Ephesians 4:1-3

Dr. Emerson Eggerich wrote a book titled Love & Respect.” The book centers around Ephesians 5:33.

Ephesians 5:33 (NKJV) Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

As I understand it, and it has been a long while since I read the book, Dr. Eggerich builds his marriage philosophy around the man and the womans differing needs. Men need respect. Women need love. If a woman wishes to motivate her husband, showing him respect is the magic bullet. If a man wants to motivate his wife, showing her love is the trick.

This is an oversimplification, but considering he wrote a whole book and I have written just a paragraph, I think I have done a pretty good job. There is truth in what Dr. Eggerich says, but it can also be a problem. For example, love and respect can become weapons. 

If you showed me more love, I would show you more respect.”

Oh yah! Well, if you showed me more respect, I would find it easier to love you.”

Ephesians 5:33 comes toward the end of the book of Ephesians after a lot has already been said. The call to love and respect is part of the conclusion of the letter. For example, this call to love and respect assumes we have understood the privileged position we have as followers of Christ expounded in the first three chapters of Ephesians. The love and respect between husband and wife are part of putting Ephesians 4:1-3 into practice. Ephesians 4:1-3 tells us:

Ephesians 4:1–3 (NKJV) 1I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

These verses are the introduction to the teachings of chapters 4 through 6. Chapters 1 through 3 of Ephesians are theological and form the foundation for the instructions of chapters 4 through 6, which represent the practical results of the theology. Our position as children of God, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, has practical implications for all of our relationships. Love and respect are part of these practical implications. As the foundation, Ephesians 4:1-3 contains the fundamental truths behind all that follows. In other words, humility, gentleness, patience, kindness, and love are what walking in a manner worthy of our calling is about. Love and respect come from an attitude of humility, gentleness, patience, kindness, and love. 

If we all were perfect in love, we would not have battles in our marriages. But, this is not the case. We have battles that center around conflicts. For our purposes today, I am defining conflict as differences, either of opinion or desires. My aim is to address the fights and wars that arise out of these conflicts.

Renowned marital expert Dr. John Gottman suggests that all marital conflicts fall into one of two categories. Either the conflict is resolvable, or it is perpetual. Statistically, he has found that 69% of marital conflicts are perpetual, meaning that they will never go away.1 The perpetual category includes things like one partner wants children and the other doesnt, one partner wants to stay home, and the other wants to travel, one partner is neat, and the other is sloppy, and many variations of this kind. These differences usually last a lifetime, and how we handle them can make or break a marriage. Conflicts of this nature have nothing to do with love. We can love our spouse completely and still have difficulty determining what to do with our vacation time.

However, these differences can become a source of battles. Conflict or differences are not sinful. But, when conflicts turn into battles, we show our sinfulness. I am defining battles as the fights and wars that occur among us. Lets consider what James tells is the source of our wars.

James 4:1–2 (NKJV) 1Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain.

According to this passage, the source of our fights and wars are our desires for pleasure, also called lusts and covetousness. This source is the same for nations, churches, and couples. When we arrive at an impasse in conflict, the source is our desires and lusts. In other words, our flesh or sin nature is the source. 

If we are going to make any progress in overcoming the battles in our relationships, we must start with ourselves. We must be humble enough to accept responsibility for our sin. 

Our first response in any disagreement is to justify ourselves, or, in other words, we all tend to be defensive. But herein lies a trap for communications. Believe it or not, when we get defensive and justify or defend ourselves, we subtly blame our partner. The statements I made up earlier, half in jest, demonstrate this. If you would respect me more, I would find it easier to love you,” accuses the other of being disrespectful, and in the process, avoids taking responsibility for my part. We are experts at avoiding our responsibility. We always have a justification for everything we do.

As long as we do not own our sin, we will remain stuck. We will not be able to move forward. The Bible tells us that God forgives our sins when we confess them. Confession must come first because we have to recognize the problem. 1John 1:9 says:

1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

God requires confession because we must own our sin. I do not mean a simple, I am sorry.” Often we use, I am sorry,” to avoid any further discussion of what we have done. This is true of the battles in our marriages. The close proximity of our spouses gives them insight into our sins and weaknesses. We cannot hide them all. And being confronted with our sinfulness is painful. When confronted by our spouses, our first reaction is to be defensive.

