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6. Godly Communication (1 Peter 3:8-12)

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October 22, 2017

A couple was looking forward to a long-awaited date night. It was the time of year for their mutual birthdays and the wife had planned for a group of friends to meet them for a surprise party for her husband at a favorite Chinese restaurant.

As they drove away, the husband suggested, “Let’s go out for Mexican food.” His wife calmly said, “I’d really prefer Chinese food tonight.” The husband came back, “No, I’d really like a big enchilada!” They went back and forth and it became obvious to the wife that he had chosen to be demanding, unreasonable, and interested only in his own food cravings. Finally, she screamed in frustration, “You dope! I have a surprise party planned for you at the Chinese restaurant. We have to go there.”

To her even greater frustration, he burst out laughing, which made her even angrier. He laughed so hard that it took him five minutes to tell her that he had planned a surprise party for her—at the Mexican restaurant (Marilyn Anderes, Discipleship Journal [date unknown])!

That story shows how important good communication is for healthy relationships. Before she knew the truth, she thought he was being obstinate and selfish. He probably thought the same thing about her. But actually both of them were motivated not by selfishness, but by love. Each was seeking to please his or her mate. While their short-lived communication breakdown was humorous, it’s not always so funny. Communication problems are always a major factor in marital breakups.

In 1 Peter 3:8-12, the apostle shows us how to communicate in a godly way. In the context, Peter is dealing with how Christians are to live as pilgrims in a difficult world (1 Pet. 2:11-12). Peter’s readers were suffering. He offers practical help for the difficult relationships we all contend with in this troubled world: We should submit to government authority (1 Pet. 2:13-17); slaves should submit to abusive masters (1 Pet. 2:18-25); wives should submit to disobedient husbands (1 Pet. 3:1-6); husbands should understand and honor their wives (1 Pet. 3:7); and, a persecuted church should bear up under suffering when wronged (1 Pet. 3:13-22, plus the entire epistle). Peter is especially concerned about how believers can bear witness in this hostile territory. Peter is showing how obedience to God and submission to proper authority will mark us as distinct and will provide a powerful witness to the rebellious who live for self and personal rights.

Our text shows how to get along and communicate in a godly way with one another. In verses 10 & 11, Peter quotes from Psalm 34, which says that to love life and see good days, we must do some things with our walk (vs. 11, which relates to vs. 8) and our words (vs. 10, which relates to vs. 9) that result in godly relationships. Then God’s blessing will be on us (v. 12). But if we don’t live like that, the Lord will be against us (a frightening thought)!

Godly communication requires that we turn from evil and do good in our walk and in our words.

1. Godly communication requires that we turn from evil and do good in our walk.

1 Peter 3:11, “He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it” (from Psalm 34:14) supports verse 8: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” It shows the behavior that supports healthy relationships: We must turn from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it.

A. Godly communication requires turning from evil in our walk.

You may wonder what behavior has to do with communication. But words alone account for only a small part of communication. After extensive research, one scholar suggested that words alone account for only seven percent of the communication process; tone of voice and inflection account for 38 percent; the remaining 55 percent is found in facial expressions, posture, and gestures (Albert Mehrabian, cited by David Augsburger, Cherishable: Love and Marriage [Herald Press], pp. 53-54). Even if we question his percentages, it’s clear that communication is not just words; it involves our behavior and attitudes.

Peter says that we are to turn away from evil (v. 11; “evil” is used 5 times in verses 8-12), which includes such sins as anger, violence, sexual immorality, greed, drunkenness, and drug abuse, which all hinder good communication (Gal. 5:19-21). But evil goes deeper than these things. At the root of all evil is living for self in disregard of God and others, except as they can serve us. Living for self, seeking self-fulfillment, thinking first about ourselves and not about others—all selfish behavior builds barriers to healthy communication, which seeks to understand the other person’s point-of-view. Because of the fall, we’re all selfish by nature, as seen by the fact that we’re all sitting here thinking, “I hope my wife and kids are listening, so they will stop being so selfish!” Turning from evil means turning from selfishness. We have to practice denying self on a daily basis (Luke 9:23).

