Summary: Spiritual truths that teach me how to make my relationships more enjoyable.

We’re continuing our series entitled “Together We Make a Difference.”

One person can certainly make a difference, and every individual is important, but TOGETHER we can have even greater influence. One bee can pollinate a flower and that’s cool - but it takes a whole hive of bees to make honey.

Last week we saw that God has this intense longing for us to cooperate with others so He created us to be most satisfied in life when we work together. In our homes, on the job, in our community, and in the church, God wants us to practice His precepts so that we can enjoy the benefits of working together. None of us is as happy alone as we are together. God made us that way. Teamwork is one of the central keys to leading a rich and satisfying life.

Yet even though we’re made to enjoy the benefits of satisfying relationships we all struggle in this area. We all have problems with other people, which, ironically, is a sign of the centrality of teamwork in our lives. If it weren’t so important, there wouldn’t be such a cosmic struggle to make teamwork work. Teamwork is difficult sometimes because it’s so central to human existence. And just like any other worthwhile thing it’s worth the effort.

Have those of you who were here last week noticed that since we learned to: 1) Play by the rules in our relationships; 2) Make kindness the trademark of your relationships; and 3) Don’t take ourselves too seriously; that doing these things is hard work? Have you been tested in these areas this past week? I know I have. But that’s good. That’s part of how God teaches us. He tests us in our relationships so that our relationships can grow and become even more satisfying.

Today we want to see HOW TEAMWORK MAKES MY FRIENDSHIPS MORE ENJOYABLE. In other words, what can I do to enhance a good thing? Friendship is a good thing. It’s good to have friends - people to share the joys as well as the sorrows of life with. How can I take this good thing and make it great? What can I do to increase my personal level of friendship enrichment?

Today we’re going to see how to take our relationships to the next level. Not only does God want us to have friends, to be on teams, and to work harmoniously together. He also wants our relationships to be long lasting and satisfying. But in order to reach the next level we have to follow spiritual truth.

Christ said some extremely valuable things about this topic and we’re going to think about them today.

9 I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (Circle that phrase, “that your joy may be complete.” That’s next level thinking. Everyone is in relationships but it takes following what Jesus says here to take our relationships to a more joyful level, to make them “complete.”)

12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13 The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them. 14 And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:9- 17 (GNT)

From this passage from the Word of God we can see four…

Spiritual Truths about Making Friendship More Enjoyable Through Teamwork

First of all, if I’m going to enjoy my friendships better…

1. I need God as my role model.

Jesus said: “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12 (NLT) (Circle, “just as I love you.”)

Jesus told us what to do and even how to do it if we want to have satisfying relationships. If I want to go to the next level with those I live with or work with or spend any kind of time with - if I want to enjoy more than just the surface relationships that characterize so many people’s lives - if I want to be able to take my mask off and be myself with my friends and let them take their masks off and be themselves with me - then I’ve got to love them the way that God loves me.

I need God as my role model. I need to love others the way He loves me.

So the question becomes. How does God love me?

If you research the Bible you’ll find that one of the great things about God’s love for you and me is that He loves us by seeing us more than just skin deep. Therefore, if I’m going to have God as my role model, I need to see others underneath their skin.

I’m not talking about “getting under one another’s skin.” That comes without effort. All of us have ways of getting under one another’s skin without even trying. I’m talking about a godly quality. God’s love for me is not just a superficial love. God loves me in spite of all my warts and blemishes because he looks beneath the surface. I don’t have to go to a cosmetologist before God will be my friend. I don’t have to put on any masks or wear any makeup. I don’t have to pretend. God loves me just the way I am.

The Bible says God loves the whole world this way. The word “world” is found 77 times in John’s Good News Account and many times the word “world” is used to mention how much God loves everyone in the world. (Like John 3:16, for instance.) God loves the whole world and everyone in it when some people have a difficult time loving their own relatives.

Why is this? It’s because God doesn’t judge people by outward appearance.

God’s Word says, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b (NLT)

In order to start loving people like God loves them I’m going to have to start seeing people like God sees them!

God is calling me to be like Him, to love others in spite of their outward flaws of appearance and personality quirks and bad habits and aggravating attitudes. I need to love them in spite of our differences.

James Berry in Tales of Old Ireland tells of the friendship between an Irish priest and a Protestant minister who was in danger of being transferred because his congregation was so small. On the critical Sunday when the minister’s bishop arrived for a final check on church attendance, the Catholic priest told his own congregation what would happen to his friend if the bishop found the church empty. “The whole congregation was moved to tears, …sailed down to the Protestant Church, and filled it to capacity. The old bishop was charmed and declared they were the finest congregation he ever saw…Ever afterwards the people prided themselves on the work of that Sunday.”

I can’t say that their deception of the bishop was right but I can say they meant well. When Catholics and Protestants in Ireland start ignoring one another’s differences you’ve got some genuine brotherly Christian love going on! That’s taking relationships to the next level!

So, in order to love others like Jesus loves me I need to love others underneath their skin. That’s the way I’m going to have to love others if God is going to be my role model. And making God my role model is the first step to going to the next level in my relationships.

So first of all, in order to make my relationship joy more “complete”, more satisfying, I need God as my role model. Secondly…

2. I need giving as my legacy.

“The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” John 15:13 (NLT)

This isn’t just talking about stepping in front of a bullet for the people you love. This is about giving parts of your life every day for others.

The Bible expands on this. In the Apostle John’s letter to the churches of the first century he said something strategic that helps us understand what giving our lives for our friends is all about.

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? 18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 1 John 3:16-18 (NLT)

Putting my life on the line for my friends is showing them compassion. It’s sharing, especially when I have something they need. I may have a material possession they need. I may have an ability, a talent, or a gift that they need. I may simply lay down my life by giving my time for my friends.

