Day 269

Six Keys to Good Relationships

Wisdom Psalm 112:1-10
New Testament Ephesians 4:17-5:7
Old Testament Isaiah 63:1-65:16

Introduction

When she was nineteen years of age, Chiara Lubich gathered with a few friends in northern Italy. It was 1939 and, as bombs fell, they asked this question: ‘Was there an ideal that bombs could not destroy?’ Their answer was, ‘Yes, the love of God’.

They had experienced God’s overwhelming love and they wanted to share it with others. They imitated God by living a life of love (Ephesians 5:1–2). They helped those in need. They shared what little food they had. They found clothing for those who had none. They comforted the bereaved.

Such a warmth emanated from Chiara and her friends that people gave them the name ‘Focolare’, which means ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace’. Focolare now has 2 million members in 182 countries. Members of the Focolare community make it their rule of life, 24 hours a day, to live by the golden rule of Jesus: ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matthew 7:12).

Love is practical. Chiara said, ‘Love the other person as yourself… Imagine how the world would be if the golden rule were put into practice not only between individuals, but also between ethnic groups, peoples and nations, if everyone loved the other country as their own.’

How can we imitate God and live a life of love?

Wisdom

Psalm 112:1-10

Psalm 112

1 Praise the Lord.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
   who find great delight in his commands.

2 Their children will be mighty in the land;
   the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,
   and their righteousness endures forever.
4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
   for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
   who conduct their affairs with justice.

6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
   they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news;
   their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
   in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
   their righteousness endures forever;
   their horn will be lifted high in honour.

10 The wicked will see and be vexed,
   they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
   the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Commentary

Be filled with the Holy Spirit

It is the Holy Spirit in you who produces a life that imitates God. In this psalm, we see the kind of life God wants you to lead, and it includes all the fruit of the Spirit described by Paul in Galatians 5:22–23. It is a life of:

  • love (‘compassionate’, Psalm 112:4)
  • joy (‘delight’, v.1)
  • peace (‘they will have no fear of bad news’, v.7)
  • patience (‘their hearts are steadfast’, v.7)
  • kindness (‘generous and lend freely’, v.5b; ‘they have scattered abroad their gifts to the poor’, v.9)
  • goodness (‘the righteous will be remembered for ever’, v.6b)
  • faithfulness (‘their hearts are secure’, v.8a)
  • gentleness (‘gracious’, v.4b)
  • self-control (‘surely they will never be shaken’, v.6a).

All this stems from knowing God – spending time reading and meditating on his word: ‘Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in his commands’ (v.1).

Prayer

Lord, help me today to live a life overflowing with the fruit of your Spirit.

New Testament

Ephesians 4:17-5:7

Instructions for Christian Living

4
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

5 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater —has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

Commentary

Be transformed into the likeness of Jesus

Jesus Christ set the supreme example of love by giving up his life for us. St Paul writes, ‘Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (5:1–2). As St Athanasius wrote, ‘God became like us in order that we might become like God.’

What does this ‘life of love’ look like?

Paul writes about how the Ephesians came ‘to know Christ’ (4:20), and how knowing him they were taught to ‘be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (vv.23–24).

What is ‘holiness’?

Paul gives six practical examples of holiness – six keys to good relationships in a holy church (4:25–5:7):

  1. Authenticity

    ‘What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretence. Tell your neighbour the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all’ (4:25, MSG).

    Live a life of honesty and integrity. The danger of talking about ‘holiness’ is that it leads to intensity. But there is a fine line between holiness and being ‘holier than thou’, between being pious and being poisonous! Authenticity frees us to admit we’re far from perfect. We can be vulnerable with one another. This leads away from hypocrisy.

  2. Passion

    ‘Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life’ (vv.26–27, MSG).

    Although anger is not intrinsically sinful, it often leads to sin. In anger, the devil sometimes finds a foothold in our lives that easily becomes an addiction. Anger is an emotion that we need to handle with care.