B. Godly communication requires doing good in our walk.

It’s not enough just to deny self or turn from evil. Also, we must actively do good and pursue peace with others. As the apostle Paul wrote (Rom. 14:19), “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” And (Rom. 12:18), “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men.” In other words, peace won’t happen spontaneously if we’re indifferent or passive. It takes effort to pursue it.

A mother with a scout troop said to her son, “I will not take any of you to the zoo if you don’t forgive Billy for stealing your candy bar.” “But Billy doesn’t want to be forgiven,” her son complained. “He won’t even listen.” “Then make him,” his mother said angrily. Suddenly, her son chased Billy, knocked him to the ground, sat on him, and yelled, “I forgive you for stealing my candy bar, but I’d sure find it easier to forget if you’d wipe the chocolate off your mouth!” (Josephine Ligon, “Your Daffodils Are Pretty,” Christianity Today [3/2/79], p. 18).

We’re not supposed to be that aggressive in pursuing peace! But the point is, we can’t be indifferent or passive about it. Jesus said (Matt. 5:23-24) that if you’re worshiping God and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your worship, go be reconciled to your brother, and then come back and worship. We are to take the initiative to do all we can to restore strained relationships.

It’s always time consuming and more of a hassle to do that than to let it slide. We’d rather not expend the emotional energy and time involved to get things straightened out. We figure that time will heal. Besides, it’s always humbling to admit I was wrong! So we don’t actively pursue peace. Of course, we aren’t supposed to confront a person for every minor offense. We should absorb a lot. But if a relationship is strained, then I need to attempt to seek reconciliation.

If you sinned against someone, say to the one you wronged, “God has shown me how wrong I was to [name the offense]. I want to live in a way that pleases Him. I’ve come to ask, ‘Will you forgive me?’” If someone else sinned against you, be careful not to accuse or attack him, but seek to restore him in a spirit of gentleness, remembering that you, too, are a sinner in process (Gal. 6:1). Thus, we must turn from evil (selfishness) and do good by pursuing peace. If our behavior is conducive for peace, it provides a foundation for our verbal communication.

What kind of behavior is conducive to peaceful, godly communication? Verse 8 gives us five behaviors or character qualities that promote godly relationships and communication:

(1) Harmonious—The Greek word means “of the same mind or attitude.” That mind-set is a desire to glorify and please God by obeying His Word. If two people share that desire, they still may have some serious differences to work through (as Paul and Barnabas did). But it provides a common ground to work toward resolution of conflicts. A harmonious person is not self-willed, demanding his own way, and judging those who don’t go along with him. He accepts people as Christ accepts them (Rom. 15:7). He knows the difference between biblical absolutes, which must not be compromised, and areas where there is room for difference. He gives people time to grow, realizing that it’s a process.

We all have different backgrounds, personalities, and ways of thinking. The only way for a harmonious marriage is for both partners to be committed to please God and obey His Word. That’s one reason why if you’re considering marriage, never marry a person who is living for self, even if that person professes to be a Christian. If a person is not committed to the daily, lifelong process of dying to self and learning to please God, then he will not be growing in this character quality of being harmonious. You’ll have constant conflict.

(2) Sympathetic—“Affected by like feelings.” Our Savior sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and so we are to be affected by what others are feeling. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). We are to allow others’ sufferings to touch our emotions. We are to be sensitive to how we would feel if we were in the other person’s place. We should do all we can to make him or her feel accepted and loved. While we are to live by faith and obedience, not by feelings, we should not ignore or deny our feelings. Part of biblical communication is learning to listen not just to words, but to feelings, and to convey that you understand and care.

