The ART of Conflict, Part 1
About the Guest
Want to know how to fight right? Today on the broadcast, Tommy Nelson, senior pastor of Denton Bible Church, helps couples draw closer to each other by teaching them the skills to disagree in a biblical way.
Tom NelsonTom Nelson has been the pastor of Denton Bible Church, in Denton, Texas since 1977. Each year, Tom speaks to over 20,000 Song of Solomon Conference attendees and countless others via radio. In addition to the Song of Solomon materials, he is author of three books: The Book of Romance, The Big Picture: Understanding the Story of the Bible, and The Problem of Life with God. Tom has been married to Teresa Nelson for more than 30 years, and they have two grown sons, Ben and Joh...more
Want to know how to fight right?
The ART of Conflict, Part 1
Tommy: I'm thinking of the time, 1980s, I'm in Oklahoma City doing a wedding. I'm there with my wife, staying in a motel. That morning I get up, and I jog, it's hot and sticky, I get all sweaty running up and down the access road by the highway. I come in, take off my sweaty t-shirt, throw it into a paper bag. Little did I know my wife had the gown she wore to the wedding that was in that bag. And I, unbeknownst threw my sweatshirt down.
My wife saw me do this and instantly reacted – "Don't do that!" And I turned and said, "Cut that out!" And I spoke harshly to my wife. And as soon as I said it – my wife is a very responsive person, and tears leaped to her eyes, and after doing this wedding on holy matrimony, my wife and I got into the car, and we drove from Oklahoma City to Texarkana, Texas, we drove five hours in total, dead silence.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 6th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Have you ever had one of those bad days in your marriage? Join the club and stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. And just so that our listeners don't get concerned, Tommy and his wife got everything worked out after they got to Texarkana, and it all straightened out. Do you remember if going into marriage you were wise enough to know that conflict would be an inevitable part of your marriage relationship?
Dennis: I think intellectually I knew it would be but emotionally I was unprepared for the place that it would take in our marriage and, unfortunately, we had some of those drives or some of those evenings together.
Bob: But the good news is, so have we and so has everybody – all God's children have conflict.
Dennis: They do, and the subject we've been talking about all this week and last Friday is an area that sometimes brings about some conflict. It's when we start talking about romance and the human sexuality side of the marriage relationship, it seems that we get a little intense about this, get threatened, and we can have some sparks in our marriage relationship.
Bob: We have been listening to Tommy Nelson over the last four days from the Song of Solomon. He's been talking about how we are attracted to one another and then talking about intimacy and the marriage relationship, and now he's going to talk about one of the robbers of intimacy, the conflict that occurs in all marriages.
Dennis: Yeah, Tommy's been married for more than 20 years. They have two teenage sons, and he teaches a Bible study in Denton, Texas, that has several thousand single people in it. In fact, this series was done live in front of that singles audience, and so you're going to hear some reference back to those singles and hopefully preparing them for marriage. But, certainly, all of our audience today who are married or single can use a reminder of the importance it is to resolve conflict in your marriage relationship. Let's listen to Tommy Nelson.
Tommy: Let's rumble, let's fight, let's see how it's done. In the Song of Solomon, chapter 5, and we're going to be looking at two chapters. It's an eight-chapter book with seven events, and conflict gets two chapters. Conflict gets 25 percent of the book, which is probably prophetic of your marriage – and mine, too – because sometimes conflict takes up about 25 percent of our marriage.
Good couples fight clean, bad couples fight dirty. Good couples press to a resolution, bad couples press for a victory. Good couples, when they conflict, it exposes their character. A bad couple, when they conflict, it exposes their immaturity. All couples conflict.
Let me give you a great verse on marriage. Proverbs – "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean but much increase comes by the strength of the ox." Isn't that the strangest verse you've ever heard? It sounds like one of them old Hakawi Indian saying on "F Troop."
"Where no oxen are, the manger is clean." That's a fact. If you have no oxen in your barn, you have a clean manger. "But much increase comes by the strength of the ox." You also don't get any work done. If you would like money, you're going to have plant, and to plant you're going to have to plow, and to plow you're going to have to have oxen, and if you have oxen, they're going to do what oxen do. You can't have everything the way you like it. No oxen – clean barn, no work; work – smelly barn. If you want the joy of marriage, you're going to have to have some conflict.
