Biblical Communication: A Marriage Survival Art Session 7 Notes

Biblical Communication: A Marriage Survival Art

Session 7

Principles of Interpersonal Relationships

Ephesians 4:25-32

Feedback Ask students to share their home application experience this week:

Getting up to date.

The first major subject was that communication in marriage is difficult. We teased this out under seven reasons why this is true. I hope that we have learned some keys to communicating effectively and we have learned the importance implementing those keys. They are not just theory.

The second major subject was that conflicts in marriage must be handled well. If we are going to increase our oneness and communicate effectively we must learn how to deal with conflicts

Now we come to the third major subject, namely, that we must follow basic biblical directives regarding interpersonal relationships. For this I direct our attention to Ephesians 4:25-32.

Some refer to the didactics found in this passage as rules of communication. They are often rightly applied to the family environment.  However, the teachings of 4:25-32 are applicable wherever people congregate together; the neighborhood, the classroom, the family, the church, the institutions of society, the team, the community, the country, the playground, and the workplace, just to name a few.

Background previously covered. Do not repeat.

Before exploring the text, it is helpful to acknowledge that solving or preventing conflicts between people is difficult. I am not presenting a magic formula that promises harmony if you precisely follow directions! The reason for this is two-fold:  

First, all interpersonal relationships are composed of self-centered, sinful human beings. And there are no exceptions regardless of position, education, spirituality, age, gender, or ethnicity. Put more than one sinner in a room and sooner or later disagreements and misunderstandings will show up. Yes, even in marriages between believers.

Second, the tools we have at our disposal for preventing and solving conflicts are flawed. Verbal communication is dependent on imprecise language (especially English) and involves both a speaker and a listener. And non-verbal communication, though helpful, is easily misunderstood.

Concepts from “Communication: Key to your Marriage”, Norman Wright,, p 54 :

“When two people talk six possible messages can actually get through:

What you mean to say

What you actually say

What the other person hears

What the other person thinks he hears

What the other person says about what you said

What you think the other person said about what you said”

What are the purposes of communication.

Human beings have been given the ability to communicate for a variety of reasons. Common ones might be:

To make conversation.

To convey information.

To publish facts.

To render judgements or viewpoints.

To come to a conclusion.

To express feelings.

To share yourself.

To solve conflicts.

For our purposes, this last purpose of communication, solving conflicts, is our focus. I believe it to be crucial to success in any interpersonal relationship, yet it is widely ignored.

End of background previously covered.

I do recognize that concepts of communication come from various disciplines. However, there is a large pool of Biblical data addressing this critical subject. This study zooms in one passage of the Biblical pool - Ephesians 4:25-32.

Ephesians 4-6 is the practical section of Paul’s letter. It is the “so what” following the great doctrinal section, chapters 1-3. This practical section lays out the notion of “walking” a new life, that is, it tells us how to live in light of what we know about our salvation and sanctification.  It consists of six primary directives:

4:1-16 - walk worthy

4:17-32 - walk differently

5:1-2 - walk in love

5:3-14 - walk in light

5:15-21 - walk carefully

5:22-6:9 - walk where God put you

Read Ephesians 4:17-32 (walk differently). The specific theme of this section might be “Moving from the Old to the New”. This section could be broken down as follows:

Get rid of your old lifestyle 17-19

Grasp a new lifestyle 20-24

Generate positive relationships with people 25-32

Or perhaps it is better to organize 4:17-32 around the key verbals and divided into two groupings:

The first grouping would be verses17-24. It is driven by four infinitives:

vs 17-21 - to walk as gentiles  

v 22 - to lay aside

v 23 - to be renewed

v 24 - to put on.

The second grouping would be verses 25-32. This is the portion that is particularly germane to our interpersonal relationships and thus is our focus for this class. It is driven by eleven imperatives that can be organized into five larger imperatives (you may organize differently):

#1 Tell the Truth v 25

Speak truth - v 25 (present active imperative)  - after having put off lying (aorist participle)

#2 Restrain Yourself vs 26-27

Be angry - v 26 (present passive imperative)

Do not sin v 26 (present active imperative)

Do not let (sun) go down - 26  (present active imperative)

Do not give (place to the devil) - v 27 (present active imperative)

#3 Give Don’t Take v 28

Do not steal - v 28 (present active imperative)

Labor - v 28 (present active imperative) -  while working (present participle)

#4 Guard Your Mouth vs29-30

Do not let (rotten words come out of your mouth but only good…) - v 29 (present middle imperative)

Do not grieve (Holy Spirit) - v 30 (present middle imperative)

#5  Heal Don’t Harm vs 31-32

Remove (bitterness…slander) - v 31 (aorist passive imperative)

Become (kind…forgiving) to one another - v 32 (present middle imperative)

 It might be that 4:25-32 gives specific actions to accomplish if the Christ follower hopes to move from the old to the new. Interestingly, communication plays a pivotal role in the journey from the old life to the new life!