Defensiveness is a way we can break down our relationships. The foundation of love and respect includes the humility spoke of in Ephesians 4:1-3. We must be humble and own our sin. Defensiveness is the opposite of humility.

The counterpart to defensiveness is criticism. Ephesians 4:1-3 tells us that we are to approach each other with gentleness and longsuffering. Criticism is the opposite of gentleness, it invites defensiveness, and it is destructive to our relationships. 

All relationships encounter differences that result in complaints. For my purposes today, I am defining complaints as behaviors or attitudes that become a problem. A complaint is something like, It makes me angry when you leave the toilet seat up.” Most complaints have to be addressed if the relationship is to remain healthy. Many complaints have to be addressed repeatedly, thus the need for longsuffering. Perpetual conflicts result in perpetual complaints. For example, suppose one prefers to stay home and the other likes to travel. In that case, differences will perpetually arise when planning for a vacation. Discussing differences is healthy until a complaint is presented as a criticism. When the toilet seat complaint becomes, Dont you know how to put the toilet seat down?” Or, You never put the toilet seat down!” It is a criticism, not a complaint. The difference is found in the I am angry” compared to You are a problem.” Criticism attacks the person and his or her value. Proverbs tells us:

Proverbs 15:1 (NKJV) A soft answer turns away wrath,

But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Criticism is the harsh word that proverbs is talking about and is the opposite of the gentleness and longsuffering Ephesians 4:1-3 calls for.

Endless volumes have been written on marriage and solving marriage problems. Many of these books focus on communication. While communication is a critical component, communication will not solve the problem if we do not have love. Love will motivate us to learn to communicate without criticism and demeaning language. But the absence of love will make even the best communication meaningless. Love is the foundation for the humility, gentleness, and longsuffering that Ephesians 4:1-3 calls for. Lets review what it says:

Ephesians 4:1–3 (NKJV) 1I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The great Apostle Paul begs us, implores us, to walk worthy of the calling with which we were called. Please note that the remainder of this sentence has to do with how we treat each other. We are to humbly, gently, and patiently bear with each other in love. Compare this with how 1 Corinthians 13 describes how love behaves.

1 Corinthians 13:4–5 (NKJV) 4Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked...

The critical component of our treatment of each other is love. Love is behind all the teaching in Ephesians about how we are to treat each other. If we are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, we must love each other. When Ephesians 5:21 tells us to submit to one another in fear of God, it tells us how to live worthy of our calling, and such submission is part of love.

Before Paul tells the husband to love and the wife to respect, he instructs us to submit to one another in fear of God. The word Ephesians 5:21 uses for fear, as in fear of God,” is the same word used in Ephesians 5:33 for respect.

Why should a wife fear her husband the way we are to fear God? First, we must recognize that we are all created in the image of God. 1 Peter 3:7 tells husbands to grant honor to their wives as heirs together of the grace of life. In short, fear or reverence or respect is to be a part of all our relationships. We are all created in the image of God, and as many as have accepted Christ as Savior are children of God. Have you considered that the person you are fighting with has God as their Father? Do we think that God will not take the side of His son or daughter? This thought alone should inspire humility in how we speak to each other.

When harsh comments and criticisms start many of our conversations, and defensiveness characterizes our relationship, it feels like our spouse is our enemy. We end up biting and devouring each other. Ephesians 4:1-3 tells us we are to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is why I emphasize the companionship of marriage. We must cultivate our friendship. When we do not, we give the devil opportunity. Ephesians 4:26-27 says,

Ephesians 4:26–27 (NKJV) 26Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27nor give place to the devil.

When we refuse to deal with conflicts in a healthy way, we give place to the devil. Conflict is unavoidable. Some conflicts will never go away, and this is not from a lack of love. However, battles are a symptom of sin. This does not mean that we cannot have strong differences of opinion, but we must not bite and devour each other. We must walk in a manner worthy of our calling, bearing with one another in love.

1 John Gottman and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

Three Rivers Press, New York, New York, 1999. pg 130.


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