As we barrel through the holiday season, many of us will find ourselves forced into situations that are uncomfortable, awkward or difficult. For the sake of tradition or expectation, we gather with people who might not like us, or whom we might not like. There are some families out there who are closely knit and well-involved in one another’s lives, but most families have some un-reconciled offense, some level of hostility, or one black sheep or situation that will dominate what should be a joyous time of year.
Thankfully, Scripture offers us help along the lines of relationships. As believers, we are commanded to be a unified body of faith. We are instructed to put one another before ourselves, to speak truth in love to one another, and to build each other up; only speaking words that edify:
“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
– Eph 4.25-32
To live in such a way is only possibly by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We cannot maintain a righteous anger, we cannot speak only edifying words, and we cannot live without bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and slander apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul says it simply in Romans:
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
– Rom 12.18
Thankfully he is realistic about the nature of relationships. We cannot force another person to like us, to respect us, or to treat us well. Thus, Paul simply says, “so far as it depends on you”, do these things. This echoes the sentiment of Jesus to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love those who persecute or hate us.
You may not have a family member or acquaintance who is an enemy, but perhaps they have that one quirk that drives you insane. Perhaps they have the same personality flaw that you are fighting in yourself, so it irritates you exponentially. Perhaps you had a fight fifteen years ago and he simply will not let it go, bringing up your past failure no matter how many times you ask for forgiveness or simply harboring a bad attitude.
Thus we must remember, “as far as it depends on me”, I am going to love this person and live peaceably with him.
How, though, can we generate such an attitude? It is by the power of the Holy Spirit. But we see in Ephesians that it comes from a recognition of our own state:
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
– Eph 4.32
If you look at that issue or that irritant for what it is, it is a futile effort to try to love unconditionally. Sooner or later we will break. Rather, we should focus on Jesus and our personal forgiveness. Only when I revel in the glory of my forgiveness and salvation can I freely pour forgiveness and love out to others. Only when I recognize that I do not deserve the salvation which I have can I love those who still hold a grudge against me, or who simply rub me the wrong way. Only when I let the Holy Spirit love me can I truly live peaceably with all men and forgive in the manner I have been forgiven.
As you continue through your celebrations this holiday season, consider Jesus. Consider why He came: to save a lost a dying world. And consider the forgiveness and love that you were given when you were an enemy, when you were dead in sin, when you were wickedly living according to your own pleasures. Rejoice in that forgiveness, love and salvation, and through that peace, love the unlovable in your life. So much as it depends on you.