The bible actually has much to say about conflict and fighting, and that is a good thing because all couples fight. Understanding how to fight right will make all the difference in the world in your marriage and every relationship.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
To begin I have a proverb for you. How would you respond if you got this in your fortune cookie this week?
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4)
Think about that for a moment. What does that even mean? Well – it means that if an ox is present, rather than a clean manger, you are gonna get some — well — stuff. Or, I could say this, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” When a man is alone, the manager is clean. Everything is fine! But in order to have crops and abundance he is going to need the strength of his help-mate. And with that ox comes — stinky — pooh.
Tonight we are going to talk about fighting. Conflict is a part of every relationship. Every couple fights. In fact, most of the books that I have read state that marriages that claim they do not fight are either lying or very unhealthy. Fighting is a part of marriage. To pick up where we left off last week. When God noted that it was not good for the man to be alone, he created for him (2 words) a “suitable help-mate”. The word help-mate in Hebrew is a military term that means ‘strong helper’. Like a king who helps another king in a battle or like God who fights Israel’s battles for her. And the word suitable literally means “like-opposite”. So God creates a strong helper who is like yet perfectly opposite of the man. Now you can’t use a military word in conjunction with this like-opposite concept with out having conflict. So, marriage, by it’s very definition (2 becoming 1 or 1 + 1 = 1), means fighting and conflict. One author said,
“All couples fight. Good couples fight clean, but bad couples fight dirty. Good couples press for a resolution, bad couples press for a victory. Conflict in good couples exposes their character. In bad couples it exposes their immaturity.” (Tommy Nelson)
Now if marriage is a holy institution designed by God to teach us the Gospel (see also… Eph 5:32), and if conflict is a natural and unavoidable part of being in such an intimate relationship, then wouldn’t you think the Bible would have some guidelines and instructions on how to fight? The Bible actually has quite a bit to say about conflict. It does teach us how to fight right. How to fight clean. How to fight in your marriage while at the same time fighting for your marriage. Tonight I want to examine that. But first, before we hit the mat, lets get warmed up. Let’s start with this discussion question.
Share a story about the silliest fight you had as a couple (in a relationship). Do you remember your first fight?
OK, now that we are warmed up, lets dig in to some helpful guidelines for fighting. Ephesians 5 begins and ends with these 2 verses:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, ESV)
And there is a ton of stuff in between those opening and closing verses. And all of that stuff has to do with relationships. How to deal with people, how to live among people. Paul begins and ends by focusing our attention on Christ as the perfect example. When it comes to dealing with people – when it comes to relationships – Christ is the ultimate standard. Paul first tells us to love others in the same way that Jesus loves us – specifically that he gave his life for us. He ends this chapter with a sort of review verse telling husbands to love their wives and reminding wives to respect their husbands. It is a review verse because Paul explains, in the verses leading up to verse 33, precisely how the wife should respect her husband and how the husband should love his wife. And again the example is Jesus. Paul says, wives submit to your husband just as the church submits to Christ and husband love your wives just as Christ loves the church. So – in a nut shell – the key to dealing with relationships, and especially the relationship with your spouse, is to imitate Christ. Paul’s literally says, “Be imitators of God.”
So there you have it. You wanna have a good relationship with your spouse. You wanna a guide book on how to fight clean? Well – here it is, “Imitate God!” That’s all. Just imitate the creator of the universe. No wonder we have so many problems.
OK — so this may sound like such an overwhelming and impossible platitude that it might scare you into giving up. “Love my wife like Christ loved the church. How could I possible do that!?” Well you can’t. You’re not God. But you can imitate. So here is what I want to do tonight. I want to look at a story from the Song of Solomon. I don’t know about you, but I always learn best from a story. I like stories. “Story matters here.” So — there is this story in the middle of the Song of Solomon about a fight between Solomon and his new wife. And although there are many verse in the Bible that we could go to for instructions on how to rebuke and how to forgive, I thought it would be best to watch a couple in the Bible actually fight. Like a Jerry Spring show or something. Don’t just talk about fighting, Bring it! So let’s we go – SOS 5 and I want us to see this fight and I want us to see how solomon imitates God.
Do not react.
I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” SOS 5:2
What do you think this guy wants. He wants some boom boom. He’s got marvin gaye ringing in hi ears. Solomon has been working long hard hours. His head is wet with the drops of the night. He wants to come home to his wife for some intimacy. But — look at how she responds when Solomon comes home on this hard day’s night – where he’s been working like dog and he needs her.
