Thursday, March 8, 2012

Marriage Matters: Conflict: God is Up to Something Good

And now for our favorite topic of the semester....and I probably should say that I hope my readers realize that many of the illustrations on the blog are very tongue-in-cheek. Remember to plug in your sense of humor before reading. Someone once told me that in their marriage of many year's duration they had never run into any conflict. None? Really? Being the positive, all-comforting, let's think the best of everyone person that I am I thought, "One of you must no longer have a heart beat or both of you are self-deceived Utopians." I wish I'd asked, "So tell me, how's that working for you?"
Conflict first appears in my bible on page 12 and it would have appeared on page 3 if it weren't for all of the study notes and diagrams. While many of us may tend to run straight from it, the bible teaches us that conflict can be not only beneficial but actually a sign that God is at work destroying sin in our lives and establishing peace among His people. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the result of overcoming sin. Notice how God handles the conflict in the garden. Read Genesis 3:14-19.God confronts Adam and Eve but he does not destroy them. There are consequences to be borne, but God's responses and the consequences are laced with his goodness, love, mercy and the promise of redemption. God's curse is not on Adam and Eve, but on the serpent. Satan will ultimately be destroyed, not us. God spared Adam and Eve and made a way for their offspring (you and I) to be redeemed and part of God's plan for restoration.  As painful as conflict can be for us, as destructive as WE can make it, conflict is God's chosen means to rescue His people and to destroy sin.God promises and sends the final blow to Satan through His son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed born of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent, even as he is "struck on the heel" on the cross. Jesus is wounded, but it is Satan who will be destroyed.

Perhaps you just didn't expect there to be so much conflict in your own home. God did. That's why the armor of God passages come right where they do. After the instructions concerning every day relationships in the home in Ephesians 6. Husbands and wives are to live together in love and respect, children are to obey their parents, parents are to rear their children wisely. So put on your helmet, sword and shield and be prepared. We let our guard down at home. We are lax and careless around people we feel we do not need to impress, when actually those whom we say we love the most should receive the best from us. Love your neighbor. Who is my closest neighbor? Those living  under the same set of shingles. Home is where we have the greatest opportunity to live selfishly or selflessly. You pick.
Your spouse is not the enemy. The powers of darkness that roam the earth seeking whom they may devour are the enemies. Gird yourself with the armor of God that you may speak the truth in love to your husband. That truth is the righteousness of Christ and His standard, not mine. It is the sturdiness and protection of the gospel that equips us for every good work. Protect yourself with the shield of faith against the evil one for Satan cannot harm us if we belong to God. Take the confidence given us in salvation as the battle has already been won by God, and use His word which is your greatest tool for matters of faith and living.
God tells us wives where our conflict lies in marriage when he says, "Your desire shall be for your husband." Like I said at MOMs, this doesn't mean as y'all say, "My husband's hot." It means that your desire is to dominate him, to rule him, to have it your way. James instructs us in 4:1 to look inside, not at our husbands for the sources of conflict. The desires that battle within us for that which we think we need to have, to do, or become. Idols, ladies.
That's why we become defensive. Proverbs 18:19 says An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city and quarrels are like the barred gates of a castle. When we are unwilling to see the viewpoint or needs of our husbands we both try to squeeze ourselves through the walls of his defenses while throwing up our walls making them thicker and higher. A marital version of capture the castle.
We are hypocritical. Those wonderful judgment verses about specks and planks in Matthew 7 are often misused as a way of keeping one another from confronting the truth in love, when actually the verses tell us how to rightfully gain an audience when our spouse needs to hear the truth. The message? Deal with your own heart first. Ask yourself a few of these questions. Could it be possible that this sin or behavior is so egregious to me because I actually have the same fault? Is my desire to dominate my husband? Am I trying to make myself feel better, superior, justified? Would I like my husband to stop what he's doing simply so that I don't have to deal with it any more? Is this more about me or about my husband's holiness and growth of Christian character? Part of taking the plank out of your own eye is a serious assessment of our own character according to the Word of God as it is given in, for instance, Galatians 5:22, 23. Where are there still large holes in my heart that I need to relinquish for some spiritual surgery?

Detail, Chocolate MaidRecurring conflicts are generally over heart issues that are buried beneath the surface. Are you ticked off that Joe didn't help you put the children to bed...again? Is Joe not spending enough time with the children? Not taking advantage of those moments of transparency that you often see in your children when putting them down for the night? Are you aggravated that Joe doesn't help you? Have you decided you're just the hired help and you're tired of this? Before addressing Joe, this scripture teaches us to be willing to seek to identify and address the underlying issues in your own heart. Those desires that are driven by what you believe you must have. This is hard to hear, hard to do and impossible without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Tim Keller says "Marriage does not so much bring you into confrontation with your spouse as to confront you with yourself." Ouch.

 Perhaps out of sincere love for God and your spouse you many need to yield to them both. Notice I didn't say avoid. Yield. Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not rude or self-seeking. Self-centeredness is the cancer in the center of every marriage. Tim Keller once again..."Is the purpose of marriage to deny your interests for the good of the family, or is it rather to assert your interests for the fulfillment of yourself? The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice, but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice." Sounds great but the trouble is that living this way is not easy and it's painful. There, we've said it. We prefer an easy pain-free death to self. Dying to self is neither pain free nor easy but it is safe because Jesus went to hell and back for us. It is His death to self that gives us the power and pattern for the same.

Waiting is also a biblical pattern for handling conflict. Notice I didn't say avoid. :) Waiting. It is to a man's honor to avoid strife but every fool is quick to quarrel. Proverbs 17:4. Our God and Savior's love for us is very slow to anger and long suffering. No matter how aware we are of some of our own sins, there are countless others of which we have no knowledge. God does not confront us with each and every sin. That would be unbearable. As wives we need to understand our mate's weaknesses, present struggles, personality and emotional make-up to provide wisdom for when and how to confront. A bit of advice, give the man a break. Chill out.
And then there is the confronting itself. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so that you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:17-18. We could land here for several weeks. Your husband is not the enemy, sin is. We are not to attack him angrily, pursue revenge against him, or give him a dose of his own behavior. We must not tuck sins away for long periods of time where they sour in our hearts and become grudges and roots of bitterness. We should speak directly and honestly without seeking to to beat them down, destroy them, or crush their spirit. God rebukes, corrects and disciplines with the goals of restoration and reconciliation in sight. Being right or proving wrong is not the goal, but bringing all under the headship of Jesus Christ in wholeness and oneness. This is peace. Not the absence of conflict, but the overcoming of sin to being conformed and always conforming to the image of Christ.


  1. Great to see you Sunday. Love these posts!! You certainly have so much wisdom, and I am sure you are a blessing to those in your study.

  2. We loved seeing y'all, too. Thank you for the encouragement...all credit to Winston Smith, the author of Marriage Matters.