Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. — Matthew 7:17-20
Jesus is the ultimate expression of relational intelligence. He is the most influential figure in human history, and part of His productivity can be attributed to the way He managed relationships. He engaged in a practice — one He encouraged His followers to engage in as well. It’s the practice of fruit inspection.
If Jesus says we should recognize people by their fruit, then He is encouraging us to actually engage in an act of evaluation.
While reflection is an internal exercise, evaluation or “fruit” inspection is an external exercise. It is the act of inspecting the fruit of the people in one’s relational circle and determining what category the fruit qualifies them for. This exercise should not be confused with making judgments about one’s character; rather, it is evaluating your personal experiences with an individual and determining what that means and says to you.
Consider the last conversation you had with, say, your coworker. What did you discuss? Was something said that revealed some aspect of this person’s character? How did you feel when you left the conversation? Your evaluation of that person could determine whether that person remains an associate or becomes a friend. Some people aren’t bad people; they’re just bad for you.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Reflection as it relates to aligning relationships is a thinking exercise. Evaluation, however, is about fruit inspection. In order to evaluate the fruit of someone, we must ask the right questions. Questioning is one of the key ways we get the right clarity to make the right decisions. Right questions give us right clarity. Good questions give us good clarity. When clarity becomes greater, decisions become easier.
One of the first things we must ask actually has nothing to do with another person:
Where am I? Before you can evaluate someone else, it’s crucial for us to know what lens we are using. We must ask, In this season of my life, where am I? Where am I emotionally? Where am I spiritually? If we cannot locate ourselves, it will be hard to determine where we want a relationship to go. If we don’t know where we are or where we want to go, we won’t know who is supposed to go with us.
Based on the answer to this first question, there is a second question to ask:
What do I need? Here’s an example that I hope illuminates the importance of this question. I get some of the greatest joy from friends who don’t do what I do. They are not in the same line of work. When I engage in conversation with them, I know that the nature of our conversation isn’t going to be work-related. So if I’m trying to vacate my mind from thinking about work, they aren’t going to inadvertently bring that up because that’s not what they do.
There are frequent seasons when I need people in my life who simply are healthy distractions. Of course, that’s not all the value they add, but these are the kinds of relationships that allow me to disconnect from a world of work that can be all-consuming. So I can answer question one — where am I? — with “I’m in a season where I’m incredibly busy. I have the tendency to be high-strung and overly engaged in work-related activity.” I can answer the second question — what do I need? — with, “I need people in my life who add value and who are able to pull me out of the seductive web of work.” Then I can make decisions on how to align my relationships.
Relationally, the “what do I need?” question requires some thoughtfulness. We have to ask ourselves what it means to have a certain type of person in our lives. People often speak in generalities. We say, “I need good people in my life. I need good friends.” But what does that mean? It’s really circumstantial. What is good in one season of our lives may not be good in another. So we need to be specific in identifying our needs.
We should ask ourselves, What kind of relationships will add the most value to me? What do these people need to be like?
There’s a third critical question to ask in our evaluation process:
What do I have? When I consider those in my relational orbit, in whichever category, it’s important to consider what contribution they’re currently making to my life. Currently is the operative word here. It’s easy to think about what someone did twenty years ago and hold on to that. But to address how a relationship has evolved, we must consider what a person is giving us today.
And I know that some people are reading this and thinking, This sounds so selfish. It sounds so one-sided. Let me encourage you to see this another way. It’s not about being self-centered; it’s about stewardship. You must be a good steward of your life and be clear relationally on what you need. We will discuss later what it means to be the kind of friend you want. That is truly another conversation. This is about the kind of value your relationship should add to your life.
So once you examine these questions, you will need to draw some conclusions from your answers. If you aren’t getting what you need at all, why is that the case? If you’re getting a little of what you need, is it possible you have people in the wrong places in your life? This will lead to the final question:
What do I need to do? Does somebody need to be realigned? Does somebody need to be removed? Does someone else need to be pursued?
This is what I’ve learned. There are some relationships we need to pursue. This is especially true when it comes to the advisor category. If you’re in need of an advisor, there are times when that’s a relationship you have to pursue. You may even have to initiate that relationship.
THE MYTH IN CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIPS
Let’s be clear, just because two people are Christians doesn’t mean they’ll have the perfect Christian relationship. That’s a myth. That’s the inaccurate ideology that many of us operate with. We assume that if both parties love Jesus and love each other, then our relationships will be fruitful. Absolutely not. Just because there are two Christians in a relationship doesn’t mean they have a Christian relationship.
The question should never be, “Are we both Christians?” The better question to use in evaluating the relationship is to say, “How are we relating?” It’s not that the status of one’s salvation isn’t important in the dynamics of the relationship. I just mean that relational intelligence goes beyond that.
As Christians, we need to be considerate about the ways we are managing relationships. Can you handle some real talk? There are pastors and first ladies who don’t have Christian relationships. There are deacons and deaconesses who don’t have Christian relationships. Why? Because relational intelligence is not about the way we worship God, but about the way we relate to each other. So in the stage where we’re evaluating our relationships and examining fruit, we must especially consider if the “we’re both Christians” mantra could be hiding some potential pitfalls: How does this person relate to me? How do they treat me? How do I treat them?
The dictionary has a number of different definitions for the word judgment. Most significantly, it is “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.” When we think of judgment in our religious perspectives, it often has negative connotations. But judgment in the way it’s actually defined isn’t at its core a negative thing.
If we view judgment as the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing, then, in truth, we’re making judgments all the time. I’m forming an opinion about whether I like the food, the clothes, the room, the car.
However, when you talk about judgment in the religious sense of the word, it means something very different. The Scriptures communicate that because only God knows the circumstances and situations people are wrestling with and sorting through, only God is in the position to make the kind of judgments that render a verdict about a person’s future or destiny. We are not in a position to do that at all, nor should we ever try.
But we do want to do what the dictionary suggests, which is to go through the process of forming an opinion and then deciding how to proceed based on what we discern. We aren’t pronouncing someone good or bad just because they can no longer be our friend. We are simply deciding, based on their actions and character, what’s best for our lives. The kind of judgment necessary in this process is about forming an opinion about whether this person is good for you now, not forming an opinion about whether this person is good at all. There is a difference!
It’s certainly a fine line, for sure. But if we know we each have the responsibility to determine what would be good for our lives, and we affirm the goodness of any individual, that distinction helps frame the decision. We all ultimately have to make our own decisions about the role all people will play in our lives.
Excerpted with permission from Relational Intelligence by Dharius Daniels, copyright Dharius Daniels.
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If you’ve been raised it the church, carefully choosing friends might make you squirm. But, Jesus chose His friends carefully. Three very dear friends, twelve dear friends, and a crowd of people who were close. It’s not our job to judge people but it is our job to steward our time and our lives well and judge who to keep close. Come share your thoughts on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily