|The Ring | Fighting Fair|
|August 11, 2012|
The Ring: Week 4
This is the fourth week of our series called The Ring. This series is a beast. We are spending seven weeks talking about relationships and marriage.
It’s been tough. It’s been fun. It’s been freeing. And today is going to be more of the same as we talk about the anger and the fights that occur in our marriages.
This message is the real deal. This isn’t a message that some pastors would preach, but I’m going to preach it because I’m not here to paint this idyllic, impossible picture of marriage. We are looking at the realities of marriage, and we’re praying for God to meet us there to shape us and change us.
Here is the reality of marriage. Here are five bedrock truths of marriage.
Truth #1 – You are going to fight. Anger. Frustration. Arguments. It’s par for the course in marriage.
You know what marriage is? Forget about the fairytales. Forget about the idyllic, unrealistic, impossible pictures of marriage that you’ve heard. You know what marriage is? Two messed up, jacked up sinners who decide to live together for the rest of their lives. Guess what happens when these two people live under the same roof? Tension and disagreements and arguments and anger happen! You can’t put two completely imperfect people together and get perfection.
So this is where we need to start. Fighting is normal. It happens. It happens in some marriages more than others, but it happens in every marriage. It’s just the truth. But unfortunately, this next truth also plays out way too often in our marriages.
Truth #2 – A lot of us fight dirty. Disagreements and fights are inevitable in marriage, but most of us don’t know how to deal with that…so we fight dirty. We’re going to talk about that today.
Truth #3 – We fight about stupid stuff. Let’s do a little show of hands, here. If you’re married, how many of you can remember a recent disagreement you had with your spouse over something that was really stupid?
I can honestly say that Nicki and I don’t fight that much. And when we do, it’s usually about something stupid…like where we should go to eat. Anybody else have this argument? Nicki and I will go out on a date. We’ve got a babysitter. There are no kids with us. We are free…and we can’t figure out where to go eat.
Me - “Where do you want to eat?”
Nicki - “I don’t care. Wherever you want to go is fine with me.”
Me - “Well it doesn’t matter to me, either.”
Nicki – “How about this place?”
Me – “I don’t want to go there.”
Nicki – “I thought you said you don’t care where we eat.”
Me – “I don’t. I just don’t want to go there. What about this place?”
Nicki – “I’m not really in the mood for that.”
Me – “Then tell me what you are in the mood for.”
Nicki – “Whatever you want is fine with me.”
Me – “I’m pulling this car over and I’m not moving again until I know where we’re going.”
Has this happened to anyone else? That’s awesome! Glad we’re not alone here.
Seriously, some of the things we fight about are really, really stupid, aren’t they? But if we leave these dumb little disagreements unchecked, they can grow into anger.
Truth #4 – We do the most damage when we’re angry. David Augsberger wrote, “Be angry, but be aware. You are never more vulnerable than when in anger. Self-control is at an all-time low, reason decreases, and common sense usually forsakes you.”
Contrary to what some people believe, it’s not a sin to be angry. But anger can be a breeding ground for sin to occur. It’s all about what we do with our anger.
Truth #5 – We need help. I’ve yet to meet a couple that didn’t need help in some area of their marriage, particularly when it comes to anger and disagreements. I doubt that there are very many of us who believe that we are where we need to be.
That’s what today is all about. We’re going to talk about where we go from here. I’m starting from the standpoint that, if you’re married, you have disagreements and arguments. Some have more than others in their marriages, but all marriages have them. And a lot of us don’t know how to deal with them or how to move past them.
Here’s what it comes down to. This is your sermon in a sentence. We get to choose between replayed and renewed. This is a choice that all of us get to make in our marriages. It doesn’t matter if your marriage is great and you just want to keep improving, or your marriage is a total mess…moving forward begins with the choice of replayed or renewed.
I love the Olympics. I watch it every minute that I can. For the most part, I don’t even care what sport is on…except synchronized swimming. Anybody else think that’s just weird? And racewalking. I’m not going to watch an Olympic sport when I can watch senior citizens do the same thing tomorrow morning in the mall.
