Jesus Wants To Help You Overcome 4 Forces That Destroy Relationships!

Scan the magazine racks at the checkout today. Look at their endless headlines of who has found love, lost love, and their Top 10 lists of how to lure love and make love. Look at the movies we watch, the blog posts we read, listen to the lyrics of the songs on your playlist. Love is the dominant theme, revealing our deep longing for relationship.

According to the experts, strong relationships are also key to developing resilience. We withstand the traumas of life better when we have good marriages, friendships, and connections to community. The problem is, while we may long for relationship and need it to be strong, powerful forces drive us apart.

A little while back I tried an experiment. I decided to read the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month. As the experiment stretched to two months, then to three, I made two important discoveries: this famous teaching of Jesus is ultimately about resilience (see Matthew 7:24-27), and it shows us how to overcome the four forces that destroy relationships (5:21-48). Jesus beat the psychologists to their ideas by two millennia.

Force 1: Anger

Jesus starts with anger. Trace the start of the row, the swing of the fist, the kick of the boot, or the stab of the knife to its root and you will find the seed of festered anger. This, Jesus says in his Sermon, is just as bad as murder itself (Matthew 5:22). And the first sign of its presence is when we start belittling others with our words (5:22b).

We see the truth of this everywhere we look: in the schoolyard where cruel names leave lasting scars, on the sports field where players sling racial slurs, in the home where verbally abusive parents belittle their children, to horrors like the 1994 Rwandan genocide where Hutus were stirred by fanatical leaders to call their Tutsi enemies “cockroaches.”

Jesus knows we’ll have disagreements. When they happen, he says, don’t let loose with the insults. Instead, go and reconcile:

If you’re at church and know you’ve offended someone, stop worshipping and resolve the issue (5:23-24).
If a dispute breaks out with a neighbour, deal with the matter quickly before it’s taken to court. As much as it depends on you, reconcile (5:25-26).


Force 2: Unfaithfulness

In his unsettling book The Johns, journalist Victor Malarek reveals the motivations of men who buy the services of prostitutes. In most cases, pornography precedes the transaction. The men watch porn, fantasise about the experience they want, then find a woman who will act it out. The deed follows the fantasy.

Two millennia earlier, Jesus revealed the pattern Malarek discovered. Adultery starts with a fantasy, making the fantasy itself sin (Matthew 5:28). The heart is central in everything for Jesus, whether the topic is sexual desire or the carefree divorce of his day (5:31). He says, in essence, “Don’t join up with someone who isn’t yours to have (even in your imagination), and don’t leave someone you’ve bound yourself to.” Instead, be faithful:

If your eye causes you to be lust, gouge it out (5:30)! That’s hyperbole for go blind. Close your eyes, switch the channel, shut down the computer.
And remember that marriage is a serious commitment (5:32). Stay faithful.

Force 3: False Promises

Too many marriages, friendships and business relationships are ruined each day by broken trust. Promises are made but forgotten. Loopholes are exploited in contracts. Jesus addresses this destructive relational force next.

In Jesus’ day it’s common to promise something by swearing an oath. But if you’re clever with your wording, you can make yourself a legal loophole. If you swear by ‘the temple’ you don’t have to keep your oath, but if you swear by the temple’s gold, you do (Matthew 23:16). Chose your words carefully and you can make a promise you don’t need to keep.

Jesus will have none of it, saying oaths themselves are wrong as they make a regular Yes or No redundant (5:33-36). Instead, he says, be truthful:

If you say you’ll do something, do it.
That is your promise (5:37).

Force 4: Retaliation

Finally, Jesus tackles the desire to get even. To pay back. To retaliate. While Jewish law allowed for a degree of this when wronged, Jesus gives an alternative so radical it has shaken history ever since. Instead of striking back when slapped, turn the other cheek. Instead of resisting a Roman’s orders, go the extra mile (Matthew 5:38-42). In short, Jesus says:

Don’t get even, get creative.
Instead of retaliating against your enemy, love them (5:43-45).

Many years ago the Ku Klux Klan was led by a man named Johnny Lee Clary. One day Johnny was invited to take part in a radio station debate with a black church leader named Rev Wade Watts. Offering his hand to Johnny on arrival, Watts said, “Hello Mr Clary. I just want you to know that I love you and Jesus loves you.”

The debate was intense: Johnny arguing why blacks and whites should be separated, and Watts refuting each claim from scripture. As Johnny was leaving the station afterwards the reverend called out: “Nothing you do can make me hate you, Mr Clary. I’m going to love you and pray for you whether you like it or not!”

Johnny got vicious from that point. The reverend’s windows were broken, effigies were torched on his lawn, the Klan burnt down one of his churches and set fire to another. On one occasion Johnny phoned Watts with a threat: “We’re coming to get you and this time we mean business.” But the reverend kept his promise to love his enemy, responding with disarming humor. “You don’t have to come for me,” he said. “I’ll meet you. How about a nice restaurant I know out on Highway 270? I’m buying.”

Johnny’s life would later collapse. He would leave the Klan, cry out to God, and become a Christian. One day he phoned the reverend to tell him the news and share his calling to preach. “Have you spoken anywhere yet, son?” Reverend Watts asked. “How about you give me the honor of preaching your very first time in my all-black church?” And that’s what happened. Johnny Lee Clary preached in the very church he once tried to burn down.

All because a black preacher traded retaliation for radical, creative love.


Jesus’ teaching on relationships is demanding. It exposes the superficiality of those magazine headlines at the checkouts, and the romantic naivé of so many films and songs. Our deep longing for relationship won’t be fulfilled with Hallmark card sentimentality. Jesus’ words may be hard, but He promises they’ll make us strong.

That’s what resilience experts are now coming to realize. A resilient life isn’t built on anger, unfaithfulness, false promises or retaliation. It’s built but on reconciliation, faithfulness, truthfulness, and love.


-S  Voy sey