I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? SOS 5:3
Uh-oh. We got ourselves a fight. It’s on. One of my favorite preachers said, “This is Hebrew for ‘I have a headache.’ Now if you were watching this movie you might be thinking, “Oh!? I know she didn’t!” Because here is a little background. She is a peasant princess. Solomon took her from the fields as a migrant worker and put her up in his castle and he has always treated her with kindness, respect and honor. He has done nothing to deserve this. He has given her everything and she has the audacity to reject him because she doesn’t want to get her feet dirty!
So how do you think he is going to respond? How will he react? What would you do? Kick the door down? Kick her out of the castle? Let’s see how he responds.
My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. SOS 5:4-5
Here is the first key to how to fight right. Did you see what he did. He did not force his way in. He did not force the issue. Instead he put myrrh on the bolt. On the bar that separate them – he covered it with love. And then he left. He could have gotten angry. He could have quoted the bible, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” (1 Cor. 7) He could have kicked the door down and told her how disrespectful she is. Instead — he covers the bolt of that door with liquid love. So here is a key. Do not react.
What would have happened if Solomon reacted the way most men would have reacted. Lets say he busted the door down and told her a thing or two. How would that have worked for him? Would he have won her respect? What if he just continued to try harder? Maybe use some reverse psychology or some other passive aggressive manipulation maneuver. “Well, I guess I’ll go see if sister wive #97 is willing to open her door…” How would that have worked? What if he got mad and stormed off to the pub? We could go a number of different ways in this scenario. What is your M.O.? How do you typically handle conflict? How might your typical response be different if you were trying to imitate God.
So the first principle that we learn from this fight is “Do Not React”. If you can learn how to control your emotions and submit yourself in humility and patience you will imitate Jesus. The story of Solomon is often seen as a picture or a shadow of Christ. He doesn’t manipulate. He does not demand us to respect him. And he will not push his way in or force himself upon us. In fact, it is from this very story we get a famous parallel in Revelation where we see Jesus knocking at the door of your heart.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20)
You and I are just like this peasant princess. Despite our lowliness and selfishness, Jesus has chosen us and invited us to live in his castle. More than that he has made us heirs to the kingdom. Yet still — we often ignore him and reject him. When we do, aren’t you glad he doesn’t kick the door down and demand respect? Aren’t you glad that he covers the bar with liquid love and is patient and long suffering?
“We sinned against him and the cost of that sin was a cross that sin that barred us from him he anointed with love he out myrrh on the bolt he put the blood all over that cross he took your cross and smeared it with the blood of the lamb.” Tommy Nelson- The Song of Solomon
How does Solomon imitate God? What can you learn from this story about responding to your spouse?
Moving on in our story, let’s see what happens next. I think that it is common for most of us to think that kindness and humility in a moment when we are mistreated is a sign of weakness. We naturally think that if we let our spouse get away with something like that then they will walk all over us. So, what is going to happen if the King lets this little peasant girl treat him like that? Well — let’s see. For the sake of time I want to skip ahead a bit in the story. Let’s go to chapter 6.
Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among women? Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you? My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies. (SOS 6:1-3)
She goes out to look for him, he is not there so there is the question, “Where is he? Where has he gone?” She messed up, he wanted her to open up, she gave a lame excuse, he covered the bar on the door with a fragrant spice and then left. She felt a thrill in her heart and goes to the door but it is too late, he is gone? Where is he?
Now I want you to see her response. She knows exactly where he is. He is where he is supposed to be. He is not knocking on door #97. He didn’t stomp off and jump on his bike a fly down the highway in a fit of anger. He doesn’t use ‘leaving’ as a way to get back at her. Instead he goes to the garden and she knows that he’s there.
So what is the principle? The power of marriage is found in staying. Any marriage that has the back door open – any couple who has this looming threat that the other might leave – is a powerless marriage. The very point of leaving and cleaving is to solidify and secure a relationship. That is why we vow till death do us part – in sickness and in health – in want and in plenty.
Look at this. How does she know that the Solomon is where he is supposed to be? “Because I am my beloved’s and he is mine.” Tommy Nelson says, “This is why you must slam the door on divorce. You can’t live in a marriage where there is a back door open.”