We observed Faith in Action last month and I commend every one of you for every act of Christian kindness and Christian service you carried out. And I commend you for all the things you’ve done and are doing that no one but God has seen. But Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois did something several years ago that blows my mind. They reported in the summer 2003 edition of “Leadership” that they had called the homeless shelters and asked what they really needed. They said shoes. So one Sunday at the close of the worship gathering they ended with a challenge to use that day as a marker if they were really serious about having a Christ-centered heart about helping the poor. “We invited them to come forward,” Pastor Bill Carroll reported, “take communion, remove their shoes and leave them on the stage, and return to their cars barefoot. Besides 1,600 pairs of shoes, people also left coats, hats, and gloves.”

In that instance, those people were laying part of their lives on the line for others – the part of their lives that they used to earn the money to buy those materials things. That’s a practical example of what I need to do consistently in order to make my friendships more enjoyable. I need to give. Giving needs to be the legacy that I leave behind. Nothing is more indicative of Christian love than giving. Nothing.

Here’s something else I can do to take my relationships to the next level…

3. I need loyalty as my aim.

“And you are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14 (NLT)

How does this help me have more satisfying relationships? Christ’s commands are my manual for relationships.

If I want to get a driver’s license one of the first things I do is obtain a driver’s manual. I get this manual so I may learn the rules of the road because, if I don’t pass the driver’s test they aren’t going to give me a license because they know that I DON’T KNOW the rules of the road. If I don’t know the rules of the road I’m going to drive in ways that are dangerous at worst and irritating at best to other drivers.

The Word of God is our manual for relationships. If I want successful relationship experiences I need to go by the manual.

We look at these words of Christ and our human nature responds negatively to them. “So Jesus is only going to let me be His friend IF I do what He commands. No thanks! I don’t want to jump through any hoops to be Jesus’ friend.”

We don’t get it.

The reason we CAN’T be Jesus’ friends if we don’t go by His manual is because in disregarding His commands we are only hurting ourselves. We’re going to continue to have relationship “fender benders” and even more serious relationship accidents, we’re going to get ticketed and our relationship insurance rates are going up, because we failed to go by THE RELATIONSHIP MANUAL.

We’re the ones who have hinder our own chances at fulfilling relationships by disregarding Christ’s commands - commands and instructions that He gives us for our own good. He wants our joy to be “complete.” He wants our relationships to be satisfying. But we can’t have satisfying relationships by disregarding His guidelines any more than we can have a good driving record by disregarding the driver’s manual.

Love isn’t just an emotion. It’s a commitment – a commitment to go by the manual.

So I make loyalty to Christ’s relationships instructions as my aim.

This will of course result in loyalty to my friends (which you probably thought I was going to talk about when I mentioned loyalty) but I don’t know what true loyalty in my relationships is if I don’t follow Christ’s instructions.

1. I need God as my role model.

2. I need giving as my legacy.

3. I need loyalty as my aim.

And Christ’s words about friendship in John 15 also teach me that, if I’m going to have complete joy in my relationships…if my relationships are going to the next level, if they’re going deeper than just superficial relationships, then…

4. I need Jesus as my friend.

To me, Jesus makes a statement here that is one of the most exciting and revealing in all the Word of God.

Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer,…Instead, I call you friends,…” John 15:15 (NLT)

Christ said He isn’t interested in us just being His servants. He wants us to be His friends.

Once again, that’s next level thinking in our relationships.

A lot of people have a terrible misconception about what following Christ is all about. They think its just about following this long list of rules. Well, if we were just servants then that would be the case. But Jesus clearly says here that He wants us as more than servants. He wants us as friends!

Following Christ is not just about rules – it’s more about relationships!

For example…

If a marriage relationship is narrowed down to two people simply trying to follow one another’s rules then it becomes a lifeless relationship. But if you have two people interested in being one another’s friends – especially the kind of friends Jesus talks about in this Scripture: friends who have God as their role model and giving as their legacy and loyalty as their aim – then you’ve got an extremely satisfying marital relationship!

Or take two coworkers – or an employer and employee – once the relationship becomes more than just surface dealings with each other – once you take it to the next level – to the friendship level using spiritual guidelines - you’re going to enjoy your job a whole lot more!

Or people working together on a ministry team in the church – following these spiritual guidelines for friendship as taught by Christ make all the difference in the world.

Jesus is saying, “I want you as my friend. I want to be your friend!”

I need Jesus as my friend because without Him life is just a bunch of lifeless motions.

So how can I become Christ’s friend?

It’s simple. I just ask.

Jesus said, "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in..." Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

In his book "40 Days", Alton Gansky relates this story:

"Harry Houdini made a name for himself by escaping from every imaginable confinement - from straightjackets to multiple pairs of handcuffs clamped to his arms. He boasted that no jail cell could hold him. Time and again, he would be locked in a cell only to reappear minutes later.

"It worked every time - but one. He accepted another invitation to demonstrate his skill. He entered the cell, wearing his street clotes, and the jail cell door shut. Once alone, he pulled a thin but strong piece of metal from his belt and began working the lock. But something was wrong. No matter how hard Houdini worked, he couldn’t unlock the lock. For two hours he applied his skill and experience to the lock but failed time and time again. Finally he gave up in frustration.

"The problem? The cell had never been locked. Houdini worked himself to near exhaustion trying to achieve what could be accomplished by simply pushing the door open. The only place the door was locked was in his mind."

Faith is not a complex process. It is not the result of years of education, pilgrimages, or flashy supernatural experiences. The door to belief is ready to open and is locked only in theminds of those who choose to believe it is.

We’re going to bow for prayer right now. If you would like to open the door to Christ so that He may come into your life as your friend you can pray silently right now where you are and ask Him to be your friend and He will!