Which do you find more difficult?
1) Marriage conflict that arises because you’ve sinned against your spouse.
2) Marriage conflict that arises because your spouse has sinned against you.
My husband, Curtis, and I recently celebrated our nineteenth anniversary, so we’ve had lots of opportunities to confess sin to each other. Most of the time when there’s conflict between the two of us, the source isn’t sin—it’s miscommunication—and the best solution is discussing ways we can communicate more clearly in the future.
When there is friction between us that comes from sin, working through it requires more than just a troubleshooting discussion. There needs to be reconciliation through confession, repentance, and forgiveness. When sin is present, we both need to own what we’ve done wrong. There are occasions, of course, when only one of us sinned and the other person was innocent. In many instances, the one who sinned was me! Confessing sin and asking for forgiveness is often difficult and it’s always humbling.
Over the years, I’ve found that it takes greater patience, self-control, and humility to be the one who’s been sinned against. When I was right (and I knew it), temptations toward arrogance, provocation, and jealousy were strong. When you’ve been sinned against by your spouse, have you also been tempted to respond in destructive ways?
Conflict Is Sure to Come
Maybe you are in a good season of marriage now. Or perhaps you are in the middle of a conflict. Maybe you are in the honeymoon phase of your relationship and haven’t had any major conflict yet. When it comes to being sinned against, however, every married person will eventually face this question: what should I do when there’s conflict and my spouse is 90–100% wrong? To answer this question, we’ll take a look at Galatians 5:25–26:
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”Galatians 4:25-26
Keeping in Step with the Spirit
In Galatians 4 and 5 Paul tells us that Christ has set us free, and we are no longer slaves to the sin that once controlled us. This gift of freedom by grace gives us an incredible opportunity to love and serve others (5:13)! Next the apostle tells us that if we don’t want to gratify our flesh (which includes a broad range of sinful behaviors including fits of rage, hatred, getting drunk, jealousy, selfish ambition, and sexual immorality), we need to learn to walk by the Spirit. Paul gives us three specific examples of what it means to live under the control of the Spirit. These objectives remind us how to move toward Christ even when marriage is difficult.
1) Let us not become conceited.
Confronting a sinner, especially one who has wounded you, requires humility. Your flesh may tempt you to elevate yourself above your spouse and believe that you are, at the core, a better kind of person than he or she is. That’s pride. True humility requires every believer to confess that it is only the grace of God that has kept me from evil and caused me to live in a way that honors God. Ask God to help you think and speak humble words today.
2) Let us not provoke one another.
As you deal with your spouse’s sin, you will need the Spirit’s help to work toward peace. A person seeking true peace acknowledges wrongdoing and refuses to sweep issues under the rug. A peaceful person doesn’t shy away from conflict to avoid friction. There are times when confronting sin is necessary, but it should be done with a spirit of love and with a desire that the sinner will repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness.
3) Let us not envy one another.
The temptation to envy could be stronger in a fractured marriage. When do you struggle more with discontentment—when your life and relationships are going smoothly or when hardship prevails? Another couple’s apparent happiness could feel like a bitter reminder of your spouse’s failures, but it doesn’t have to be.
I have a friend from college whose husband died unexpectedly several years ago. She is raising five children alone. Every year she “loves” the anniversary post I write about my husband on social media. She’s a picture of Christ to me. If she can rejoice when others rejoice, after all she’s lost, then with the help of the Spirit, I can too!
With the help of the Spirit, we all can rejoice in the good gifts God has given others, even while we are aching with pain over our own marriages. Rejoicing and grieving can exist side by side in this complicated world that’s simultaneously full of joy and sorrow. The next time your friend celebrates an anniversary or enjoys a beautiful vacation, praise God for specific good gifts he’s giving to that family and thank him for the ways that event reflects his kindness or gives the world a glimpse of Christ and the church. Then pray for that couple or family that their love for God and each other would continue to grow even stronger as the years pass.
A Prayer for Today
Here’s a simple prayer for today and every day that you feel paralyzed by a painful trial in your marriage: “Jesus, strengthen me so that I can walk in step with your Spirit. Humble me. Help me cultivate peace, especially when peace requires a difficult confrontation. Give me contentment when I see the ways you’ve blessed my friends. Teach my heart to fully rejoice with others over all the good gifts you give them.”
Ideas for Meditating on These Concepts:
- Write down the three ways you can keep in step with the Holy Spirit and put it somewhere you will see it frequently. I like to place a note card on my nightstand so I see it first thing in the morning and just before turning off the lamp at bedtime. You could also use a dry erase marker to write them on the bathroom mirror.
- Memorize Galatians 5:25–26. Meditate on it daily and pray that God would show you new ways to apply it.