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  • Ross Moughtin

For the highest rate of return, invest in relationships

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

“True terror,” claims novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

Well for me this has been a week of reunions. Last Friday, members of my old class at Waterloo Grammar School gathered at the Royal Hotel while last night here in London our Catz economists group, all five of us, assembled at - of all places - the Athenaeum, within six minutes walking distance of Downing Street.

You will be relieved to know that Rishi did not seek our advice as to how to restore the nation’s finances. When I walked past Downing Street last night at 11.15pm the lights were off, and so I decided not to drop in. But there again, such has been the story over the last few weeks, you never know!

I must say that I enjoy such reunions, renewing contact with those you shared those long-ago formative years. Decades just disappear as you pick up where you left off. Strange

As Jon Hurwitz observes: “That's the fun of going to a high school reunion: it's seeing the people who you were close to all those years ago, and re-exploring the relationships of the past.”

Relationships are what defines us, it’s how God has made us. And as Christians we are called to invest heavily in relationships, such is the high rate of return.

This is the central message of the cross, no less. As the apostle Paul writes: “All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.” (2 Corinthians 5:16, Message translation)

I’ve blogged before how Jesus prioritized relationships, surprisingly even over worship.

‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21)

To make a gift to God at his altar would have been a very significant event for any of Jesus’ listeners. This would mean travelling, even walking, from where they were in Galilee to the temple in Jerusalem, some 70 miles distant with the final 15 miles an uphill slog.

Even so, if you are about to offer your gift and realise you need to say make up to someone back at home, this has the priority. Amazingly Jesus teaches that we are to keep God waiting while we sort our relationships out back home.

I recall a story from the remarkable Ugandan bishop, Festo Kivengere. It seems one evening he had a fierce argument with his wife. However, he couldn’t stay and sort it out because he was late for some preaching engagement. . However as he walked from his house, inconveniently God began to speak to him.

Festo, you go back and apologise to your wife!

But Lord, I’ve got a very important sermon to preach!

You go back and apologise to your wife!

But Lord, there are hundreds of people waiting for me and we’re going to have a good time tonight.

You go and apologise to your wife!

But Lord, I’m almost late and someone is coming to collect me!

All right! You go and preach your sermon and I’m going to stay here with your wife in the kitchen.

So the key ministry of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to make and maintain healthy relationships, not just with those who are close to us but especially to those we may just bump into. And the best school for teaching relationship skills is, of course, the church.

“Welcome with open arms” urges the apostle Paul, “fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.” (Romans 14:1)

For Paul relationships within the body of Christ were of first-order importance. And he went out of his way to nurture friendships and restore broken relations. However, this goal-driven apostle didn’t always find it easy. Take the bust-up with his good friend, Barnabas.

Luke pulls no punches as he relates how these two Christian apostles fell out in a big way over Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark. “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (Acts 15:39) This was just after their vindication at the Council of Jerusalem.

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit had to do some heavy lifting to restore their relationship. However, not long later Paul writes of Barnabas as being worthy of monetary support in his work of proclaiming the gospel (1 Corinthians. 9:6). And regarding the useless Mark, the imprisoned apostle was to write: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering” (2 Timothy 4:11).

One of the most powerful sermons I ever heard was on the significance of relationships within the body of Christ. “Bring to mind that Christian you like the least, the one you find the most irritating, the most difficult to get along with.” And then the preacher added: “This is the measure of your love for God!”

I guess for all of us the most important question is “Who is your Barnabas?” and “What are you going to do about it?

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