That's why there are three great stages in marriage. You go from the honeymoon – that means a sweet month. That's what it means. And then you go to what is called "disillusionment," where all the illusion is gone. You thought you married Ozzie Nelson, you got Homer Simpson, all right? That's disillusionment. And you move from disillusionment into what is called "commitment," to where you discover your mate, warts and all, and you commit yourself to loving them in a biblical manner.
This may be the most important text you're ever going to learn on marriage. Watch this.
Chapter 5, verse 2 – "I was asleep," the woman says, "but my heart" – meaning Solomon – "was awake. A voice, my beloved was knocking. Open to me my sister, my darling, my dove, my perfect one." Now, what do you think that brother is thinking of? When a guy comes – in these days, they slept in separate rooms, and when the fellow comes to her door and knocks, "Open up me, my darling, my dove, my perfect one."
I've heard a lot of commentaries – forget them. This fellow wants intimacy with his wife, and he says at the end of that verse, "My head is drenched with dew and my locks with the damp of the night." He has been out working. He's been in a hard, cruel world. He's come in at night, and he longs for the intimacy with his wife. He has worked so hard, and he needs her.
Now, what do you think is going to happen? Now, in the dating relationship, "Let his left hand be under my head, his right hand embrace me." In courtship, she called her body "the hills of Bether," called him "a young stag." You saw last week the intimacy of marriage, the passion of it. This is going to have to be one of the most incredible – let's look at it.
What does the text say? Verse 3 – "I have taken off my dress. How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how can I dirty them again?" In Hebrew that means, "I have a headache."
That means, "I don't care how hard you've worked, I don't care what you need, I ain't getting out of bed. I am more important than you." We've got conflict. What would a lot of guys do? "Hey, I was a king, you're working in a vineyard, all right, I took you. You were embarrassed about your body you couldn't take care of. I took you, I gave you the checkbook, you no-account woman." Watch this.
Verse 4 – "My beloved extended his hand through the opening." You notice, fellows, he did not go in. He does not press it. He merely opens, perhaps, the door and slides his hand in, and then he slides his hand out, because he did something. "My feelings were aroused for him. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh and my fingers with liquid myrrh on the handles of the bolt."
The very thing that kept her from him, he put liquid myrrh on it. What that was in the Hebrew culture, it was a calling card. It's a valentine, and it means, "I love you." What's the first thing you do when you conflict? When, not if, your mate hurts you, number one, you do not react. And I use that term with all of the etymological precision that I can – you do not reenact what your mate did. Just because she did it, you don't have to do it.
Paul put it like this – "Never take your own revenge, beloved." He put it like this in Thessalonians – "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone." Listen, when you're hurt, there is something in you in the image of God, like a tuning fork, and it goes off. And whenever you reciprocate in anger, you initially don't feel wrong. You feel right, you feel holy, you feel just, you feel nigh unto deity. You feel that you have weighed out the good/evil problem in the cosmos, and you have subdued it. But the fact is, you've taken a prerogative that is not yours. It's God's.
You don't react. And here is what happens when you react. You can react hot, or you can react cold. A hot reaction means that I return in kind, and then they come back, and I come back, and one of two things happens – I'm going to totally disrupt my house, and that's where you have a house that is ridden with strife because two collide, and one can't win, and now your kids are dying for the day they turn 18 that they can get out of that house, and some of you grew up in a house like this – Proverbs – "Better is a plate of vegetables in a house of quietness than a fattened ox in a house of strife."
Your kids want to leave, and ultimately you'll get one mate that will subdue the other one, and that subdued mate will swallow it and remember and harbor it until about 14 years into your marriage, and you come home one day, and they're gone, and the furniture's gone, and you ain't got nothing but one of those little toilet rolls left, and they delight in hurting you and carving your liver, and I've seen it happen.
You don't respond hot, and you don't respond cold. Any of you all grow up in houses where you had passive aggression? You didn't have conflict, but one of them turned the ice on the other one for about 10 days at a pop, and everybody had to walk on eggshells because Mom and Dad weren't getting along. And that's just as bad if not worse. You don't react.
