By Dr Dixie ChuaWhen I was about fourteen years old, I befriended a girl in my school in Hong Kong, who was six years my junior. What brought us together was our common interest in piano playing. She was a prodigy. Before her feet could reach the pedals, her fingers were already flying across the keyboard. She told me that her mother was her teacher. I asked her if her mother would like to teach me too, thinking that under her tutorship I might be able to play like this little girl. I did not realise that she was a prodigy and I was just a mediocre piano student!
That was how I came to know Mrs Wu and became her student for the next seven to eight years. I remembered that she taught me one of Chopin’s Preludes (The Rain Drops) on my first lesson. I was so excited that I practised until I could almost commit it to memory. When the next lesson came, I arrived at her home very early and had to wait a long time for her to finish teaching the boy ahead of me.
As I sat there listening to that boy playing, my ears hurt. He could not even play a scale without making a few mistakes. I was wondering why Mrs Wu spent so much time teaching that student who was obviously not material for a pianist. But the thing that puzzled me most was that, at the end of the lesson, she opened a drawer and presented him with some small gifts and then encouraged him to continue practising.
When my turn came, I played the piece by Chopin almost without any mistakes and she said, “Dixie, did you learn this piece before you came to me?” I replied, “No. You only taught me last week.” To my mind that was impressive, I thought she would give me some rewards after the lesson. But she did not give me anything. Week after week the same thing happened. I was curious but too shy to ask her why she spent so much time patiently teaching someone who had no musical talent at all.
While she was teaching him, I could sense that she was really passionate about what she was doing. She was loving, patient, gentle and kind to this struggling student. Above all, she exercised self-control while teaching him. I heard that some teachers hit their students’ knuckles with rulers if they played any wrong notes! Mrs Wu faithfully taught him without losing her temper or dismissing him in anger. As the days went by, I noticed that there was a bit of improvement in his playing, though painfully slow.
I only got the answer to my query 40 years later. In 1995, I accompanied my son, Linus, to London to help him settle down in the hostel at Imperial College. By then Mrs Wu’s whole family had already emigrated to London. Three of her daughters out of six children were concert pianists. We went to pay her a visit and in the course of our conversation I asked her about that boy whom she presented gifts to after each lesson. She smiled and said, “It was his mother who left all those gifts there for me to give to him after each lesson so that he would be interested in learning to play the piano. You were so motivated and musically inclined that you did not need anyone to ‘bribe’ you to play the piano!”
What has this little story got to do with relationships? If all of Mrs Wu’s students were keen and musically inclined, she would have no opportunity to show forth her patience, gentleness, kindness, and self-control in her character, because all she would have experienced in teaching was pure joy and satisfaction! But in reality, this was not the case. A good teacher has to teach all kinds of students, some are quick to learn, some slow, some lack understanding while others catch the points immediately. We, too, have to learn to relate to all kinds of people in life.
Many of us know Galatians 5:22-23 by heart, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” We memorise these two verses and pray that we may possess all these nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, but how do we find out if we have them? By relating to other people around us.
God places us in a big family, the local church, for us to live out all that we have learnt and to sharpen our spiritual sensitivities through relationships. In a church with a few hundred members, there will be conflicts, arguments, unhappiness and even strife among us. After all we are but sinners saved by grace and our old selves are very much alive if we do not allow the Spirit to take control of our flesh.
Some members are sensitive, taking offence easily, while others are stubborn, insisting on doing things their way. We need to constantly remind ourselves that God has put us in the same local church for a purpose whether we like it or not. You need me as much as I need you in the body of Christ.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH THOSE WHO RULE OVER US
As members of the local church we are to be submissive to those who are ruling over us so that they may rule with joy. The author of Hebrews said, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb 13:17).
The church is God’s family and household. The leadership of the church family is assigned to the fathers of the church. These leaders are to take up the responsibilities to lovingly lead and humbly govern the family unit. Members in the church are to submit to their leadership by honouring their God-given authority. God called them even before they were born to be leaders of the church, therefore they deserve double honour from us. God only wants the best to serve Him as leaders, pastors, preachers. We should not usurp their positions or interfere with their decisions in the ruling of the church. Let them rule with joy and not with sadness. It is good for our souls and theirs.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH MEMBERS OF YOUR CHURCH
Different parts of the same body
Teaching about body life in the household of God, Paul reminds us that we are one body in Christ though many parts. Some members are the stronger parts like bones and muscles while others are the weaker parts like organs and membranes. Nevertheless we need each other. The Bible says, “And those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, on these we bestow greater honour; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honour to that part which lacks it” (1 Cor 12:23-24).
There are always some members in the church who are growing very slowly in the faith and who do not have as much spiritual light given to them as the fast growing ones. The weaker they are, the more we should help them and accept them as children of God. The spiritually more mature ones should patiently guide them along and show them love and encouragement. Just like the story I told you at the beginning about the two students my piano teacher had, the slow-learner and the fast-learner should be treated differently, with wisdom and care.
