Following the example of Paul, Christians are called to share the Gospel and their lives with others.
In part one and part two, we identified the symptoms of our fights and diagnosed our primary illness as idolatry. Idolatry causes us to worship what is important to us, which affects the way we pray and the way we relate to one another when we don’t get what we want.
The treatment for idolatry is pure confession.
THE TREATMENT: PURE CONFESSION
James 4:6-10 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Our confessions are riddled with insincerity, presumption, and hypocrisy. James knew this, which is why he shows us in these short verses what pure confession looks like. Pure confession always includes genuine sorrow for sin, humility, repentance, and a restoration of the relationship.
- Genuine sorrow for sin – In this passage, James tells us that when we confess, we should not be laughing or joyful, but rather sorrowful for our sin and the pain that it caused. If a cheating spouse laughed as they apologized for their sin, there is no way they would be forgiven. If we approach God with a light-hearted, presumptuous, insincere attitude, why would we be forgiven?
- Humility – True confession always includes humility. In confession, we willingly expose ourselves and admit our failures to the person we wronged, relying only on their graciousness to forgive us.
- Repentance – Confession always includes a genuine desire to make things right. This includes cutting off opportunities to repeat the sin and restitution for the wrongs committed.
- Restoration of the relationship – God’s grace is not only available to free you from guilt. He wants you to come close to him in full assurance you are completely forgiven because of Christ.
In one sense, we could be compared to a queen who cheated on her husband-king. In ancient times, a king had the right to execute anyone–even the queen–for basically any reason. For a queen to be unfaithful to her husband would put her life at great risk. However, if she went before her king, bowed before him, confessed whole-heartedly, and ended the relationship with her former lover, the king might restore his queen to his right hand.
In the same way, God gives more grace, but he gives it to humble and broken confessors.
Fights are a Pain in the Hip
A few years ago, I started to struggle with a lot of pain in my knees. It got so bad that I could not stand up for a complete message. If I tried to stay on my feet too long, my hips and ankles would start to bother me also. There were times when I came home, laid on the floor with my legs in the air, and had Janae rotate my leg in order to alleviate some of the pressure.
After going to the doctor, I found out that I had small amounts of extra soft tissue in my knees that were causing chronic inflammation. This led to me compensating in the way I stood and walked, which caused irritation in my hips and ankles also. My entire lower body was thrown out of alignment because of the pain in my knees, which led to multiple other problems. I had surgery to remove the extra soft tissue from my knees and after the swelling went down, I really haven’t had any problems since.
This illustrates our core problem well. Our idolatry is like the syndrome in my knees. When our relationship with God is not where it should be, we feel pain and longing. We were made to worship God by enjoying him forever, and when we don’t worship him like we should, we overcompensate to find joy and pleasure elsewhere. This overcompensation leads us to quarrels and fights with one another because we are not getting what we want. Our quarrels and fights with one another are like the pain in my ankles and hips. They are the direct result of our lack of joy in God and our desire to find joy in idols.
A good doctor would not focus his attention on my hips or my ankles, but on my knees. In the same way, our fights with one another are painful, but that pain is a parable of the separation from God that we face. If we confess our sins to God and he will forgive us.
We need to heal the core problem in our lives by reorienting our lives around God. Only then can the secondary issues of our fights and quarrels be completely resolved. .
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.
We can learn so much about the nature of the husband/wife relationship from Genesis. In this post, we will walk through Genesis 2:18-25, making a few comments. At the end, we will give practical advice about how this works in our lives.
Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
The first time that God said “it is not good” in the creation account was about man being alone. I think that still holds true today. No man is an island. I have never met a person who was both happy and secluded. God designed us for companionship, as a mirror of the relational nature of the Trinity.
In the naming of the animals, God was making a point to Adam—he was unique among creation. As Adam searched for companionship in all of the animal kingdom, his loneliness grew. Finally, as God often does when forming a new covenant with mankind, he caused Adam to fall asleep.
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
To prevent us from thinking that men and women have a different makeup, he made woman from the very stuff of man. God did not form a new pile of dust into human flesh and then breath life into it. He made her out of the same basic material as man, to show us that we are the same.
The idea that “Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus” might give us the wrong understanding. The problems in our relationships with the opposite gender do not come from them being a different makeup, but rather from sin. God designed man and woman to be different, but in a wonderfully completing sense. Man and woman are meant to fit together. The fault is not in the nature of the opposite sex, but in the sinful nature of humanity, and that is much scarier.
