It is honorable for a man to resolve a dispute, but any fool can get himself into a quarrel. (Proverbs 20:3 HCSB)
A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1 NASB)
WHY DO WE ARGUE?
People argue. We know that. God knows that. That’s why He put so many verses in the Bible reminding us to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. He tells us that in our anger, we should not sin nor should we let the sun set while we are still angry (Ephesians 4:26 NIV).
To make it clear to us, He tells us that he is a loving God and that He models what He wants us to do: “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Nehemiah 9:17 NIV).
We know what the antidote to anger is. It is love. In one of the most poetic chapters of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), the apostle Paul reminds us that among love’s many attributes is this one: love “is not easily angered” (v. 5 NIV).
We get angry as a tool to get our way in a broken world, and so we lash out at the people who stand in our way, you know, the ones standing right there in front of us who express their needs — legitimate needs — that conflict with our needs.
Here’s the dilemma: Those people who most often stand in our way are the ones we are with the most … and the ones we are with the most are the ones we love the most.
As a result, we’re usually angry at the ones we love the most. Why? Because they’re the ones standing there, the ones with whom we spend most of our time, the ones with legitimate needs that conflict with ours!
THE PASTOR PAUL DAVID TRIPP produced a marvelous series on marriage relationships in which he discusses marital anger, and he contrasts our anger with the anger Jesus displayed at the Temple.
Whereas, Jesus was angry that people were violating God’s law by desecrating the holy place with commerce, in our marriages, Tripp says, we display anger when our spouse — our husband or wife — violates our laws.
You know, you were late for dinner and didn’t tell me, and now the roast is burned. Well, you turned the TV on while I was reading the newspaper. Oh, yeah, well you were rude to my mother while I was on the phone. Okay, but you interrupted me four times while I was …
You know, whatever.
AVOIDING ARGUMENTS STARTS with a willingness to listen to the other person, adding some humility, and then seasoning the whole thing with love.
What is gained by arguing with someone we love — especially our spouse — when our happiness requires connection? What if our spouse is at least partly correct? What if we are at least partly wrong?
More likely than not, our spouse (or best friend or neighbor or co-worker) is partly correct and we are partly wrong. If so, then, what part are we arguing about, the part where our spouse (or other loved one) is partly wrong and we’re partly right … or the part where our loved one is partly right and we’re partly wrong?
IN A BOOK ABOUT MARRIAGE, Emerson Eggerichs gives us a memorable image. Recalling for us the Genesis account of how God created us—male and female, in His own image, giving us brains to think and hearts to feel—Eggerichs tells us that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is in the room with us.
Jesus is standing behind our spouse (or child or parent or neighbor or co-worker or best friend). Standing there. Watching us. Listening to us. While we pontificate in self-righteous indignation, impatience, or anger, He-who-is-without-sin is saying to us, “Whatever you say to this person, you’re saying to Me, and even what you’re thinking before you say it breaks my heart.”
Bubbling up with the false righteousness our anger produces, we try to avoid His eyes, which bore deep into our souls.
“In your anger, do not sin,” He reminds us (Ephesians 4:26 NIV). We feel the sting of reproach, but we’re too busy forming the next hurtful words we’re about to hurl at our loved one. “The tongue also is a fire,” He warns us, “a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person” (James 3:6 NIV).
Jesus isn’t done with us yet, even while we’re busy not listening. “Don’t become angry quickly,” he admonishes, “because getting angry is foolish” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 NCV).
When we’re finished, when we feel justified that we’ve “had our say,” what will we have accomplished? Do we stop to reflect that Jesus heard every word … and knows every unspoken word … knows those thoughts that died in our hearts before we could fling them out?
What do we suppose He was thinking.
What, pray tell, were we thinking.
PRAYER: Lord, help us avoid arguing by being humble. Help us to listen to our loved ones. Father, we have been saved by Your grace. Help us to extend our grace to those You’ve placed close to our hearts—our spouses and children, our parents and siblings, our friends and neighbors, our co-workers and the strangers we meet. We know, O Lord, that You are watching us and listening to what we say, and even more, what we don’t say, what we leave burning in our hearts. In Jesus’ Name we lift this prayer. Amen