Handling Fights Part 1

A few weeks ago, my wife and I had spent an entire day in a low-simmer fight.

It started when I got the perfect vision for a newly renovated patio. I wanted to use an extra pile of blocks we had to extend our patio out from our house. Because we were in a busy season, she did not want to add that to our “to-do” list. Even if she was interested in it, we had very different ideas about the size, location, style, quality, and layout about the patio.

I wish I could say that those kinds of fights are rare in our house. By God’s grace, they are more infrequent than they used to be, but every once in awhile my wife and I will regroup after a fight and ask questions like, “What happened? Why didn’t we let that go? Was that really worth it?”

This study is about the causes of fights, which should help us to avoid these potholes in our relationships.

THE SYMPTOMS: FIGHTS, QUARRELS, DESIRE, AND ANGER

James 4:1-2 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

This is one of the most insightful ideas about humanity that I have learned. Every single human fight is caused by a desire that we do not have fulfilled. That desire does not have to be evil by itself, but when it becomes so important that we are willing to fight to get it, then it is wrong and sinful.

Anyone with children can easily see this point. Kids generally get a long until one child has a toy that the other child wants. Grown ups may not fight over dolls and army men, but we may fight over money, jobs, free time, vacations , house projects, sex, movie choices, etc. Although they are more abstract motivations, we most commonly fight when we do not feel like we are being loved and respected.

Did anyone else come to the middle of verse 2 and say, “Wow, that escalated quickly” (I’ll give you a moment to scroll back up).

Did someone say, “Murrrder?”

We have no records that actual murders were happening in these churches, but many ideas in James correlate to Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5-7 and 23: pride, hypocrisy, the love of money, pure religion, giving to the poor, honesty in oaths, enduring trials well, wisdom, and fights.

Matthew 5:21-22 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

In Jesus’ explanation of God’s law, he shows that it is not enough for us to follow the Ten Commandments in action only, but we also need to follow them in desire and thoughts. Through this passage, we see that although the outcome of anger may look different — whether murder or insults or bitterness — the essence of anger is always the same kind of sin.

In Jesus’ mind, fights are the same as murder because they have the same essential quality of anger, even if their outcome is different. James takes this idea and reminds us that our fights are not merely disagreements, petty squabbles, or personality differences, but they are also transgressions of God’s law.

In the low-simmer fight that I had with my wife over the patio, I preferred a particular layout and size for the patio, but my wife preferred a different layout. I immediately thought that she was selfish for her desires and began to question her motivations. I don’t think I ever completely lashed out at her, but in typical lawyer fashion, I tried to argue my way to my goal. In doing so, I insinuated that she was selfish and didn’t care about my desires. Although we apologized several times throughout the day, I was not sincere and still maintained a willingness to tear her down in order to build up my patio my way.

The primary symptoms listed in the first few verses are fights, quarrels, anger, bitterness, insults, and murder. In the next post, we will examine the secondary symptoms, which finally show us what the true problem is underlying these issues.

Marriage Makes a Bad God Part Two

I already have discussed how deifying marriage is a major spiritual problem. In this post, we will look at how deifying marriage can have serious affects on your relationship with your current or future spouse.

As I did a little research on marriage and romance to write this post, one of my favorite sayings that I found reflects both the expectations of a true romance and the frustrated disenchantment that came when reality set in.

“My knight in shining armor turned out to be a loser in aluminum foil.”

So many people have experienced this after the honeymoon wore off. Spouses start to reveal their annoying habits, whether that’s chewing with their mouth open or leaving the toilet seat up. A man who looked like a knight in shining armor five years ago now looks like a fat slob wearing aluminum foil. A woman who looked like a dazzling princess five years ago now looks like frazzled mom on the verge of a breakdown. The cold harsh reality that “love doesn’t pay the bills” sets in. Our spouse no longer heals us or fulfills us like we expect they should. When the honeymoon wears off, many relationships go in one of two directions: 1) one or both spouses become frustrated and disenchanted with love and marriage, or 2) one or both spouses look the fulfillment of true love in someone else’s arms.

We expect our spouse to provide us with deep companionship, passionate sex, a fulfilling life, and healing to our wounds. When they are unable to do these things, we grow restless and frustrated. As we try to tell our spouse those desires, something gets lost in translation (from male to female, or female to male), and we end up fighting, distant, and cold.

As usual, the Bible gives profound insights into anthropology. As I argued in part one, we were made to worship, long for, and be healed by God. When we throw off our design by deifying romance, all kinds of things go wrong, including our relationship with our spouse. These frustrations are not easily solved, and they are also symptoms of a much greater problem, our idolatry.

What does idolatry have to do with our relationships? 

“James 4:4-5 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes hims an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.’?” James draws a connection from arguments in verses 1-3 to cheating on God in verses 4-5. Statements like “you adulterous people” and “he yearns jealously” shows us that God desires our love, our hope, our completion, and our lives to be found in him. If we find that hope or completion anywhere else, he considers it cheating on him, and he is jealous for our souls. The foundation of your marriage has to start with a right relationship with God. Our ‘vertical’ relationship must be right before our ‘horizontal’ relationship is right. As we confess this sin and rest in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, our relationship with God is restored, which puts our spouse in their proper place and gives us the power to glorify God in our marriage.

What causes fights in relationships? 

