Excerpt from An online Course: Where God puts two hearts in a home

When Jay and Maylin came into my office for counseling, the tension between them was oppressive. I knew almost instantly that they were close to divorce. As I looked at them, I saw two people full of pride and bitterness. After several minutes of introductions, I found out that he was a businessman and she was a travel agent. They were expecting their first baby, and they were living with his father and mother. They both had good jobs and had everything they needed financially, yet it did not take long to realize that sitting before me were two very miserable individuals.

They had both become Christians three years earlier. At that time, God had done amazing things in both their lives and in their marriage. So I asked, What happened between then and now that brings you to this place today?  That question triggered a tirade that lasted nearly thirty minutes. It felt like I was in a war zone with hostilities and abuses hurled back and forth like hand grenades. If words could kill, they both would have been blown apart, with blood everywhere. Tears of compassion stung my eyes. Silently I prayed, Oh God, would you do something huge in this couple‘s life? Humanly speaking this is impossible, but with You all things are possible! God be praised! I am thrilled to tell you that their story does not end there. God has done an incredible, miraculous work in their lives since that time.

In a situation as bad as theirs was, you would expect that something very evil, such as adultery or the death of a child, had happened to them. But as I listened, I discovered that it was not one big thing, but rather lots of little things. They had learned destructive ways to slowly build walls between them…ways to hurt, to isolate, and to wound each other. I am sad to say that this is true very often among the couples I counsel. Most couples divorce over seemingly insignificant things. Over time, these seemingly insignificant things had built up, layer by layer, until the walls between them seemed impenetrable.

What was the basis of the rift in Jay and Maylin‘s marriage, which is typical of all marital breakdowns?

James 4:1-6: James 4 asks, “What causes quarrels and fights among you?” The next five verses answer the question by listing six bricks that build dividing walls of conflict between marital couples. What are they?

 Brick 1: Anger (v 1)…Quarrels and fights, mentioned here, always occur in an environment of anger. Whenever anger is involved, conflicts result. Both Colossians and Ephesians say to put off anger and every form of it, such as rage, malice, and hatred (Eph 4:25-31; Col 3:5-11). Anger is a brick that constructs walls, which hinder good communication.

One form of anger that manifests itself differently than an outburst of anger, but is equally destructive, is the silent treatment. This is a passive form of aggression, when a person uses silence to punish or fight back. Even though this form of anger is quiet, at times it can be so deafening that it seems worse than an explosive outburst. I had a client who wielded extremely painful blows with this deadly weapon.

Every time his wife did something that hurt him or angered him, he would literally say nothing to her for days. He would talk to the kids and talk to whomever she was with, but he would not talk to her. Can you imagine how painful this would be? This toxic form of anger can quickly incapacitate any marriage and is not a fitting form to be used by a child of God.

Brick 2: Selfishness (v 1-2)…Ask yourself this question: What causes conflicts (quarrels and fights) in my relationships? God‘s Word says it is the whole army of evil desires at war inside and between you. You want what you do not have. Selfishness is at the root of every ugly conflict. You want what you want and you want it now! Scripture exhorts you to lay aside your selfishness and put on the mind of Christ, who did not think of Himself but considered the needs of others as more important than His own needs. The next time you begin to fight and quarrel with your spouse, ask the Holy Spirit to alert you to what selfish desires are at war. Then, put down the destructive brick of selfishness and yield yourself to God, as a living sacrifice. Desire to please God more than you desire to win the argument.

Brick 3: Evil Desires (v 2)…Evil desire is the brother of selfishness. They stick together and work together. Verse two says that quarrels and fights are caused by unruly desires, also at war inside. Later in this chapter, James says that one cannot be a friend of God and love the things of the world (James 4:4).  What does your heart crave? If your marriage is full of conflicts, chances are that at least one of you is craving the evil pleasures of this world. In 1 John 2:15-16, the Bible says, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. Notice that these evil pleasures include more intangibles than material possessions. What do you want? To be respected? To be admired? To have power over others? Ask God to change your desires so that you will want what He wants rather than the things that the world wants.

Brick 4: Jealousy (v 2)…Why do you experience conflicts between you? God says you fight and quarrel because you are jealous of what others have that you cannot possess. In essence, these verses say that conflicts are an indication that you are discontent and dissatisfied with what God has given to you. Rather than be content, you want to take what belongs to someone else. Perhaps he is referring to not only material possessions but also a certain role, a position of strength, or a certain set of talents that you see someone else has. What are you trying to get when you fight and quarrel? Are you trying to get your own way? Are you trying to get the upper hand? Are you trying to get a superior advantage? Are you trying to get your spouse to admit you are right? Next time you experience a conflict in your marriage, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal this, then repent and lay it down at the cross.

Brick 5: Out-of-Control Behavior (v 2)…James 4:2 says that some scheme and even kill to get what they want. This is an example of out-of-control behavior. Worldwide, in many instances when one spouse kills another, it began with the choice to let go of self-control of anger. You allow your anger to motivate you to hurt your spouse. It may have started with screaming, throwing something, then a slap or a punch, and over time, the violence escalated to murder. You may be thinking, I would never think of killing anybody. This verse does not apply to me.

But remember the words of Jesus that link murder with anger. He exacts the same judgment for the man who murders as for the man who is angry with his brother (Mt 5:21-22). There are many ways to kill within a marriage that are not physical. Your angry words can kill someone‘s heart or spirit. Be sure that you are never guilty of out-of-control behavior.

Brick 6: Pride (v 6)…Underlying all of these reasons for fights and quarrels in your marriage is pride. Pride causes selfishness.  Pride causes evil desires. Pride causes jealousy. Pride causes out-of-control behavior. Pride causes you to think of yourself as superior to your spouse, and pride keeps you dependent on yourself instead of dependent on God. Be careful to lay aside the brick of pride, for God says here that He is against the proud but shows favor to the humble. If there are already walls between you and your spouse that are built with bricks of anger, selfishness, evil desires, jealousy, out-of-control behavior, and pride, you must begin now to tear these out of your lives. How do you do this?

Steps in Tearing Down These Bricks of Destruction:

  1. Confession: Come humbly before God and your spouse. Confess your sin. Ask your spouse to forgive you as you name each sin specifically.
  2. Repentance: After acknowledging your sin, ask God to help you figure out what attitude and/or behavior should replace your sin. Ask for the Holy Spirit to empower you to change.
  3. Anticipation: Anticipate the next time that this conflict, attitude, or behavior might surface, and ask God to prepare you to respond His way instead of the way that you typically respond. The more you practice God‘s responses, the more it will begin to change your habitual response.
  4. Prayer: Keep this matter in daily prayer.
  5. Accountability: If this sin keeps surfacing, ask a trusted friend to pray with you and hold you accountable on a weekly basis.
  6. Being careful how you live: If you want to become more like Jesus and have victory over your sin, you must be careful how you live. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, Be very careful how you live not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. There is no power for true change and transformation outside the power of God working through you (Jn 15:5). Ephesians 5:17-18 continues with instructions about how to live: Do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit. The way that you allow the Holy Spirit to control you is by spending a lot of time with Him in the Word, in prayer, and in worship, and by consciously yielding when you are tempted to act willfully against His principles.