We live in a crazy world, and no more is it more evident than in relationships between groups of people. I am referring to relationships between men and women, rich and poor, successful and not, black and white, educated or not etc.
The differences are often the fuel for angry and bitter disputes that have lasted for years, which, when fueled, can burst out in infernos of destruction that leave relationships incinerated.
As I mentioned last week, one of the things that undermine our spiritual stability personally and as a nation is not cultivating peace in relationships:
Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Matt 5:8-9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Heb 12:14 “Make every effort to live at peace with everyone and to be holy, without which, no one will see God.”
Anger, jealousy, greed, offence and bitterness can creep into our relationship’s unseen, once a conflict is established and ignited, it is quick to develop division and ultimately break down relationships. The instruction is clear:
1 Peter 3:11 “They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.”
Romans 14:19 “Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
We as believers, once we have worked on our own hearts and minds, can do much to set an example to the world on how to build bridges between groups that do not see eye to eye. Paul’s sermon to the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17 teaches us some valuable lessons about building bridges. Paul did not hold the same beliefs as the Athenians, the Epicureans didn’t believe in the afterlife, so indulged their fleshly desires, and the Stoics believed in strict, almost extreme discipline and self-control. The Athenians worshiped many gods but considered themselves highly intelligent, wise and educated.
Just because the group was challenging, did not mean that Paul could not find a way to build bridges and influence them.
How to build a bridge in relationships:
- Respect, all people regardless of who they are, their background, behavior or beliefs are created in God’s image and are worthy of respect because of WHO their creator is. Every person has the right to respect simply because they are a human being. Paul starts by referring to them as “men of Athens,” not as idolaters, sinners or heathens. He spoke to them in such a way as to denote dignity and respect.
- Observe before you jump to judgments, Paul studied the people of Athens and said “I perceive…” not only did he study their culture, but also their person and their ways. In verse 22 he calls them religious rather than idol worshipers. Yes, he knew they worshiped idols, but he recognized their culture, their way of life and identified that they were a people that were devoted to their gods. We often draw conclusions about people based on our own beliefs and prejudices (our personal frame of reference) and conclude “facts” about them, without observing who they really are first. There is a lot to be said for watching, listening and studying people first, before you draw conclusions about them. Paul understood their culture, history, philosophies and literature and quoted it as part of his respect.
- Compliment, Mark Twain said: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Notice, it is not flattery. Flattery is often excessive praise or approval, often insincere and contrived to win favor. Whereas a compliment is an expression of praise, or congratulation, encouragement or respect based on truth. Compliments can be based on one good thing we have observed about them. You may not necessarily agree with their beliefs, behavior or doctrines, but you can find something to compliment from your observations and understanding. Paul complimented them on being “deeply religious”, “devoted to their gods” and “amongst the most religious I have ever seen.”
- Find common ground, rather than express judgement. Don’t insult, demean, attack, offend or talk down, but instead find common ground from which to converse. Something upon which you can build a connection. Paul mentions their altar for an “unknown god” finding a common area from which to build a connection and start a discussion. A connection can be facilitated emotionally by e Empathy is the experience of being able to put oneself in another’s shoes to the point where one can truly understand, and even feel, what another is feeling. Empathy occurs when you allow yourself to appreciate how they feel and why they feel that way to the point where you “get it.”
When we treat people with heartfelt respect, it enables a door of influence to be opened, which may have otherwise remained tightly shut. Even if later in the relationship, you disagreed or said something they did not like, it is usually tolerated more because a bridge was built. As opposed to expressing judgement and not being heard at all.
Yet, even with building a bridge, people respond in different ways. Some were against Paul’s message, even insulted, others were open-minded and wanted to hear more, still, others were totally moved by the message and followed Paul. The point is that they listened to what Paul said because he built a bridge of respect, understanding and connection.
When we are feeling disconnected in our relationships, it helps to take stock and figure out how to implement actions to get back on track. Think of your connection as a bridge that needs active construction and reinforcement and work on your bridges regularly.
Father, thank you that You designed us for relationships. You built a bridge to us through Jesus Christ so that we could be reconciled to you in relationship, help us to build bridges with people around us. Help us to be people that work for peace in the world around us and reconcile people together. Help us to be diligent in guarding our hearts and minds from wrong thinking and attitudes. Please put a guard on our mouths as we seek to understand and empathize, rather than speak judgement based on our own thinking. Position us in relationships so that we may have a positive influence on others.