The Proverbs put some colorful descriptions to how miserable a contentious household or relationship can be. Here are a few examples: when strife begins it is like trying to stop a leaking dam (Pro. 17:14); an offended brother is like an impenetrable fortress and his contentions are iron bars (Pro. 18:19); better to live alone in rural North Dakota than with a contentious and an angry woman (Pro. 21:19); along the same lines, it’s better to live in the attic than to live in a mansion with a brawling woman (Pro 25:24); wood fuels a fire and a contentious man fuels strife (Pro 26:21); it’s hard to tell the difference between a continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman (Pro 27:15); proud hearts and angry men stir up contention and a furious man abounds in transgression (Pro. 28:25a & 29:22).
1 Peter 1:13-21
13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, 21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.
Holy or Vain
The contrast in this passage is between holiness in all manner of one’s conversation, and the vain conversation from which we were delivered. Notice that vain conversation was a tradition handed down from our fathers. The word translated here as conversation is could literally be rendered from the Greek as “every turning”. I think the translation of conversation is quite a useful one. It conveys a pivotal idea which Peter is getting at. At every turn you are declaring something, and as those called by the Father we are called to communicate holiness. Set-apartness. Not of the world-ness. God-likeness.
Peter builds on this in the next chapter (1 Pt. 2:9-12), highlighting that as a royal priesthood (composed of Jews & Gentiles) they would be shewing forth the praises of “Him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The Gentiles who might be inclined to speak evil of the saints would, by witnessing their “honest conversation” as demonstrated in good works, be brought to glorify God.
Remember that it isn’t merely what you say, but what you wear, what you do, how you act, your facial expressions, the tone of your voice, and the whole manner of your life which communicates. The medium is part of the message. This should lead us to be mindful as to whether what we are communicating to our household and in our relationships is holiness or vanity. That is the contrast here.
Will your words, actions, demeanor, and countenance belie the fact that you are a royal priest of God Most High, or that you are embroiled in the tradition of a vain and useless manner of life? Will what your words and actions convey declare your likeness to God, your growth in godliness? Or will your words and actions convey all the force of a wisp of vapor? Notice that what endures forever is the Word of the Lord, but even the most glorious array of man, of the flesh, will shrivel like grass in late July. Peter reminds us that we are delivered, not by earthly things such as wealth and prestige, but by the precious blood of Jesus. Indeed, the blood of Christ speaks a better word, and that blood is our clothing, our royal garments, our uniform.
Eggshells & Tripwires
A key litmus test for whether the communication channels in a home are clear of debris is to ask if the family is able to joke with each other. Can they be playful? What this gets at is not whether they are able to sit down and play a game of RISK together, but can they be playful with each other at any point throughout their rhythm of life?
Many homes riddled with bitterness and unconfessed grievances become a house full of eggshells and tripwires. The jesting that takes place is barbed, acidic, and produces, at best, forced laughter, but more likely the response is scowls, tears, and more broken eggshells to avoid. The room is filled with fumes, and everyone knows it. So instead of opening the windows, instead of sweeping up the eggshells, instead of calling in the bomb-squad to defuse the tripwires, everyone just tiptoes around in self-preservation. They just hope the whole place doesn’t blow.
But this is no way to live. Five minutes in such a household makes it plain to the outside observer that something is awry, even if they can’t place it. The missing ingredient is true joy, which of course gives rise to what I term playfulness.
Solomon exhorts men to “Live joyfully with thy wife (Ecc. 9:9).” As well as to “rejoice in the wife of thy youth (Pro. 5:18).” The latter passage is much more sexual in context (cf Pro. 5:19); however, a marriage in which sexual intercourse is in the context of joyless, resentment filled daily life is likely to be anything but a rejoicing in one’s wife. Solomon also demonstrates (in his famous love poem of Song of Songs) that lovers see each other everywhere and in everything from flocks of sheep, to towers, from pomegranates, to piles of wheat. Paul teaches husbands to “love your wives, and be not bitter against them (Col. 3:19).” This could also be rendered as, “do not be a source of bitterness”; or “don’t be embittering/exasperating.” This follows Paul telling wives to submit to their own husbands (Col. 3:18); a lunkheaded lazy husband is going to embitter a wife in her endeavors to obey scripture and submit to her husband.
Living Like God’s Children
All of this comes down to heeding Peter’s admonishment “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.” This echoes what Paul said in Rom. 12:2: “do not be conformed to this world.” You are either fashioning yourself after the world, in its ignorant lusts, or you are fashioning yourself according to your new Father. As such, we must do as our Father says: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers (Eph 4:29).” To riff on something R.M. M’Cheyne once said, if the four walls of your home could speak, would they testify of your devotion to God, your kindness and love to your family, or would they testify against you that you talk just like the world.
If communication has gotten gunked up in a marriage or family, it is going to take deliberate actions by everyone involved to get things back on track. Remember from the Proverbs that a man is prone to folding his hands in sloth and his wife is thus prone to henpecking, this turns things into a vicious cycle. The husband should recognize that he is called to lead in restoring the conversation of the home from vanity to holiness.
He should get a time––preferably daily––where he and his wife (or if the whole home is involved in the crisis/fracas) can connect. Get it on the schedule. Prioritize it. They shouldn’t try to squeeze it in between the dishes and getting the baby in her PJs. They should also be ok with setting a time limit, not trying to solve all their problems in one go. Twenty minutes a day for a month would be better than one six hour slugfest until midnight. Forming a habit, or recovering from a hip replacement, takes more than an afternoon.
The husband/father should set the example and lead such meetings. He should lead in prayer, turning to Scripture, owning his own sin (without attempting to leverage this to getting others to admit how rotten they’ve been). In other words, he should put on his Jesus uniform, and remind his wife (or the whole family in cases where the whole family is involved) to do likewise. The goal isn’t just to have a peaceful home for its own sake; rather, the goal is, as always, that God would be magnified in everything you say and do, whether in public or private.
When you are giving counsel you have to remember that where there is no contention the strife ceases. If the relationship is accustomed to playing by a certain set of rules, it is incumbent upon someone to begin playing by a different set of rules. Too many relationships are like playing chess using the rules for go-fish. Someone has to say, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” What are you saying? Because you’re always saying something. The Christian, and the Christian household is called to be deliberate and thoughtful about what you are saying. The fundamental Christian attitude is this: let everything you do, whether in word or deed, do all to the glory of God.