One thing that is part of watching any sporting event on TV is replays. When there is a close play…when someone does something great…or when someone totally fails, they will replay it over and over again.
Regardless of what sport you’re watching, the replays all share one thing in common. They tell you what HAS happened. But they can’t tell you what is GOING to happen.
That’s the choice that we face in our marriages. We can live in the replay, focusing on what has happened. Or we can move on to renewal, which is completely focused on what is going to happen.
We’re going to be in Ephesians 4 today. We were in that same chapter last week. Today we’re going to pick right up where we left off.
Starting in verse 17, the Apostle Paul wrote, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17-18, NIV)
Renewal starts with being teachable. If you are not teachable, you will not be renewed and your marriage will not be renewed. It will simply be replayed.
Some of you have really bristled at this series. What can this guy teach me about marriage? I’m older than him. I’ve been married longer than him.
If that’s you, then you are not teachable and you’ll never experience renewal in your marriage. You’re stuck and you’ll continue to be stuck until you humble yourself and actually become teachable.
Look at what the Apostle Paul said again. He warned us about getting stuck in the futility of our thinking. Sometimes what we think is really irrelevant because our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. He warned us about remaining in ignorance, which keeps us in the dark and keeps us separated from God and His will for our lives.
And it all comes down to this: it happens when we harden our hearts. In other words, when we decide to stop being teachable. We’re not going to listen to instruction anymore. We’re not going to heed godly warnings anymore. We’re just going to get mad and defensive.
That has happened during this series. There have been husbands that have been mad. There have been wives that have been mad. And they’re mad because of their hard hearts. They’re not teachable, so they get offended when they are confronted with something in the Word of God.
The more easily offended you are, the less teachable you are. You can get mad at me for the things I say in this series, but that’s not going to help you. All I’m preaching is what God has said in the Bible. You can be offended by it, or you can soften your heart and listen to it.
Renewal is teachable. It is not stubborn or obstinate. It is not hard-headed or hard-hearted. It is open. Later on in this passage, Paul used the word “sensitive.” Renewal is sensitive to the truth. It hears the truth, and it responds.
How have you reacted to some of the things you’ve heard in this series? Has it made you mad? Has it made you resentful? Or has it convicted you to change?
If you are not teachable, nothing will change in your marriage. You’ll simply live replays of the same brokenness over and over again.
We’ve been saying throughout this series that our goal is to chase after God’s best blessings. To never settle for less, but instead to strive for the mature relationships that God wants us to have. That will never happen if you’re stubborn and arrogant and unteachable. Renewal is, first and foremost, teachable.
Now, look at what Paul said next in Ephesians 4. This is what renewal looks like. “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24, NIV)
When we come to Christ, we are made new in our attitudes. We put on a new self. Following Jesus is all about renewal. It is never about the replay.
Here’s the beautiful thing about Jesus…your past means nothing to Him. Your past was wiped clean by His death and resurrection. He doesn’t care about where you’ve been. He cares about where you’re going. He’s not about the replay. He’s all about the renewal.
Here’s what that means for your marriage…if you want tomorrow to be better, you’ve got to get past yesterday, and you’ve got to do it today.
You know that petty fight that you had yesterday. You’ve got to let it go today. And you’ve got to commit to make some changes so it doesn’t happen again tomorrow.
And the key is in the next verse in Ephesians 4. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25, NIV)
There is so much packed into this one verse. There is so much healing that can happen in our families and in our marriages here in this one verse.
Here’s the first thing that I see in this verse: renewal is honest about what’s wrong.
If you live in denial, you will live in constant replay mode. Denying that anything is wrong will never make anything right. If something is broken in your marriage, renewal and healing begins by admitting that something is broken.
The Bible says, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully…” If you want your marriage to be renewed, you’ve got to be honest about where it’s broken.
