Keith Olsen – Relationships First

When I was home in Canada, someone asked me what was the biggest change I had noticed since coming back after five years. I thought about it for quite a while and I decided that the biggest change I noticed was a diminished desire in people at large to work at human relationships, to make relationships what they ought to be.


People entering relationships thinking, “What is this going to give me?” but without thinking, “What can I contribute to this relationship to make it what it ought to be?” As God’s people, a great responsibility rests upon us that we might make our relationships what they ought to be in the eyes of God. Some time ago, a young person came to me with a burden on her heart. She said, “In the place where I work, there is a young man who has been interested in me. First of all, our relationship was just a working one, then it became a friendship, then there were emotions in the heart, now I feel I am bound. What should I do? I know this is not helping my relationship with God.” Because the things he was interested in were not the things she was interested in spiritually. So all I could do was to help her to put her relationship with God first, and anything that helps your relationship with God, feed that, and anything that would hinder your relationship with God, starve that. She took that course.


Mark 3:31, “There came then His brethren and His mother .. calling Him. And He answered them saying, “Who is My mother, or My brethren?” And He looked round about on them which sat about Him, and said, “Behold My mother and My brethren …” Jesus wasn’t slighting His mother in any way, but just teaching the people that there are natural relationships and spiritual relationships. Mary, the mother of Jesus had a special natural relationship with the Lord Jesus’ as His mother, but she also had a spiritual relationship with Him because of doing the will of God.


A young lady once heard the gospel. She was the first one in her family and she responded. It meant so much to her that she wanted other members of her family to hear this gospel and she wrote to workers in the area where her mother lived and those workers went to visit her mother and gave her an invitation to gospel meetings and she came. After a period of time, she also accepted this wonderful gospel. That daughter, having heard the news that her mother had received this gospel with a purpose to do the will of God, phoned her. When she hung up, she said to the workers, “It was so different talking to my mother now, it was just like I was talking to a sister.” Her mother had become her sister. Her mother, in a natural relationship, but her sister in Christ through the spiritual relationship.


Those are the relationships that we want to establish and strengthen and keep firm, spiritual relationships one with the other. The reason, mainly, for the lack of working relationships is that, first of all, people don’t really understand what proper relationships are in the light of the Word of God, and secondly, they have no real purpose to develop and strengthen those relationships. That’s why the present attitude is – well, if it doesn’t work, we can break that relationship off and establish another kind of relationship. But in Christ, we first of all have a pattern for the kind of relationships we want to make and establish, and secondly, we have a purpose in making and maintaining these relationships.


John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples if ye have love one to another.” You are My disciples – a master/learner relationship -between Jesus and the disciples. You have love one to the other – brother/brother relationship. This will be the evident sign that your relationship with God is what it ought to be, because you are maintaining relationships with each other as they ought to be.


Jesus in His teaching has told us what those brother/brother relationships ought to be and we have a purpose in maintaining those relationships because, if they are not right, then our relationship with God, the Master, cannot be right. If we should have something against a brother or sister, that affects our relationship with God. We cannot be in a close relationship with God if we haven’t the right relationship with our brethren. For example, I know a couple in a city where we labored some years ago and, as the custom is in our country in the East, when a son would marry he would bring his wife into his parents’ home. Sometimes on very rare occasions when a daughter would marry, she and her husband would make their home with her parents. This is what happened on a certain occasion.


This daughter was married and her husband came into the home with her parents, all living together. Things were fine for some years and then something happened (long before we ever met them) and relationships between father and daughter deteriorated to the place where they were not even speaking to each other. They lived in the same house and ate the same food and went to the same denominational church together and sat together in those worship services and came home together from the services, but they had absolutely no communication one with the other. This continued not only for a day or a week but for years, and here were these people trying to maintain, what they said, was a relationship with God without working at relationships with each other.


We are grateful that in the gospel of Jesus Christ we can learn what our relationships ought to be one with the other and, through the grace of God, we can establish and maintain those relationships and then, through that, we can also be right with God. Right relationships must be consciously fed and strengthened. We must make a conscious effort, whether between brothers and sisters in a family, or between children and parents, or between man and wife, or between members in the church, or between workers as companions, or between friends and workers, or between us and the world. All different relationships that we must build, and we must make a conscious effort to feed those relationships that are right and starve those relationships that are wrong so that God’s blessing can be upon our lives.


I would like to tell you about someone who established and maintained one of these good relationships. I was in a home some years ago and on the counter in the kitchen was a small bouquet of wild roses. I asked the lady of the home where these had come from, because I thought it was far too early in the season for wild roses to be showing themselves. She said, “I am happy to tell you where they came from. Over 30 years ago, when my husband was courting me, he always brought me the first wild roses that he ever found in the springtime of the year and he would break them from the bush where he found them and bring them to me.


