Made originally in the image of God, man was endowed with both a desire and a capacity, for relationships. Yet sin has marred and broken us. We build walls, create distance, don masks, and hone to an art form the ability to dissemble and present an image. Redemption has brought with it, as part of its manifold blessings, a redeemed man made in the image “of Him that created him” (Col 3:10). The potential for openness and honesty, whether between believers, or between spouses, is now a reality.
But what occurred in Eden to mar the open communication between human beings? Obviously, sin entered, but sin brought with it an entirely new spiritual and emotional condition. Genesis 3:10 reveals two elements of the new thinking: fear and self-preservation. Man’s fear was directed first toward God, but then toward each other. Self-preservation extended to Adam’s pointing blame at both Eve and God, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree …” (Gen 3:12). Since that fateful day in Eden, every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve has been marked by an insecurity which compels self-preservation.
The full fruit of redemption cannot be tallied. But one precious fruit which has been prepared for us to enjoy is that of security. I speak here, not so much of eternal security, but a security before God which appreciates that my value as a person is not dependent on what others think. I do not have to “impress” and wear a mask. God has conferred value upon me; He has redeemed me and values me. While He is not content with what I am, He is content with who I am. I learn honesty and openness in His presence. I know that I am known fully by Him and yet loved unconditionally. I am secure in that love.
The wisdom of God is almost awe-inspiring to behold as we see His skill displayed in His plan for marriage. If communication is to be developed in a marriage, there must be security for each partner. God designed this by making it an unconditional covenant in which each is secure that the relationship is meant to be “till death do us part.” Here is the most secure place on earth for a person. Here is where unconditional love and acceptance are displayed. Each has accepted the other for who they are, not for what one can change the other into. Change does occur within the context of marriage as it does in every other earthly relationship. But the security of the relationship assures that the matrix of love remains unchanged, becoming the soil for that change.
Inherent as well with the element of security, and implied by all the above, is the mutual respect which each spouse gives the other. It is a respect which values the person for who they are; it is a respect which values what the person thinks and says because of who they are. To respect another is to value him for who he is, not what I can use him for. To respect a wife is to value her because of the value God has placed upon her, not because of what she can do for me or add to me. We use things for people, not people for things.
The Lord Jesus showed this respect and value for others in a remarkable manner. In John 8:48, the Jews sought to slander Christ with what they perceived was the greatest insult they could. They accused Him of being a Samaritan and having a demon. But note carefully how the Lord responded to them. He simply stated, “I have not a demon” (John 8:49). He made no reference to not being a Samaritan. Why? To have denied being a Samaritan would have suggested that there was something wrong with being a Samaritan; He would have been giving credence to their social slur. But to Him, there were no inferior races. There was a privileged race, privileged cities (Matt 11:20-24), and privileged times (Matt 13:17), but there were no superior or inferior races. Each person was valued by Him. He, the Son of God from heaven, respected every person. Little wonder that leper, publican, prostitute, and widow all felt at home in His presence.
Valuing another leads automatically to valuing what they have to say. This underlines one of the basic skills of communication – listening. We are prone to think of communication skills as related to how well I can express myself, how cogently and logically I can present my case, or, if all else fails, how loud the decibel level I can register in arguing. But James reminds us that we should be “swift to hear and slow to speak” (Jas 1:19). Many of the Proverbs also remind us of the danger of speaking and not listening. Listening skills are vital. Active listening means I listen with the purpose of understanding another person. I do not have to agree, but it is vital that I strive to understand.
It is again in the marriage relationship where this is so vital. The closer the relationship – and none is so close as marriage – the greater the investment of myself and the greater the vulnerability. My instinct is to hide, to wear a mask, to self-protect. But if a spouse is secure, senses respect, and is honored by the other, fear is minimized and masks can be removed.
Add one more element to this to complete the divine intention. Add to security, respect, and honor, the desire of blessing another, and you have the ingredients for open communication. If a spouse knows that her comments, even if listened to carefully, will meet with a demeaning sneer or put down, she is not likely to share them. If a husband knows that his opinion will be disregarded, he will not quickly offer it.
To “bless” means that I will always seek what is best and try to do what is best for another. Of the virtuous woman it is said, “In her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov 31:26). And of her husband, “And he praiseth her” (v 28). Here was a marriage marked by communication in which each was a blessing to the other.
To be continued