A wife. A husband. The middle of an argument.
“What is your heart wanting right now, honey?”
“What are you talking about? I’m wanting you to be quiet because you’re making me mad.”
“External circumstances don’t make you mad, sweetie. I don’t determine the active responses of your heart.”
“Leave me alone.”
“Leaving you alone won’t change your heart.”
“If you say ‘heart’ one more time, I’m going to kill you.”
“‘You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.’”
“Is that a Bible verse you’re quoting at me?”
It’s somewhere around this point that I begin to realize what an idiot I’m being. Up until then, I’d been able to convince myself that I was trying to bring my wife greater understanding of the motivations of her heart. But when I hear myself countering her every word with a textbook biblical counseling response, I can’t escape the sad fact that I’m using my skills to prove a point, not to serve her. I’d hate to be married to a biblical counselor.
Let me say that in a more edifying way: A person who has some level of skill in helping others understand the motivations of their hearts can be dangerous in marital conflict. Why? Because it can simply result in more skillful judgment. In fact, Jesus’ instruction about judgment apply well here.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:1–5)
I think this commends two basic pieces of advice for marital conflict, especially for us biblical counseling types.
1. You are not the Holy Spirit, so the only real-time heart exposure you should be doing is your own.
Jesus warns us against judging others, not necessarily because the person is innocent, but rather because of our own tendency to miss what’s wrong in us. We are quite tender to the speck in our spouse’s eye when we’re hauling lumber in ours. Jesus says to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (v.5). This is chronological language.
In a fight you don’t have adequate perspective, no matter how skilled you are in biblical counseling, to help your spouse to identify their ill motives. We should doubt our ability to see the other person’s heart accurately because of our own blindness in the conflict. In other words, your heart is wanting something as well, and your main focus should be to understand its captivating power over you.
Any time you quote James 4 in a fight, it always comes back to bite you. A conflict is not the time to analyze someone else’s heart, but your own.
2. You are an instrument of the Holy Spirit, so build into your spouse proactively, apart from the context of conflict.
Jesus didn’t say it was wrong to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, only that you shouldn’t do so with a log in your own. If you are concerned with sinful tendencies in your spouse, approach him or her with Scripture that will guide him or her to consider the concern and to find hope in grace. Doing this apart from conflict will make it much easier to convince your spouse that you are interpreting your spouse as charitably as possible in your concern. Away from conflict, you aren’t as prone to be clouded by your own inordinate desires.
We need the settled assurance that God alone is Revealer-of-the-heart. And He reveals the heart according to His timing, not yours. Paul says as much when he tells the Corinthians to stop judging him (1 Corinthians 4:5). Jesus is more concerned with your spouse’s sanctification than you are, and He takes the long-term perspective. So don’t jump to judgment in a fight. Express concern in a context of peace.
Even though she has to suffer a bit of foolishness every so often, I think my wife likes being married to a biblical counselor. When we use these skills to build one another up in our marriage, I like to think God uses them to help us grow in Christ. Maybe I just need to stop quoting David Powlison when we’re trying to decide where to eat.
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