Day 11: Becoming an imitator of God
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved …” Eph.5:1-2
Our second series of studies focuses on God as our example for relationships based on love. Throughout the Bible we can see glimpses of God’s character. We also get to see glimpses of his love and compassion in the lives of others. God intends us to use these examples to inspire and motivate us in our approach to relationships. We are to become friends with God, and friends like God in the sense that we imitate his example of friendship. In today’s verses we are challenged to follow God’s example of friendship, and to walk in the way of love. This is not easy, and it’s not soft. It takes commitment, compassion and constant practice. As we look at some of the aspects of God’s role modelling of friendship over the next few days we need to build our awareness that God’s friendship is perfect, sacrificial and costly.
What three aspects of God’s character do you most associate with friendship?
What aspects of God’s behaviour challenges your notion of friendship?
What do our answers to the above questions tell us about how we view relationships?
Lord, may we know you better so we can imitate you more.
Day 12: Forgiveness and friendship
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph.4:32
When a friend hurts us, we may feel a sense of disloyalty, anger or sadness and it can be hard to forgive. We are reminded in this verse that forgiveness is a part of friendship. In the words of the song ‘I don’t care’ by Shakespeare’s Sister, “we hurt the one’s we love the most, it’s a subtle form of compliment”. We are more likely to hurt when we really do care about what the other person thinks. As such, the ability to forgive is something we will all need to do in our most intimate and meaningful relationships. In today’s verse we are guided towards two of the foundations of forgiveness; kindness and compassion. It is these qualities which guide God’s forgiveness of us, not us deserving forgiveness. These are the qualities we too need to cultivate and our relationships are a great place to practice.
What underpins the difficulties we face when wanting to forgive?
Does the act or emotion of forgiveness come first?
Is there anyone we need to forgive today? What difference will this make?
Lord, we thank you for your unconditional forgiveness. Help us too to be forgiving.
Day 13: Friend of sinners
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Mt.11:19
Have you ever wondered who Jesus might spend time with today? This verse tells us, whilst on earth, Jesus was known for being a friend of the unpopular and despised. Conventional wisdom might tell us our choice of friends will show who we are, but how do we interpret this? We could take this to mean we should spend time with those who will build us up, encourage us on and help us to grow. There is certainly value in these relationships. But Jesus also calls us to be his salt and light influence the location we are already in. We are to be friends with sinners, sinners just like us! It’s not that we imitate bad habits and behaviours. Our calling as Christians is to be genuine godly friends to those around us in their journey through life, just as Jesus was in his community.
What are our friends like; are we too quick to reject based on social judgements?
Is being a friend of sinners a ministry or is it just being real?
What is the giving / receiving ratio in our relationships?
Lord, help us not to befriend sinners for being sinners, but to befriend sinners as friends.
Day 14: Friendship and being alike
“You are my friends if you do what I command”. Jn.15:14
So here’s the swerve ball! Jesus says his friends are those who obey him, but this is not a definition of friendship itself. The rest of the passage reveals to us that we are friends because of what has been shared with us. This reminds me a little bit of the hours spent as a child playing football over the park. Occasionally arguments would break out over someone not doing something someone else wanted them to do and the inevitable threat would be made that the person would go home with the ball. It’s the classic story of only wanting your friends to see things your way and do what you want to do. However, our calling to friendship is one of sharing and not self-centeredness. Whilst Jesus, in his perfect love, can require our obedience, we, in our fallen state, cannot demand others obey us. Instead, we are destined to share our lives and to learn to be gracious.
What makes us friends of God and what does this teach us?
Why can’t our friendships be based on others just doing what we want?
Do we need to make any changes today to become more other centred in our relationships?
Lord, help us to be obedient but demonstrate grace.
Day 15: Returning to forgiveness
“You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.” Ps.86:5
Whilst we’ve been thinking about forgiveness and being ‘other-centred’ today our emphasis shifts slightly to look at the role of the ‘other’. We are told that God is forgiving and good and abounding in love, and we are to aim for this as our example. However, in this passage there is a qualification, “… to all who call on you”. Should we be willing to forgive, yes, but there are times when we need the other person to want forgiveness. For example, we may be faced with a situation in which someone has wronged us but refuses to take responsibility for their actions. In instances such as these forgiveness may be more an emotional release for ourselves rather than anything else. We may still need to carry through on actions which might impact on the other person. This does not necessarily show a lack of forgiveness, but taking sin seriously.
Is it possible for us to forgive those who don’t want to be forgiven?
Can you think of examples where ‘forgiveness’ has licenced further wrong behaviour?
