Anyone out there have trouble getting along with other people? Maybe not consistently, but at least periodically? Yeah, I thought so! This "living in unity" thing is a lot harder than it looks! I think Paul hit it on the head when he tells us the MAIN reason we don't get along has something to do with the perception of the other guy NOT doing his part. We often find it impossible to deal with the "other guy" when we perceive they are doing less than they are capable of, or are just not pulling their weight in the process of whatever our expectations were of them. In truth, I wonder how they feel about each of us? Maybe we are just as "guilty" of not doing our part in their eyes! Now I have gone to meddling!
Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. (I Thessalonians 5:13-15 MSG)
Paul is speaking to the First Century church - warning them to not be so wrapped up in finding fault with others, but to learn to do for the other what they may be incapable of doing for themselves. He says "our counsel" is...
Do you know what "counsel" is? It can be opinion - directed toward another to assist them in acting a certain way. It is most often instruction - with the ultimate goal of getting someone to adopt a certain course of action. We sometimes call this advice. Let's break down what Paul lists as some "must haves" in relating with each other:
1. Get along AMONG yourselves - each doing his part. In other translations this passage begins with "Live at peace with each other..." If we look carefully, Paul is telling us we don't "move out or away" - we get along where we are (AMONG). How? Each doing his part. The hardest thing to do is to give of yourself when you don't see another giving to the same degree. You invest - they seem to take. The shoe may be on the other foot someday, so don't slip into judgment of their actions! We may be in a spot of "taking" when they think we should be "giving". We need to focus more on the fact we are "placed" in the relationships we have been afforded, not to create chaos, but to be a blessing AMONG our "group". It could be family, coworkers, or even the church members themselves. It doesn't matter - each doing their part is the goal.
2. Freeloaders don't always realize they are mooching. Sometimes we don't realize how much we are being like a "sponge" in relationships - taking from the other whatever they are capable of giving, without really putting anything out ourselves. Paul may have had in mind us "spurring" one another on - so we don't get left behind in any fashion. Yet, I think we could all take a moment to ask ourselves where we are "sponging". Sometimes we need to soak in - but when we reach the point of saturation, something has to come out! Paul's "counsel" (advice) is to recognize the "mooching syndrome" in each other - spurring one another on. Sometimes we just need to give a gentle "squeeze" to a well-saturated sponge to get the stuff soaked in to begin to release!
3. Some straggle - others run ahead. It becomes more important we learn to "run together". One setting the pace for the other - no one left behind in relationship. It is this one thing which sets us apart from the animals - we don't leave our wounded behind! We set out to repair the breaches! A straggler has no specific course they are following - they just wandered! Paul's advice - help them pay attention to the course they are on again! We are to be "gentle encouragers" - not obnoxious complainers, but moderate and kind in our encouragement to "stay the course".
4. Exhaustion creeps in, it doesn't overwhelm all at one time. The extreme weakness of another is not our time to rise above them, but to come alongside. The strange part of exhaustion is the slow, almost insidious means by which it overtakes one. It is our part to be ever-wary of the signs of the exhausted and to become gentle in "carrying" them for a time.
5. Patience and attentiveness go hand in hand. Ever find yourself impatient only to find out you were "unfair" in your impatience? I think Paul links these two because it really is our responsibility toward each other to be paying attention to the other - in turn, we don't strike out in our impatience. When we see the world as another sees it (paying attention), we often begin to realize the extreme conditions they are dealing with. Each has an "individual" need - we never find this out unless we are paying attention. As you have probably heard me say before - paying attention is never by accident! It is purposeful - planned out in advance.
6. We will get on each other's nerves - it is part of living and working so close to another. If we all lived on islands, I wonder if we'd get on each other's nerves so much? Yep, we probably would see the empty coconut shells washing up on shore of our island and wonder why the guy living on the island next door had to be so "inconsiderate" as to throw the empties into the ocean! We'd want to know why he didn't throw a few "full ones" in there for someone else to enjoy. We are just going to have to admit - we all get on each other's nerves once in a while. We need to deal with it! Paul doesn't say "don't" get on each other's nerves - he says "when you do". So, it is inevitable. Our response: Don't snap! I know you've probably seen the little plaques which read something like: "I only had one nerve left and you just got on it!" Truth be told, you have a whole lot of other "nerves" functioning, you just chose to focus on that "one".
7. The best is there - sometimes it just needs a little uncovering. I guess this is the hardest part of relationship. We often want to write someone off as a hopeless case instead of "digging deeper" in order to uncover the "best" in them. Yet, if we read this in context, Paul is saying we have an obligation to find the best in the other - not the worst.
Relationships are tough. No one can tell me differently. If we take the good "advice" of Paul, applying each of these principles to our relationships, maybe they'd get a little easier. Just sayin!