Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
Biff and Mable got into an argument. Biff was right. Mable was wrong. Biff chose not to win the debate, choosing instead to win his wife. Biff modeled a rare discussion point about the gospel that I’m going to address. Let’s begin by answering this question: which is more vital to you, being right and winning the argument or helping your spouse mature in Christ?
Though Biff could have built a case against Mable, he submitted to what he believed the Spirit was doing in him at that moment. He asked the Lord to give him the insight to help his wife grow closer to Jesus. His goal was much higher than a short-lived conquest.
You’ve heard the saying, “It’s not about winning the battles, but about winning the war.” Though I’m not making marriage analogous to warfare, your relationships must not be about winning the battles, but about succeeding in helping each other mature into Christlikeness.
Sometimes our craving to win by having the last word, being right, or even our self-serving competitive nature can short-circuit what God could do in our marriages and other relationships. We can become so laser-focused on the argument at hand that we miss the bigger picture, which is making God’s name great.
Biff was right, but did it matter? Here’s the story. Mable and Biff were at a restaurant. The conversation was going great until Mable brought up their last argument from two months ago. Mable forgot to mention how she was the actual cause of that old conflict.
Her talking point at the restaurant was Biff’s anger toward her during the prior dust-up. Biff’s initial temptation was to reframe the restaurant conversation, but he chose not to. He decided the best thing he could do was listen to his wife, seeking to understand her rather than making a case for his version of the truth (1 Peter 3:7).
By doing so, he learned that Mable was struggling with a lingering problem. It was not about the two-month-old argument, but a more in-depth soul conflict. From her perspective, Biff had not been as attentive to her for the past couple of years. If Biff had jumped to defending himself by correcting Mable’s factual errors, he would have missed a redemptive moment and future change.
The thing the Lord wanted him to see was his wife’s longstanding frustration. How many arguments have you gotten into with someone where you missed the point? You were straining at the details and lost a potentially transformative opportunity.
Rarely should arguments be about the details first, but the underlying frustrations that have been building that led to the verbal altercation. If you focus on the right stuff, you have a better chance of the Lord doing something redemptively in the relationship.
Sometimes it is better to concede the point and take the hit rather than always having to be right. There is a profound biblical precedent for someone accepting wrong because he had his eye on a more significant prize. That profound illustration is the gospel Himself. Christ took our evil upon Himself so we could experience transformation through His activity on the cross. Paul talked about it this way in Second Corinthians.
For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Christ, who knew no sin, took our sin on Himself so we could experience transformation into His image. This truth is one of the more stunning expressions and benefits of the gospel: another person steps up and “takes the hit,” so you and I do not have to experience our wrongs.
We are not Jesus, and our call is different. But we can imitate the gospel by doing what Jesus did, though not literally, but practically before others. One of the ways you can do this is by “receiving another person’s faults” because you want to do a better thing in their lives.
What I’m not saying is that you’re supposed to let someone abuse you. I’m speaking of typical arguments between ordinary Christians, not the stuff that happens in abusive relationships. Jesus talked about this with His “turn the other cheek” and “walk the extra mile” language.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42).
Though you cannot “take a person’s sin” and forgive them the way Jesus does, you can be Christlike. For example, using self-control in your arguments is one way to imitate Christ, which is what Biff did. He exhibited a slowness toward anger (James 1:19), where a person fighting in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3-6) would have responded differently.
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
Parents understand this concept because they know better than to nickel and dime their kids for everything they do wrong. The wise parent overlooks an offense because they have a higher goal for their child. An analogy is when your four-year-old brings you a drawing they have been working on all morning. You would not negatively critique it by comparing it to “real art.” Rather than disillusioning your child, you think about what their future could be like through your encouragement.
Each situation, relationship, and context are different. What works today may not be wise tomorrow. The thing that makes sense for my relationship with my wife or children could be a problem for you. You want wisdom. You need the Spirit’s illuminating insight to know how to navigate the contours of all your relationships.
Think about how God uniquely related to you before your salvation, assuming you are a believer. A perfect word to describe His activity in our lives is “endured” because He had a higher purpose. He could see the end, which created endurance. Read how the Hebrew writer described it in Hebrews 12:2.
Jesus endured our sin on our behalf because He could see what the “end” could look like for you and me. I spent the first 25-years of my life treasuring up wrath against God (Romans 2:5). Rather than beating me over the head every time I sinned in my youth, the Savior was enduring, patiently bringing me to a place of complete surrender to Him.
Paul provides a snapshot of how the kindness, forbearance, and patience of God lead to a change in Romans. Take a look, and think about those meaningful words and how you can apply them to your relationships.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)?
Biff chose not to give Mable what she deserved; he rose above it by losing the argument to win his wife. Being the “biggest loser” at the moment was not as vital as his long-term goals for his marriage.
Biff also knew that if he had to “take on an affliction for Christ’s sake,” the good Lord would comfort him. But more than that, Biff would be able to bring a similar comfort to his wife. This concept is part of what Paul was getting at when he wrote to the Corinthians. Take a peek.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).
Will you follow Paul’s sequence of thought, and ask the Spirit of God to help you make these concepts useful in your life?
Christ was willing to take our punishment so we could be “comforted.” Part of the comfort we received from Christ is a progressive transformation that distances us from our former dysfunctional way of living. And it moves us toward a new Christ-centered way of functioning. One of the ways to assess how you’re doing in your “new Christ-centered way of living” is by how you’re comforting others through your affliction as Christ comforted you through His.
A sober-minded believer has to think, “Why would I not endure my spouse’s sin for the gospel’s sake?” Biff chose to live out the gospel before his wife because he believed it was more important to love his wife the way Christ loved the church than win that argument (Ephesians 5:25). What I’m saying is not easy. Perhaps these questions will take you to deeper reflection.
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the first place you need to begin work on improving your marriage is to strengthen your relationship with Christ. I would recommend that you work through the next part of this call to action. And ask the Lord to help you to make these practical yet challenging gospel connections to your heart.
None of us will be able to love others rightly until we can love them the way Christ loved us, which begins with dying to ourselves. Jesus loved us to death so we could not only be like Him, but put His life on display so others could see, learn, and practice how they see Him in us (1 Corinthians 11:1).