    On the other hand, there is a positive side to anger. It can be a God-given emotion. God expresses anger (5:6), but of course he does so under control. Jesus’ anger was a righteous anger towards sin. It was Wilberforce’s passionate hatred of slavery that eventually contributed to the abolition of the slave trade.

  3. Work and generosity

    ‘Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work’ (v.28, MSG).

    Holiness is often mistakenly understood as the need to separate ourselves from those we consider unholy. Perhaps work colleagues, for example. Paul’s point is very different. He sees work as part of a holy life. Work in itself is good for the satisfaction that it brings but there is also toil, struggle and effort. So why do people go to work in the morning? One answer is: in order to be holy.

    Paul finds it necessary to say do not steal any longer, which hints that some members of the early church came from a life of crime. The church clearly welcomed and rehabilitated them.

    Rather than taking from others, they should now contribute to those around them. The best way to do that is by working. Work in itself is ‘doing something useful’, as well as enabling them to ‘share with those in need’ (v.28). Work is, for everyone, a part of being holy.

  4. Encouragement

    ‘Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift’ (v.29, MSG).

    Words matter. What you say is of vital importance. It can either build people up or drag them down. Use your mouth for good – for encouragement and for building others up.

    Encouragement is not flattery or empty praise; it is like verbal sunshine. It costs nothing and warms other people’s hearts and inspires them with hope and confidence.

  5. Grace

    ‘Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you’ (vv.31–32, MSG).

    Paul’s vision of a holy church is a community that rids itself of all bitterness, anger and slander, and that welcomes ex-offenders, those struggling with lifestyle issues, those who are divorced, those who have messed up. It is a community of people in need of forgiveness and a place where forgiveness flows freely because forgiven people forgive.

    Churches are not supposed to be museums that display perfect people, walking around looking holy. They are called to be hospitals where the wounded, hurt, injured and broken find grace and healing.

  6. Purity

    The church welcomes everyone, because it is kind, compassionate and gracious. At the same time, you are called to a life of purity without ‘even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people’ (5:3).

    Rather than self-centred sins (vv.3–4a), you are called to God-centred thanksgiving (v.4b). There is also a strong warning here from Paul. There is forgiveness for sins, but those who end up setting their course against God’s ways will not inherit his kingdom (v.5).

Prayer

Lord, help me today to live a life of love and to become more like Jesus.

Old Testament

Isaiah 63:1-65:16

God’s Day of Vengeance and Redemption

63 Who is this coming from Edom,
   from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?
Who is this, robed in splendour,
   striding forward in the greatness of his strength?

“It is I, proclaiming victory,
   mighty to save.’

2 Why are your garments red,
   like those of one treading the winepress?

3 “I have trodden the winepress alone;
   from the nations no one was with me.
I trampled them in my anger
   and trod them down in my wrath;
their blood spattered my garments,
   and I stained all my clothing.
4 It was for me the day of vengeance;
   the year for me to redeem had come.
5 I looked, but there was no one to help,
   I was appalled that no one gave support;
so my own arm achieved salvation for me,
   and my own wrath sustained me.
6 I trampled the nations in my anger;
   in my wrath I made them drunk
   and poured their blood on the ground.”

Praise and Prayer

7 I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
   the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all the Lord has done for us—
   yes, the many good things
he has done for Israel,
   according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
8 He said, “Surely they are my people,
   children who will be true to me”;
   and so he became their Saviour.
9 In all their distress he too was distressed,
   and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
   he lifted them up and carried them
   all the days of old.
10 Yet they rebelled
   and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
   and he himself fought against them.

11 Then his people recalled the days of old,
   the days of Moses and his people—
where is he who brought them through the sea,
   with the shepherd of his flock?
Where is he who set
   his Holy Spirit among them,
12 who sent his glorious arm of power
   to be at Moses’ right hand,
who divided the waters before them,
   to gain for himself everlasting renown,
13 who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in open country,
   they did not stumble;
14 like cattle that go down to the plain,
   they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord.
This is how you guided your people
   to make for yourself a glorious name.