I want to ask you a very penetrating question, singles. Are you this kind of person? Do you all solve conflicts like this? Do you all go through roommates like socks because you blow up? Do some of you girls stomp out and put the cold shoulder and freeze everybody out and pout? You're going to be miserable to live with.
Proverbs – "A brother offended is harder to be won back than a strong city and contentions are like bars of a castle." You hurt your wife, fellows, and yell at her, and you have sent shrapnel in her soul, and it's going to give scar tissue, and it's going to take you a while to win it back – contentions are like bars of a castle, and she's not going to let you in quite so easily. You can't use the forgiveness of your mate as an excuse to hurt her, because you're going to wound her – and him also. You don't react.
Secondly, what do you do? You respond to God. Solomon, she did you wrong. Why did you put myrrh on the handles of the bolt? Answer – because my standard of conduct is not my wife, it's God, and He says to love my wife, and that's what I'm going to do no matter what she does. This is a quality that was seen in Jesus Christ in the most powerful scene of human history, while they surrounded Him like bulls of Bichon. While being reviled, He did not revile in return. While suffering, He uttered no threats but entrusted Himself to God who judges righteously. He said "Father, forgive them."
Folks, if you're the kind of person that has the quality – we call it in sports "poise." Where you maintain your pose, your com-posure, to where you listen to a higher voice in stress. It's called in character traits, "magnanimity," where you are great of spirit. The negative quality is called "meanness," because it's the average response of pagan men. That's what the word "mean" means. It's what everybody else does.
You respond to God. And, fellows, let me put a word to you all. This is so important in your future marriage, I don't care what they say about men and women being alike, Jesus said God made them male, and God made them female. When a man gets hurt, he gets offended, he'll get angry. But when you hurt your wife, they're different.
Peter put it like this – "Husbands, live with your wives as unto knowledge" – meaning "don't be dumb." "As with a weaker" – not meaning lesser, but it means a weaker vessel, like porcelain, like crystal, like china – you handle her delicately. Grant her honor as a fellow heir in the grace of life that your prayers may not be hindered.
Fellows, you can't do this with your wife. They are gentle creatures. Don't react.
What's the next thing you do? Watch this – you go down to verse 6 – "I opened to my beloved, my beloved had gone away and had gone. My heart went out to him as he spoke. I searched for him, but I didn't find him. I called for him, but he didn't answer. The watchmen who make the rounds of the city found me" – now, they're the guardsmen of the city – "they struck me and wounded me. The guardsmen of the walls took away my shawl from me." Hm, would you turn back one page to chapter 3?
On a day where she longed for her husband and their courtship, and in chapter 3, in verse 2, "I must arise now and go about in the city, in the streets and squares. I must seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him but didn't find him. The watchmen who make the rounds of the city found me. I said, 'Have you seen him whom my soul loves?' Scarcely had I left them when I found him."
When she was in fellowship with God, things tended to flow her way, and she found her husband, and the watchmen helped her. But over here in chapter 5, when she had acted in selfishness and barred her husband from her room and not let him in to converse because of her needs, you notice there in verse 7, "The watchmen who make the rounds of the city found me, they struck me, they wounded me." What's the next principle? Don't react, respond, let God change them.
Folks, this principle has made any kind of marriage that I have is right here, because there is no command that I have in the Bible to sanctify my wife in the sense of changing her. I am to teach her, to love her, to care for her, but I don't have to play the Holy Spirit to her. I communicate to her, I tell her my heart's deepest feelings, but I don't have to change her.
Whenever you start trying to do this, you start manipulating your mate, you start bargaining with your mate and prostituting your mate – "I'll do these things if you'll do this." That's not ministry, that's manipulation. Let God change them. My wife said to me, "When you share this story, you've got to share the orange juice story." I said, "All right." Actually, what I said was, "All right, I'll share it."
Early on in my marriage, my wife's laying in the bed. I said, "Theresa, get up, fix some breakfast." I'm kidding around with her. I've got this big, long metric stick, four-sided, cubed, metric stick with steel tines on the side. I pick it up, and I strike what I think is a lump in the sheets. It is my wife's leg, and I hit her hard. "Get up and fix me some breakfast" – crack! And I came right down, and I was horrified. Her eyes puddle up, she couldn't even yell. I immediately, in contrition, fled into the kitchen.
