by: Staci Stallings
Last time we talked about the Biblical phrase “one another” and how this phrase means that a Christian relationship is designed to be mutually-beneficial to both parties. We discussed how not understanding this can leave you giving and giving and giving and run you completely dry.
What I would like to touch upon today is the understanding that true Christian relationships are built on this principle. They do not spring to life wholly formed, you build them a step at a time, and many relationships between Christians are not, in fact, Christian at all.
Let me explain.
Let’s say you have Christian A (you) and Christian B. Now let’s say that Christian B is the kind of person who thinks in terms of what the church and other Christians should be able to give her (let’s make this simple and assume this person is a her).
Christian B comes to church but does little else. She gives nothing in return.
Here’s where it gets tricky and where we sometimes get tripped up with this stuff.
Technically, Christian B is within her rights as a Christian to do just that (nothing more) because God DID everything. Much like He put Abraham to sleep so He could make the covenant with Himself, Christian B is not required to do anything in order to be considered a Christian. She loves God, she accepts Jesus. That’s it. She’s a Christian.
However, what St. Paul in Thessalonians 5:11 is speaking about (“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”) is the relationship Christians should have with one another (reciprocity). Once you are IN Christ and He is IN you, the dynamics that you live in should naturally change as well. As your relationship with God changes, you should naturally become a person who is others-focused rather than self-focused.
Again, be careful. I’m not saying you NEVER think of yourself or you are willing to harm yourself to help others. I’m saying in the Christian life, there needs to be a balance so that the relationship is good for ALL those involved–you included, and that happens naturally when Christ is at the center of a relationship.
So as a person grows in her Christianity, she should naturally begin to offer things back. Maybe it’s not money. Maybe it’s time to help out with cleaning the church or cooking meals or helping with a fundraiser. She begins to want to help, to choose to help, to be called to help in her heart.
That brings us to another trap (I know, there are a lot of them, right?). All of this “helping, cleaning, cooking” should not be a requirement of the church for Christian B. It should come out of the overflow of her heart. It should not be the church taking from her to build itself up. That is really hard for churches to live out because often they get lots going on, and they need members to carry out all the good things they have scheduled. It is easy for them to fall into the trap of guilting people into helping. ”The church does so much for you, what are you giving back?”
That sounds like reciprocity. It sounds logical even. But in reality, that is a spiritual bribe. ”We’ve done this for you. Now you need to do something for us.”
These types of churches will bleed a well-meaning Christian dry.
These types of friendships will too.
In a truly Christian reciprocal relationship like St. Paul is describing, yes, you may well go out of your way to help or to be encouraging, but so will the other person. This is not a one-way-street relationship. It is MUTUAL.
Let’s look at that relationship between Christian A and Christian B again. This time, let’s say that it truly IS the type of relationship St. Paul described where we “encourage one another.” This is the type of relationship that fills you up. It’s the type where you can ask for something if you need it and you are not talked down to, made fun of, or denigrated for being needy. Your friend is there for you, and you are there for your friend.
THIS is what a Christian relationship is supposed to look like.
Not score-keeping, but a mutual, almost living being itself between the two of you. Much like the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father becomes the Holy Spirit–a person unto itself. The same with the love between two in a truly Christian relationship–it binds and makes the two stronger together than they are on their own.
Reciprocity is the hallmark of a truly Christian relationship.
The next question we will tackle is how do you find or build such a relationship. That’s for next time!