Exploring Ephesians: A Christian Path to Improving Marriages

Part Two
(Question and Answer Mode)



Communication Tools to Resolve Conflicts

Scripture Focus: Philippians 4:4-8, 24-29, Ephesians 4:29-5:2, 5:19-20

Disagreements arise in all human relationships and are common in marriage but need not advance into bitter conflict. Inflated egos, pride, thoughtless language and other sinful actions disrupt harmony and create obstacles to smooth functioning in married life. Moreover, failure to launch candid dialogue to deal effectively with such stumbling blocks only increases friction. Therefore it is essential to establish ground rules to resolve problems that arise between couples, who possess special intimate ties as part of God's marital design. Achieving settlements God's way, through prayer, sensitivity and the kind of sacrificial, servant-oriented love modeled by Jesus Christ, marital relationships can be significantly strengthened.

Philippians 4:4-8
(4) Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!
(5) Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
(6) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to the Lord.
(7) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(8) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.

Ephesians 4:24-29
(4) Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
(25) Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
(26) In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
(27) and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4:29-5:2
(29) Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(30) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
(31) Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
(32) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
(5:1) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and
(2) just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(3) But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity or greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.
(4) Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
(5) For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Ephesians 5:19-20
(19)Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
(20) always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(22) Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

What are some of the steps Paul recommends in these verses?

He emphasizes "prayer and petition," a superlative approach in addressing disagreements or any legitimate need for that matter. With our sinful natures it can be hard to overcome discord without the supernatural intervention of God to achieve resolution. Willingness to adhere to scriptural standards to head off trouble is a fine goal but achieving it is another matter. We are weak creatures and need to call upon the power of Jesus, for he has promised to answer our prayers and literally share our load when we are overburdened. A worthwhile pattern when a spiritual battle looms is a combination of prayer and turning to scripture, which Paul describes as "the sword of the Spirit." Jesus used both, devoting blocks of time to pray to the Father. The Bible often mentions how he went off to pray alone, like just before he was seized in a garden on Mt. Olives prior to his crucifixion. Christ also quoted scripture to ward off Satan's temptations during his 40-day fast in the desert. He set an example for us to follow on how to topple Satan and his devious prowling for victims.

What other behavior do these verses advise?

Paul also recommends gentleness, kindness and compassion. A gruff or cold attitude does not bode well for compatible solutions, especially in a marriage where only one partner reflects warmth and enthusiastic characteristics. It is advisable for stand-offish, unresponsive mates to try to loosen up a little and make adjustments in their interactions. Cultivating affection, hugs and other thoughtful, loving gestures will do wonders to defuse the atmosphere in addressing marital grievances as well as application in normal, day-to-day relationships in other circles.

How can we apply the wholesome, noble and praiseworthy sentiments suggested?

It is always a good idea to focus on positive, wholesome thoughts and activities rather than the opposite. None can be more suitable than those rising from reading and study of scriptures, especially the multiplicity of those devoted to the promotion of loving relationships. Using our minds for noble, wholesome purposes blends well into marriage, enabling us to respect and enjoy each other more. We can observe more clearly with spiritual vision the gifts and special traits God has given us through our mates. This stimulates a desire to express our gratitude more frequently to them in our daily chats, satisfying a need to be appreciated for doing a good job in performing marital roles.

Will we find total and perpetual peace and happiness in marriage if we pray, read the Bible regularly and try to live according to its instructions?

It is more realistic to realize that maintaining relationships in marriage on an even keel is a challenge and hard work. Despite the best of intentions, as C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, "Mere Christianity," "Human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one another damage." On the other hand, it has been said that people are like stones which knock against each other and smooth out the rough edges. A successful marriage is rather like that. In such a scenario, a couple inevitably does bump up against each other's sharp edges and we need a Christ-centered formula to help us to vault over such hurdles.

What is the best course of action when friction does materialize?

Christian couples who make marriage work talk it over, quietly, humbly, keeping the submissive, "servant" attitude in mind. They try to bury their egos in healthy give-and-take but mostly give. They honor each other, take time to praise and honor each other and incorporate Biblical principles of love, compassion and forgiveness. They retain a sense of humor, realizing they are imperfect creatures though their sins are blotted out and they are righteous in the eyes of God through the shed blood of Jesus. Metaphorically speaking, with Christ as navigator, the two shipmates keep their vessel of marriage on an even keel, maneuver past rocky shoals and high waves that threaten along the "way everlasting," as David described it in Psalm 139:24. The grand finale occurs when Christian husbands and wives weigh anchor at the home port: Heaven and eternal fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

How can we better acknowledge appreciation to God and our marriage partners for their love and support in our lives?

Simply by telling them about it, over and over again! We might start with the "thanksgiving" mentioned in this reading for God's provision of loyal and giving wives or husbands who build each other up, partly through the trade-off of complementary gifts God has bestowed as part of his marriage plan. As written in 1 Peter 4:10: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others." That's a positive approach that will please our Creator, delight our mates and brighten our lives. On the other hand, if we persist in mulling over darker thoughts, negative perceptions will cloud and hinder a close relationship. That is bound to show as we relate to our marital partners in speech and actions, causing pain and unhappiness and occasionally the divorces so common today. In Christian unions, of course, divorce is no option except under the most devastating conditions.

