How to Have Strong Relationships in a Shattered World
This world looks like a delicate, handcrafted, ceramic vase that someone dropped from an upstairs window. All around us lay the scattered shards of marriages, families, churches, and friendships. Our fragmented relationships bear witness to sin’s tragic impact upon what was once a perfect world. So what is the glue that could repair the damage, bring us back together, and help us to create strong relationships?
I believe we find the answer in two stories from Luke 10. Both of these stories feature tragic separations.
The first is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two religious leaders saw a man lying in his own blood, yet they walked by on the opposite side of the road. They chose to separate themselves from a man in desperate need.
The second story is about two sisters, Mary and Martha. While one sister sat at Christ’s feet, eagerly soaking up every word, the other sister burned with resentment as she bustled around the house. Martha’s distraction with “many things” (Luke 10:41) separated her from both Christ and her own sister.
What is the glue that could heal these relationships? By digging into the larger context, we can find the answer.
Seeing the Context
The parable of the Good Samaritan is prompted when a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by asking, “What is written in the Law?” The man gives an excellent response by quoting both Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Seeing the original context of these commands is essential to understanding Luke 10.
The Greatest Commandment teaches us how to love God. Deuteronomy 6:5 begins, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” showing that God deserves our undivided devotion. Our love for God should be exclusive like a man’s faithfulness to his wife. The original context also shows that this love will cause us to talk about God’s word when we “sit in our house” or “walk by the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Hearing and talking about God’s word is a critical step in developing an exclusive love for God.
The second Greatest Commandment teaches us how to love people. Leviticus 19 gives examples of loving people in all kinds of situations and relationships, from the workplace to the courtroom, and from the handicapped to the foreigner. It then concludes with the summary statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This plethora of examples shows that loving others means loving everyone. Yet the lawyer asks Jesus a strange question. He wants Jesus to give him an exact definition of who he’s supposed to love.
In response to this question Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Lesson of the Good Samaritan
In the story there were two religious leaders who were very much like the lawyer. They likely had a great deal of Bible knowledge, yet they each lacked a key character trait that could draw them close to the nameless man on the side of the road.
Later another man came along, who, being a Samaritan, likely had an incomplete knowledge of the Bible. Yet this man, in spite of his faults, had something that the others lacked. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:33). That was the key. He had the compassion to feel another’s pain, and this motivated him to help even when it involved sacrificing time and money.
Compassion can overcome separations and bring us together. When I have compassion I will feel my spouse’s pain, I will understand my boss’s challenges, and I will walk in my coworker’s shoes. I won’t have to ask, like the lawyer, “Who do I have to help?” Instead, I will ask, “What can I do to be an even better neighbor?” The attitude of compassion exemplifies the teaching of Leviticus 19 and has the power to heal our relationships.
The Lesson of the Two Sisters
But how did Jesus want Mary and Martha to resolve their conflict? What could bring them together? As Martha bustles around the house, fuming about her sister, Jesus gives some insightful instruction. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:41). That statement sounds surprisingly similar to the Greatest Commandment! Instead of being distracted by other priorities, we need to focus on God. Deuteronomy 6 showed that there is one God and we need to be fully devoted to Him alone. That devotion begins by learning and talking about His word in our house or wherever else we might be.
So, what could bring these sisters together? Martha needed a desire to know God’s message. She needed to leave the distractions and humbly sit at the great teacher’s feet. Devotion to God and to His teaching would bring them together.
To have strong relationships with each other, we must be fully devoted to God’s word and less focused on the concerns of this world. As we let the word pull us closer to God, we will begin to grow closer to each other.
That’s Biblical Love
Our story began with the commands to love God and to love our neighbors. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows how to love our neighbor, and the story of Mary and Martha illustrates how to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength. Together, these two stories paint a portrait of Biblical love.
When we learn to love the way the Bible teaches us to love, broken relationships heal. It is that great godly love that can bring us together in unity.