November 9, 2014
How to Avoid Arguments
A husband and wife were having an argument, and the husband tried to make peace. He said, “Why don’t you meet me halfway? I’ll admit you are wrong if you admit I’m right.” On another occasion, a husband and wife were driving down a country road. They were giving each other the silent treatment because they were angry. As they passed a barnyard with mules and pigs, the husband asked, “Relatives of yours?” “Yep,” she replied. “In-laws.”
Where do fights and arguments come from? Have you ever stopped to think about that one? Aren’t you more likely to be drawn into an argument when you are tired or stressed, not feeling well or in a negative frame of mind? Stand up comedians say that timing is everything, and I think the same is true about arguments. Catch someone at the wrong time, and an argument is more likely to happen. Ask any kid – they know. Same thing with employees – they quickly find out which day to stay away from the boss.
James writes that quarrels happen because people want their own way, which is waging war within our souls. We want things but cannot have them. We get frustrated with a spouse whose spending habits are different from ours. One wants to save and the other would spend every penny earned with half a chance. Many couples argue over money issues, and money is often the cause of divorce.
Sometimes arguments come as we jockey for a better position or a higher status. We want others to look up to us; we want to be on top. We are jealous of other people because they have privileges we don’t. We want others to admire us for what success we have achieved, but this is pride. It gets in the way of our relationships, and it causes us to pray for wrong things. James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives.”
We pray in selfish ways. Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? We want things for our own pleasure and to make ourselves look good before others. God does not honor these requests. God is happy when we humble ourselves before God and acknowledge him as almighty and our only judge, because then God will lift us up.
James is concerned about arguments among believers. Being unkind to others in our church undermines the health and vitality of the church, like an infection attacking a body’s defenses. It is wrong for one person to set themselves up as judge over another, as if you have the right to determine what is right or wrong about someone else’s life. I see people judging what someone wears to church. Why should God care whether you wear a tee shirt or a suit? People judge how someone chooses to spend their money, and they judge how parents bring up their children. People become critical about someone’s words or actions if they are different from their own. This does so much damage in a church, and you and I have both seen it.
I hope you are seeing the common thread running through this letter. James wrote in chapter 1, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Last week in chapter 3 he said that harboring bitter envy and selfish ambition is false wisdom. It comes not from God but is the source of disorder and evil practices. This false wisdom places us above God’s wisdom and causes arguments and fighting.
James often puts in his own words truths that Jesus taught from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “Do not judge,” and James states that false wisdom includes judging. Jesus says, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” James says, “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
Any one of us has had occasions when we chose not to listen carefully before jumping to conclusions. We were too quick to speak and too quick to pass judgment on another. We hurt someone’s feelings and pretended we were in the right. We tried to justify ourselves, as if that person needed to hear the truth from someone. Even worse is to be critical of someone behind that person’s back and not talk it over with the person involved. If you have a problem, talk to that person directly – it’s only common sense.
We have all violated Christ’s law of love at one time or another. We have caused harm to another believer or have been critical in ways that has damaged the body of Christ. Please, know that I am not here to point fingers, but I do want you to engage in some healthy self-examination. Like Jesus said, get the log out of your eye first. Then you can see the speck in another’s eye.
Is there a certain person who is giving you trouble, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood? How well do you relate with others in this church? Is there anyone you have been avoiding? How have you tried to solve the problem? What does James say about the cause and a solution?
It’s okay if you are squirming a bit inside right now, if that allows God to cut through the way we justify ourselves and lets us look to the core of our behaviors. Look within yourself and remember a recent conflict you have had with someone, whether at home or work, in a friendship or at church. You argued about something that was important to you, but what were you trying to protect? What were you afraid you would lose or what did you want to gain?
Perhaps you have a harder time being flexible and allowing someone the freedom to make their own choices and live their own way. Maybe you want to be viewed as an authority and feel threatened when someone else seems to know more than you. Maybe you want to achieve a certain status, within the church or in the community. You criticize others in order to make yourself look good by comparison. Haven’t we seen enough of that in political campaigns?
James is adamant that we should be doers of the word. Our speech, our judgments and our standards should all reflect the faith we hold. We are to show mercy and kindness in our relationships. We are to be pure and at peace with others. We are to be impartial and sincere. If God has shown you an occasion where you have been less than that, praise God because this is a chance for you to grow spiritually.
When God brings you to a place of repentance, this is good, because it allows you to grow in how you rely on God. This is what James wants for us – to find wisdom from above, which enables us to change how we behave with one another. Arguing with someone is wrong because it sets us up as judges rather than allowing God to be judge. Let each of us rely on God and not presume to take on that job ourselves.
James says in verse 10, “Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” This is grace, God’s power to make changes in your life. Any one of us has particular aspects of our character that need some revision, but it won’t happen unless we allow God to take charge of us. What do you want to change in your relationships with family or other church members? Pray for God to give you humility so God can work in you to the glory of God’s name.
If pride is what gets us in trouble, it makes sense that humility is how we will avoid it. Humility is letting God handle the problems we face relating to a difficult person; humility is also acknowledging that maybe the other person has a legitimate gripe against us. If we can let go of thinking too much of ourselves, we won’t be threatened by someone else asserting themselves. If we are released from having to build a strong defense to protect a fragile self-ego, we are free to accept others for who they are. Humility means we don’t have to be top dog in order to have a relationship with another.
Be willing to ask for forgiveness if you have hurt someone’s feelings, and be ready to accept someone’s apology if they have hurt you. Take the first step in reconciliation – that’s humility too. Be like Jesus, for Paul wrote in Philippians 2: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ, who died for you. Let Jesus live in you and believe that Jesus also lives in me. Jesus wouldn’t argue with himself, so neither should we.