Exploring Ephesians

A Christian Path to Improving Marriage
Part Three

Healthy Communications in Marriage
(Question and Answer Mode)




Sacrifice and servant-hood were hallmarks of Christ's ministry, just as they are in a happy and successful marriage. Honest, open communication in which partners are sensitive to each other's needs and strive to identify, bond and utilize their individual gifts are essential to maintaining harmony and achieving loving relationships.

An analysis of 1 Peter 2:23-3:12 provides an illustration of how Jesus sets an example for marriage partners.

2:(23) When they hurled their insults at Him, he did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.
(24) He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.
(25) For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
3:(1) Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without talk by the behavior of their wives,
(2) when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
(3) Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.
(4) Instead, it should be of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God=s sight.
(5) For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,
(6) like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give away to fear.
(7) Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
(8) Finally, all of you live in harmony with one another: be compassionate and humble.
(9) Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
(10) For whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.
(11) He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
(12) For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

As you read these passages in 1 Peter, what things stood out?

Among highlights are the humility of Jesus and His supreme sacrifice while emphasizing similar traits in marriages through submission of wives, consideration and respect for wives and pursuit of harmony. These scriptures relate the humble role of Christ (2:23-25), one that should be emulated by married couples. They tell of Christ's non-retaliatory submission to the Jews and governmental authorities to bear our sins in His body on the tree to deliberately suffer and die. His sacrifice clothed us with righteousness and made us acceptable and in fellowship with Him, the Father and Holy Spirit throughout eternity. Other scriptures in this reading urge wives to seek purity and holy submission to their husbands while giving their mates notice that they have the responsibility to be humble, respectful and considerate in their headship role.

Who or what sets the tone in the passage as Peter talks about the role and responsibilities of husbands and wives? Why is it important to bear this in mind?

Christ by His example sets the tone by His willingness to accept sacrificial death for sinful mankind. This is a prime lesson for husbands and wives to deal with each other in cooperative, loving and virtuous relationships reflecting a sacrificial approach. Verses 3-4 emphasize the importance and beauty of a a gentle and quiet spirit on the part of wives, instead of relying on adornments. The husband is to be compassionate and humble and both should strive to be blessings to each other in honest communication. Christ is our model: If He could die for us sinners with such love we should emulate his attitude in sacrificing our egos and willfulness for each other. Consequently if marriage partners follow through with their responsibilities to be more Christ-like in this manner, their relationships will be smoother in mirroring the sacrificial, servant-oriented mode of the Redeemer.

Does being submissive mean that wives cannot question their husbands--or wives--unilateral decisions that threaten to disrupt relationships?

Although scripture makes clear the headship of the husband, submission is not entirely a one-way street. Ephesians 5:21-23 declares, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife." However, such submission does not mean a wife is precluded from exercising her rights in expecting understanding and consideration of her views, needs and happiness. In fact, she has a responsibility to take action and express herself if her husband is off track, indulging in improper or abusive behavior or making decisions that threaten married or family life. Verses 10-11 warn of the threat to "good days" from an evil tongue and deceitful speech, which can be construed as advice to both partners. For that type of communication can only lead to trouble. However, the tongue, utilized in a loving and thoughtful way, is required to sort out marital difficulties and problems. In "Rocking the Roles," the authors point out a wife is abdicating responsibility if she fails to properly communicate her counsel and disappointment when the husband is heading down a sinful road imperiling his marriage and family.

There is a reference in these scriptures to Sarah (3:6), who obeyed her husband and called him "master." Does a wife have to be submissive to that extent and refer to her husband in that way?

Cultures change through time, especially when we are living two thousand years after Peter wrote his letters and the expression was in use and even longer if we consider the Old Testament period of Abraham and Sarah. "Master" was also a familiar term during the 19th Century when slavery was common. And of course a wife is not a slave or a doormat for her husband to the extent she has to consider him her "master" and defer to him in literally every instance-far from it! Consequently "Master" is not generally included in our vernacular today unless it relates to careers outside marriage.

How can a wife's behavior change a husband's view without even mentioning scripture or the Bible as outlined in verse 1?