Maybe the fights you have in your marriage aren’t about stupid, petty stuff. Maybe it’s big stuff. Maybe things are not a little broken…they are over-the-top broken. And yet you’ve never had a calm, honest discussion with your spouse about how bad things are. You know things are bad because of the amount of yelling and screaming that happens, but there’s no honest discussion about what’s wrong. An argument is not a discussion.
It’s very possible that you need some outside help in your marriage. You need to bring a counselor into the equation because things aren’t getting better, they’re just getting worse.
“No way. Counseling is for the weak.”
“I’m not sharing my business with a stranger.”
“It doesn’t work. I’m not wasting my time.”
Remember what we said at the very beginning. Renewal is teachable. If things are broken and you’re not even willing to seek help, you’re not teachable. You are prideful. And pride never solved a single marriage problem ever.
If you want renewal, you’ve got to be honest about what’s wrong. And if you need to seek help, you’ve got to seek it. I can refer you to a marriage counselor. It will be completely confidential.
I’ve told you before that I’ve seen a counselor myself. I had to get over my pride. I had to humble myself and seek help.
I’ve also talked to very godly married couples who went to see a marriage counselor…and it was the best thing they could have ever done.
Don’t tell me it doesn’t work. Don’t tell me it can’t help. I have far too many examples of the exact opposite truth. I know from personal experience that it helps.
But it all comes back to being teachable and admitting where you are broken and where your marriage is broken. No counselor can help you if you don’t do that. No sermon and no pastor can help you if you don’t do that. The Bible itself can’t help you if you don’t do that.
Sit down with your spouse, today…this afternoon…and talk about where things stand. How are things REALLY going? Where are things going well? Where are they not going well? Where are things broken? And is it serious enough that you need some outside help to fix it?
Here’s another thing I see in Ephesians 4:25. Renewal is more concerned with winning the marriage than winning the argument.
If you have to win every argument, you know what that also means? It means you sleep with a loser every night.
Dr. Kevin Leman said, “You cannot win in a marriage if you’re competing with each other.”
If your focus is on winning the argument, you are not winning the marriage. You can become really adept at winning arguments. You can leave your spouse speechless because you just dismantled them. You won the argument. Congratulations! What have you really won? Not a dang thing. What could you really lose? More than you could even imagine.
In verse 25 of our text, Paul reminds us that we are “members of one body.”
That is true in the church. We are the Body of Christ. It’s even truer in our marriage. God tells us that marriage makes us one flesh. We are completely unified. Totally inseparable. So when you hurt your spouse, you are hurting yourself. So what if you win the argument? If you hurt your spouse in the process, you are just hurting yourself.
Now, look at what Paul says next. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV)
Did you notice it doesn’t say, “It’s a sin to be angry?” It says, “In your anger do not sin.” Getting angry is not a sin. Jesus got angry. Remember when he went ballistic in the temple? He turned over the moneychanger’s tables and chased them out of the temple with a whip?
“Yes, but He’s Jesus. He didn’t get angry.”
Let me tell you something…if you’re chasing someone with a whip, you’re angry. Not peeved. Not miffed. Not a little out-of-sorts. You’re mad!
Anger itself is not a sin…but it can be a breeding ground for sin to occur. You’re going to get angry in your marriage. You just are. It’s normal. It’s natural. But it’s also dangerous. That’s why the Bible warns us, “In your anger, do not sin.”
Be aware that when you’re angry, you are vulnerable. You will say and do things that could be incredibly destructive. Remember that old quote from Dr. Laurence Peter? “Speak when you are angry--and you will make the best speech you'll ever regret.”
Now, the key is not to bury your anger. That’s not honest. We talked last week and we’ve talked again today about the importance of being honest. If you’re angry and you suppress it, you’re not being honest. That makes you a liar, so that’s no good.
On the other hand, lashing out in anger, saying and doing things that are hurtful, that makes you a jerk, so that’s no good either.
What do we do? We do exactly what this verse says. We don’t lash out, but we also don’t let it fester. We get it out in the open as soon as we can do it with a cool head.