Different parts living in unity
Paul, in Ephesians 4:2-3 exhorts us to have oneness and unity in the church, “With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Unity is a gift of God to His Church through the Holy Spirit, our duty is to maintain and keep it through love and humility. When we relate to one another in church, we must remember that whatever we do or say, we must never sacrifice unity among us.
Though everyone is entitled to express his own opinions and personal preferences of doing things, if he emphasises too much his own opinion to the extent of harming the unity of the body of Christ, then he is not walking in the path that God wants him to walk. We must never break fellowship with another person over matters of no eternal consequence.
Different parts living in peace
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Just like unity, peace is a gift from God to us secured by Christ, we are to guard that peace among ourselves with all diligence. Peace can be destroyed by just one careless word, therefore let us pray like David, “I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me” (Ps 39:1). I would like to add, not just before the wicked who do not regard God or His Word, but also before those who love us and care for us, because words can edify or tear down lives.
Whenever we feel like blasting out before those who accuse us unjustly, that is the time we should pray: “Lord, place your arms around my shoulders and cover my mouth with your hands” and remember Paul’s exhortation, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men“ (Rom 12:18). That is a good reminder of our duty in building good relationships among brothers and sisters in the household of God.
THINGS WE SHOULD DO IN DEALING WITH DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIPS
Dealing with our own sins
Maintaining peace and unity in the church should start with ourselves. Let us never be the ones to cause division among brothers and sisters. Ask God to help us mortify sins or inclinations in us that have the tendency to cause division or disharmony among brethren. We must think good about others even when they cause inconvenience to us. We must not be too quick to react to what others say or do. Christian maturity is displayed in how we react to what others say and do. Because people will always say something that we disagree with or dislike, it is in how we react to their behaviour that shows how mature we are.
Our reactions towards the sins of others
Do not believe everything said about others, especially the negative reports. Even if it is true, we should not spread the news or gossip about it. If necessary, and the opportunity arises, deal patiently and gently with the ones who have sinned against us or against another member. Enlist the assistance of more mature Christians if the situation is too difficult for us to handle alone.
When we are the ones who are in the wrong
It is not possible that when an argument breaks out, we are always in the right. We must realise that we could be in the wrong. Be humble to listen to other people’s opinion. When confronted, do not let pride overtake us so that we become defensive and contentious. We must accept the other party as someone coming to us with godly intentions to correct us for our own good.
When we are involved in a dispute, we should first seek wisdom from God to know how and what to do to seek reconciliation. When someone comes to us to seek reconciliation, we must never turn him down. We must always be ready to forgive and to restore peace and harmony among God’s people. Remember this motto: ‘Friendship Flourishes at the Fountain of Forgiveness’.
Relationships can be very messy. Nevertheless it is God’s gracious gift to us to train and mould us to be more Christ-like.
Christ’s purpose for leaving us in this messy world
In His high priestly prayer Jesus said, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one … Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” (John 17:15, 17). Christ did not ask God to take us out of the world, but to be in the world as salt of the world – through our character, our humility, and our compassion. Though we experience many messy relationships in life, God changes us along the way by His grace. We should not be afraid to get close to other sinners who need that same grace, because He can use us to be instruments to draw others to Him and to one another.
Let our relationships be beacons of hope in a dark world
Paul said, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the Word of life” (Phil 2:14-16a). We are children of the heavenly King and therefore we must behave like children of the heavenly King.
Help others to mend their troubled relationships
Paul exhorted the members of the Philippian church to be peace-makers, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life” (Phil 4:2-3). Godly peace-makers are very much needed in our churches today.
Finally, let us remember that Christ entered this messy world to save us and now, He makes us willing to enter other people’s messy lives to show them His grace. It is amazing that in spite of all the brokenness we have seen or experienced in this world, there are still pockets of good and wholesome relationships developed among people. The relationships we are having are God’s gracious gifts to us for our comfort, encouragement, support and sanctification. Therefore we should treasure them.
*See the whole series on Relationships in this website
Used by permission from Fishers magazine, produced for The Fisherman of Christ Fellowship, Singapore (www.fishersmagazine.net)1)The FISHERS Magazine [Issue 222] http://www.fishersmagazine.net/219/219_6_Relationships%20God%20Gracious%20Gift.htm
Dixie Chua has many gifts: in music, literature and preaching God’s Word. She did cancer research and worked as a clinical biochemist. She quit her job and served in the church full time before retirement. She is an editor of Fishers magazine and has written a book Footprints in the Snow (free) an autobiography recounting God’s wonderful grace in her life. Her husband Dr. Eugene Chua is an elder in Fishers of Christ Fellowship
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|1.||↑||The FISHERS Magazine [Issue 222] http://www.fishersmagazine.net/219/219_6_Relationships%20God%20Gracious%20Gift.htm|