This refers, in a sense, to "silent" communication in terms of speech but says plenty about love in action. The verse goes on to detail pure and reverent behavior to captivate a husband and persuade him to change his attitude and be "won over" to her and the Word. In this way, she could influence and persuade him to become a convert to Christ. This would also help strengthen her marriage because her husband would then be more open to Biblical rules for husband-wife relationships. Proverbs 31, pays tribute to "The Virtuous Wife" with verses which can be interpreted to describe her as trustworthy, building up her husband, considerate, of good repute, wise and kind, modest and God-fearing, among others. Verse 3 in our study also makes clear God sees more value in the spiritual characteristics of a woman rather than her dependence upon external adornment to enhance physical beauty.

Do you think Peter is ruling out jewelry, perfume, hairstyles and makeup for today's woman? A related question is whether the use of such items is a type of communication?

Such adornments can be a negative form of communication, if used flagrantly and unwisely to attract the attention of men, especially on the part of a married woman. Verse 3 makes clear God sees great worth in the "unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" of the inner self versus dependence upon external trappings as the main source of a woman's beauty. While that is primary, cultures change over the span of many generations and centuries. It is doubtful that a Bible-believing Christian woman would think twice about donning certain accentuations and grooming aids, applied in good taste. Proper judgment in clothing styles is also in order, since the daring costumes so popular in modern society could cause scandal and controversy, especially on the part of a woman who proclaims to be a follower of Christ. Such items as clothing and others considered can be judged as positive or negative communication. If donned improperly and applied garishly they can be sinful and lead to more sin, such as immorality and even danger to the woman. Utilized modestly and temperately for innocent purposes, such as enhancing feminine charm and particularly to attract their own husbands, they would seem appropriate. In such a case a Christian wife can reflect a fine example of inner and exterior beauty.

Do you think action or reaction on the part of the wife (or husband) without basing dialogue on scriptural principles is a proper type of communication?

That would definitely be off base and would open up marriage relationships to possible disaster. One of the most important warnings is Biblical admonition to be guarded in patterns of speech. Inappropriate language through misuse of the tongue, according to James 3:6, is a "fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." On the other hand, voicing praise and support for our mates builds their confidence, fans the flame of love and energizes positive relationships. Proverbs 31 frames well the role of the wife--but is applicable to husbands as well--in pointing out in verse 11: 'Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm." Verse 26 adds, "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue." As Peter advises in verse 10 of our study text, keeping our tongue from evil and deceitful speech helps us "love life and see good days." And a goal of married couples should be to do whatever is possible to make such days multiply into a lifetime of harmonious relationships. It cannot be emphasized enough that reliance and soaking up scripture will serve to provide proper guidelines to our use of language. In Matthew 4:16 Jesus said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."

What are some of the primary sources of communication in marriage?

Vocal expressions; tone of voice; body language and facial expressions, physical exchanges such as casual closeness in frequent affectionate hugs or kisses; actions and reactions as part of sexual intimacy to take into account the pleasure of our partners; lovingly written messages (notes, letters, e-mail, anniversary and birthday greetings) and gifts-- sometimes of a surprise variety. (Failure to do so can cool marital ties, as indicated in a sad lyric in a popular song recorded by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond to the effect that "you don't bring me flowers anymore"). To wit: Creative romantic gestures are not confined to merely the courtship or honeymoon phases. They should endure a life time, spicing up relationships as preludes to romantic interludes and firming up marriages.

In verse nine it is recommended that interpersonal blessing be substituted for evils and insults. What is the inherited blessing it refers to?

It represents the glorious promise of an eternal reward of fellowship with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and fellow Christians. And Jesus is the path or "way" leading to this everlasting paradise. In John 14:6, Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians is particularly important to communicate in marital actions, as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It value of each one of these individually or as a package makes for a healthy, well-rounded marriage that will invigorate relationships and pave the way for marital contentment.

The importance of God's role in marital relationships is emphasized further in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
4:(9) Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work.
(10) If one falls down his friend can help him up. But pity the poor man who falls and has no one to help him up!
(11) Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
(12) Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Jesus is the third strand Who unites with a couple to weave a marriage cord that is viable, binding and durable. How does Christ accomplish this?

In a previous session, there was a discussion concerning of "leaving, cleaving and weaving." Just as we determine to unite intimately with our mate as we "leave" our original family, we cleave to our partner and draw closer to Jesus in prayer and faith as we tap into His enormous spiritual power. The love, grace and teachings of God in the Bible further strengthen His main and central strand in a Christian marriage, and enable partners to withstand the tensions and strains that our sinful natures and life itself exert. The steadfast loyalty Jesus offers to us is guaranteed, for in Mark 28:20 He promised, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."