Worth careful reflection: on relationships  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,

Often others say something so well we would do best to simply step aside and let their words be heard as widely as possible. So today I offer two excerpts from the writings of thoughtful Christians.

Excerpt #1: John Stott on how to treat others:

In Colossians, chapter 3, St Paul gives us two general principles governing personal relationships.  Here they are: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The second is: “Whatever you do, work at it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men” (verses 17 and 23). Now let me tell in my own words what I believe these two principles mean. Firstly, I have got to learn, if I am a Christian, to treat other people as if I were Jesus Christ. That is what it means to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. To do something in somebody else’s name, is to do it as his representative. When David stood on the field of battle against Goliath, he said: “I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts.” That is, I am not coming in my own name, I am coming as his representative. So to the Christian, to do everything in the name of Jesus Christ, is to do it as if he were Jesus Christ. I have got to learn, if I am a Christian, to treat other people with the respect and the consideration, the thoughtfulness and the graciousness with which Jesus Christ would treat them.

The second principle is the exact opposite. It is to learn to treat people as if they were Jesus Christ. I must learn to do everything as unto the Lord. The roles are now reversed and I must learn to treat every person with the graciousness, the humility, the understanding, and the courtesy, not now that he would give to them but that I would give to him...

I tell you that these two principles, to treat other people as if they were Christ and as if I were Christ, are as realistic as they are revolutionary. This is not idealist rubbish.  This is practical advice about personal relationships.

Excerpt #2: Garret Keizer on naming enemies

The first logical step toward loving an enemy is admitting that you have one. Like the first logical step toward forgiveness—that of acknowledging that you have something to forgive, that you have been wronged—this step comes as something of a liberation. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” If the word enemy seems too grotesque, then the liberation consists of putting your hostile thoughts into some kind of perspective. Lillian is not your “enemy”; she’s just a nosy pain in the neck who sits at the computer next to yours. On the other hand, if the name fits, the liberation comes from saying something true to oneself—possibly as a prelude to saying something true to the enemy. In either case, the liberation of naming the enemy can also be a partial liberation from anger. That is because anger itself has helped liberate us from our denial. Spent in a worthy cause, anger becomes less necessary.

The act of naming will certainly make us hesitate. The word enemy is so strident, so devoid of the irony that we post-moderns take as a form of spiritual consolation. Enemy is a suspicious word to about the same extent, and for some of the same reasons, that friend has become such a debased word. It makes sense that in a society where half the people we know count as “friends,” no one we know should ever count as an enemy. Aristotle may have been too doctrinaire when he said, “He who has friends has no friend,” but he may have been closer to the truth than many people ever come to friendship. Perhaps he ought to have said, “He who has no enemy probably has no friend either.”

For a religious person, naming the enemy may come about as a result of praying on the enemy’s behalf. This may well be one of the reasons Jesus enjoins the practice on his followers. Praying for an enemy as an enemy amounts to an admission, to oneself no less than to God, that one is seriously at odds with another human being. Having confronted the truth before God, one is in a better position to confront it with the enemy.

Of course, it would be sweet to think that a confrontation of this kind always leads to dialogue, resolution, closure. The truth is that where people have reduced the social intercourse of human beings to the cant phrases of “dialogue,” “resolution,” and “closure,” confrontation will in all likelihood lead to no such thing. Telling someone he is my enemy is more likely to elicit amusement, a pretense of incredulity, a supercilious show of concern. “I’m sorry that you feel that way. I’m sorry that you have this problem.”


John Stott in Langham Partnership Daily Thought, 29 August 2011, from “The Doctor—A Person” (Cape Town: Medical Christian Fellowship, 1959), p. 4. Excerpted from Authentic Christianity, pp. 221-222, by permission of InterVarsity Press.

Garret Keizer in The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin (San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass, 2002) pp. 253-254

This entry was posted at Monday, August 29, 2011 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


This morning the Langham Partnership Daily Thought, (30 August 2011) by John Stott continued the theme of this post, with a practical word that deserves reflection.

“The attempt to restrict the spectrum of those we have to love and serve is a pastime of Pharisees, not Christians. Yet is there not sometimes a reluctance to help people of another faith, whether animist, Buddhist or Muslim? Or at least a reluctance to serve them unless we use our aid as a lever to prize their hearts open to receive the gospel? Now of course we want to share the gospel with them, but unless we are motivated by genuine concern for the individual (which is clearly absent if we refuse to help him in other ways) our efforts will be worthless and even dishonoring to God. The love of Christ prompts us to share with people both our material blessings and our spiritual riches.”

Source: from Walk in His Shoes (London: IVP, 1975), p. 15, excerpted from Authentic Christianity, p. 222, by permission of InterVarsity Press.

August 30, 2011 at 7:49 AM

I love the timing of some of your blogs. This weekend, I had the opportunity to learn again that bitternes is contagious and I need to take care that I don't contract it. Viewing the bitter individual who lashes out at me as an ememy does, as Garret Keizer suggests, cause some consternation. This is especially true because I love those people deeply who have hurt me. Interestingly, if the person meant nothing to me, he/she would be powerless to significantly damage my spirit. Defining our enemy in order to forgive them provides a new perspective that I hadn't considered. I suppose that every person in my life is potentially my enemy at some point, given the sin nature of every person. I am also their enemy at times. It is in those moments that we are provided the privilege of representing Christ as agents of His grace. Ok, I took the long way around to say that there has been another shift in my thinking, this time in regard to my relationships. In the end, the vastness of God's grace in light of everything that I have done and that others have done to me has provided peace and hope. Thank you for sharing these men's teaching.

September 5, 2011 at 12:36 AM

24/7 Mom:
I am so glad that is true--that what I post here occasionally is timed just right. It's something that I often pray for but then assume I am asking for too much. After all, it's just one blog, out of millions, and I never have any idea what I should post next--there is no master plan to this, I assure you.

I posted these simply because I found them stunning, requiring me to rethink so much of what I take for granted.

So, I am glad, and thank you for bothering to write.

September 5, 2011 at 8:40 AM

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