Relationships.  God exists as one; Father, Son, and Spirit.  We were created with the need for relationships – with God and with one another.  God’s command to us is to love Him with our everything and others as we love ourselves.  Our life purpose – no matter how unique – can only be fulfilled through relationships with others.

Not only are relationships necessary for life, the most amazing experiences, the best of memories, and some of the most valuable assets possessed through life’s ups and downs exist through relationships.

Although relationships can be incredibly rewarding, they do come at a risk.  After all, if God has to command us to express love through our relationships, that means that it isn’t something that is going to happen naturally.  It means that people that we have relationships with are not always going to be easy to love.  If relationships were all amazing and beneficial to us with no downsides, love would always come naturally.

In reality, relationships can be difficult.  If you think you’ve been in some challenging, selfish, and outright abusive relationships, consider Jesus and His own people.  All that He ever did was everything right and all for their benefit expressing love perfectly.  All that they did was accuse, manipulate, flog, scourge, and hang Him on the cross.  Yet Jesus never turned His love off toward them, even forgiving them from the cross.  Jesus can well relate to what you’ve been through!

Think about our own relationship with Jesus.  He has put up with quite a bit of selfishness and abuse from us and yet His love still remains.  We are so fickle and faithless while He remains steadfast and faithful.  We base our relationships so much on our emotions and circumstances while He bases His relationship on unchanging truth.

What makes relationships so difficult at times?  Well, according to numerous studies from many different sources, a consistent top reason for relationships of all sorts failing has been labelled as a communications issue.  Whether it be a marriage, friendship, employer, contractor, etc. many issues that arise within those relationships is blamed on either the lack of communication or poor communication.

Although this is confirmed by therapists and human resource departments and psychologists alike, I found it interesting that the Bible does not seem to really address communication as a common problem, though.

Why is this?  Well, as I thought about it for a while, God revealed this reality.  We were created by God to be in constant communication with the world around us.  We can’t help but to constantly communicate to the world around us.

Think about us sitting here right now since the service started.  Although most of us aren’t saying a single word, we are clearly communicating.  And those who are chit-chatting during the service, well, that communicates something, too.

Maybe you’ve found yourself staring out the window watching the cars go by or birds catching worms.  Maybe you’ve laughed a few times or been staring at your phone playing Mario Kart or reading or taking notes.  Maybe you caught yourself nodding off for a nap or clapped or shouted.  Maybe you’ve put your arm around your love or held their hand.  Maybe you’ve rolled your eyes a few times or crossed your arms or shook your head ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to something. 

Communication is happening all of the time and most of it isn’t even intentional; it just happens.

That couple seeking out counsel on the brink of divorce is likely communicating plenty to one another!  They may both say that they are having communication problems, but after listening for a few minutes, you’ll find that they have been communicating quite a bit to each other!

They said so much by the way they spent money, by being on their phone during dinner, by coming home late, by never planning dates, by the way they discipline their children or forgetting to pick them up from a practice; even by the way they close a door or walk across the floor.  They communicate by leaving messes around the house, by the expression on their face or the way that they dress.  Even by being completely and totally absent, they are communicating something to their spouse.

The Bible clarifies the true root behind what the world labels as a communication problem.  It is an issue that plagues not only our everyday relationships with one another, but also one that has a significant impact on our church, personal ministry, and how effective we are at reaching people with the gospel. 

The true issue at hand?  Understanding.

Understanding goes beyond what we are perceiving that others are communicating to know for certain what people are intending to communicate.  Understanding humbles ourselves and honors others.  It syncs up our communications so that we accurately know how to interpret the information that we were perceiving.  Understanding is like a personalized dictionary that enables us to accurately translate what is being communicated to us.

Understanding doesn’t mean that we agree with the other person or even like what they are communicating, but it enables us to accurately hear what they are saying; both with and without words.  In fact, the more time that you spend with someone, the more that you build up that dictionary.

If you spend enough time with someone such as a coworker, friend, or spouse, you begin to understand exactly what someone is thinking or feeling without them even having said a word.  You can read their expression or the tapping of their foot or their hand on their hip.  You may not even be near them, but when overhearing what someone else says to them, you know exactly how they are responding to it.

Understanding goes beyond communication.  Understanding has the power to break up our hardened hearts and replace them with compassion and empathy.  It enables us to see others as not just who they are now, but also what forged them to be the way that they are and to see things the way that they see them. 