This means a few things practically. First, never use divorce as a bargaining chip. In my mind this is just obvious and common sensical. So obvious, in fact, that Kelly and I never actually made a rule about it, we just both know better than to threaten the most important thing to us. I love my wife. So why would I ever say, “I’m leaving” as a threat to get her to listen to me? However, I hear couples all the time threatening to leave. Do not create a culture in your relationship where you use the “D” word as a sort of a bomb you drop when your trying to win a fight. Never. Just eliminate the word for your vocabulary. You need to protect your marriage from these kinds of threats. There is power in knowing that your spouse will stay – it allows you to work on the issue with out freaking out about the possibility of someone leaving.
Second, this is why co-habitation, before marriage, doesn’t work. Because the very purpose of co-habitation is so you can test drive the relationship before you commit to it. But — you can not test drive commitment. You can not test drive oneness. This is why the statistics are overwhelming and ironic.
Couples who cohabit before marriage tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect. NYTimes, The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage
When you are in a marriage covenant you have something that is unlike anything else on the planet. You have security and assurance in the power of knowing that the other will never leave you nor forsake you. Incidentally, once again, this is another passage that is commonly used as a parallel to Jesus. We even sing it in worship songs, “ I am my beloved’s and he is mine.” There is power in assurance. As Christians we have assurance. We are not running around frantically wondering whether or not God is going to change his mind about us. You should not fret about whether or not you are going to lose your salvation. Why, because I am my beloveds and he is mine.
This week, as Kelly and I spent several days in the hospital, I would frequent the little coffee bar downstairs. On the wall in raised lettering was a verse I imagine was chosen to comfort folks in hospitals. Probably people who are at the end of some line, desperate and afraid. The verse read,
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Josh 1:5; Heb 13:5)
There is staying power in our marriage to Christ. It is a forever truth. The promise of a God who can not lie. And that is yet another aspect of our human marriage that reflect the Gospel. In as much as your marriage has staying power it is a picture of the Gospel. It imitates God.
Well to finish the story, she goes to the garden and finds him there. Listen to what he says to her.
You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners. Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me—Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins; not one among them has lost its young. 7 Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her.”
He tells her how much he loves her. He speaks tenderly and graciously to her. In fact, he uses the exact same words that he spoke on their wedding night. In other words, “I love you the same today as I did on our wedding day!” So what’s the principle? Forgive. And a very specific kind of forgiveness. Biblical forgiveness. What is Biblical forgiveness? The Bible speaks of forgiveness with the word ‘reconciliation’. What is reconciliation?
The word reconciliation in Greek is (καταλλάσσω) “kata-lasso” . Kata means “down to an exact point” and allássō means “to change”. Simply put it means “to change back” or more specifically “to change back to the exact original”. The word reconcile is frequently used in the New Testament. Sometimes it is used to talk about reconciling individuals. Other times it is used to refer to groups of people (like the Jews and the Gentiles for instance – Eph 2:16). But most of the time the term is used to describe our relationship to God. When God saves us he isn’t just forgiving us by letting it go. “Alright, I guess I’ll forgive you and let you in.” Instead, he reconciles us back to our original fellowship with him. He doesn’t just change our status – but changes it back to the original. He doesn’t just forgive, he forgets.
Uh oh. How can we do that in marriage. Yes, it is hard to forgive when your spouse hurts you like only he/she can. Indeed it is even harder to forget. But honestly, at the risk of sounding trite, forgiveness and reconciliation IS THE KEY to the mystery of marriage. IT IS what makes marriage Gospel-like. Every marriage will have conflict, and every marriage will find itself on a threshold between bitterness and reconciliation. I know that doesn’t make it any easier. So let me share a few things that I think can help make reconciliation easier. Now these might be completely obvious to you, but I have to mention them because I have done enough marriage counseling to see that these thing are not so obvious to everyone. So, here are 6 things that I have learned in my marriage and from couples I have counseled:
6- Choose your words very carefully. Stick and stones… Words do hurt! You could say something that your spouse will never forget. You’ve probably already done it. You’ll probably do it again – but don’t.
5- Never say “never” or “always”. I hear this all the time in counseling. Some one sasys, “You never pick up after yourself. You always criticize me.” These sorts of absolute generalizations do nothing but escalate and derail an argument. Besides the fact that they’re not true. What happens is she says, “You never do anything!”, Then he gets defensive and says, “That’s not true, why I threw my shirt down the laundry shoot last Monday!” Now we have shifted the argument way over here to Monday’s laundry event rather than on the problem at hand. Stay clear of never and always and use words that de-escalate an argument. Say something like, “I feel like I do must of the work around here.” He then can’t say, well thats not true – you don’t feel that way.”