(3) Brotherly—The Greek word is philadelphoi, brotherly love. It points to the fact that as believers we are members of the same family. Your wife is not just your wife; she is your sister in Christ. Your believing children are also your brothers and sisters in Christ. Someone has wisely observed that we should treat our family members like we treat guests, and treat our guests like family. The comment is based on the fact that we’re often rude and inconsiderate toward those we live with. We yell at them as if they were the dog, not a family member. The behavior of brotherly love opens the doors for wholesome verbal communication.

(4) Kindhearted—“Tenderhearted, compassionate.” In the New Testament, this word is only used here and in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” The root word (which comes from the Greek word for “bowels”) is often used to mean “compassion.” The idea is to have deep, “gut feelings” for the other person. I don’t know if there is any difference between “kindhearted” and “sympathetic,” but both words have an emotional element. Christian behavior must go beyond cold duty. Others should sense that we genuinely care for them from our hearts. If family members feel our tender concern, it opens the way for healthy verbal communication.

(5) Humble in spirit—(lit., “lowliness of mind”). Jesus described Himself as “humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29, using a cognate word). Pagan writers in biblical times saw this quality as a weakness, but Christians elevated it as a virtue. In our day, many Christians have reverted to the pagan view, since many Christian books dealing with relationships say that you need greater self-esteem in order to love others. But the Bible clearly teaches that esteeming ourselves more than we esteem others is at the root of our conflicts. Helping the Philippian church work through some conflicts, Paul says (Phil. 2:3), “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” To have harmonious relationships, we must lower our estimate of ourselves (see: Rom. 12:10; 1 Pet. 5:5). High regard for myself causes me to refuse to admit my wrongs, to get angry when my way is challenged, and to reject correction. So the Bible never says, “Grow in self-esteem.” It often says, “Grow in humility.”

Thus, for the godly communication necessary for healthy relationships, we must turn from evil and do good in our walk. Godly behavior is the basis for godly communication. But, also,

2. Godly communication requires that we turn from evil and do good in our words.

Do you desire life and love to see good days? Peter says (1 Pet. 3:10b), “Keep [lit., “stop”] [your] tongue from evil and [your] lips from speaking deceit.” Godly words built on a godly walk will yield godly communication and relationships. Peter shows that we must turn from evil words that tear down and pursue good words that build up.

A. Godly communication requires that we turn from evil words.

Peter mentions two aspects of turning from evil words:

(1) Turning from evil words means not retaliating when we are verbally abused. “Keep his tongue from evil” (citing Psalm 34:13) supports verse 9, that we are not to return insult for insult, but rather to give a blessing instead. This principle runs counter to the world which says, “If someone abuses you verbally, you don’t have to take it! Stand up for your rights! Assert yourself! Let them know that you have more self-respect than that!” But God says, “If someone insults you, bless them.” Say (or do) something kind in return. Jesus said (Luke 6:28), “Bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.” It’s not easy, but that’s what God commands.

We’re not talking here about clarifying misunderstandings or offering correction through proper communication. There are proper times to state your point-of-view and speak the truth in a calm, loving manner. What’s in view here is when a person is being deliberately abusive toward you. He’s trying to pick a fight or bait you. Peter says, “Don’t answer such abuse with more abuse. Don’t top his put down of you with a better put down of him. Don’t counter his name-calling by calling him names. Don’t rebut his sarcasm with more sarcasm. Don’t react to his attack by attacking him. Instead, respond with kind words.” Paul practiced this. He said (1 Cor. 4:12), “When we are reviled, we bless.” It’s the principle of Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

(2) Turning from evil words means refraining from deception. 1 Peter 3:10b: “Keep ... his lips from speaking deceit.” “Deceit” was used by Homer to mean “bait” or “snare.” It refers to anything calculated to manipulate, deceive, mislead, or distort the facts. Deception is a barrier to healthy communication, since it is self-seeking and it destroys trust. It may be a deliberate attempt to bend the facts to suit your side of the story. Or perhaps you leave out certain facts so that the other person gets a skewed view of what really happened. It may be telling a person one thing to his face, but saying something else behind his back. That way, people side with you against him. It may be exaggeration: “You always ...” “You never ...”

