We ought to be interested in a message about permanence, since there is so much impermanence in homes—even among Christians. Many homes are breaking up around us, even when one or both of the marriage partners are Christians!
Our aim is not to rebuke those who have been divorced. Rather, our objective is to try to help those who are married or who will someday get married to have a marriage that lasts. All of us, whether or not our own marriages have lasted, ought to be interested in promoting permanent marriages.
How can the quality of patience help to produce permanence in the home? By making it possible for us to continue to live with fallible human beings who make mistakes. Who is that? Everyone!
In the church, as Charles Hodges said, “We need to stick with those we’re stuck with.” Well, that is certainly true in the church!
What causes a home to break up? The couple involved usually have quick replies. “He lied!”; “She stole!”; “He was irresponsible!”; “We could never agree on anything!”; “She was foolish and stubborn!”; “He treated me badly!”
Did such failings really cause the breakup? Does every married couple facing such problems get divorced? The answer is no. Whatever the sin, error, mistake, or fault, someone has learned to live with it and stay married.
“Living with it,” or “tolerating it,” is what patience, or longsuffering, involves. That is what we are talking about in this lesson.
However, before we elaborate on that point, we need to put our discussion into a larger context: the context of conflict resolution. What are we to do about resolving conflicts in the home? How can we solve problems when one person disappoints or hurts another, or when marriage partners disagree?
THE BIBLE PROVIDES GUIDELINES FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION
The Scriptures give us God’s method for re solving conflicts between people. The only way to improve on that is to stop conflicts before they begin!
Prevention is the best cure. What are some steps that can be taken to prevent problems in the home? Prevention involves, first of all, making sure to marry the right person—someone with whom frequent disagreements will not be likely. How can a person be sure of choosing the right mate? Four suggestions can help.
- 1. Marry a Christian—a faithful Christian.
- 2. Marry a good person—someone who is thoughtful, kind, and loving, and is known to be a caring, responsible, honest person.
- 3. Marry someone from a similar background;the more two people have in common, the more likely the marriage is to succeed.
- 4. Above all, do not marry solely on the basis of “falling in love” with a beautiful girl or a handsome young man. The prospect that a marriage based only on looks or sex appeal will endure is not hopeful.
Also, the prevention of conflict involves doing our best to treat one another right. That includes being loving, courteous, and kind. If each partner in the marriage tries to satisfy the other and seeks to serve the other, conflicts are less likely to arise. Further, what is true for the husband and wife is also true of others in the home. Parents need to treat their children right (see Ephesians 6:4). Children need to treat one another right. The best way to cure conflicts is to prevent them by the liberal application of Christian principles!
In spite of our best efforts, conflicts will still arise. We will still hurt one another on occasion. What do we do then?
Following Biblical Guidelines In Dealing with Conflict
Once wrongdoing has occurred, we must do what the Bible teaches in order to resolve the problem. Basically, the Bible requires the offender to go to the one who has been offended. If a family member has sinned against someone else in the home, it is his responsibility to go to the offended party as soon as he realizes that there is a problem (Matthew 5:23, 24).
What should the offender do when he goes to the one against whom he has sinned? He is to confess his sin (James 5:16a)! He should make this confession without excuse (“I’m sorry, but I had a good reason for doing that”) and without any counterattack (“I’m sorry, but you were wrong too”).
He should acknowledge that he was in the wrong and that he should not have done it. Further, he should sincerely express that he is sorry and that he will try never to do it again. Then the offended person—the one who has been sinned against—should say, “I forgive you,” and say it sincerely.
This pattern should always be followed, regardless of who sinned. Children should confess their faults to one another; children should confess their sins to their parents; parents should confess their wrongdoing to their children. For instance, when a parent does wrong, he or she should say to the child, “I was wrong when I did [or said] that to you, and I am very sorry.”
After the confession of wrongdoing, the offender and the offended party should pray together. The two can ask God to forgive the one who has sinned, believing that God will grant forgiveness.
