In many respects an elevator filled with people is a microcosm of our world today: a large, impersonal institution where anonymity, isolation, and independence are the uniform of the day. It shows us that people can be surrounded by other people in a crowded setting, and not experience community. We can be a part of a company, a club, or a church and not feel we belong or are accepted. We can share a car pool, an office, and even a home and not have significant relationships.
Perhaps an examination of the life of a man from antiquity, the apostle Paul, will shed light on our modern predicament. The modern corporate person who is upwardly mobile, with an emphasis on mobile, has nothing on Paul. He was born in Tarsus, educated in Jerusalem, lived in Damascus, spent formative time in the desert, moved to Antioch, and that was only the beginning. Professionally, he ventured out from Antioch on three extensive missionary campaigns, traveling from city to city. Yet wherever he went he established a band of people who huddled together in supportive and encouraging community. How was he able to create significant relationships even on the run, even in the midst of his mobility, even in his transient travels?
First Thessalonians, one of Paul’s most personal letters, identifies some of the key components for establishing and maintaining significant relationships.
1. Concede our need for others.
Just as a child needs a mother we need each other. This need for others is rooted deep within our souls. God planned it that way. That’s why God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18 NIV).
2. Cultivate deep relationships.
Healthy people do not take relationships lightly. They know that to survive in a cold and cruel world requires deep relationships. But those relationship do not just happen, they require effort. They know that they have to do more than just reach out to others; they have to share their lives with others as well.
This truth was one of the secrets of Paul’s establishment of supportive relationships. Here was a man that every time he wrote to a church, he would always call by name two, three, or four people that were very close to him. He had developed significant relationships with these people. Paul knew that to survive in a cold and cruel world would require deep relationships. But those relationships would not just happen; they would require an effort on his part. He knew he had to do more than just reach out to others; he had to share his life with them.
Found in verses seven and eight are three words—rhyming words—that form the basis for developing relationships which pass the test of time.
• Care—By practically getting involved in another’s life. Remember people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
• Share—By relationally getting involved in another’s life. The word picture of “sharing our lives” continues the mothering idea and paints a picture of a mother nursing her young. A mother cannot nurse her children without sharing a part of herself with her child. For us to share with others in deep relationship necessitates that we get up close and personal with another. One cannot share at a distance.
• Dear—By emotionally getting involved in another’s life. Paul loved these people. And when we love others we do not treat them as a means to an end, but rather as individuals of value. To communicate our love with others we must dare to talk about our affections. We must learn the gestures of love—a hug, a handshake, roughhousing, as well as many acts of kindness. May we never forget that love is something you do, not just something you say.
3. Commit to authenticity.
It is not enough to admit we need each other or say, “Oh, a few friends would be nice.” We must commit ourselves to getting beneath the surface talk and become interested and accountable to each other. Authenticity occurs when the masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited, and tenderness flows. It is where believers in the body of Christ really do become brothers and sisters.
Authenticity is becoming absorbed in the lives of others as an active participant, relating to, sharing with, and caring for others. The apostle Paul describes authenticity in five words, “We imparted our own lives” (1 Thess. 2:8 NASB). Paul did not erect barriers. He was not aloof. He opened his life to others. Reuben Gornitzke said of the need for authenticity, “We can’t simply cheer people on and give them our best wishes. We have to make room for them in our lives.”
It is when we make room for others in our lives that the walls of indifference and apathy come down. It is when we make room for others that we discover the best of others and the best in ourselves.