Paul says that we are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Truth without love can be insensitive, harsh, or cruel. Love without truth is mushy, weak, and misleading. We need both in balance.

I realize that there are difficult situations where it is hard to be truthful. Do you tell a dying loved one the truth about his condition? Or, in a not so serious, but just as tough situation, what do you tell your wife when she asks, “Do you like my new hairdo?” Pray for tact and wisdom at such moments! But speaking the truth in love is always God’s way. Deception hurts healthy relationships and doesn’t please God.

Godly communication requires that we turn from evil words by not retaliating and not deceiving.

B. Godly communication requires that we do good by blessing others with words that build up.

It’s not enough to hold your tongue when someone says something offensive to you. You are to give “a blessing instead,” because (v. 9) “you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” God called you to salvation when you were His enemy (Rom. 5:10). He rightly could have condemned you, but He saved you. Now, when someone verbally mistreats you, extend to him the same blessing God graciously extended to you. This means that giving your mate the silent treatment to make him (or her) pay for the insensitive way he spoke to you is not godly communication. It’s a form of retaliation. It’s not blessing him (or her). Blasting your mate because you’re just being honest about the way you feel, may be truthful, but it doesn’t bless him (her) or build up.

Rather, you are to speak words which build up, not which tear down (Eph. 4:29): “Let no unwholesome [lit. “rotten”] word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Does your speech build up the other person? Is it gracious? Or, is it like throwing a rotten tomato at him (or her)? If we would apply this in our homes—not trading insults, not deceiving, not clamming up, not blasting, but speaking words that build up the other person—we would put counselors out of business.

Think about your speech in your family this past week. How much of it was sarcastic, critical, angry, or accusatory? How much was aimed at blessing and building up your family members? You may protest, “We just kid each other with humorous gibes back and forth!” But I contend that trading put-downs, no matter how much in jest, does not build up the other person.

When I was in college, I met each week for dinner and a Bible study with a group of guys. Much of our time when we first got there was spent bantering back and forth with funny put-downs. One night a new Christian in the group confronted us by saying, “Hey, guys, this chopping each other down is sin!” We all protested at first and tried to defend ourselves, but he stuck to his guns until we realized that he was right. We weren’t blessing and building each other up. We had to repent.

Conclusion

Someone may be thinking, “Now wait a minute. You’ve been talking about denying myself, laying down my rights, not retaliating, blessing those who insult me, being harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble. But if you knew my husband (or wife or boss or roommates), you’d know that if I did that, I’d get trampled on! Am I supposed to be a doormat? Who’s going to look out for me? Who’s going to protect me if I act like that?”

Verse 12 tells you: God will! His eyes are on the righteous. His ears attend to their prayer. But His face is against those who do evil. Do you want God on your side? Then, please Him by turning from evil and doing good in your walk and your words. Even if you suffer for the sake of righteousness (v. 14), you’ll be blessed.

Godly relationships are really important! After all, loving one another is the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39). Dr. Bernadine Healy wrote (Reader’s Digest, 6/97, p. 47):

As a physician who has been deeply privileged to share the most profound moments of people’s lives, including their final moments, let me tell you a secret. People facing death don’t think about what degrees they have earned, what positions they have held or how much wealth they have accumulated. At the end, what really matters—and is a good measure of a past life—is who you loved and who loved you. The circle of love is everything.

Godly relationships are built on godly communication, which requires that we turn from evil and do good in our walk and words, no matter how we’re treated. If we all would commit 1 Peter 3:8-12 to memory and apply it to our relationships, our homes and our church would experience God’s blessing. His eyes would be upon us and His ears would attend to our prayers.

Application Questions

  1. Is verbal abuse grounds for marital separation or divorce? Defend your answer biblically.
  2. Is there a place in godly communication for “a good argument”? Why/why not?
  3. Agree/disagree: Selfishness is the root of most communication problems?
  4. How should a godly wife deal with her husband’s abusive speech to their children?

Copyright 2017, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

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