Tom and Audrey fight constantly. For Tom the arguments have seemed so ridiculous. He sees Audrey as being too emotional and irrational. Audrey, on the other hand, sees Tom as insensitive and dogmatic.
They’ve tried to resolve their conflicts by speaking truthfully to one another, but this doesn’t work so well because Tom is dogmatic and keeps pointing out what is untrue in Audrey’s thoughts. They’ve tried to patiently listen to one another, but Audrey seems to come out on top because she keeps expressing her feelings while Tom sits on his hands unable to say anything.
The reason why Tom and Audrey are unable to come to any resolution is not because they haven’t tried. It is because they have not applied themselves to Jesus’ New Commandment. It is easy to overlook as well as to forget it because it is simple and we think we know what it means. It is not simplistic and if we contemplate it we would not forget it.
Of course, I’m speaking of John 13:34-35. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This passage is succinct in that it points people to do more than resolve issues. It actually intends to bring about peace and harmony with God and one another (cf. Eph. 4:1-3).
Tom and Audrey first have to settle in their hearts to follow Jesus’ commandment to love one another. This is not always an easy thing to do. Jesus’ example illustrates two avenues of achieving peace. In John 13:1-20, He demonstrates humility to the greatest point, which is to become a foot washer. This is a description of the lowest person on the servant totem pole. Tom and Audrey will have to choose to become the other’s servant. They would each have to choose to set aside their priorities and desires in order to accomplish God’s desires.
But there is more. They must realize that to follow Jesus’ example of being a servant may require them to die to selfish practices and desires. Jesus says that there is no greater form of love than to die for one’s friends (John 15:13). This is difficult because they will have to trust God to bring about peace even though the other may not be willing to follow Jesus’ commandment (Rom. 15:1-3; Matt. 11:29). Suffering may be experienced, but to honor God above themselves and to honor each other, they will indeed go through suffering of some kind. Dying to self hurts!
After Tom and Audrey have contemplated what their Lord has done for them and have determined to follow his example of love, they will then need to be wise in discerning what is the root problem (Pr. 18:15).
This begins with an examination of self. Tom and Audrey will each have to search their own heart, asking the Lord to guide them (Ps. 139:23-24). In doing this, each should remember that they are no better than the other and understand that they are more alike than different. Their similarities are that both are transgressors against God and if it were not for His magnificent love towards them, they would be lost (Eph. 2:1-6).
When they have analyzed their own heart in conjunction with the Lord’s great love, then they can move toward discerning the other’s heart. They would do this by asking relevant questions. These questions should begin with establishing actual facts, beginning their questions with who, what, when, where, and how. Only after gathering this information should they ask questions that start with why. Why addresses heart motives, which we cannot see or judge, but only inquire.
Each should be aware that when these questions are asked and sincerely answered anger may be aroused in one or both. They must remember they are fulfilling the commandment to love and not to destroy (Pr.15:2, 4, 18, 28, 31, 33). When love and humility rule, peace and unity flourish.
After they have discerned what the problem is, then they must decide who will die to self. This is difficult because it may result in one of them dying more often than the other one, which seems unfair. Fairness is not the objective; love is. Love demonstrates that the one who is dying to self is actually the one acting like a disciple of Christ. There was nothing fair about the righteous Jesus dying for us the sinner, but it was a concrete example of how to love, giving for the sake of the other. Therefore, Tom and Audrey must think about the costs and the rewards of following Jesus (Lk. 14:25-35).
Tom and Audrey must also think about how each will die to self. Will they have to learn to be patient with the other? Will they have to learn a new way of living or doing something? Will they have to learn how to submit or sacrifice? Most assuredly, they will have to do something different than what they are currently doing. To balance this new and difficult way of living they should remember two things:
1. If they keep the new commandment, they are actually practicing what it means to walk worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:10; Eph. 4:1-3). They are also demonstrating that they love Jesus as they walk in the Spirit (Jn. 14:15-16).
2. As they keep the commandment, they will have a greater understanding of the love of Christ for them (Eph 3:17-19). This is what compels God’s people to press on through the hardest times and circumstances (2 Cor. 5:14-15). As Paul reminds us, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11).
Join the Conversation
Of the three principles of determine, discern, and decide, which do you think is most important in your marriage? In your relationships?
Note: This article was originally posted in the Biblical Counseling Center’s e-Counselor’s Weekly Guide. You can read it there at Succinct Conflict Resolution.