What a guy that has been dead for 1500 years can teach us about relationships, church, and stuff
I have never really thought of myself as a person who is good at relationships, whether dating, friendship, or family. My relational journey usually starts off in a pattern. First, I meet a person. I do a good job at intentionally relating, understanding, and conversing for a while. By all accounts, I’m pretty decent at this relationship business. Personally, I think I am pretty easygoing and slightly witty during this time. But then something always changes. I get to know this person better and begin to discover their flaws. I go grab pizza and notice that this person eats with his mouth open. Or head off to the movies and realize she always slams the door of my pristine 2007 Hyundai Accent. Or always interrupts when what I have to say is clearly better. Or locks unnecessary doors. Or simply tells me what to do…. Ever. I could keep the list going for a while of all the things that bug me. But to save time, I will use a cute little word to describe my reaction to all the things that tick me off: sin.
Most of what I listed above is little things, and very few of them are even of themselves wrong or sinful. They are mainly preference things, and in response to people in my life not acting according to my preferences, I get ticked and usually isolate, confront, or lose interest in the relationship.
I may be the only one who ever struggles with responding to preferences as a problem. But history suggests I am not. In fact, the Christian church has nearly two thousand years of examples where relationships were torn apart by preferences. When I was in college, I learned there was this one guy named Augustine who did not think this was quite what Jesus had in mind for His followers. In response, he wrote and preached a lot on this subject but boiled it down to a simple phrase:
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Augustine believed that the most important beliefs of Christianity should never be compromised, things like Jesus being God, the importance of the Bible, etc. So in those things all Christians should be united, and if a person is outside of those core beliefs, then they shouldn’t be considered a Christian.
Then Augustine talked about non-essentials, things like the order of church service, church government structure, and how little theological pieces work. They are things we might consider important to our own spiritual lives, but if someone disagrees, we don’t automatically label them non-Christian. In short, these are PREFERENCES!!!!
The church has gotten caught up over little things for a while, as have I. Both the church and I had gotten so focused on preferences that we began to confuse them for essential things. In Christian history, it has caused war, church division, and cultural bitterness against Christianity. In my life, it has caused broken family relationships, damaged friendships, and a lot of pain.
But I’m so glad that Augustine suggested a solution for the church and for me: charity. He suggested that in all things… all things, whether things we agree on, things that are essential, or things that are non-essential, in ALL things we should respond in charity. We should respond in voluntary giving. Giving of our preferences, of our time, of our emotion, of our need to be RIGHT before others.
I’m sure Augustine had some preferences. I’m sure that sometimes he got mad and blew up on a roommate for forgetting to pick up pineapple from the market (I assume this has been a common scenario for millennia) or tracking in mud from his sandals, but I have a feeling that the more he lived out this simple line the better he got at relationships and the better he got at leading the church, and I would push all the money to the center on betting if we do the same we would become pretty decent at relationships too.