The Problem of Human Relations

Following Christ's steps.

Robert H. Pierson, President, Southern African Division

As I think of the leaders I have worked "under" and those who have been "over" me, several important facts stand out in my memory. These men of God not only were dedicated leaders who knew how to pray, to plan, and to promote, they also were men who knew how to get along with their "subordinates." They knew how to challenge the best in every worker. (My reason for placing quota­tion marks around "under," "over," and "subordinates" is because I do not believe we have subordinates in God's work. Nor do I think one man works "under" or "over" another. We are all in God's work together. We work with one another. Some men have larger parishes than others.)

Cordial worker relations are essential to keep the various departments of the church functioning smoothly. Maintaining an esprit de corps that breathes courage and confidence among workers is a sine qua non in God's work today. Where the work­ing staff on any administration is uneasy or unhappy, where there is coolness or friction among workers or members, the full blessing of God cannot rest upon His work. No laborer can with impunity dis­regard the cultivation of cordial relations with those about him.

What is the secret of getting along with others? The secret (if it may be called such) I believe is found in Peter's first epistle: "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (I Peter 2:21).

Jesus is our example in human behavior. "He did not need anyone to tell him what people were like: he understood human nature" (John 2:25, Phillips).* Long before modern psychologists flooded the market with books on influ­encing people, the Master Teacher by precept and example left His followers a rich legacy in the field of personal relations.

Truly Christian human rela­tions do not require one to prac­tice a system of clever psychology lacking in sincerity. There is no fawning or flattering in the ap­proach of one who follows in His steps. A winning personality is but the outworking of an inward experi­ence in Christ when He is our example.

"We cannot gain and possess the in­fluence that He had; but why should we not educate ourselves to come just as near to the pattern as it is possible for us to do, that we may have the greatest possible in­fluence upon the people."—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 618. (Italics supplied.)

Three important principles of personal relations emerge from this inspired state­ment. First, Jesus is our examplar. Second, although we never can hope to exert the influence He possessed, this should not deter us from seeking to become as near like Him as possible. Third, we are not amiss in striving to "have the greatest in­fluence upon the people." This will better qualify us to do His work more effectively. Reducing those principles to their least common denominator, we discover that Christian human relations is but putting our Christian profession into maximum practice.

Let us note well some principles of get­ting along with others left us by the Sav­iour's precept and example during His earthly ministry.

1. Jesus closely identified Himself with the interests and the needs of others.

Centuries before modern psychologists repeated this basic concept of influencing the behavior of others, Jesus taught men to enter into the experience of those they hoped to draw into the net for the king­dom. Hear Him speak to His disciples about the needs of the multitudes and His concern for their welfare: "'My heart goes out to this crowd,' he said. 'They've stayed with me three days now and have no more food. I don't want to send them home with­out anything or they will collapse on the way'" (Matt. 15:32, Phillips).*

Jesus felt with the people in their phys­ical frailty. He expressed His feelings in sympathy. He acted to change the situation and to meet their need. The servant of the Lord writes: "At all times and in all places He manifested a loving interest in men."—The Desire of Ages, p. 86. (Italics sup­plied.) Little wonder the masses loved Him.

"The afflicted ones who came to Him felt that He linked His interest with theirs as a faithful and tender friend, and they de­sired to know more of the truths He taught. Heaven was brought near. They longed to abide in His presence, that the comfort of His love might be with them continually." —Ibid., pp. 254, 255. (Italics supplied).

Jesus drew men to Himself because He took a personal interest in them. They were drawn to Him because He associated Him­self with the hopes and joys and problems of their everyday lives. They longed to be in His company, for He made it evident that He found pleasure in being with them.

The apostle Paul likewise accepted this concept of human relations. "Take a real interest in ordinary people," he counseled the church in Rome (Rom. 12:16, Phil­lips).* Our interest in others should not be confined to those who serve "over" us. We are to be equally concerned with the affairs of the "ordinary people." To help only those who are in a position to return our favor is to practice politics. Neither Jesus nor Paul subscribed to such a philos­ophy.

Paul appreciated the interest the be­lievers in Philippi took in his well-being. "It has been a great joy to me," he wrote, "that . . . you have shown such interest in my welfare" (Phil. 4:10, Phillips).* Do not our hearts also warm toward those who manifest an interest in us?

Inspired counsel urges workers today to follow the lead of Jesus and Paul. "The example of Christ in linking Himself with the interests of humanity should be fol­lowed by all who preach His word, and by all who have received the gospel of His grace."—Ibid., p. 152. This is not pseudo-psychology; this is Christianity in action.

It is well to remember that we do not have to manifest an interest in the needs, the hopes, the sicknesses, the sorrows, and the problems of our fellow workers and members. Whether we do so is optional. But if we wish to cultivate cordial relations with others, if we are truly following the example of Jesus, we will interest ourselves in the needs of those about us. Such a course of action will pay rich dividends, in souls won and in smooth relationships.

2. Jesus sought to avoid giving offense.

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine who is greatly beloved by his workers. I was interested in learning some of the secrets of his influence with those around him. I knew, of course, that the most im­portant factor was his close relationship with the Lord. I was not surprised at his reply to my query.

"For one thing," he replied thought­fully, "I am not much impressed with this 'straight from the shoulder' approach some people apparently prefer. Too many are offended and crushed by what some men call frankness. Personally, I believe we should, as far as possible, seek to avoid giving offense to others."

Two thousand years ago Jesus, our Ex­ample, sought to avoid giving offense to all about Him. When Peter approached the Master regarding payment of custom Jesus explained, "We don't want to give offense to these people, so go down to the lake and throw in your hook" (Matt. 17:27, Phil­lips).* You are well acquainted with the story. Jesus sought, wherever possible, to avoid giving offense.

On occasion some of us charge ruthlessly into delicate situations. We speak "straight from the shoulder." No weak, "beating around the bush" approach for us, we say. As fearless crusaders of frankness we "tell them straight." Feelings are ignored; we must speak frankly. We press our point of view with gusto and cling tenaciously to our position when others do not agree with us. We know what we are talking about. We are right. Things must go our way. We make our point clear, sparing the feelings of none in the process. What results may follow? Resentment may be stirred. Tempers may be tested. Sensitive natures may be wounded. Coolness or estrangement may mar worker relationships.

This is not the Jesus way. "We don't want to give offense," Jesus said. Of our Saviour, Isaiah wrote: "He shall not strive" (Matt. 12:19). Neither are we as His workers to strive or needlessly to give of­fense. "In every gentle and submissive way, Jesus tried to please those with whom He came in contact."—Ibid., p. 85. If all were to follow His gracious example, what a wonderful world this would be in which to live and labor.

"So far as you can do so, remove all cause for misapprehension," the servant of the Lord wrote. "Do all that lies in your power, without the sacrifice of principle, to con­ciliate others."—The Ministry of Healing, pp. 485, 486.

We all would do well to read this in­spired counsel frequently. Our human re­lations would be much smoother if we were to "remove all cause for misapprehen­sion." There would be fewer heartaches among us if without sacrificing principle we would do everything possible to concili­ate others.

* From The New Testament in Modern English, © by J. B. Phillips 1958. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.


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Robert H. Pierson, President, Southern African Division

June 1964

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