For over 30 years, every year without fail, he has brought to me the first wild roses that he ever found in springtime.” So I knew that they had a good relationship one with the other and here was somebody who was working at it, a man who was doing something, showing a little kindness, not afraid to express his love for his wife, and making a conscious effort to maintain and strengthen that relationship he had established with her. It’s those little kindnesses, that probably would go unnoticed in the world, that we can do for each other that will help to strengthen and maintain those relationships. Every right relationship needs nurturing.


Psalm 119:19, “I am a stranger in the world” – that’s our relationship with the world. I remember the testimony of a young man. He said, “I am conscious of my failures and my sin, but one thing I have proved in this past year is that I don’t belong out in the world, I belong here among these people.” We are strangers in the world because of the things that we like to do in our spare time and because of the language that we use, some words we wouldn’t speak that people out in the world would speak. We are strangers in the world because of the things we count as humorous. You can think of many ways in your personal experience when you have found that you are a stranger in the world, and we want to maintain that relationship with the world.


Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts.” Those are the kind of friends we want to seek out. The basis for that friendship is two-fold, fearing God and keeping His commandments. Can you enjoy fellowship with a person who doesn’t like to do what the other friends like to do? We can’t. Never feel that the will of God, keeping His precepts, restricts you.


How many times have we sung that wonderful hymn in our book that says about the will of God “Thine empire is so sweet.” Do you think of an empire as something limited and restrictive and that limits possibilities for you? There are vast things that we can do together, with our companions in the will of God. We just have to look round about us. There are things that children can do with companions in this fellowship and the number of those is like an empire. There are things that young people can do together within the will of God. When we get old, maybe there are not so many things we can do any more, but there is an empire of things that we can be.


I heard of a young couple, God-fearing, walking in God’s way, and they made a friendship with another young couple and brought them to gospel meetings. The second young couple professed and now their relationship was not only friends to friends, but they were brothers and sisters in Christ. These two young couples chose to have a holiday together for two weeks. The day they were to leave on their holiday together, the sister worker in the field went to see them away and she gave them a little bit of advice, very sound and wonderful. She said, “You are going to have two weeks together. Remember what it was that brought you together and made your fellowship possible, and keep that first in everything you do.” What she was telling those young couples was just this: be a companion of all those that fear God and keep His precepts. Remember what it is that enables us to know each other. It’s not some light, worldly entertainment. It’s not great oratory. It’s not some sports event. It was Christ and the gospel that brought us together and we want to make that the foundation of our relationship one with the other.


Psalm 119:125, “I am Thy servant.” That’s our relationship with God. It has been a very outstanding experience for me, living where many households have servants, to realize that if a servant wants to leave his mark or impression, there is only one way to do it, and that is through faithfulness. Just simply doing what he is told. Think of our God in heaven and we His servants, our desire is to be faithful.


Paul talked about relationships when he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 12:12, he gives the illustration of a body. The foot is feeling inferior when it looks at the hand and says, “I can’t do what the hand can, I don’t belong to the body.” The ear looks upon what it can do and then looks at what the eye is doing and says, “I can’t do what the eye is doing, therefore I am not of the body.” Is it justified in feeling inferior? Paul says definitely not. Any member in the body that is filling its place, will never make another member feel inferior, and the other member shouldn’t feel inferior but Paul said to serve in the place and with the grace and ability that God has given to us. Verse 21, “The eye says, ‘I don’t need the hand, my place is superior.’ The head says, ‘I have no need of the foot.'” Any kind of feeling of superiority is just as un-Christlike as a feeling of inferiority, and the person who is the hand or the head or the foot will plead for grace from God to do the very thing God has asked him to do.


The whole secret of this is found in Verse 18, “But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him.” The attitude that is Christlike is: I am thankful for my place in the body, I pray for grace to fill it as God would have me to fill it, and if I can help another member and cooperate with another member in the body, that is what I want to do. That is a wonderful relationship. These relationships are established and maintained at a cost and that cost we want to meet.


Revelation 21:2, the bride adorned for her husband – the relationship that exists between Christ and the Church, a husband/wife relationship. The church was adorned as a bride. In the East, marriages are arranged by parents and the day is set by the parents with the consent of all. But there is also something else that happens in that arrangement that would seem very strange to you and it did to me also – the bride’s adorning. All that she would wear on her wedding day when she presents herself to her bridegroom, possibly the first time they have ever seen each other, is provided for her by her bridegroom and his family.


I remember attending a wedding, as an invited guest, and we wondered why the delay. Hour after hour was going by and we finally learned that the bridegroom and his party were coming from a great distance and for some reason they had been delayed. But even when they arrived, still there was a great delay and they said because they have come from such a great distance he has brought all the bride’s adorning with him and she has to get herself ready now before she can present herself before him for the wedding ceremony. Can you imagine what kind of relationship would be established between those two young people if, when he has provided everything, she would present herself and come adorned in something different? The very fact that that young bride would come before her husband adorned in what he has provided for her, says something about her spirit and the relationship that she wants to establish with him. What it says in big bold letters is “submission” – I want what you have chosen for me.