James answers the question in verse 1, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Fights in our marriage are often fights that start in our own soul. We feel the tension between what we expect from our spouse and what we actually get from our spouse. It frustrates our hearts that, even though we hoped love would finally complete and heal us, our “knight in shining armor” or “princess in dazzling dress” is now failing to rescue us.

This battle rages into our hearts until it overflows in our relationship, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Some marriages end tragically in literal murder, but most spouses merely slash with their words, shoot harsh glances, and bury their love until their relationship is cold and dead.

“Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places” 

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” If it were as simple as saying a prayer for our marriage, most marriages would be saved. Many men and women have begged God for their spouse to change, for their relationship to rekindle, and for their spouse to make them feel wanted again. But James adds, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

We turn to God for help, but we are unwilling to examine our expectations. In fact, all we are asking is for God to make our spouse more god-like, so that they will be a better idol.  No matter how good your spouse becomes, they can never be God, they can never heal you, they can never complete you, and they can never love you absolutely. God will not help you continue to make romance and ‘true love’ the hope of your life.

Conclusion

Love and romance are good things. Spouses should try to improve their lives in love for the other person. However, at the same time, we must recognize that our spouses are not infinite, all-powerful, or all-loving. If we expect a god-or-goddess-like spouse, we will always be disappointed, always be frustrated, and always be fighting with our spouse due to unrealized expectations.

Here’s some homework:

  1. What ways have you expected way too much out of love and romance?
  2. Which of your desires has been the cause for recent fights in your marriage?
  3. Consider confessing this sin to God and your spouse.

 

Marriage Makes a Bad God Part One

Once upon a time, I thought that true love would finally give me healing, fulfillment, completion, and purpose. I was expecting a goddess to come into my life and do what only the God could do. In a journal from a very young and emotional Trey, I expressed my expectations for what love would one day bring me.

“But maybe, just maybe, love isn’t a crutch at all, but rather one who comes and heals my broken leg (and) stays the length that it takes to heal the leg. Stays through my grouchy times and happy times. My times of immense pain and the times of healing. Maybe love isn’t completing and upholding my weakness, but rather healing them. Then, thereafter, helps me up, expecting nothing, and starts to walk with me.”

How many people have turned to romance to save them, only to find that romance could not fulfill its promise? I know I did! This was a major spiritual problem in my relationship with God and a major relational issue in my relationship with my wife. Part one of this post will discuss how deifying love is a major spiritual problem, and part two will discuss how deifying love is a major relational problem.

Consider how these common statements about love have god-like qualities:

  • “Love will always find a way.”
  • “Love is forever.”
  • “You complete me.”
  • “Love is everything.”
  • “Love is all you need.”

Challenging these statements is almost heresy in our culture, but consider the cold, hard reality that hits many people.

  • “Love will always find a way,” except for when I fall out of love with you and fall in love with someone else.
  • “Love is forever.” Now, please sign these divorce papers.
  • “You complete me,” but I am getting really tired of you sitting shirtless on the couch with a bag of Doritos watching the game while I clean the house and take care of the kids.
  • “Love is everything,” and now, ten years later, it feels like we have nothing.
  • “Love is all you need,” but I would really appreciate some help with the dishes!

Idols in the Heart

Our view of romantic love is an idol. Love and romance might be one of the best idols on earth, but it is still just an idol that cannot deliver fulfillment, healing, completion, or purpose.

Ezekiel 14:3 says, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces.” Love is good. Romance is good. But when it becomes your greatest longing, your greatest hope, and the thing that you think will make all things right, then it is an idol to you. Only God deserves the place in your heart as your greatest longing (Psalm 42:1) and greatest hope that will make everything right (Romans 8:23-25). “Follow your heart,” our culture says. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” Jeremiah 17:9 says.

The answer to our problem is not found in the arms of a lover, or in a wedding day, or in a first date, or in a romantic movie. The answer to our problem is found in God. Our heart was made to worship him, and we have sinned by worshiping romantic love. We have sought purpose and healing and security in a frail, imperfect human being. After the initial buzz wears off, this wreaks havoc on our romantic relationships, but it is even worse for our souls, because the sin of idolatry is cosmic treason, a sin against the God of the Universe who loves us.

A New Heart

Ezekiel 36:25-26 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” God can cleanse us from our sin of idolatry. God will heal us and love us and accept us. Jesus Christ died for our idolatry so that we could be forgiven. He came back to life to give us a new heart that loves Christ and is faithful to him.

Let me put this as directly as I can for every married and unmarried person reading this. Your marriage cannot save you. Your marriage cannot heal you. Your marriage cannot fulfill you. Your marriage cannot complete you. Your marriage cannot make things right. Your marriage cannot make your life heaven. You marriage cannot make you better. Your marriage cannot do what only God can do.

Only God can save you. Only God can heal you. Only God can fulfill you. Only God can complete you. Only God can make things right. Only God can give heaven. Only God can make you good. And yet, so many people are turning to ‘true love’ in hope that, in some magical and powerful way, it can do what only God can do.

Whether you are married or not married, please understand that love can never fulfill you. Turn to God and confess your idolatry. Through his Son Jesus Christ, he has made a way for you to be brought to completion. Jesus Christ was perfect, and yet he died the death of an idolatrous person to pay for your punishment. By believing in Christ’s sacrifice, God considers you righteous instead of an idolater. Rest in Christ’s sacrifice for you, and live as God sees you. Stop trusting or hoping in romance and love, but rather trust and hope in God’s love for you.