Originally published Monday, 07 September 2015.
What’s the number one thing that stirs up a conflict in your home? Money? The Kids? Schedules? The remote control?
Disagreements are a natural part of marriage - no two people can see the world exactly the same 100% of the time. Disagreements can even be good when we go about them in a healthy way. But fighting? That's an entirely different matter.
Before my husband and I got married, he told me that married couples didn’t have to fight. I told him he was living in “lala land” and that all married people fight. I thought it worked like gravity - you get married, you fight. As if you are all the sudden transported from your wedding reception into some kind of metaphorical boxing ring. Thankfully, through some solid discipleship and growing in the Lord, I discovered that marriage could hold a deep sweetness that came without destructive fighting.
While fighting and marriage appear to go hand-in-hand, they weren’t designed to! The status of the conflicts in your home deeply matters to God. Let’s read what He has to say about it in the book of James.
1. Own the cause of your quarrels!
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3 NIV
The phrase wrong motives in the original Greek means brokenness and sickness. All of us have brokenness in us; the spiritual fallen nature we are all born with, and also the individual sicknesses we personally carry. In your marriage, check carefully how your brokenness and desires (desires to be “right,” to have your own way, or to feel in control) are affecting the conflicts your are experiencing. If you have a long standing habit or some damaging pattern (like anger or alcoholism) that was passed from generation to generation, get on your knees and beg for God’s grace and help! There is nothing in you that is “just that way” or can’t change if you allow God into it.
2. Recognize the consequences of your fighting
It’s easy to consider fighting to be a “little” sin in a world where sexual immorality and violence run rampant. But perhaps God doesn’t see it that way.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us. James 4:4-5 NIV
Seems like James changed the subject from fighting to being worldly, but did he really? Or isn’t fighting an attitude that comes from worldly thinking? Earlier in the same letter, James tells us that the wisdom from God is peaceable and that wisdom from the world causes disorder (James 3:14-18).
It is the world that tells us we deserve respect and it is Jesus who says turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). It is the world that tells us revenge is good, while Jesus tells us to bless and pray for those who persecute us and speak evil against us (Luke 6:28).
Fighting includes aligning our hearts and minds with the ways of the world, and when we do that, we have positioned ourselves as spiritual “cheaters” or adulteresses to our Christianity. That's a pretty hefty consequence. Not only do we position ourselves as enemies of Christ, but we also grieve the Holy Spirit. James isn’t the only passage that mentions how we grieve God through our words; Ephesians 4:29-30 says that words which do not bless those listening grieve God.
3. Seek out Biblical cures for your quarrels. Here’s some that James lists for us:
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James 4:6 NIV
• Humility. Maintain an attitude of personal humility when disagreements arise.
Submit yourself to God. James 4:7
• Maintain a heart of submission to the Lord by leaning into the Holy Spirit for guidance (including correction) when disagreements arise.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7
• Be aware of the enemy’s schemes when you enter a disagreement. Ever watch a disagreement spiral into something you never imagined? Scripture warns that the enemy roams about like a lion, seeking those he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Predators always look for the weakling at the end of the pack. In our spiritual lives, the enemy looks for the doors and windows that are loose, broken or weak. Fighting, anger (Ephesians 4:26-27) and unforgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:10-11) are all relationship issues that fly red signal flags catching the enemy’s attention.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:8a
• Draw near to God. If it is possible (as in, if both you and your spouse are believers) for the two of you to draw near to the Lord through prayer before or during a disagreement, then do it! Inviting the Lord into any and every situation you face is always a good idea.
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:8b-10 NIV
• Clean up! When you come face to face with the reality of your brokenness, like we mentioned earlier, the only way to move forward in freedom is to confess it and then turn from it. Don’t be afraid to get on your knees individually or as a couple and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and grace. And when you do find that an argument escalated to the point of hurting one another and sinning against the Lord, then mourn your mistake with true repentance so that the Lord might bring healing and joy to the very place of pain in your marriage. Too often we nurse grudges and anger after arguments, instead of allowing ourselves to just simply be broken before the Lord. He usually doesn’t come in and fix what we don’t admit is broken. But the healing He can work between two people who are willing to surrender their issues with honesty before Him is nothing short of miraculous!
Next time you come to an impasse in your marriage, run through these five steps and wait to see what the Lord will do. Waiting is a key element to humbling yourself before the Lord because the work is done in His timing and His way instead of you taking charge of things and doing them your way and in your time. There have been seasons when I struggled with something Eric was doing and could only submit my feelings to the Lord’s care; no amount of talking would change his mind. Eventually the Lord grew both of us through the process of praying and waiting. And can you imagine it, but he has even had to do the same for me! (Wink, wink!)
May God’s grace cover your marriage as you seek to honor the Lord in the way you handle conflicts in your home!
We will be back next Monday for more of the Managing Your Anger Before It manages You series.
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