If someone believes that another person in the home has sinned against him, the biblical formula for conflict resolution begins in the same way: with going to that family member (Matthew 18:15). The offended party may go to the offending family member in private and try to solve the problem. He will need to be careful about how he goes; there are good, better, and best ways of approaching someone else about a perceived fault. It is important to go in the right way, to seek the best time, to have a plan about what to say, and to have the right attitude in going—but the main thing is to go! Further, this needs to be done quickly. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” A good rule for married couples is “Do not go to bed angry.”
WHAT IF THE BIBLICAL PLAN FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION DOES NOT WORK? Sometimes the biblical plan for conflict resolution does not work. That is, a gentle confrontation may not always cause the other person to repent and change his or her behavior.
Why Will People Not Change? Why not? We tend to think that if the other person does not change when we talk to him about his faults, he is stubborn or perverse or evil. However, there may be other reasons that he does not accept a rebuke.
Failure to Agree on the Need for Change. One possibility is that he may not change because he does not agree that what he is doing is a problem. Maybe the wife is upset because her husband persists in leaving his dirty clothes lying in the floor. She tries to get him to pick up his clothes, but he seems to ignore her request. Why will he not change? Maybe he has a twenty- or thirty-year-old habit that is just difficult to break.
Maybe, as he was growing up, he and his father always left their dirty clothes on the floor and his mother picked them up. Perhaps he does not see any reason why, since his mother picked up his dirty clothes, his wife should object to doing the same. Maybe he even thinks that to take care of his own laundry would be a sign of weakness, a failure in manliness. For whatever reason, he just does not agree that he should pick up his own dirty clothes.
Human Weakness. Another possibility, when a marriage partner fails to change after being approached about the matter in a biblical way, is that he or she is weak and cannot resist temptation. Perhaps that possibility is easiest to illustrate in the case of an alcoholic husband or wife. No amount of reprimanding, reproaching, or pleading can solve the alcoholic’s problems. Even though the one who is addicted to alcohol may have the best of intentions, there is a strong possibility that he or she will fall again to the temptation of drunkenness. Many weaknesses are almost as difficult to overcome as alcohol- ism. When someone in the home fails to change a wrong behavior, he or she may be having difficulty in breaking away from the clutches of sin because of personal weakness. In such a case, the family members must understand that help is needed.
What can be done when people will not change? If both husband and wife are Christians, then the biblical approach ought to work. He will say, “If you feel that way, I will try to change?; she will say, “if you think that is wrong, I will not do it again.”
However, what can be done when the biblical approach will not work and the cause of the conflict remains? Various approaches have been used.
Nag? We can mark it down: 99% of the time nagging does not work! A wife may think, “If I keep reminding my husband, he will eventually change.” At the same time, the husband may be thinking, “As long as she keeps nagging me about this, I will never do what she wants!” (What the wife perceives as making a suggestion, the husband may perceive as nagging.)
Divorce? If the problem cannot be solved somehow and the conflicts continue, should the couple give up on the whole marriage? Some problems do indeed seem incapable of being solved.
I knew a man who, most of the time, treated his wife completely without respect. He made fun of her and tore down her self-image. Nothing changed that man. What should she have done? Should she have divorced him?
Some women and men find themselves married to alcoholic spouses. What can they do about that—divorce the alcoholic mate?
Some men and women are almost totally irresponsible as far as money is concerned; as a result, their families are always in financial difficulty. What should be done in this type of situation? Is divorce the answer?
What about infidelity? The Bible teaches that, in the case of immorality, divorce is allowed but not required (Matthew 19:9). Is divorce the only answer or the best answer? What about mental illness? If one partner is mentally ill, should the other end the marriage?
Those questions are not easy to answer. A husband or a wife may inadvertently enable sin by deciding to tolerate the spouse’s wrongdoing. Sometimes the fact that a mate is unfaithful— especially if he or she has established a pattern of continuing infidelity—makes continuing to live with him or her virtually impossible.
A mate may be physically abusive, and God does not expect anyone to endanger his/her own life by continuing to live with an abusive spouse. In such cases—in order to preserve his or her own physical, mental, or spiritual health—a Christian wife or husband may feel compelled to leave a spouse. Even then, the Christian husband or wife must recognize that divorce is not the first or best solu tion. It may be a necessary evil, but it must never be seen as a positive good.
