Fighting for God's Glory
If you've been married for more than fifteen minutes, then you're well acquainted with conflict. That's because marriage is, at bottom, a covenant for life between two sinners. And, when you put two sinners under the same roof for any length of time, you're just asking for trouble--or, at least, a little squabble from time to time.
This well-established fact makes clear that married couples have great need for a finely tuned approach to conflict resolution. They need a philosophical and practical approach to arguing that honors the Lord, one another, and the topic with which they wrestle.
At Baylight Counseling, one of the well-established confliict resolution tools we use comes to us from Prepare/Enrich, an online marital assessment resource that has been used by many couples over many years to help restore or rejuvinate struggling relationships. Within the program is a Couples Workbook that contains a variety of practical homework assignments that have proven valuable. The conflict resolution exercise in the workbook does a wonderful job of providing husband and wife with a proven, helpful rubric by which to manage a given debate.
But, as helpful as a practical tool for conflict resolution is, I propose that it's not enough. Christian couples need more than a pragmatic system by which to argue--they need to know why they're arguing, and to then assess against Scripture the foundations of their own unique and individual motives for advancing that argument.
Consider the Source
James asks, "What is the source of wars and fights among you?" (James 4:1). While he wasn't writing in the immediate sense to married couples at a weekend retreat, his question plays well to husbands and wives who are locked in an endless cycle of bickering with no end in sight. James's answer is that "evil desires" are at the root of conflict (Cf. Reformation Study Bible, note on Jm. 4:1). Failing to assess the "evil" in the "desires," and instead assuming the rightness of their arguments thus becomes a great liability to successfully navigating any given issue in a way that is faithful to Scripture.
So, what are couples to do?
Interestingly, the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #1 (later adopted into Charles Spurgeon's own catechism) is valuable at this point. It famously says:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Here, the catechism delivers to us a wonderful, practical, and helpful rubric to help slow down our often fast-paced, rapid fire methods of doing marital conflict (which are often nothing more than organiized chaos) by slowly and methodically evaluating the biblcial basis, warrant, and motive behind our truth claims. If we assume the rightness of the premise held out to us in WSC #1, then we can only conclude that the very foundations of the arguments we present to our spouse ought to be in accord with such a bold statement.
In short, if I am going to present a case to my spouse concerning why I am right, and she is wrong (a rarity, indeed), not only in the fact of the matter, but importantly, at the level of the motives of my heart, then I should be able to explain with clarity how and why my argumentation is offered with an eye toward God's glory, and our enjoyment of him--forever!
What I'm proposing is that before a couple carries on in conflict, both parties ought to take a time out, and individually evaluate and be able to explain how their conclusion is offered to God's glorification, and how it then promotes everyone's enjoyment of him. It is well within the realm of possibility that what either of them discovers is that while they may have some facts right, that it's the motives hidden deep in their heart that pollutes their position, thus rendering their argument much less valid.
From the standpoint of biblical ethics, it's not simply what we argue that matters, but why. In the Christian life, the heart always matters.
Lastly, I frequently offer up to couples locked in any conflict the words of the apostle Paul in Phillippians 2:2-3. Again, these two short, simple verses are not typically thought of as a passage about marriage. But, I contend, they are very much for marriage.
Here, Paul instructs his readers:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.
I have said to couples on more than one occasion that if we in the church could just nail down these two verses alone, that we could probably eradicate 75% of the marriage cases we see at Baylight. That's not a scientifc statement, of course, but you get the point, I'm sure. So much of marital conflict is done not in accord with these plain and simple words, despite the fact that they hold out to us so much reason for hope.
Read what John Calvin wrote in his commentary on this passage concerning the words translated as "selfish ambition or conceit":
Strife is awakened when every one is prepared to maintain pertinaciously his own opinion; and when it has once begun to rage it rushes headlong in the direction from which it has entered. Vain-glory tickles men’s minds, so that every one is delighted with his own inventions. Hence the only way of guarding against dissensions is—when we avoid strifes by deliberating and acting peacefully, especially if we are not actuated by ambition. For ambition is a means of fanning all strifes. Vain-glory means any glorying in the flesh; for what ground of glorying have men in themselves that is not vanity?
When you put it all that way, does this sound like a manner of conflict resolution that would have God's glory and the enjoyment of him as its "chief end"?
Thus, couples engaged in a quarrel can turn to this passage, and ask of themselves questions that sound like this:
1. What are the motives of my heart that move me to argue for my position? Do they speak of self ambition, or do they evidence a God-glorifying humility before my spouse?
2. How does my argument show that I am interested in the good of my spouse, over-against my own self-interest?
This passage and the questions that follow will require a level of honesty before the Lord that can be difficult to access in the middle of a heated argument. That's why a "time out" accompanied by Scripture reading, meditation, and prayer can be needful. Assume nothing when it comes to your own sense of self-righteousness, other than the very real possibility that God might reveal something important to you, if only you'd take the time to listen.
So, what are you fighting for--God's glory, or your own?