In fact, many biblical counselors glean “four rules of communication” from this text. They are, “be honest”, "keep current”, “attack the problem not the person”, and “act don’t react.” I have found them helpful even though I think such an approach may rest on an incomplete exegesis of the passage. {Note: I have been unable to pinpoint the origin of the “Four Rules of Communication”  concept or of the wording of the Four Rules. I encountered them in the mid 1970s when I first discovered Biblical Counseling. I did find a brief document dated 1983 from Westridge Baptist Church in Ft. Wayne (I believe Randy Patten may have been the pastor then). Thus, I am unable to give proper citation. The reader is advised that the four rules per se are not original with me.}

So, here are a few more brief comments regarding these five concepts.

I. Tell the Truth v 25

First, cease lying.  Ability to speak the truth is predicated on a prior cessation of lying. The term is “falsehood” (ψεῦδος). It is the object of the aorist participle “put off”, therefore, “after having put off lying”. We start here.

However, “falsehood” (NAU) is more than lying. It can refer to any untruth. Dishonesty can also be deceit.

Deceiving someone is typically done by lying. However, we can deceive and still be honest.

Often, we deceive others by using truths or half-truths. In other words, we tell someone a truth with the intent that they draw a conclusion that is not true. (Example: You say to your boss, “I was here until 8:00 last night” in hopes that he will think that you are making progress on your assigned project.)

Or we can say, “yes” when we really mean “no”. (Example: When you concur with one of the boss’s ideas when you really think is doomed to fail).

Or we disguise our conversation in order to mask the real message. (Example: You say to your wife/parent/friend, “I see the Indians are in town tonight” when you really mean, What do you think about me going to the Indians game with my buddies.”)

So maybe a good way to describe this idea is that we must not lie and we should also be transparent or open. As a side, this normally means our halo data must match our words. (Example: Aaron Rodgers State Farm commercial re the candle in the bathroom fire).

Then, speak truth. This is the imperative in the verse. It is straightforward.

I point out the obvious - people can’t read your mind. Open your mouth. There is nothing heroic about being silent when you could speak truth! It will likely be helpful.

Here is a helpful question, “When is a liar not a liar?”  The answer is not, “when he doesn’t lie” but rather “when he is a truth teller.”

Of course, speaking the truth is not a license to throw away compassion and concern for others. Diplomacy still is a valued trait in building positive relationships with others and solving conflicts. Not only does Paul advise us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), he also urges us to, NAU  Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

II. RestrainYourself v 26-27

These two verses are composed of four parallel imperative verbs - be angry, do not sin, do not let go down (the sun), do not give (place to the devil). Three key thoughts jump out at us:

It is possible to be angry and not sin. Anger itself is not sinful (Example:Christ driving money changers out of the temple John 2:15-17). I think the key is probably control. Anger can’t be out of control. We have to be able to restrain ourselves. Breathe and keep calm! There are other factors as well but this is the key in my view. (Example: Wife/mother has a hard day. You come home and see the mac and cheese on the table and say, “Again”. She throws the plate, the milk, the applesauce at you.)

Today’s irritations must be dealt with today. The “sun going down” is a nice way of say “before the day ends.” Judy and I took this pretty literally. So, we’d get the 2:00 AM tap on the shoulder, “Can we talk?” (apparently we didn’t get the memo that the Jewish day ended at sundown!  Now, it is alright to say, I have a problem but I need to count to ten before I express it. It is true that most people’s shoulders are only big enough to handle one day at a time.  So deal with all irritations promptly, not just the big ones. An interesting side note: in vs 26, “be angry” is (ὀργίζω), while “anger” is (παροργισμός) literally “alongside of anger”. What is the difference? Maybe just stylistic variation with no real difference. Or maybe the first is major anger, while the second is minor anger (along side of).

Failure to keep current with irritations opens the door to spiritual calamity (v 27). “Giving place” (KJV) to the devil vividly infers allowing him occupation or “opportunity” (NAU).  He must not have free run in our lives. He must not be given a place at the table. So, if we don’t deal with irritations as they occur, soon they can grow into to resentment and bitterness and unrepentant sin and then guilt. It is a nasty downward spiral a la Hebrew 12:15, “… root of bitterness …and by it many are defiled.”  

III. Give Don’t Take 28

There are two thoughts here.  

Thievery is self centeredness on steroids. Perhaps there were thieves among Paul’s readers (“the one who is stealing”). Or at least former thieves (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 thieves are included in the list). The cure for stealing is straightforward:

Stop stealing. It is stop right now (μηκέτι = no longer or no more).  It doesn’t suggest therapy for kleptomania!