15 Look down from heaven and see,
   from your lofty throne, holy and glorious.
Where are your zeal and your might?
   Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us.
16 But you are our Father,
   though Abraham does not know us
   or Israel acknowledge us;
you, Lord, are our Father,
   our Redeemer from of old is your name.
17 Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways
   and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?
Return for the sake of your servants,
   the tribes that are your inheritance.
18 For a little while your people possessed your holy place,
   but now our enemies have trampled down your sanctuary.
19 We are yours from of old;
   but you have not ruled over them,
   they have not been called by your name.

64 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
   that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
   and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
   and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
   you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
   no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
   who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
   who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
   you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
   and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
   and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
   or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
   and have given us over to our sins.

8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
   we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
   do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look upon us, we pray,
   for we are all your people.
10 Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
   even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
   has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
12 After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
   Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?

Judgment and Salvation

65 “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
   I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
   I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
2 All day long I have held out my hands
   to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
   pursuing their own imaginations —
3 a people who continually provoke me
   to my very face,
offering sacrifices in gardens
   and burning incense on altars of brick;
4 who sit among the graves
   and spend their nights keeping secret vigil;
who eat the flesh of pigs,
   and whose pots hold broth of impure meat;
5 who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me,
   for I am too sacred for you!’
Such people are smoke in my nostrils,
   a fire that keeps burning all day.

6 “See, it stands written before me:
   I will not keep silent but will pay back in full;
   I will pay it back into their laps —
7 both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,”
   says the Lord.
“Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains
   and defied me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
   the full payment for their former deeds.”

8 This is what the Lord says:

“As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes
   and people say, ‘Don’t destroy it,
   there is still a blessing in it,’
so will I do in behalf of my servants;
   I will not destroy them all.
9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
   and from Judah those who will possess my mountains;
my chosen people will inherit them,
   and there will my servants live.
10 Sharon will become a pasture for flocks,
   and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds,
   for my people who seek me.

11 “But as for you who forsake the Lord
   and forget my holy mountain,
who spread a table for Fortune
   and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny,
12 I will destine you for the sword,
   and all of you will fall in the slaughter;
for I called but you did not answer,
   I spoke but you did not listen.
You did evil in my sight
   and chose what displeases me.”

13 Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“My servants will eat,
   but you will go hungry;
my servants will drink,
   but you will go thirsty;
my servants will rejoice,
   but you will be put to shame.
14 My servants will sing
   out of the joy of their hearts,
but you will cry out
   from anguish of heart
   and wail in brokenness of spirit.
15 You will leave your name
   for my chosen ones to use in their curses;
the Sovereign Lord will put you to death,
   but to his servants he will give another name.
16 Whoever invokes a blessing in the land
   will do so by the one true God;
whoever takes an oath in the land
   will swear by the one true God.
For the past troubles will be forgotten
   and hidden from my eyes.

Commentary

Become like the compassionate father

God’s love for Israel was like that of a father: ‘You are our Father’ (63:16; 64:8, MSG). ‘You’re our living Father, our Redeemer, famous from eternity!’ (63:16, MSG).

Just as God loved the people of Israel in the Old Testament, so God loves you as a father loves his children. Isaiah speaks of the kindnesses of the Lord: ‘… all the Lord has done for us – yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, “Surely they are my people, children who will be true to me...”’ (vv.7–8).

God loves us in spite of the fact that ‘we’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags’ (64:6, MSG).

God, like any human father, suffers when we suffer or go astray: ‘In all their troubles, he was troubled, too’ (63:9a, MSG). ‘In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old’ (v.9b).

God has plans for you that no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has conceived (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you love me more than any human father. Thank you that because of your love for me, I am able to love those around me.

Pippa adds

Ephesians 4:26

‘Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.’

In other words, don’t go to bed grumpy!

Verse of the Day

Ephesians 4:31–32, MSG

‘Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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