Think of your own family for a moment. If you don't have children - YOU once were one, and perhaps you had a sibling or two. In the scope of a family, it is not uncommon to have the malady of over-familiarity rear its nasty head from time to time. I have had to counter it and bring it to task under my own roof with my three children. I was known from time to time to say at varying times when they were younger, "Would you speak to your best friend in such a manner as you just spoke to your sibling?" Or, "Until you learn to treat those inside these walls with respect and kindness, you will not have fellowship with those beyond these walls." Oh, yes, I went there and had to enforce those words! I have not had a single doubt that by going there, I have successfully instilled in my children a guard against "over-familiarity," which is a significant stepping-stone to God's command to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Don't ever forget that in loving people, all people, we love Him!
Over-familiarity is a condition where we take those we say we value, and whether by conscience thought or not, treat them in a devalued manner. The reasons are many. Mood swings. Hormones. Got up on the wrong side of the bed. Some offense we perceive to have received. Some exposed sin in their life. A perceived limitation in ourselves of strength or grace or mercy to deal with an other's rough edges. Etc.
The closer the relationship the more on guard we must be against this malady. Simply stated, the closer we are, the more frequently we rub shoulders; and the more we rub shoulders, the more we take one another for granted that those shoulders will always be there. Such thinking is short-sighted, selfish, and naive.
Fact is life can change on a dime. As the saying goes, "Here today, gone tomorrow."
Picture with me for a moment a young apple tree. Would you cut it down after it yielded a few apples? I surely hope not! But that is exactly what happens time and time again in relationships where we, NOT God, determine, "I am done with them!" And we walk away... effectively chopping down a tree long before God has the opportunity to bring it to maturity. Think of all the potential fruit lost!
Or what about the tree that we simply walk away from. Is that tree going to be the picture of care and nurture? Of course not. Any one who has seen a wild apple tree growing and seen a farmed apple tree growing clearly sees the difference between the two.
Relationships are meant to be nurtured. I know. In the raising of my three children, it takes DAILY diligence to train them such that they will bear much fruit in their sibling relationships, parental relationships, and in their relationships beyond our walls.
"Bearing much fruit" doesn't just happen! It takes a lot of work and diligence. It takes tender pruning (correction). It takes good soil (God) and fertilizer (His Word). It takes both sun (laughter) and rain (tears). It takes a love that says, "I am committed to you to be here, to listen, to help in any way I can, to be a tool in God's hand. I want to see YOU come to maturity and bear much fruit for Him!"
What would happen if we took such an attitude in ALL our relationships? Stop to really think on this!
The Word says, "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do NOT demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. BUT love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, AND you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Is there a reward? Of course there is.... "a great reward," the Word says, but our return should not be our motivation, but rather a sincere hunger to walk in greater degrees of God's character. We cannot get closer to God while distancing ourselves from people. That will NEVER work. The evidence of God's character increasing in our lives will be evident by our increased ability to extend kindness to all people... even the ungrateful and evil men of the world.
After He spoke to me about the things I have shared with you, He closed the time with the following:
"There is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart."
This to me has two applications:
1) If you are a child of the Most High, you ARE a good tree, a good man....designed to bear good fruit! In order to fulfill that destiny, be sure you are filling your heart with all things righteous and good, out of which come our actions. Actions demand foundational elements we pour into our hearts.... such as we accept pruning (correction), we embrace the good soil (God) and the fertizller (His Word), and we wisely take in both sun (laughter) and rain (tears) in life's ebb and flow. If we are careful to heed His counsel, we will find ourselves growing in to mature, beautiful, bountiful fruit trees!
2) Be careful to not cut down nor abandon the "trees" in your own life before God brings them to maturity. For as His Word promises, "After he has been fully trained, he will be like his teacher!" Glory!
God's ability never ceases to amaze me; be it the student being transformed to the likeness of his teacher, or the soil returning an apple tree for an apple seed!
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:38
If you desire grace running over in your lap, give grace.
If you desire mercy running over in your lap, give mercy.
If you desire love running over in your lap, give love.
And let us not forget our main motivation is not to be "self," but others.... so they too can experience the wonder of God's character in action.