Is it advisable for husbands and wives to attempt to bury differences and maintain a semblance of peace and quiet rather than communicate their concerns openly?

Though it seems easier at times to argue than seek peace, that is an unwise guise. Early communication focusing on distressing behavior is recommended to sort things out. In the words of Ephesians 4:26-27: "In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. And do not give the devil a foothold." It is not always feasible to resolve a contentious issue in a matter of a few hours-especially the deep-seated variety. But we should keep on top of it since even issues of a relatively minor nature can become more serious if overly prolonged. Conducting open, honest dialogue while exercising patience and goodwill will help ease tensions, narrow differences and improve prospects for satisfactory solutions. We shouldn't discount our own role in our partners complaint or behavior. Jesus warned against seeing a splinter in the other person's eye while failing to see the beam in our own. We have to keep in mind that we are individually imperfect, only Christ is the perfect man and God. So we shouldn't expect perfection in each other. We'll get there eventually but we must be patient since we are Christ's work in progress. Paul identifies Jesus as the "author and finisher of our faith."

How can we guard against a critical spirit to a point when a marriage partner senses a mate is disappointed and feels that he or she doesn't measure up?

This can occur when couples don't support each other adequately and take action to sit down and talk things over when rifts loom. In severe cases, they are more likely to engage in tearing each other down, unfortunately sometimes in public. Ephesians 4:29 says "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." When misunderstandings and behavioral issues arise, care should be taken to avoid off-the-cuff and off-putting, spiteful exchanges that increase tensions that can escalate into a crisis.

Why is love a recurring theme throughout the Bible?

Largely because God is love! Scripture tells how he loved us so much he decided to allow his only begotten Son to die a horrible death on the cross to save us from eternal damnation in hell. Love is emphasized in verses 1 and 2 of our reading material: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Jesus and his disciples constantly preached the Gospel of love. In 1 John 3:1 we read, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God." In Mark 12:30, Christ proclaimed the most important commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself."

Why is that emphasis so important when the level of love obviously has taken a hit or conflict wouldn't have arisen?

Conflict is a common characteristic of human interchange. Just because there are some convulsions in marital relationships is no reason to abandon efforts at reconciliation. Otherwise a marriage could shatter and a family could be torn apart. Imbuing marriage with love, and beyond that, sacrificial love as exemplified by Christ, drives home the message that kind of love is what a believer's life revolves around. As such, we need to work hard to fit it into our marriages-servant, not self-seeking love. Analyzing and absorbing it in an action mode is empowering because it helps us view our partners with compassionate spiritual eyes, in an aura of the kind of love these Bible passages convey. It can make all the difference if we work at perceiving a partner as a lover and intimate friend; as a person we truly, deeply love during conversations to thrash out remedies. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul emphasizes that "love conquers all." To bolster loving relationships, couples can draw closer by reviewing and applying the so-called "love verses" in that chapter. For example, in verses 4-5, Paul reminds us that "love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." Negotiation may remain a painful challenge but it is worth it because so much is riding on the outcome. It is certain that over the course of a long-term union that nettlesome issues will continue to come down the marriage road. Developing a pattern of fitting Christ-type love into the mix can change attitudes and take much of the sting out of exchanges.

What further actions can we take in resolving marital conflict?

In problem-solving dialogue, or even in ordinary conversation, our ego can intrude because of pride, position on the social scale, superior education and other reasons. This is obviously problematic, particularly when two strong-willed extroverts cross over into confrontations. We should temper domination and intimidation to convey our views, as if it were a political debate. To the contrary, kissing and making up through reconciliation represents a unique, supremely intimate, loving and tender encounter that builds a better foundation for a sound relationship. It relieves pressures, restores peace and renews the love that couples relished before the rupture.

Are there special character traits to keep in mind when heading into discussions to curtail quarrels or difficulties and get a marriage back on the right track?

In giving the world the Beatitudes, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 5:5 and 9, saying, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God." When a selfish part of our nature rears its ugly head, we are duty-bound to appeal to Jesus for help in properly cherishing our spouse. The goal should be to curtail any sinful instincts that diminish someone we are honor-bound to love in a covenant relationship with God. David, king and military leader that he was, was not too proud to kneel before the Lord and pray in all humility, in Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, oh God, and know my heart: test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is an offensive way in me, and lead me."

What else is important to remember going into face-to-face deliberations to iron out misunderstandings?

