When I was in elementary school, our classrooms were heated by a boiler. It would heat water to the point of steam which would then travel through pipes to a radiator and heat the room. This is literally an “old school” method of heating.
One day our class was allowed to go to the boiler room. I’m not sure why; perhaps we didn’t have any money for field trips. Or maybe we were studying thermodynamics but that’s pretty unlikely, since this took place when I was in the second grade.
The boiler was a huge metal tank in which the water was heated. As a closed system, it was impossible to see inside. On the side of the tank there was a temperature gauge. This was the only way to know what was taking place inside the tank.
Our relationships with God and others are a little bit like that tank. The human heart is unknown except to God and sometimes the individual belonging to it. But there is a gauge that tells us whether or not that human heart is in alignment with the nature of God. The gauge is our relationships. 1 John 4:19 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
And the only thing that changes the heart of a human being is the gospel.
When a church has a relational problem, it has a gospel problem. When conflict is damaging the ministry and witness of the church, the root of the dysfunction can be traced back to individual church members failing to fully engage the gospel. They MIGHT be saved but they are not walking in accordance with the truth of the gospel.
So what is the gospel? The gospel is the “good news” (literal meaning of the New Testament word translated ‘gospel’) about everything God has done to relate to us and to bring us back to Himself.
The subject of the gospel is God, but it is directed toward ourselves, and then indirectly toward others. The gospel transforms relationships, in three key dimensions: (1) self (2) others (3) God. Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, has expressed this as the SOG model. Each aspect of the model requires a two-fold response from us: awareness and engagement.
- Am I God-aware? The gospel comes in the power of the Spirit to direct my focus toward God the Father and the Son.
- Am I God engaged? As I realize His mercy and grace, my heart is drawn towards the Lord. I respond with worship and obedience.
- Am I self aware? God-awareness paves the way for self-awareness. In light of His nature, I can see myself clearly for the first time. And this brings a new sense of humility.
- Am I self-engaged? Because I am now aware both of God and myself, I find a new dynamic that allows me to overcome sinful habits and tendencies, many of which sabotage my relationships.
- Am I others-aware? As the power of sin is being broken in my life, I can now begin to see and value others. Compassion and understanding replace insensitivity and ignorance.
- Am I others-engaged? With a renewed heart, I am able to practice the components of relational wisdom: listening, empathizing, valuing, reconciling, and encouraging.
What is needed in today’s churches is an outpouring of relational wisdom, God’s operating system for life and relationships. Even a cursory survey of the relational landscape shows us that many church members are interacting with one another in a very unwise manner.
What’s the solution? The answer is found in the gospel, which, as it overflows from our lives, makes us act in a relationally wise manner.
Is your heart truly being warmed by the gospel? It is easy to tell. Just check your relational gauge on the outside of the tank of your heart. If conflict is a regular part of your life, perhaps you are not fully aware of and engaged with the gospel.
Brett Selby is the Southwest Regional Ministry Partner for Oklahoma Baptists and can be reached at email@example.com.