In those first decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the early Christians were changed by two key experiences: first, they came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the risen Son of God. Some of them actually saw the risen Christ, and even the ones who didn’t see him still came to a living faith in the Lord and his resurrection. Second, they had a life-changing experience of the indwelling Spirit in their lives. These two experiences were central to their understanding of what it meant to become disciples of Jesus.
But in addition to these two inner transformations, their lives also changed outwardly, especially their relationships. Instead of relating based on social status, education, or wealth, these Christians saw each other as equal members of the same family in Christ. People who came to their gatherings could see their love for one another in action, and it helped them come to the Lord.
This month, we will examine how our relationships can be transformed by Christ, how love is meant to express itself in service, and how peace is not simply a feeling but involves a whole new way of relating. You will meet Philemon, a leader in the church in Colossae, and see how he became a brother to his slave Onesimus. You will see how St. Paul urged the Corinthians to overcome their differences by treating each other with Christian love. And you will see the believers in Galatia, who had been tearing each other apart, face the challenge to come back together in the peace of Christ.
Transformed by the Good News. However quickly or slowly, the good news of Jesus is meant to transform every area of our lives, including our relationships. With the help of God’s grace, we can increase our love for our family members and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as it was in the early Church, the way we relate to each other should stand out in a good way. After all, we are temples of the Holy Spirit!
Like me, you might say, “Some of my relationships are pretty good, and others, well, not so much.” But Paul would tell us, “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all” (Romans 12:18). In other words, to the degree that it depends on your actions and words, strive for peace with the people around you. If Philemon could accept the slave Onesimus as his own brother and vice versa, then we can love the members of our families as well as the members of our “faith” families.
So this month, ask the Lord to bless your relationships. Ask him to help you love the people you find difficult to love, and tell him how grateful you are for every person he has entrusted to your care.
P.S. I want to offer a quick word of thanks to N. T. Wright, a Pauline Scripture scholar, whose writing was instrumental in bringing to life for us the often-ignored New Testament Letter to Philemon.