We should avoid transforming a dialogue into a monologue by surrendering our egos and project the servant attitude of Jesus, which stresses giving rather than taking. Married couples have been heard to say marriage is more than a 50-50 proposition, it is more 90-10. In trying to reconcile differences, it is imperative to check impulses to jump to conclusions. Allow the offended partner plenty of time and latitude to express views. Regardless of whether initial perceptions are on the mark, concentrate on sensitivity, listening intently and making your mate aware that you are sincere in trying to bridge gaps. This formula helps to establish the proper atmosphere of letting go and allowing God and His grace to intervene and intercede. Asking questions to obtain answers that accurately define what is heard and said is extremely important. Probing for truth and correcting false impressions is essential so misunderstanding is not compounded. It is also useful to focus on positives rather than negatives, and keep in mind the admonition of Jesus to act toward others as you would prefer they act toward you. On occasion, males have to fight reluctance to shift into a confessional mode that comes hard for many due to a certain machismo streak. They feel admission of wrongdoing or mistakes in judgement could demean them in the eyes of their wives and perhaps themselves. However, a man who loves his wife enough to toe the line and face up to errant behavior with pledges of improvement and then follows through with actions that prove it may well find a feminine response that engenders increased affection and emotional satisfaction for both.

What other information do these scriptures reveal to help couples who are stressed out with marriage problems?

Being open, candid and honest and patience in dialogue will often help produce a reasonable accord, salted with a strong dosage of forgiveness. Our reading emphasizes true righteousness and holiness; putting off falsehood and speaking truth. Verse 32 has this golden counsel: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you." We'll take a further look at this shortly.

How can we counter the urge to voice complaints and find fault with our wife or husband?

Through prayer and, with God's help, opening our hearts to forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 quotes Peter as coming to Jesus and asking, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times." With our human weaknesses and tendencies to sin, it can be difficult to overlook deficiencies in those around us. It can be even more burdensome when it is the person with whom you eat meals, nurse through illnesses and sleep and interact with in many ways over years. It doesn't take long for even newlyweds to signal displeasure and irritation within weeks after honeymoon days of romantic love phase into the mundane. A sensible reaction is to pray for wisdom in judging the nature of a problem as minor or major, instead of blowing molehills into mountains, as it were. We also shouldn't have compunction about admitting that we may be at least partially at fault and follow through by sacrificing pride to access reconciliation. Verses six and seven of our session's Philippians 4 reading call for prayer and petition with a promise that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will "guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." We turn to Him as a major key in opening the door of our minds to the true, wholesome, praiseworthy thoughts. We need to plant them in the marriage garden plowed and cultivated by Jesus to make us better partners. And he has the greenest thumb to guarantee a bountiful harvest!

Is Jesus the only member of the Trinity to whom we pray?

No, the Father is also a player. Jesus, in teaching us how to pray, asked the Father in Heaven to "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" and to "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." Jesus shed his blood on the cross as our bridge to the Father, who wants the best for us, happiness during our earthly stay and forever with him in the hereafter. The power of the Holy Spirit cannot be overlooked either, for he offers gifts for believers that change our spiritual DNA. Out goes the old man when we are born again, and as new creatures we exhibit such fruits prominently in our daily actions as love, joy, patience, kindness and others in marriage and in other relationships. Repenting of sin and accepting Jesus as our Savior are first steps in opening a path to increased harmony and happiness for married couples. Their spiritually-empowered lifestyles change dramatically in conformance with biblical principles and not the world's standards. Obedience to God's call is the ticket to the greatest spiritual bargain we can obtain through his free grace: Spending eternity in fellowship with him, our marital partners and other believers.

Do personality differences cause rifts in marriages?

They can and have to be taken into account but personality dissimilarities are not necessarily a negative. To the contrary, they can enliven and strengthen a marriage. Pastor Rick Warren, in his book, "The Purpose Driven Life," writes: "Like stained glass, our different personalities reflect God's light in many colors and patterns. This blesses the family of God with depth and variety. It also blesses us personally. It feels good to do what God made you to do." It is futile to try to change the personalities of our mates-God created them that way for a reason beyond our comprehension. Many strong-willed men and women have joined in matrimony under the mistaken impression they could bring about such changes. However, it happens that Christian spouses, fulfilling responsibilities with the help of Jesus, can set an example that wins conversion and salvation for unsaved mates, even though it might appear impossible. As scripture points out, we worship a God of the impossible.

How does the Christian spouse motivate such a remarkable transformation in a mate?

Prayer and resulting intervention by Christ and Holy Spirit are part of the spiritual mystery, along with the partner's love, servant attitude and sacrificial spirit. Such a combination can stir admiration and intense love in a would-be secularist mate. The power and example of biblical testimony in the role of a born-again spouse should not be under-estimated. Many converts have been quoted in Christian literature as appealing to those who "walk the walk and not just talk the talk" with this request: "Whatever you have in your life, I want it. How can I get it?" It may take time but the believer should remain in constant prayer and not be frustrated or discouraged, for there is a tremendous reward when the reformed spouse crosses over into Zion, the Promised Land. Ecclesiastes 4:12 declares, "A cord of three strands is not easily broken." For Christian couples, the main strand is Jesus, laced eternally and irrevocably into a marriage. Accompanied by the Holy Spirit with a spiritual basket of fruits bearing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and other foods for the hungry soul, our God brandishes a powerful shield against the influences of the world and offers a free ticket to Heaven besides.