I got the orange juice and popped the top, and when I did, it poured all down my front, and I've got this wet, sticky, cold orange juice all down me. My wife comes in, and I turned away from her. I said, "You prayed for that." And she said, "Come here, sweetheart," and I turned, and I hit my head on the corner of the cabinet – boom!
And I got blood running down here. "The watchmen who make the rounds struck me, and they wounded me." God has a way of changing things. Don't you try to change your mate. Ladies, when I do women's Q&As, and I do them a lot of times, the biggest question I get are sorry husband questions. "My husband's like this, what do I do?"
And I ask the ladies, "What are your options? Can you leave him?" "No, the Bible says not to do that." "Can we kill him?"
And you see these ladies going, "Well, I'm not sure." I said, "No, you can't kill him. What can you do?" Now, obviously, there's a word, there are some scenarios of incest, abuse, ad infinitum, that's another sermon for another day. We're talking about normative marriage with a mate that hurts you at times. What do you do?
Well, there's a way to communicate, and there's a way not to but, ultimately, you've got to let God change you. Learn it now. Incidentally, every time I teach this to couples, you know what they always say? They come up and say, "I wish I'd learned that 20 years ago." Well, you're at the place, that 20 years ago, most of you. You get to learn the thing now. I wish somebody had taught me like I'm teaching you from this book. Don't react. Respond to God in magnanimity, and you let God change him.
Bob: Well, again, we've been listening to part of a message from Pastor Tommy Nelson at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas, and I think about the folks all across the country who have heard him teach on this book in seminars and conferences that I know he's done across the country. Those who have purchased the CDs to listen to them, they have found this series very helpful. It's the kind of a resource that couples will listen to repeatedly. It's the kind of a series you get out and dust off and listen to every year or so because – well, it's powerful. It's practical, and it's taken from the Song of Songs from the Song of Solomon.
Dennis: And I know when I listen to it, Bob, as I went jogging, I was sad when it was over, because it was such a refreshing treat to look at this area of becoming one flesh in the marriage relationship from a biblical perspective.
Bob: Yeah, and we have the entire CD series available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. Any of our listeners who would like to get a set of these CDs along with the companion study guide can go to our website, FamilyLife.com. There's a red heart in the middle of the home page, a little heart that says "Go" on it, and if you click on that button, it will take you right to an area of the site where there is more information not only about the CD series from Tommy Nelson on the Song of Solomon, but other resources we have available here at FamilyLife on this subject – resources to help you strengthen your romance and intimacy in your marriage relationship.
Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red heart in the middle of the page, and that will take you right to the area of the site where you can order these resources or get more information, if you'd like. You can also call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329 – 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can make sure you get information you need about these resources.
Let me also mention that we are just about to kick off our spring season of Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences. If you'd like more information about the Weekend to Remember, you can find that online, or you can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY as well, and someone can pass along the information about spending a weekend together at one of our Weekend to Remember conferences when you get in touch with us.
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During the month of February, when you make a donation of any amount, we would love to send you a thank you gift. It's a CD that features two messages from Pastor C.J. Mahaney and his wife, Carolyn. C.J. talks to guys about what we can do to make sure that we are caring for our wives' needs romantically, and then Carolyn talks to wives about understanding the heart of their husbands and meeting his romantic needs as well.
The CD is called "Romance Basics for Men and Women," and it's our gift to you when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today during the month of February. If you're calling to make your donation just mention that you'd like the single CD on romance that's the thank you gift, or if you're making your donation online, when you come to the keycode box, type in the word "love," and we'll know to send the CD out to you. Again, it's our way of saying thanks for your financial support for the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and we appreciate hearing from you.
Well, tomorrow Tommy Nelson is going to be back with us. We're going to continue with part 2 of his message on dealing with conflict in marriage. We're going to hear what the Bible has to say about doing a better job of both listening and of expressing ourselves in our marriage relationship. I hope you can join us as we talk about communication.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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