4- Don’t get historical. I head it said once, “When my wife gets in argument with me she always gets historical.” It does not help to bring up stuff from the past. The bible says that true love keeps no records. In marriage you are both changing, your making each other better. But it is really hard to change when your spouse keeps reminding you of your past. Plus it is proof that forgiveness is absent.
3- Leave the kids out of it. It is easy sometimes to talk to your spouse through the kids or to use the kids to leverage something in a fight. Don’t. If you find yourself doing something like that, try to imagine what it would like like if you saw some couple on tv doing the same thing. It is appalling! That is completely unhealthy passive-aggressive behavior and damaging to your kids.
2- Apologize and confess quickly. It is much so easier to forgive someone who is seeking forgiveness. In fact, what I have experienced is that when one confesses the other always quickly confess too. “I am sorry I didn’t take your schedule seriously and ran as late as I did.” “No, I am sorry for making such a big deal about it- I just really wanted to get out of the house.” I think one of the most powerful attributes of my wife is that she can not stand to go 10 minutes with out saying she is sorry, which always leads me to say sorry too.
1- Never “win”. Work for the “we” not “me”. I think that most of the arguments I have seen between couples could easily be fixed if they saw themselves as a we and stopped thinking of me-me-me. Remember that reconciliation means to change back. If one party wins then that naturally means that the the other losses. You can not have reconciliation of oneness when each spouse is striving to win. Instead fight for the “we” not the “me”.
Remember – we are striving for oneness. Forgiveness and reconciliation is hard work. If it were easy – well — then it would be easy – but its not! However, if each party is working for oneness – forgiveness and reconciliation is much easier. Imitate God by fighting for reconciliation in your marriage.
What is the most meaningful point you heard today? Why?
I went down to the nut orchard to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. Before I was aware, my desire set me among the chariots of my kinsman, a prince. — Return, return, O Shulammite, return, return, that we may look upon you. Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?
This is interesting to me. It is a picture of the kind of oneness we should strive for in our marriages. Through out this story this woman is called the shulamite. The Hebrew word is a feminine form of Solomon’s Hebrew name. It is a word picture of their oneness. He is Shulam, she is shulamite.
The Hebrew word is a feminine of “Solomon.” “Solomon” may stand for the bridegroom’s name, and then the well-beloved bride takes her husband’s name in a feminine form of it, which is Shulamith, Salome, or perhaps better “Solyma.” Spurgeon
To borrow Nelson’s illustration that would be like saying, “There goes Mike and Michelle. Joe and Josephine. Henry and Henrietta.” They ride off into the sunset on what looks like a second honeymoon. The language in these last few stanzas is the same as that used to describe their wedding night. So what does all this Hebrew poetry mean? It means that they have been reconciled as one. They have been brought back to the original oneness they experienced on their wedding night.
Some of us in this room may need reconciliation. Some of you may need to be brought back to original oneness. There has been much conflict. And over the years that has created some bitterness and that bitterness has driven a wedge between you and your spouse. Some of you may be harboring some bitterness of an unresolved conflict. And if your harboring it, the other may be completely oblivious that the unresolved conflict even exists. You need to fight for your marriage. Fight for reconciliation.
I began this message by quoting that verse about oxen in mangers. When you have an ox you will have a messy manger. However, with that messy manger you will also gain strength and abundant crops. So, in your marriage there will be fighting and conflict. There is gonna be stuff. Stuff happens. The good news is that conflict is healthy – if it is used to press for a resolution rather than a victory. This story about Solomon and Solyma teaches us that conflict actually draws you closer to your mate – closer to oneness.
And at the risk of being repetitively redundant, let me once again show you how your marriage is a picture of the Gospel. When a couple who conflicts experiences reconciliation – it is a perfect picture of the Gospel. Jesus Christ is our Bridegroom. He has reconciled us back to original fellowship with him. One of complete oneness. And just as Solomon’s bride takes a feminine form of his name, we also take a form of Christ’s name. We call ourselves Christians because we are one with him. “I am my beloved’s and he is mine.”
So tonight we learned 3 things from this couple – and each teach us how our marriage imitates God and his love for us in the Gospel. First, do not react. Instead show patience and long suffering – just like God is long-suffering, slow to anger, patient and gracious to us. Second, stay – or slam the door on divorce. There is power in commitment and assurance. Just as God promise to never leave or forsake us, so we imitate God by promising the same to our spouse. And Third, forgive – or more specifically fight for reconciliation. Fight to change your relationship back to its original oneness. Just as God has reconciled us and changed our relationship back it’s original oneness with him – such oneness that we are called by his name.