Get a job, preferably one that is strenuous!

Become other oriented. A stated purpose (ἵνα) of earning an honest living is to share with others in need. What a novel idea!

IV. Guard Your Mouth 29-30

If we are going to be  cultivate a positive relationship with others, we must learn to replace corrupt speech with constructive speech. We encounter another imperative, “proceed not”. This is the main verb. It literally means, “to come or go out”. So, the admonition is direct - don’t you dare allow any corrupt words to tumble out of your mouth.  Again, here are some key thoughts:

We have a choice in this matter. We can either allow “unwholesome” words to pass our lips or not. We can help it!

We must block corrupt words. The image is standing guard in front of our mouth. Grab them before they escape. Once they are out they can not be recalled. (Example: Megan Kelly’s {former Today Show personality} comments about black faces for Halloween. She apologized but it didn’t save her job.) The term “unwholesome”  (σαπρός) means rotten, putrid, decaying. Used of bad fruit or fish in the New Testament. (Example: Sorting potatoes at United Grocery Store.)  Such words are useless (the broader idea of the term). Words can be painful contrary to the little ditty, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

We must release constructive words. Open the gate and let them out.  “Good” words are apparently the opposite of unwholesome words. These words build people up (“edification”). Further these words are specifically targeted to the other person’s needs and impart “grace” to the other person. We need to identify the other person’s needs and then speak encouraging words.  

Apparently, corrupt words are not limited to abusive language. Because of the contrast with good words that build up, words that don’t “build up” should be categorized as unwholesome. They are useless. So, neutral words are not prized (similar to the “lukewarm” concept describing the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:15-16).

Perhaps you’ve heard of the saying Henry Miller, my high school principal, often quoted, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it.” Similar to Ogden Nash quote, “When you’re wrong, admit it; when you’re right, shut up!”

We must not sadden the Holy Spirit. “Grieve” (λυπέω) carries the idea of offending or causing sorrow, sadness, or grief; it is the opposite of “joy”. It is an emotional word that anthropomorphically refers to the Holy Spirit. It assumes that Christ followers have a very personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, who, by the way, owns us and secures us - the “seal” in the last phrase. Paul may be telling his readers to be careful not to disappoint the Holy Spirit. Commentators offer several suggestions regarding how believers “grieve” the Holy Spirit - bearing no fruit (Galatians 5:20), doing the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19), causing division in the body (Ephesians 4:3-4; and etc). However, contextually, grieving the Holy Spirit happens when believers verbally abuse other believers in whom the Holy Spirit resides. (See v 25 “members of one another” and v32 “one another.”) An attack on brothers and sisters is an attack on the Holy Spirit himself. Or, it might be that when we attack other persons, we are attacking the image of God in which they are made.

I do like the way the traditional third rule of communication expresses this whole concept - “Attack the Problem, Not the Person.” In my estimation, if families would just practice this one “rule” the home atmosphere will change dramatically.  Perhaps we could think of it this way… when two people attack the problem rather than the other person they are both combating a common object rather than each other. (Example: The problem is the dirty clothes on the floor rather than the one who threw them there. Telling him/her, “You are a slob. Didn’t your mother teach you anything?” doesn’t solve the problem and in fact makes it worse.)

V.  Heal Don’t Harm 31-32

Verse 31 is a list of behaviors that a wise person will avoid. In fact, a command is issued; these damaging behaviors must be removed (imperative of αἴρω meaning to lift or take up). The NIV “get rid of” captures the meaning.  The idea is to have nothing more to do with these behaviors. By and large they are gut reactions or responses to situations that we don’t like. And they are not helpful; arguments only grow when two people react wrongly to the other person. (Classic example: my dad is bigger than your dad; he is not, my dad could whip yours in a minute, and so forth).  But even worse, these reactions are sinful.  

In contrast are the behaviors listed in v 32. A wise person will default to these behaviors. They do tend to solve conflicts. (NAU  Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.) These behaviors are actions rather than reactions. In fact, these actions are described as something you must be - your identity (the imperative of γίνομαι “become”).  A literal rendering might be, “ But become into one another…” In other words, the key to positive interpersonal relations is that each person becomes something that he is naturally not; things like kind, compassionate, and forgiving. These actions can be learned with God’s help. And, we must become these things in order to get rid of the reactions of v 31.


I suspect that you noticed that 4 of the 5 major concepts in this passage have to do with communication! Is the implementation of these principles asking too much? I don’t think so. In fact, the next few verses make it clear. By doing so, we are reflecting the heart of God himself (“therefore be imitators of God…” 5:2)

And besides, these rules are the right thing to do regardless of a biblical orientation or lack thereof. And they also work no matter what the environment.

Question/Answer Session

Posted on Mon, December 17, 2018 by Joe Flatt filed under Communication and Marriage

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