For centuries, soldiers in battle would follow the flag of their country or regiment. This helped them to keep moving in the right direction in the disorientation of combat. It also kept them from being separated from their comrades.
When asked for a few biblical principles to heal and improve relationships, an acrostic I like is FLAG, as in–follow God’s flag for relationships.
F is for FORGIVENESS.
If you get close to another human being for long enough, they will disappoint you, hurt you or, even betray you. If you eliminate from your life every person who causes you pain, you will end up alone. You were created for community. Forgiveness is YOUR get out of jail card; it sets you free from resentment, bitterness, and eternal replays of the offense against you. Forgiveness is not excusing the offense, (some things are inexcusable), rather it is letting go of your options to judge and punish the other person. Forgiveness is different from the pain you feel when you recall the offense. You may still be hurt and make the choice to give the other person to God–who alone knows what the other person needs (e.g., discipline or blessing). When we postpone forgiveness we fear that God won’t get it right. But he will, and he may be waiting for you to get out of the way. Boundaries often need to change, but forgiveness is not an option, it is a command.
Bear with one another, forgiving whatever grievances you have against one another because Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:13
Pray: God help me to forgive as you have commanded. You are God and I am not, so I hand the person over to you. When I am tempted to pick this back up and help me to give it back to you. I still feel pain about this, so I ask you to teach me whatever it is you would have me learn (compassion, patience, grace) and bring good from it to further your Kingdom. Amen
L is for LOVING HONESTY
Like Billy Joel sang, honesty is hardly ever heard. Maybe we think honesty has to be brutal. Maybe we have heard the word connected to rude, unsolicited opinions about inconsequential matters. But if Jesus came in grace and truth, and Paul exhorts us to speak truth in love, maybe there is a better way.
Speaking truth in love we will all grow up into the head of the Church, Jesus. Ephesians 4:15
Truth means many things. It is one of the gospel’s two legs, the other being grace. The truth is, I need a savior. There is nothing I can do to be good enough to be in God’s presence. There is only one remedy for my sin, and it is trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to make me right with God. That’s where grace comes into play, because God has made that provision, not because I deserve it but, because he extends his grace for all who will accept it. This is the benchmark and foundation for loving truth. We who believe can extend it to others because we have received it from him. Before we can accept his grace, we have to recognize the uncomfortable truth that we need it.
In human relationships, truth may be expressing loving concern for the path of a brother or sister. We are commanded to restore gently those who are overtaken by a fault. As with the gospel, we can lay it out there but, ultimately we are not in control of the other person’s response. Sometimes what appears to be an unfruitful intervention takes time and, people can eventually give in to the truth. Honesty may also mean asking for what we need in a relationship, while remembering that our biblical perspective need to be what am I giving, not what am I getting. Other people cannot read our minds so, it is sometimes necessary to spell things out for them, Do it lovingly and you will get better results.
Pray: Father, help me to see your truth in all things and help me to know when and how to speak the truth in love. It is not loving for me to withhold a truth another needs to hear, but keep me from my own pride lest I stumble. Amen
A is for AGAPE love.
This is the kind of love a parent (hopefully) has for a child who is learning a new task (like walking or talking). The parent does not punish the child for not being proficient in his first efforts but, meets the child where he is (often on the floor), encouraging and believing in him. These attitudes from the parent encourage the child to get up and try again. Coming from the Holy Spirit who is infinitely patient with us, this kind of love never gives up, never fails, and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt. 1 Cor. 13
Above all, love one another deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
Jesus “new command” was simply, “Love one another,” as it fulfills every other command in Scripture. We know agape love in that while we were still defiant, Christ died for us. This love is the result of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. It is not a matter of us mustering up more love; it is a matter of getting our selfish egos out of the way and asking how can I be salt and light?
Pray: God, I ask that you remind me of your love for me and of your desire that your love flow from me. I need this so that the camera in my mind stays focused on you and others and not on self. Let me put my ego (my sinful nature) to death so that I can live fully and abundantly for your glory. Amen
G is for the GOOD STUFF
One of the main traits of lasting relationships is the ability of partners to focus on the positive. We know the negative is there. Every human has different expectations for others and reality is, those expectations are not always met, even when we communicate honestly and lovingly. Similar to gratitude, focusing on what is good in relationships keeps our hearts open and helps us overlook our unmet expectations.
Whatever is good, true, right, pure, lovely, excellent, of good report, worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8
Pray: Father, please help me to choose to think about what is right in the relationships you have given me. Help me to remember that you cause everything to work for my good and so, help me to turn my focus away from what I see as imperfect in others, even as I hope they will do for me. Teach me to be an encourager, acknowledging the good in others and cheering them on. Amen
There is no formula that guarantees every relationship will meet your expectations. You need to let go of that overall illusion. We are not in heaven yet, and we are not gods of our own little worlds. We live here with others who will sometimes make choices we do not agree with and, some of those choices will have a painful impact on us.
However, God is pleased when we choose to do these things. As we walk in fellowship with him, his Spirit prompts and empowers us to love in ways we never imagined. This is a win in and of itself. Often, we get back what we send out in relationships (think of echoes) and our relationships can only be enriched as we follow God’s flag.