Four Steps to Loving Relationships
A number of years ago, I listened to a tape series by a minister from Palm Springs, California about relationships and marriage. This series of steps was presented in one of the teachings and I was intrigued and inspired to document from God’s Word what he was teaching. I discovered that when these steps are applied, marriage becomes an example or illustration of the intimacy with Jesus Christ our Lord in relationship with him that every believer can have, whether they are married or not. So I prayerfully submit this paper to you with joy that this kind of loving relationship really is available in our day and time and in fact is the Father’s will for us.
The four steps to loving relationships are presented in Ephesians 5:21-31. This is the main passage that we will be studying. We will begin at the end to see the overall context of the passage.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
There is a responsibility given to the husband in a marriage relationship that is stated in this verse and it sets the pattern for the whole passage. “A man shall leave…” The man is always the initiator, the catalyst, of a relationship. As much as a woman may desire to have a relationship with someone, it never works until the man says, “Yes, I will leave my current situation and join to you.” The phrase “shall be joined” in the King James is not a correct translation here either from the Greek or Aramaic. It is not a passive thing that the man does. It is active. It should be read, “a man shall join to his wife.” He must be the one to start this whole process. Now of course, it does not depend solely on him to build the relationship, which is clear from the whole passage in Ephesians 5. But he must be the initiator. Then they two should become one flesh.
This word for “join” in the Aramaic has a simple root picture of going towards something. The initiating action that a man takes is to go towards his wife. The Greek word for “join” adds additional understanding. It means to join one’s self closely, cleave to or glue to. This cleaving is like glue or cement in between two objects so that they are stuck together and will not break apart. In a world where many things are geared to break apart marriages, it is a joy to know that the Word of God has been given to us to learn how to be joined together in a tightly bonded relationship that will weather any storm or conflict or pressure from the outside.
One last point before we study the actual steps is about the marriage relationship overall. The purpose of this gluing and cementing bond and becoming one flesh is for there to be rest and accord. 1 Peter 3:1-8 is another passage that explains much about relationships. Verses 7 and 8 sum up the benefit of being obedient to these principles.
1 Peter 3:7-8:
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another,
The Aramaic translation of the first part of verse 8 is “Now the conclusion [is] that all of you should be in one accord.” If we apply the steps as set forth in Ephesians 5 and also here in I Peter, our prayers will not be hindered and there will also be an accord and compassion that will be poured out to one another. Isn’t that what everyone longs for in relationship?
The four steps to a loving relationship are as follows:
1) Shoulder to shoulder (Ephesians 5:21)
2) Hand in hand (Ephesians 5:22-24)
3) Face to face (Ephesians 5:25-27)
4) Touch to touch (Ephesians 5:28-30)
These steps are pictures of how relationships work and portray the actions in a loving relationship. I have labeled them in this fashion so they would be easy to remember. So let us begin to explore the pictures in Ephesians 5.
SHOULDER TO SHOULDER
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
(Aramaic translation): And be subject one to another in the love of Christ.
“In the fear of God” in the KJV means respect of God. I think that the Aramaic is clearer: in the love of Christ. We cannot be subject to one another without it being in the love of Christ, honoring both God and Christ. And this actually sets the picture. Each person in the marriage has his own unique relationship with God as his Father and with Jesus Christ as his Lord. The marriage means that we stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, but looking outward to God. Each man and woman must be born again and have a relationship with God before they can submit to one another. This applies to the whole body of Christ. But in a marriage it means that the two people voluntarily decide to stand next to each other and to line their shoulders up together. They each have a specific calling in the body of Christ to function as a member in particular but they decide to do it standing next to one another.
This is very important and fundamental and why it is the first step. The husband and wife need to first know that they are individually responsible for their own walk in the Lord and have the uniqueness of all of their abilities and talents to offer to God first. They then decide to be companions and to complement one another in their efforts to minister in the body of Christ. This is shoulder to shoulder. I Corinthians 11 describes this step as well.
1 Corinthians 11:11-12:
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
An example in the physical body is that each cell has its own heartbeat. When two cells are put side by side, they begin to complement each other and their heartbeats synchronize and beat together.
A man has a unique function because he is a man. A woman has a unique function because she is a woman. This shoulder to shoulder picture is the beginning of the appreciation for this uniqueness and for the combination of abilities, desires and gifts that each person brings to the relationship. With both eyes looking towards Jesus Christ as the author of faith they begin to walk together. And thus their hearts are joined in complement with each other.
