say. Once a person has been hurt it seems that the conflict escalates. How different things would be if someone said or did something to hurt you and you responded with blessing and concern for that person. Love has the ability to melt many a cold-hearted person.
Or, if restoration seems impossible, what should our response be? Unfortunately, there are some people who will try and take advantage of your goodness. If you have suffered at the hands of someone else that you have tried to show kindness to, you need to remember the example of Jesus. He suffered for doing what was right and God used it as part of his plan and purpose to reconcile our world to him. We also can rest assured that it is a better thing to suffer for doing good than to suffer because we have done evil.