Biblical Definition of Communication
Communication is the act of conveying a thought or idea to another person. As people, we largely use words—written or spoken—to communicate. But we also rely—perhaps more than we realize—on non-verbal communication such as gestures, facial expressions, and symbols.
The Bible tells us that communication not only conveys information but that it reveals the state of our hearts:
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. ” Psalm 19:14
The words of the psalmist’s mouth and the meditation of his heart are inextricably related. This is why Jesus criticized the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, he said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8).
Ultimately, he turned the conversation around on the Pharisees, showing that their cleanliness regulations were flawed because “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts…” (Matthew 15:18-19).
The Importance of Communication
Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees helps us to understand the importance of communication. Though the Pharisees showed themselves to be liars by speaking empty words of praise, there is more at stake in our words than just our credibility.
Consider the power contained in our words:
Having made his case for the power of words, James then laments our inability to contain this power by adding, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings… Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10).
Sound communication comes from—and reveals—a heart of maturity that is governed by love:
Paul promoted sound speech as not only a sign of maturity but as a means of achieving maturity. When we exercise purpose in our speaking—and listening—we produce much good:
- The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Proverbs 16:23
- Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. Proverbs 18:2
- The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. Proverbs 15:28
If you grew up with parents who told you to think before you speak or to listen first before asking questions, these proverbs probably resonate with you.
Communication with Each Other
All of this matters because communication is necessary for human relationships. God designed us to live in community with one another, so it is necessary that we bring productive, honest, and loving communication into our relationships so that we may reflect God’s character and bear witness to His presence within us.
Colossians 3 provides a road map for building a Godly community through effective communication:
- Also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (v 8)
- Do not lie to each other, (v 9)
- As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (v 12)
- Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. (v 13)
- And over all these virtues put on love, (v 14).
- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, (v 15)
- Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly (v 16)
- And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, (v 17)
Because communities are made up of flawed people, sometimes we need to address wrongs and shortcomings. But when we do, we still must communicate clearly and graciously, as Jesus teaches:
The goal of grace-filled communication is always restoration, never condemnation.
Communication in Marriage
The most profound and unique human relationship is the one between husband and wife. All of the grace, kindness, and forgiveness that we practice toward our brothers and sisters in Christ should also be present in our marriages. But the Bible provides additional instruction that is specific to husbands and wives:
- Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19) We should not be harsh with anybody, but it is easy to be short-tempered with those closest to us. This was especially true in a culture where men’s and women’s roles were starkly different and women were expected to remain quiet.
- Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. (1 Peter 3:7) NLT. In order for husbands to understand their wives, husbands must listen to their wives. Even in a society where men dominated all commerce and dealings outside the home, it was essential for men to honor their wives by hearing and knowing their needs, and acting in their interests.
When we remember that marriage was given to us by God in order to help us understand His deep love and affection for us, we understand why communication is so fundamental in marriage.
This understanding also helps us to see the importance of communicating effectively with God.
What does the Bible Say about Talking to God?
but the prayer of the upright pleases him. ” Proverbs 15:8
It brings God great joy to hear from us, and He wants us to experience joy in communicating with Him, too. Paul paired our joy with our prayers when he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Even though our earthly circumstances might not lead us, on their own, to a place of rejoicing and thanksgiving, knowing that we have an open line to our Heavenly Father is its own delight. Maintaining that communication helps us to grow in our relationship with Him.
And as we spend time communicating with God, we find that He communicates with us as well. He has given us His word (2 Timothy 3:16) and as we go to Him in prayer, we learn to recognize His voice in His word:
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. ” John 10:4, 14
Very few of us are privileged to hear God audibly the way that we hear each other but we still recognize His voice through His word, and through the leading of the Holy Spirit who grants us wisdom and understanding. As Jesus promised, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” (John 8:47)
Just as the Spirit leads us without words, we often communicate to each other—and to God—without words. The Bible identifies several specific actions that wordlessly convey the thoughts of our hearts:
- Tearing clothes (Genesis 37:34, Mark 14:63). In ancient cultures, it was customary for a person to tear his clothes upon receiving bad news. This symbolized the tearing of one’s heart.
- Wearing dust or ashes (Job 16:5, Daniel 9:3). When a person was in mourning, he put dust or ashes on his head to symbolize the mortality of returning to dust at our deaths. Similarly, ashes and dust became symbols of penitence and were commonly worn during times of fasting.
- Bowing down (Leviticus 26:1. Romans 14:11) perhaps the most obvious non-verbal gesture is the act of bowing down. By lowering ourselves, we elevate the thing that we bow to. This is why God commands that we not bow down before idols and false gods, and why scripture testifies that someday, everyone will bow down before God.
Even more subtle forms of non-verbal communication can be found in the Bible:
who goes about with a corrupt mouth,
who winks maliciously with his eye,
signals with his feet
and motions with his fingers” Proverbs 6:12-13
But as people of God, we must not let corruption and malice inform our communication. Instead, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)