HAND IN HAND
This picture is where the man takes the woman’s hand or puts his arm around her shoulder or waist. Before this there has been no physical touching, only a touching and recognition of hearts. They both are still facing outward, but now there is a deeper connection.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
These verses are addressed to the wife particularly because it is she who needs to respond at this point. Remember that the whole context of this section is that the man is the initiator. The word “submit” had bothered me for a long time, mostly because of our culture, but also because I have a rather strong independent nature. This was cleared up when I studied the Aramaic root word for “submit.” It is a very common word and means to work or serve. This exact form of the verb is used in Galatians 5:13: “…by love serve one another.” That is the response of the woman to the man: to work, to serve her husband.
The husband’s responsibility is to be the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the Church. Many people have discussed what this headship involves, but the primary thing I see in this passage is that all the actions he does should emulate how Christ takes care of the church. The word “savior” in Aramaic literally means life-giver. The husband offers his total protection and care to the woman; she responds with a desire to serve and work together with him and so in love they serve one another. This brings a completion and strength to one another so that they can continue to look outward and be even more effective in serving in the body of Christ, hand in hand.
FACE TO FACE
In this step, the couple turns to face each other. There are still only brief points of touching physically, but the full attention of the eyes are focused on each other.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
When the man looks into his wife’s face, he accepts her and his face pours out his love so she can see it and be freed from the worry and fretting of everything. “Not having no spot or wrinkle” is a phrase from Oriental culture that means to be free from worry and concern. The best example I can think of how this happens is illustrated in the relationship of Joseph and Mary as described in Matthew 1.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
The word “to take unto” in Aramaic is a wonderful word. It really means to receive, as into one’s heart. Joseph had to look at this whole situation with Mary, when already he did not want to follow the accepted practice in cases of pregnancy before marriage. When the angel told him to take Mary to himself, that meant to receive her, to look exactly at the situation and to accept her into his heart. In doing that he made the commitment that despite any consequences of his decision, he would love and cherish her for the rest of their days. Later in the passage in verse 24, it says that Joseph “took unto him his wife.” This word is different in Aramaic and means to lead or guide. As he made the decision to accept and receive Mary into his heart, then the further revelation was there of how to guide and lead her. When he “took” her to Egypt, this word is also “lead or guide.” How beautifully accurate the Word of God is! A man will not get the revelation of HOW to care for his wife until he has looked at all of the circumstances surrounding her, her past, her life and say, “Yes, I receive you,” and “I am willing to deliver up my life if necessary to care for you.” That is what Jesus Christ did for us, so we could be delivered from fear and worry and we could walk in freedom.
When a man and wife look at each other face to face, all the love in their hearts comes welling up into their eyes and with this acceptance and receiving, then there is a cementing of the bond between them. This step is where couples get the most distracted in life. As they move with the issues of life, of jobs, children, ministry or church affairs, the time to do this step gets crowded out. Once we see how important it is, then we can take the time necessary to gaze into each other faces and say many times a day, “I love you,” “I accept you,” “You are precious to me.”
TOUCH TO TOUCH
After a couple has been gazing into each other eyes and this love has been welling up, it is easy to see that the intimate sharing of their physical bodies naturally becomes the next step. This is described in Ephesians 5:28-30.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
No one ignores his own physical needs, but endeavors to take care of his own body. It says that a husband should care for his wife like he cares for his own body. This is elaborated further in I Corinthians 7.
1 Corinthians 7:3-4 (Aramaic translation):
A husband should pay to his wife the love that is owed. So also the wife to her husband.
The wife [has] no authority over her body but her husband. So also, the man [has] no authority over his body, but his wife.
This verse explains that both husband and wife have the responsibility of caring for the physical needs of the other. When a couple endeavors to the best of their ability to do this, the physical caring then spills over into wanting to also emotionally care for each other fully. I believe that is what “nourish and cherish” is talking about in Ephesians 5. It is the full touching in every part of the physical body and a pouring out of care for the other. Again, the example in the spiritual realm is how the Lord Jesus Christ cares for his church with great tenderness, intimacy and a pouring out of care.
Just as our physical bodies of male and female completely complement each other, so our hearts and lives and every aspect of our relationships as husband and wife can complement one another, if we apply these four steps in our everyday lives. That means that there is a constant flow of change from one step to another. They are not always progressive in 1,2,3 fashion. However, if one is left out or ignored, the last step will not have the full intimacy intended by God for the marriage and the unity will be lacking. So the joy of our lives every day comes in going from one step to another and back again, being heirs together of the grace of life as we saw in 1 Peter 3.
To summarize, again look at the purpose of this whole section in Ephesians. Even more than only to bring joy and satisfaction to our lives in marriage, our relationships are to be a brilliant example of the love that the Lord Jesus Christ has for his church. That is the great mystery, the joining of many members all in one body, and the intimacy and delight of our relationship with him. He is the ultimate example of love and care for a husband toward his wife, and the church’s relationship with him is the loving response of the wife in serving her husband.
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.