This article serves as a part two to my previous article titled, Four Solutions to Marriage Conflict. What drew the most attention was a notion by Steve Hoppe, which I supported, indicating that fighting has no place in marriage.
Of course, this is entirely dependent on what is meant by “fighting”. Hoppe went on to explain that “by definition, fighting pits two enemies against each other – each trying to defeat the other. But in marriage you aren’t enemies. You’re teammates.” (Pg 29). The reason I agree with this definition is because it is reminiscent of the sort of fighting that Paul warns against, and the kind of fighting James alludes to as coming from a heart spilling over with our own evil desires. So, the proposition that fighting has no place in marriage is rooted in the concept of fighting that is explicitly warned against and understood as being rooted in sin.
UNFIT FIGHTING IN MARRIAGE
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, [2 Timothy 2:24 NASB].
The greek for quarrelsome is μάχομαι ( machē ). Figuratively speaking, this is a term used to describe armed combat. It appears again in James 4:1 translated as conflicts.
1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? [James 4:1 NASB]. Notice that the main cause of the “armed combat” in which we engage with one another is sourced from another battle happening within us: our own personal battle with the passions within us.
You might have noticed there is another term, πόλεμος ( polemos ), the word translated as quarrels in James 4:1. This usage is similar in that it describes armed combat/warfare, both literally or figuratively, predominately literally. There are 9 uses of this term in Revelation. In James 4:1-2, there are two distinct Greek terms used to describe fighting, quarreling and conflict of which is a kind of fighting that looks closer to armed combat than a mere disagreement.
This is the sort of fighting I think has no place in marriage. As James helps us see, this kind of fighting is rooted in sin manifesting as us wrestling with our own personal sin (within us) that is on display in a quarrel or conflict in our relationships (outside us). This sort of fighting is distinct from disagreements, debates or perhaps even strong differences of opinion that may appropriately take place within marriage.
When we explore other passages referring to what the basic character of the christian is supposed to emulate or even how husbands and wives are to be husbands and wives, the combat-ready sort of fighting, we learn, in fact, has no place in marriage.
Texts Pertaining Directly To Marriage:
[1 Peter 3:7 NASB]
7 You husbands in the same way, live with [your wives] in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
If the husband disobeys 2 Timothy 2:24, there is a correlating disobedience in 1 Peter 3:7. A husband will have a great difficulty explaining how he is able to live with his wife in an understanding or considerate manner while also being quarrelsome or leaving unchecked his passions that may be at war within him, even as James 4:1-2 describes.
[Colossians 3:19 NASB]
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
The operative term here is embitter. The Greek for embitter is πικραίνω (pikrainō) and can also be translated as harsh, exacerbate, irritate or make angry. A quarrelsome [μάχομαι (machē)] husband will or will be πικραίνω (pikrainō) toward his wife, and this sort of husband is not easy to live with. He is prone toward self-centered argumentation, sarcasm, back-biting, fighting, demeaning; probably profanity, snarky-ness, quick-temper, and altogether a source of great discouragement within the marriage. The μάχομαι (machē) sort of husband finds ways to take a small issue and perhaps even a moderately benign offense and make it into something bigger and more problematic.
[1 Corinthians 7:15 NASB]
15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such [cases,] but God has called us to peace.
This is Paul’s counsel toward husbands and wives with unbelieving spouse, and ought to be our counsel for believing spouses today. It is this attitude and posture which believing spouses deliberately and consciously strive toward and cultivate as the baseline homeostasis in their relational dynamics at home; that is, one of peace. If this is the dynamic to strive toward in a believer + unbeliever marriage, how much more so in a believer + believer marriage?
Additional Texts Include:
1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9; 2:1-8. These are four larger classic texts with standardized counsel on marriage as well as the standard prescription for husbands who maintain leadership roles (Elder or Deacon) in their local church.
Texts with Application to Marriage
[Hebrews 12:14 ESV]
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
[Romans 14:19 ESV]
19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
In these passages, peace is the operative term in the congregational life of believers as well as, broadly speaking, throughout their lives outside of church: Career, Marriage and Family, Neighbor, Civic. The Bible is replete with teaching and exhortations concerning the standard character of Christian conduct and attitude throughout life and faith practice.
In marriage, our spouses are our closest neighbor and therefore every mandate, despite it not qualifying it as a command explicitly toward husbands and wives per se, still always automatically and presumptively applies to husbands and wives. Marriage and family is the building block of society, and every christian practice we maintain in our churches and in our communities are and ought to be practiced and mastered in our homes.