That’s what Paul says, “That we might be found in Him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” He has provided that. When we are satisfied with that, that is the beginning of a wonderful relationship with the Bridegroom, and the foundation of it is submission.


Jesus talked about the shepherd/sheep relationship. The foundation of that relationship must be submission. John 10, the shepherd’s voice speaking and He will protect them and care for them. Psalm 23 is the testimony of a sheep that knew that close relationship with the shepherd and the first thing the sheep says is, “I shall not want, I have no fear of anything that would befall me, no fear of hunger or thirst or the enemy or of death or what awaits me beyond death, as I follow and submit to what the shepherd has arranged for me.”


Grace is very necessary in maintaining relationships one with the other. In the little church where I grew up, over the years from the time I was a child, there have been very few added to that church. When I go home, for the most part, it is the same people in that little meeting that have been meeting together for almost 40 years, going to meetings together and often having business relations and meeting together through the weeks and they know each other so well that they could predict how they would react even to certain situations. Yet they still enjoy coming together. That tells us that there is something more than just human relationships at work there. You couldn’t do it for 40 years and maintain a sweetness in your meeting without the grace of God. When we meet together week after week and month after month and year after year and get to know each other so well, that needs the grace of God.


One of our sisters always had a lot to say and a worldly person said, “How do you get on with that person? I hear she is part of your church, she always seems to have so much to say and we find it hard to live with her.” They said, “We don’t think about it too much – she is our sister in Christ.” A wonderful attitude. Just able to overlook some of these little things that could spoil our relationship, because of the grace of God.


Then there are relationships between employer and employee. Some of you have brothers or sisters in Christ working for you. It’s wonderful to work at that relationship. In the land of Pakistan, we have some who are in that situation and it takes a certain measure of grace to maintain the brother/brother relationship that is first and foremost, and then to keep the employer/employee relationship based on honesty. You have to work at it. No relationship just happens, they have to be maintained with conscious effort.


There are parent/children relationships. I remember some little children in a meeting and I felt that the words they were hearing in the meeting went far over their heads. About a week later I asked them, “Do you remember that meeting last Friday night?” They said, “Yes, we remember it was said, ‘Children obey your parents in the Lord’ and we went home and found that verse and memorized it.” From the child’s point of view, that is what a child can do to maintain a right relationship with the parents. Then there is a lot that the parent can do as well. I heard something that taught me a great lesson because it applies to what I am doing also. It went something like this: “Dad, Andrew says that one and one make two.. Why?” And Dad said, “Don’t bother me just now, son, I’m busy.” “Dad, where is God?” “Don’t bother me just now, son, I’m busy.” “Dad, why did Grandpa die?” “Don’t bother me just now, son, I’m busy.” “Dad, will you take us out hiking?” “Don’t bother me just now, son, I’m busy.” “Dad, can I have the car?” “Don’t bother me just now, son, I’m busy.” “Sir, this is Constable Weatherby calling from the Police Station, we have your son here, we wonder if you could spare us…” “Don’t bother me now, I’m busy.” I think the point is clear. Children obey, but one of the gifts that you can give your children is just a little bit of your precious time, just to let them know that there is somebody who cares for them and understands them, and that helps to maintain relationships.


Then there are husband/wife relationships. I was in a home once and looked out the window and there were two birds building a nest inside a birdhouse. One little bird came along and had a stick in its beak and the hole in the little birdhouse was just about that big and the first little bird put the stick crossways in its mouth and tried to get into the hole and of course it couldn’t get in. It pushed and backed up and went ahead and pushed again and couldn’t get in. Its mate saw what was happening and it came along and it didn’t waste any time in telling it that it should have been finished by now or that that was the wrong way to go about it. It just took hold of the end of the stick and took it out of the other bird’s mouth and put the stick alongside its body and went in and the other one followed and just as quickly as I could snap my fingers both of them came out, no time wasted on discussion once they got in there. It just turned around and both of them came out and carried on with the business. That’s a wonderful relationship, working together.


One other relationship relates to what Jesus said when He was teaching the people about what would happen on the Judgment Day. Matthew 7:21, “Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven … thy name … then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me ye that work iniquity.’” When they began to say, “Lord, Lord” they had become aware of God’s judgment concerning them and they were also aware that God’s judgment was not what they expected to hear and then they began to protest against what God had said, saying, “There must be some mistake, we have prophesied in Thy name and have cast out devils in Thy name and done many wonderful works in Thy name. There must be some mistake in this judgment that You have rendered.” But God would say, “I never knew you; though you have done all these things I never, in lifetime, had a relationship with you.” Why was there never a relationship established? Isn’t it evident that a person who would protest against the judgment of God that day was someone who had not submitted to the judgment of God in lifetime? This relationship between ourselves and God is established through submission to His will, and the person who knows that relationship established through submission, will not hear on that day, “Depart from Me, I never knew you,” but those wonderful words “Enter into the kingdom prepared for you.”


Let us make Christ the foundation of our relationships. No relationship just happens, we must work at them. We must contribute as well as gain.