And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Verses 22-25 are a record of the first wedding ceremony. Verse 22 is the first “Giving of the Bride.” God, being the true Father of Eve, “brought her to the man.” I imagine that as Adam was waking up from his surgery, he looked up and saw God walking Eve–arm in arm–toward him through a clearing in the trees.
The first time that Adam saw Even, he cries out “At last.” This corresponds to some people’s favorite part of a wedding ceremony. The bride is always radiant. The decorations are awe-inspiring fantastic. The first kiss is somewhat awkward and innocent. However, some people love watching the groom as he sees his wife for the first time on the wedding day. The groom’s response is often, “At last!” It is a loving anticipation and longing that is finally met with reality as his soon-to-be bride walks toward him.
A marriage ceremony, by definition, is the beginning of a new family. This new family trumps all other family relationships. Daughters are still daughters and sons are still sons, but the relationship should change, or a world of problems can happen. This wedding ceremony is the mark of that new family relationship.
- Singleness can be good, but generally, it is not good for humans to be alone. We are created as relational creatures, and the greatest earthly relationship that God is the marriage relationship.
- We need to stop blaming our marriage struggles on gender issues or ‘translation’ problems. We must realize that our fights are because of sin, not because of our gender.
- We need to stop running to ‘Guys Poker Night’ or ‘Girls Shopping Night’ to find someone who can understand us. When we run to our gender to understand us rather than pursuing an intimate relationship with our spouse, we are missing out on the wonderful blessings that God planned for each of us in a marriage relationship. (this, of course, does not mean that we should abandon all other friendships–guys nights and girls nights are good things, but our marriage relationship is primary)
- It is good for us to spend some time re-stoking the flame of our romance for our spouse. We should pursue anything that would bring back those thoughts of “At last! Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
The Gospel and Marriage
Ultimately, the problem in our marital relationship is sin, not a misunderstanding between the genders. The genders are very different, but they were made to fit together perfectly in a sin-free relationship. Our sin damages all of our life, but it can be most obvious in a relationship with our spouse. Sin is destructive to our lives to show us that it is an atrocity to God. God gives a wonderful gift to us in marriage, but many of us do not appreciate that gift. We hurt our spouse with words, coldness, and sometimes abuse. This ruins the wonderful relationship that God gave us, but much more importantly, this is a sin against the one who gave us our marriage.
The gospel tells us that we can never be good enough. We never appreciate the gifts God gives us. We never use them correctly. Instead, we are selfish, proud, and argumentative in our marriages. No matter how hard we try to improve them or how many books we read, our lives will always fail to honor or thank God for his gift of marriage.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died for all of our sins, including ungratefulness, selfishness, pride, and argumentativeness. God pours his wrathful punishment for our sins on Jesus Christ so that we could be justly forgiven. God has forgiven us for all of the ways we failed in our marriages. He will forgive us for all of the ways we will fail in our marriages. But we must confess, believe that we are forgiven, and abandon our sins. He gives us new life so that, by his Spirit’s power, we can thank him for our marriage and honor him through our marriage.
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.
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:
- What ways have you expected way too much out of love and romance?
- Which of your desires has been the cause for recent fights in your marriage?
- Consider confessing this sin to God and your spouse.
Why live with arguments, fights, hostility, anger, and bitterness when you can live at peace? Confession of your own sins is a huge part to living at peace with others. Unfortunately, many of us have formed unhelpful, blame-shifting habits when we try to confess.
This is why Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker is so practical. It covers every aspect of making peace with someone else. One of the most helpful parts of the book is chapter 6, titled “Confession Brings Freedom.”
In pages 126-134, he lists seven practical tips for a genuine confession that each begin with an A.
- Address everyone involved – “As a general rule, you should confess your sins to every person who has been directly affected by your wrong-doing.”
- Avoid if, but, and maybe – “The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt.”
- Admit specifically – “The more detailed and specific you are when making a confession, the more likely you are to receive a positive response.”
- Acknowledge the hurt – “Make it a point to acknowledge and express sorrow for how you have hurt or affected them.”
- Accept the consequences – “Explicitly accepting the consequences … demonstrate(s) genuine repentance.”
- Alter your behavior – “Explain … how you plan to alter your behavior in the future.”
- Ask for forgiveness (Allow time) –”Some people can forgive quickly, while others need some time to work through their feelings.”
Use this list when you need to confess. Do not use this as a checklist, but as a tool to help you confess from a genuine heart.
“As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18