Additional Texts Include:
Psalm 34:14; Romans 12:18, 15:2; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 2 Corinthians 12:19; Ephesians 4:2, 1 Timothy 5:1
EXPECTED DISAGREEMENTS IN MARRIAGE
With this said, it may be helpful to explore whether the Bible helps us paint a picture of appropriate disagreements that don’t necessarily devolve into fighting or quarreling [ μάχομαι ( machē ) or πόλεμος ( polemos ) ] within marriage. Surely, I do not mean to suggest in these articles that husbands and wives ought to find themselves totally in sync with one another, by default or otherwise, on every matter, all the time, no matter what, much less on matters that may or may not be related to sin.
A few example passages may help us in this effort. John 3:25 and Acts 15:2,7; 15:25 are passages that use another greek term that may be helpful in this analysis: ζήτησις ( zētēsis ). This greek terms is translated in a few ways: Discussion, debate, investigate. ζήτησις ( zētēsis ) is the process of questioning and inquiring even about particular matters of controversy.
[John 3:25 NASB]
25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.
[Act 15:2, 7 NASB]
2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, [the brethren] determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. … 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.
[Act 25:20 NASB]
20 “Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters.
Although these passages are not referring to anything in the context of marriage, they are referring to the ways of verbal engagement in a manner likely familiar to anyone who has been married for longer than 10 minutes.
There are several examples of interactions we have with our spouse, where there are ζήτησις ( zētēsis ) types of interactions. Some examples include: Whether to home-school, whether to have more children, whether to get vaccinations; how much to budget for vacation; which job to take; whether to leave this church or go to that church. The list is virtually endless.
It is expected that there be deliberation, discussion, and perhaps even debate on a given matter. The reason for this is because neither spouse is the expert or that everything he or she says must be right. Rather, through this process husbands and wives function in kind of iron sharpens iron fashion to achieve greater godly aims they are mutually agreed upon.
On the same token, however, Paul’s usage of this same term provides us with further wisdom to help guide and guard us. ζήτησις ( zētēsis ) is also translated as controversial (sies), speculation, arguments and even quarrel(s).
[1Timothy 6:4 NASB]
4 he is conceited [and] understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,
[2 Timothy 2:23 NASB]
23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.
[Titus 3:9 NASB]
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.
Motivation behind our discussions and debates are paramount which is why every instance of ζήτησις ( zētēsis ) needs to be taken and examined in isolation. This is effectively what is achieved in the counseling process. Husbands and wives seek support to work out even vast differences of views, with particular attention to individual conversations, individual words, individual meaning and interpretation of those words; individual inflection in tone and attitude, etc.
We can take a matter that for all tense and purposes was properly deliberated last week and use it as fodder this week to ignite a controversy or produce a quarrel that is now no longer working toward the building up and edification of the marriage, but find their origins in morbid interests, foolish controversies, ignorant speculations that produce disputes.
There is a saying that goes, it’s not just what you that matters, it how you say it.
IS ARGUING OK?
Up to this point, it still may not be crystal clear in your mind’s eye whether it is ‘okay to argue’. If you find yourself asking this question, here are a handful of questions you might consider:
- Do you want to argue? Why or why not?
- If not, but find yourself still arguing, do you want to be able to not ‘have’ to argue?
- What is the aim that only arguing can achieve?
- Beneath the huff-and-puff of what may be outwardly described as the argument, by asking this question what other permissions are looking for? (e.g. do you want permission to raise your voice, to cut your spouse off when they’re speaking? What?)
- What is the difference between what you’re describing as an argument and what Paul describes as a quarrel that we should avoid or what James describes as something coming from your evil passions?
- Is it conceivable that you are not “arguing” per se but having an appropriate debate? Do you see the difference between ζήτησις ( zētēsis ) types of discussions and μάχομαι (machē) types of arguments and fighting?
- Is there more than one right solution?
- Does the Bible say anything explicitly on the matter?
- Are you able to compromise without sinning?
- Do you actually understand the other person’s perspective?
The balance I am seeking to strike is a balance that finds its center of gravity within the heart. That is to say, our hearts are wicked and sinful beyond even our own understanding. In light of that, we are prone toward being deceived in ways that we are not even aware of until sometime afterwards.
As we grow in maturity and wisdom, not only will we see our own hearts more rightly, but we will be able navigate the ebb and flow of marriage more wisely: One eye on our heart looking out for sin’s deceptiveness and the other eye looking out for what is right, good and best for your marriage.
It is a difficult balance and even just one day of marriage ought to help us realize that any positive trajectory is totally dependent on God’s grace toward us in Christ. As we lean into this mercy, living daily by God’s grace, dependent on his Word and striving for full obedience in all areas and aspects of our marriage, we develop a fuller and more mature understanding of the duties and responsibilities as husband and wife; working to do everything we can to meet that out, perhaps including taking on a posture that fighting has no place in marriage.