You can learn a lot about relationships at an auto parts store.
Perhaps I should explain.
When my car’s headlight stopped working for the third time in a week, my frustration went public. Right there at O’Reilly’s.
The guy behind the parts store counter endured my animated angst; he clearly had experience helping folks who couldn’t figure out why a new headlamp would work, then go out, then work, then go out again. And again.
His only diagnostic question puzzled me: “You try bulb grease?”
No. No I did not try bulb grease, because I had no clue what bulb grease is. Turns out, it’s a connection protector; you apply it to the headlamp and the socket to keep moisture and dirt from ruining the electrical connection.
It’s quick, cheap – and works like a charm.
Like I said, you can learn a lot about relationships at an auto parts store.
Even our best relationships can suffer from bad connections. Friendships and marriages falter because of our tendencies to offend or irritate one another. Love is sorely strained by human weaknesses and the grime of our own selfishness.
The Bible commends to us the connection protectors of mercy and humility to keep relationships strong.
“Always be humble and gentle,” says Ephesians 4:2. “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
True love sacrifices self, enduring offenses caused by others’ weaknesses.
Mercy and humility are powerful connection protectors, preserving love when relationships otherwise would be irreparably damaged.
Without mercy, the myriad irritations and quirks that interfere with relationships become divisive or even irreconcilable. Without humility, relationships become a rollercoaster of closeness and contention, an up-then-down cycle that is emotionally exhausting and a poor substitute for true love.
Happily, God has not merely told us to be humble and merciful to one another; he’s lavishly extended humility and mercy to us first. And he gives us the privilege of sharing these graces with each other.
God’s mercy toward us sinners is fully shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Look at Jesus and see that God humbled himself, to the extreme of death on Calvary’s cross, for undeserving people like you and me.
The forgiveness of sin, the restoration of relationship with God, the hope of heaven – all are possible because of God’s mercy. He has withheld from us what we deserve, and given to us what we cannot earn.
The Bible calls Christians to be conduits of this love – we’re most like God when we withhold what our offenders deserve, and dispense favor they have not earned, as in 1 Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. … Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up.”
Unlike bulb grease, true love is neither cheap nor easy. Mercy requires the sacrifice of self. Humility is quite costly.
As soon as I got home from the auto parts store, I popped the hood of my Subaru and reconnected the headlight after applying the bulb grease. Months later, it still shines brightly.
If we were to pop the hood on our relationships, we’d find that the best ones are not strong because the people involved are perfect. They’re strong because mercy and humility allow love to shine without interference.
Friend, if you’re despairing in a relationship, let me ask one diagnostic question that’s really helped me:
“You try bulb grease?”
Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church (www.haydenbible.org). He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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