To say that a husband or wife may sometimes feel compelled to leave his or her spouse is not to say that he or she has the right, after the divorce, to remarry.
If neither nagging nor divorce provides a good solution when a marriage partner refuses to change, then what should be done? That question brings us back to the point where we began.
Patience, or longsuffering may be required. When nothing else will resolve marital conflicts, patience is necessary. What is “patience”? It literally means to be “long-tempered.” This term refers to that “quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish.
Longsuffering is . . . the opposite of anger and is associated with mercy, and is used of God. Patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial; it is the opposite of despondency and is associated with hope ..”
In Ephesians 4:1, 2, patience is connected with humility and gentleness and with “tolerance for one another in love.” In Colossians 3:12–14, patience is connected with “compassion,” with “kindness, humility, gentleness,” with “bearing with one another” and “forgiving each other,” and with “love.”
When we put this information together, we learn the following: The word suggests self-restraint in the face of provocation, which will keep us from hastily retaliating or punishing. It is having patience with regard to antagonistic persons. It is the opposite of anger. It is connected with mercy, forbearance, forgiveness, and love.
Therefore, if we are patient and exhibit that trait in marriage, we will not become quickly upset. We will not retaliate or punish. We will be loving to our mates, even if they are antagonistic toward us.
Husbands will show mercy and grace towards their wives. Wives will be forbearing or tolerant—willing to bear with their husbands in their weaknesses or problems. Family members will also be forgiving. When conflicts arise and nothing else seems to help, then being patient or longsuffering—which also includes being loving, gracious, merciful, forbearing, and forgiving— will!
The Value of Patience. Suppose we are longsuffering, or patient, and decide that we will simply learn to put up with our spouses’ faults. How will that affect a marriage?
There is value in being longsuffering: (1) We become better people as we forbear and forgive. We become more like God, more like Christ.
(2) We also become happier people, for we decide that we are responsible only for ourselves, not for our partners. When we get upset because of what our partners do, we really are accepting responsibility for them, as well as for ourselves. We need to refuse that responsibility. In this way, we acknowledge that each person is in charge only of his or her own eternal destiny.
(3) Our partners may become better people. There is a paradox here. If we are to be patient, we must decide that we cannot change our mates. As a result of the decision to treat a spouse lovingly, that spouse will often (though not always) change.
(4) Our homes will be better homes. When we turn loose, allow our marriage partners some freedom, and quit nagging, conflicts will be fewer. As a result, life will be happier.
(5) Most important, as we forgive, we will be forgiven by God! We all need forgiveness.
We have said that being patient, or longsuffering, will help to produce permanency in a marriage. When there are conflicts in your marriage, try to resolve them in a scriptural way. However, you should recognize that some conflicts will never be altogether resolved. Then your Christianity is really tested; then the quality of patience becomes especially important.
Why should you be patient then? We could turn our original statement around and look at it this way: A belief in the permanency of marriage will help to produce patience. If you are absolutely convinced that marriage is permanent, you will learn to be patient and forgiving with the one you have chosen to marry—because you must!
The Application of Patience. To apply this attribute to marriage, imagine this kind of dialogue going on within the mind of the Christian spouse:
|Impatient Thinking||Biblical Thinking|
|“His aim is to irritate me!”||“Judge not that you be not judged!”|
|“I’ve tried everything to get along and can’t’ I’m getting a divorce||Have you tried patience? Forbearance? Forgiveness?|
|But he doesn’t deserve it!||Do we deserve God’s forgiveness and forbearance?|
|But I’m so unhappy with his behavior!||Is your happiness the main consideration?|
|Are you saying I should under no circumstances divorce my spouse?||Jesus said; “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder”|
|But he has offended me so many times!||As many as 70 times 7…and then some?|
|I hate him||Love your enemies|
These statements are not intended to insist that divorce is always wrong. Rather, they are intended to help us, as Christians, to think carefully before taking the drastic step of considering divorce because of a mate’s failings or sins.