Getting along with those who matter to us can be summed up in one word: love. Not just any type love, but what the Greeks called agape, which is defined for us in 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is slow to lose patience. It looks for ways to be constructive. It is not possessive. It is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad when the truth prevails. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It still stands when all else has fallen.
Agape is the lubricant of relationships. To love in this manner means that we will go out of our way to do little things that make life run more smoothly in spite of friction in our relationships. It means being courteous by saying thank-you, please, I am sorry, please forgive me, I was wrong and you were right.
It's the spontaneous phone call or letter or card or gift; making time for sharing and communicating heart-felt concerns and celebrating joys; doing for another not because it matters to you, but because it matters to another person; not waiting to be asked but volunteering to do whatever will be helpful; actively listening to another.
Agape is the glue of relationships. In the course of a lifelong friendship, we go through crucial events with another -- marriages, births, baptisms or mitzvahs, confirmations, sicknesses, deaths, marital difficulties, parent-child problems, job stresses and historic cultural changes. When differences of opinion arise between true friends, the glue that holds the relationship together is agape-type love. An agape relationship is never ended by a single bad episode. With this kind of love, relationships can survive misunderstandings, forgetfulness and hurt feelings. No sincere relationship can or should continue where physical or mental abuse takes place; agape is certainly not present then.
Agape is the Teflon of relationships. With agape, feelings are not easily hurt, nor do people hold grudges when differences or resentments arise. Love with a Teflon quality does not procrastinate but is eager to initiate and find time to resolve conflicts and restore normalcy to the friendship. This fact of agape is what sustains over the long haul.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul addressed primarily the church members in the city of Corinth who were in conflict with one another.
These verses have wide application, especially in marriage and family relationships and at our place of work.
Dr. Gene Norris is a Presbyterian pastor who serves as a hospital chaplain and family therapist.