Relational tension: others and me
Our relationship with other believers is a profound evidence of our faith. Jesus made it so. He said, " By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Yes, we are commanded to love our neighbors and those outside of our circle. But, loving those inside is the test. They're the ones we know best, and who know us warts and all. That's the most visible measure of being his disciples.
It is perhaps the reason so much of the New Testament addresses the strained relationships between believers in those early churches. Throughout the Gospels and Epistles are instructions about the importance of Christian behavior and just as many commandments to regulate our personal and spiritual interaction. The reign of grace in our lives was to be evidence of a higher regard for others and a lesser place of self in the relational mix. Yet, after more than two thousand years of implementing the teachings of Jesus and the lessons of the Epistles into our daily lives many of us still do not know how to deal with the relational tensions that often disarm us.
A fallen world advances the prospects of conflict. Self-absorbed humans are naturally adept at claiming their space in the world. As a result, we experience relational tension at just about every point of human contact---in the family, at work, at school, at church, and even in public settings. This tension often erupts into out and out conflict, unless eased by the actions of the people involved. Knowing how to be a peacemaker before an outbreak of open conflict is a step of spiritual maturity that each of us should master. So, how are relational tensions eased before they trigger an outburst of emotion or a break in the relationship? Here are several suggestions---
1. Be alert for relational tension.
Personalities define our responses to issues with other people. Some people
are open and forthright while others are more sedate. Therefore, we must be
aware when relational tension exists. This is usually evident when normal lanes
of contact are interrupted, when distance defines relationships, or when there
is a sense of resistance from someone with whom we have regular
2. Decide if the tension is worth mentioning.
Proverbs advises that it is "...glory to overlook an offense" (Proverbs 19:11).
Sometimes the tension we may feel in a relationship is little more than a mood
swing or an attitude created by circumstances. We should pray for wisdom
(see James 1:5) so that we don't create a problem where there isn't one.
3. Take ownership of your relationships.
Relational tensions are often aggravated because we wait for the appropriate
party to make the first move in easing them. The cultural rule of thumb in to
allow the offending party to approach the offended party for reconciliation.
But, these relationships are too important to be subject to cultural norms.
Therefore, each of us should be the first to seek correction when there's
tension. What I usually do when I feel stress in a relationship is go to the
person and say, "I don't know what I did to offend you but if you'll tell me,
we're straighten it out right now". Ninety percent of the time the other
person would smile, say it was nothing, and we'd be reconciled. When
something was revealed, a misunderstanding, communication problem, or a
real offense, we'd seek common ground and be reconclied.
4. Be redemptive in your approach to others.
It's difficult for self-absorbed humans, but restoration of the relationship is the
goal of any approach and not the assignment of blame or a claim to being
right or wrong. Matthew 18:15-17 provides our Lord's teaching about righting
a wrong relationship between believers. The objective is the gaining of a
brother or sister, not the declaration of winners and losers. Therefore, to
restore the brother or sister is the aim. That goal should guide us.
5. Always speak the truth in love.
Many instances of relational tension are the result of selfish ambition, envy,
rumors, gossip, and other sinful behaviors. Scripture teaches that we should
confront one another on occasion to correct such actions within the body.
These approaches should always be grace filled and seasoned with salt
(Colossians 4:5) and spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Tension between humans is nothing new. When these relational stresses are ignited into conflict, the witness of our faith is compromised and the unity of Christ's body is broken. Therefore, we must be alert to them, and prepared to address them before they diminish our testimony before a dark world.