Is there a difference between ‘letting go’ and forgiveness?
Lord, make us wise and loving. Help us to know your justice.
Day 16: Whose justice?
“The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished …” Nu.14:18
As a child I distinctly remember the immediate sense of anger I would feel when seeing television reports about IRA bombings in England. We needed to punish the ‘rebels’. Yet as I’ve grown I’ve learned more of the context of the ‘troubles’ and wondered how I would feel if I had been brought up in somewhere like Derry. Now when I reflect, I see that the problem with my desire for punishment to be served, was that it had little to do with justice, and everything to do with satisfying my anger. Today we are reminded that being quick to anger in our relationships is only likely to create damage. There will be times when behaviours are unjust, but anger rarely addresses injustice. In our relationships we need to forgive and allow justice to take its course based on love for all involved.
Is it anger, or our response to our anger, that creates problems?
What can we do to be ‘slow to anger’?
Are there times when we cannot leave punishment to God?
Lord, justice is a complex concept. Help us to seek and trust in your justice.
Day 17: Friendship built on integrity
“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?” Nu.23:19
The word integrity speaks of something at our core that is present in all we do and are. In this verse we are reminded that to have integrity is to be people of our word. When we say things, we will do them. Underpinning this is the idea that we are essentially ‘ourselves’ in every situation. Whilst people see different parts of our personality in different contexts, there is an honesty and consistency in who we are. This has a significant implication for our relationships. It requires us to have a certain vulnerability. Building relationships requires a commitment to sharing of ourselves, and this is part of the promise we need to fulfil in building integrity into our relationships. It’s not that we share everything with everyone, but it is that we be honest with where we are at.
Is it possible for us to show integrity and protect ourselves?
What is the link in this passage between lying and changing one’s mind?
What changes do we need to make today to show more integrity in our relationships?
Lord, help us to be people of our word, and our word to be true of us.
Day 18: The annoyance of grace
“…That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jnh.4:2
We are quick to talk about the amazing grace of God, and rightly so, but are there times when we despise God’s grace? Jonah knew of the wickedness of Nineveh and wanted justice. God had other plans; justice for God begins with grace. Although we can quickly see the error in Jonah’s ways are there times when we do the same? What about when someone has committed horrendous atrocities and then apparently finds God and repents? Are we quick to be gracious and compassionate? Within the context of our studies, what about when the acts are less ‘serious’ but no less hurtful. Are we still quick to seek ‘justice’ as something which is best for just us, or do we also think about the other person? To be a true friend, we have to follow God’s example of grace.
Has a lack of grace cost you any friendships?
Is grace always at the expense of justice?
When we think about justice, who is the justice for?
Is there anything you could do today to show compassion and grace?
Lord, help us get a glimpse of your justice and a heart to echo it in our lives.
Day 19: Everyone needs a good friend
“The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for a lack of a shepherd.” Zec.10:2
Have you ever been lost? In my family it is a common experience! The problem is I glance at a map, see the occasional sign, and think I know where I am going. I’m overly optimistic that somehow I will just know where I am and where I need to go! I guess most people are more sensible than me in this regard (or at least have a satnav), but could a similar set of circumstances apply to our life in other ways? In this passage we are reminded how the signs and guides around us are not always helpful and that what we really need is a shepherd. We know that God is our shepherd, but could this also be a vision for our relationships? When we are honest with others and care for them like a shepherd, we grow relationships which will help us in our life journey.
Do we sometimes give false comfort? If so, why?
The verse implies the guidance of the shepherd liberates the sheep from oppression. What does this mean for our relationships?
Lord, help us to be liberating shepherds and liberated sheep in our relationships.
Day 20: Paul as an imitator of God
Read through 2 Corinthians chapters 11 and 12 reflecting on Paul’s understanding of relationships.
We started this second series of studies on friendship as part of the character of God with Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians to be imitators of God. This was something Paul was well qualified to talk about. In today’s chapters the rejection we often demonstrate in our relationship with God is experienced by Paul in his relationship with the Corinthian church. Paul showed an understanding that relationships can be personally costly. He shows how commitment to others in relationships sometimes entails rejection and the need to go through difficult experiences. Paul expresses his hurt. Whilst his words might seem to lack grace, his commitment is a wonderful demonstration of grace and godly compassion; compassion which is demonstrated through sacrifice and commitment. What an amazing example!
How do we deal with rejection in our relationships?
Is rejection always about us, or is it sometimes about something else?
How do we show grace? Through words, actions, or both?
Lord, imitating your approach to relationships is costly. Give us the resources we need to be more Christ-like.