The Bible says that you don’t let the sun go down while you’re angry. In other words, you deal with it as soon as you’re able. You don’t blow up, but you also don’t bottle it up. You get it out in the open.
When you do, you’ve got to remember that, whatever the problem is, it’s not bigger than your marriage. Husbands, if you’re mad at something your wife did, then you express that…but you also remember that she is more important than the problem. The issue is not bigger than your marriage.
Wives, if you’re mad at your husband, then express it. But this man that you love is more important than whatever it is that has you angry right now. Anger is a temporary emotion. Marriage is permanent.
We’ve all got to remember what Edgar Vann said. “Never do anything permanently stupid because you’re temporarily upset.”
Are you more concerned about winning the marriage or winning the argument? That’s the key question. You can win the argument by saying and doing a lot of stupid things. Or you can call the argument a draw, or maybe even lose the argument, and win the marriage.
Ultimately, we want mature marriages. We want marriages that look like this. Here’s what Paul said as we wrap up Ephesians 4.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32, NIV)
Renewal can begin with the words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”
Last week I asked if you could even remember the last time you apologized to someone. Some of us have so much pride that we never, ever apologize. Don’t tell me you don’t need to apologize. Like I said last week, none of us are that good. We all say and do stupid things. There is something you need to apologize for…the question is have you done it?
And this becomes especially true in your marriage. When you are wrong, a sincere, real apology should come quickly. It shouldn’t take days. If you can’t sincerely and quickly apologize to your husband or your wife, that is a telltale sign of pride. And pride is an incredibly destructive force in a marriage.
In Proverbs 16, the Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, NIV)
Pride comes first. The fall comes second. If a marriage falls apart, you can guarantee that it was preceded by pride. Guaranteed.
Sincere, heartfelt, real apologies are critical in a marriage. You’re going to screw up. You just are. You are going to fail. And when you do, the response is not stubbornness and pride. Those are the things that precede a fall.
Now, what about when you’re not the one in the wrong? Instead, you’re the one who is angry or disappointed or hurt. What do you do?
Look at what Ephesians 4 says again. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV)
Forgiveness is the lifeblood of marriage. It’s just that simple. Marriage can’t be healthy and complete without it.
We are called to model Jesus in our marriages. We forgive our spouse just like God forgave us through the blood of Christ. God’s forgiveness is total. Complete. Nothing held back. And that’s the model of forgiveness in our lives and in our marriages.
Paul said to get rid of all bitterness. Bitterness and resentment and unforgiveness will choke your marriage to death. The only thing to do is to flat get rid of it.
1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, “[Love] is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)
Let’s just let those words sink in for a minute. Love is not self-seeking. It’s not about me. It’s not about me holding onto my grudge and my resentment. It’s not about what makes me feel good.
It’s not easily angered. Do you get mad at your spouse all the time? Everyday? Love is not easily angered. Maybe the problem isn’t your spouse.
Love keeps no record of wrongs. That one hurts, doesn’t it? Some of us have a running tab of wrongs that our spouse has committed. The tab never gets shorter. It just gets longer. We don’t let stuff go…ever.
Love doesn’t do that. Love doesn’t see this disagreement as an opportunity to dredge up stuff from the past. Love doesn’t keep a tab. Love lets things go.
What are you holding onto? Where have you not truly forgiven your spouse? What do you need to let go?
“Well, that is so hard.” No one said it was easy. But the Bible reminds us that this is how God treats us. This is how He loves us. This is how He forgives us. And that’s the model for our marriages.
Keeping a record of wrongs is going to keep your marriage in replay. It’s all about replaying the past. Bringing up times of failure and hurt and dissension from the past. It’s all about the replay. It’s not about being renewed.
We get to choose between replayed or renewed. I know that you get angry and frustrated and hurt and disappointed. It happens because your spouse isn’t perfect. You’re not either.
But like we said last week, success in marriage doesn’t require two perfect people. It requires a perfect Savior. And that’s exactly what we have.
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we don’t have to be replayed. We can be renewed.
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