Dealing with Fights

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the February 14, 2015 Sabbath School Lesson


“‘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

Quarrels seem to have been a part of human existence ever since the beginning when Adam blamed Eve for giving him the forbidden fruit and even blamed God for creating her in the first place. No one likes to be blamed for wrong doing, and although the Bible is silent about how Eve felt toward Adam after this blame game, it does say that she passed on the blame to the serpent. When we blame others for our actions, we are denying our culpability as though we had no free choice in the matter and the other person was pulling our strings, controlling us as it were. But there is not control without acquiescence. In that acquiescence may lay more blame than we are willing to admit. This is especially so if we knew better yet gave in anyway.

This was perhaps the case with Adam in Genesis, chapter three, for both he and Eve appear to have known that they were not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet, in spite of that understanding, Eve went along with the serpent, and Adam went along with Eve. The interesting thing is that even though they both found occasion to shift the blame, it did not allow them to escape the penalty for what they had done. This is often the case. It seems we all too often want to avoid blame for something that has gone wrong in a vain hope to escape the consequences of our choices and resulting actions. Perhaps we do this because it has worked for us in the past. But eventually it will catch up with us. As the Pentateuch tells us, “be sure your sin will find you out.”[i] It can be frightening to contemplate the possibility of exposure in this way, but it can also be liberating. For when we come to admit that we have been playing that blame game, we can start to grow beyond it.

The Bible tells us that when we sin we are breaking the Law.[ii] That means that blaming others as though they were responsible for our choices is sin, because it is giving false witness about someone else. However, once we recognize our sin, it becomes possible to repent and seek forgiveness and grace. It is only when we do not recognize this problem that we are in trouble, for if we don’t, we do not even understand the need for change. Then we simply go on blaming others and maybe even shifting the blame for every bad decision we ever made to someone else, and ultimately, to God who created those other individuals who came into our lives. We may even blame God directly, not only for everything that has gone wrong in our lives, but the world in general, with its wars, famines, plagues, and poverty. But in the end, we may simply be shifting the blame from our own shoulders to His. This becomes clear when we discover that the problems do not go away simply because we remove God from the equation. Perhaps we may come to realize that God is not the problem. We are.

In this crazy, mixed up world, it can be easy to blame others for the problems. We may debate over whether or not we need another big, flat-screen television in a world where others would be happy to simply have books to read for school. We may look in our closets and wardrobes full of clothes and proclaim we have nothing to wear, while someone elsewhere is still wearing the same thing he or she wore yesterday and maybe every day for the last six months. We may feel that our old fashioned car is out of style and needs to be replaced, while others may walk miles to and from work or school because they can afford no other transportation. But in all these comparison, do we ever consider that we might be to blame for the inequities, or if we even think about it, do we blame someone doing something somewhere else? We may blame big discount stores for exploiting these people by paying them starvation wages that don’t allow them to share in the blessings of modern society, but when we demand the lower prices made possible by those exploitative wages, who is really to blame? How often we have said, “I got it cheaper at store A,” without every stopping to consider why?

Does this mean that paying more at another store is the answer? Maybe not, especially if that extra simply goes into corporate wealth and does nothing to address any of these issues. But perhaps we can accept responsibility for the choices we make and realize that those choices have consequences that affect other real human beings. When we take a stone and toss it into a lake, we may not be able to see the far side of the lake, but the ripples from that stone, however small, reach every shore. It does not matter whether the stone or the one tossing it was good or bad, the effect is the same, and the same ripples that go to that far shore also come back to us. Perhaps we can go so far as to say that when we refuse to accept responsibility for the effect of our actions on others, then the same will come back to us when others refuse to accept responsibility for what happens to us. When we make the choice to toss the stone in the water, few will believe us if we blame the results on the One who made the stone.

Bringing this back to a more personal level, when things go wrong in our lives, do we accept responsibility for the results of our choices, or do we look for someone to blame for what has happened? Do we blame a bad boss, a stingy friend, or even God? Do we blame our spouse when things go wrong? Do we blame our family, or how we were raised? In the end does all of this blaming resolve anything, or does it instead simply create more quarrels? Does all of this blaming prevent us from seeing the real problem, a difficulty in accepting personal responsibility for our lives?

Our verse at the top of the page tells us not to let the sun go down on our quarrels or it will give the devil an entering wedge into our lives. But that does not mean that we accomplish that by simply telling the other person to stop arguing or even by our ceasing to argue the point. It takes more than that. It means accepting personal responsibility for why things went wrong in the first place and not striving to correct the other person, but instead addressing our own part in what created the conflict. This not only has the potential to de-escalate the argument, but provides an example for how the other person might do the same without our actually saying so.

In an ideal world, perhaps everyone would automatically only make right choices and say only thoughtful and kind things. But in this world, we are prone to errors of discernment. We might say things that come off as unkind and hurtful without meaning to simply because we did not think them through, or were tired, or were struggling with other issues. Or we may inadvertently pass on the hurt someone has passed on to us either recently or in the past. When the reaction hits us for what we have done, we quickly become aware of our mistake. At that point, it behooves us not to add fire to fire by entering into the blame game, but instead to accept responsibility for that error when we become aware of it.

Jesus said that what we do to the least among us is as though it were done to Him.[iii] Perhaps this applies to our relationships to spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, co-workers, and anyone we may have potential to enter into a quarrel with. When we come into relationship with Jesus, we do so by admitting the errors or our sinful past, and then repenting or turning away from those errors. He then extends to us His mercy and compassion so we can receive His Spirit of love into our hearts. Could it be the same for our relationships with others? Can we build a better relationship by admitting our imperfections, repenting of the problems they are causing, so that others can extend mercy and compassion toward us? The resulting loving relationship may heal the wounds caused by those imperfections and eventually even the imperfections themselves. This may seem to be impossible in some situations, but with God all things are possible.[iv] If He could create our world, and even the universe, is it really such a far stretch to believe that He can bring healing and love into our relationships also? Perhaps it’s worth a try.

[i] Numbers 32:23

[ii] 1 John 3:4

[iii] Matthew 25:31-46

[iv] Matthew 19:26



This Commentary is a Service of Still Waters Ministry


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