Just one little piece of information can radically transform our perspective toward a person or situation because it gives us understanding.  Though the other person doesn’t change at all nor the way that they are communicating with us, understanding radically transforms what we perceive from them.  This understanding can all happen with just one little piece of information.

Man on bus with kid’s example

The lack of understanding or a simple misunderstanding?  Well, these never lead to anything good…

God said:

Isaiah 5:13 Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding

Isaiah 6:9/Matt 13

For this people’s heart has become calloused;

    they hardly hear with their ears,

    and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

    hear with their ears,

    understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.

Isaiah 27:11 For this is a people without understanding; so their Maker has no compassion on them, and their Creator shows them no favor.

Jeremiah 4:22 My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding.

Hosea 4:14 …a people without understanding will come to ruin!

Ephesians 4:18 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.

But if we are intentional about gaining understanding, seeking after it, and if we remain humble and teachable, well, everything can change for us!  We can become so much more effective in every area of our lives!

Proverbs 2:2-5

2 turn your ear to wisdom

    and apply your heart to understanding—

3 call out for insight

    and cry aloud for understanding,

4 look for it as for silver

    and search for it as for hidden treasure,

5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord

    and find the knowledge of God.

Understanding takes work and effort, it does not automatically happen.  We have to look for it and seek it out.  It takes time and humility to build relationships with people that we don’t understand.  However, it is the only way to gain understanding of them.

How important is understanding to God?

When God chose to fill Bezalel with the Holy Spirit, one of the first people receiving this blessing, one of the effects was that he was filled with understanding.  The leaders over the tribes of Israel were to be people with understanding.  When Solomon was gifted by God, it was not just with wisdom, but also with understanding.  God established the heavens with understanding.  Once you see how critical understanding is, you begin to see it everywhere in the scriptures!

Jesus wrapped Himself in flesh to be tempted and tried and weak just like you and I to become a great high priest who is completely understanding.

Daniel was exalted and blessed even in exile in the service of his own enemy because he had understanding.  Even at the day of Pentecost when the believers were filled with the Spirit and speaking in tongues, it was to bring understanding to those from every nation gathered at Jerusalem so that they would hear the wonders of God!

The Greek word syniēmi (sün-ē’-ā-mē) translated to our word understanding describes what it is very well.  It is defined in the Vine’s expository dictionary as “to set or join together in the mind through perception”.

We gain understanding in the same way that all of those people on the day of Pentecost gained understanding:

Acts 2:12

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Questions.  These are the primary tool that God has given us to gain understanding.  Not questioning to accuse, but questioning to learn.  Asking genuine questions from a teachable heart leads to understanding.  Sure, we may still disagree, but at least we will come together in our minds.

Asking people questions in order to learn about them builds relationship.  It also broadens our knowledge and compassion as we humble ourselves and learn to view things from the perspective of others.  Listening to people to learn about them allows the love of God to flow through our lives and lets people know that we genuinely care about them.  Questions lead to understanding.

As we ask questions, we begin to also find common ground with others that we would have never realized existed otherwise.  Finding that common ground, coupled with understanding, makes us far more effective at discipleship.  It enables us to reach people where they are at and to lead them further into God’s purpose for their lives.

Understanding others also keeps our own hearts soft and compassionate even as Jesus’ was.

Understanding is what I believed enabled Jesus to go through the seven woes against the leadership of His people, but to end them with His plea of how He longed to gather them together like a mother hen gathers her chicks.  It is what enabled Him to know the thoughts and sins of those around Him and still love them and serve them and forgive them; even from the cross.

Ephesians 4:17-24

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.

Out of a hardened heart, most people out there would rather believe the worst about others than to take time to seek truth.  Most would rather find a reason to reject and look down on others than to try and understand others not like them. 

God’s word insists that we live differently.  After giving our lives to Jesus, we cannot continue on being hard-hearted and ignorant-minded.  We must choose not to be darkened in our understanding, but to allow our understanding to become enlightened and to increase.

As we go on from here, may we be intentional in seeking to understand.  Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to broaden our mind beyond ourselves and perceive things from the perspective of others.  Let’s ask questions to learn more about others.  As we reach out in genuine interest and compassion toward others, Jesus is sure to meet us there in that place and do an incredible work equipping us to seek and save the lost as He did.