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Living near the Oregon Coast, sooner or later you’re going to see it – two seagulls fighting over a dead fish. It’s a lot of squawking, biting, flapping, snapping, and tugging. But as soon as you get near, they take wing and float peacefully on the breeze as if nothing happened. If you hadn’t seen it, you’d never guess that two seconds earlier they were trying to peck out each other’s eyes.
It’s a scene too common in Christian marriage – like the old couple my friend and I rented a flat from while in college. She dazzled everyone with her singing voice and extensive women’s ministry, and he wowed us all with his accomplishments. What a marriage! Founders of a prominent conservative Christian institution, they were the picture of the godly, Christian couple . . . at least until the guests left. From that point on, night after night, it was all daggers, claws, and fangs.
Some couples deserve an Academy Award for the quality of their public performance, but God is not impressed with our ability to fool people. Who we are when no one is looking is who we really are. And in the end, we are only fooling ourselves because God is always looking . . . and listening.
Is love spoken in your home, behind closed doors, or are you more like those seagulls, fighting over something that has begun to stink, turning to smiles only when the doorbell rings?
Are dead fish really worth fighting over? Marriage can be filled with an undercurrent of continual tension and conflict over many unimportant things or it can be completely absent of this life-draining sin.
Sin – that’s what a spirit and practice of strife really is. Arguing isn’t something that happens to us. It’s what we choose to do. I never have the right to blame Lisa for my sinful attitude and ungodly response to her, regardless of what she has done. I’m a Christ follower. I am called to walk as Jesus walked.
Sometimes we act as if modeling Christ is about wearing a cross with stylish clothes. Jesus knew what godliness would really take: crucifixion. That’s why He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me,” Luke 9:23.
Jesus died for and paid the penalty of our sins (God’s wrath) once and for all, but our unregenerate flesh needs to be crucified, daily, as Jesus put it. Paul described it like this, “I discipline my body (fleshly impulses to sin) and make it my slave . . .” 1 Cor 9:27.
Arguing in marriage happens because two people (yes, two . . . it’s not just your spouse) will not take up their cross daily, as Jesus required of His followers.
If you truly desire to honor your Lord in this matter of arguing – if you truly desire to change the way you communicate – if you truly want to stop arguing with your spouse, it’s not really all that complicated . . . don’t argue.
You have the power to choose. You have the choice of walking in the flesh or the Spirit.
Ask God to deal with you in this area – to replace your flesh with the response of His Spirit. When your spouse says something and you feel that growing urge to answer sharply with a biting or sarcastic reply, remember, God has given you His Spirit and the power to respond in grace. It’s your choice.
Only you can “take up your cross” and hang your argumentative flesh there, every day.
In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” What’s preferable – arguing for your “rights”, for your opinion, for your perspective – for your “dead fish” – or choosing peace and asking God to reveal His Truth to you both? Do you desire to receive the blessing of God in your marriage? Don’t argue. Be a peacemaker.
The practice of sin takes away the sense of it which is why we get comfortable with destructive behavior in our marriage. Don’t get comfortable with it. Don’t allow the sinful spirit of strife to be the acceptable norm – for your part of the marriage, at least. After all, it’s the only part you can control.
Take up your cross every day. It’s where your flesh belongs.