“Is the Holy Spirit pleased with the way you speak to your spouse?” It was strange question for Rick and Shelley. I could tell it was strange because they stared at me blankly. We would all probably have a similar reaction if we asked that question of our own marital conversations; we do not naturally think about God when we are fighting with our spouse. The Bible teaches us, however, that the way we communicate can either please or “grieve” the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul gives us some clear directions on how we ought to communicate with one another. In Ephesians 4 he spells out the necessary components of God honoring speech, we read:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (v. 29-32)
We read, here, of a number of important features of godly communication. We learn that we are to speak the truth, and we are to respond appropriately to our anger. We are to put off sinful practices and put on godly ones. We are to be careful with our words, to build up others instead of putting them down. We are to speak in a way that “gives grace to those who hear.” We are even commanded here to offer forgiveness. It’s a beautiful picture, but tucked into these verses is also a statement about not “grieving the Holy Spirit of God.” There is a way to communicate with your spouse which causes God’s Spirit to suffer, to feel pain. In other words, even the way you argue with your husband or wife involves God.
This passage is primarily focused on the dynamic within the church as a whole, the “body of Christ” (v. 3-5; v. 12, 15-16). The goal of all of this teaching is the we would all, as the church, be united in “the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). The marital relationship is a microcosm of this larger dynamic. If our spouse is a believer and we are not in unity with them, then we will struggle to be in unity with the church. Of course some spouses refuse to dwell in peace, but in so far as it depends on us we want to strive for peace (Rom. 12:18). As our speech seeks to build up unity in Christ in our relationship, as it attempts to evidence the fruit of the Spirit, it will honor God. If our speech seeks to cut down, to force our agenda on another, to evidence malice and slander and wrath, then it will bring suffering to the Spirit of God. What you say to your spouse, and the way you say it, directly impacts the Spirit of the God you love.
Will this knowledge, namely that the way we speak can grieve the Spirit, be enough to cause us to do right in our marital conflicts? I wish it would, but sadly we are sinful and stubborn people. We have learned habits of communication that must be undone. We must, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 4, learn to put off sinful practices of communication and put on godly ones. Yet, because we love God and do not want to grieve the Holy Spirit, we should be motivated to take the next step. We should be motivated to slow down in our conflicts, to seek help in learning new ways to communicate, and we should be motivated to repent and ask for forgiveness from God and our spouse when we fail.
How do you know if you are grieving God in your speech? Consider the following few questions:
- Does your manner of communication strive for unity? Does it often result in greater discord or connectivity?
- Does your talk and conflict resolution often model the fruit of the Spirit?
- Do you make spiritual excuses for sinful behavior (i.e. “It’s loving to tell the truth,” which is often code for “I have permission to be a jerk”)?
- Does your speech give grace to the hearer? Does the listener get a sense that you love God because of the way you speak to them? Does the listener get a sense that God loves them because of the way you speak to them?
- Are you prone to snarky, sarcastic, critical, and condescending words in your speech?
- Do you think at all about God when you are attempting to resolve conflict with your spouse?
- Does God’s agenda for your marriage have more sway over your conflict resolution than your agenda does?
- Would your conversations be a good model for young believers striving to grow in godliness?
- Would you be ashamed if leaders in your church heard you speak the way you do to your spouse? How do you feel when you know that God hears you speak to your spouse?
- Does God’s grace towards you in the gospel impact the way you attempt to address problems with your spouse?
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” in the way you speak to your spouse. It’s possible to do, it’s likely that you do it already. If all things are to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), then even speaking to your spouse and resolving marital conflict is about Him. Focus your efforts on honoring God in your speech. You can grieve God in your conversations, but you can also honor Him.