Look up quarrel in the dictionary and you’ll find something like this:
1.an angry dispute or altercation; a disagreement marked by a temporary or permanent break in friendly relations.
2.a cause of dispute, complaint, or hostile feeling
A quarrel is not the same as a disagreement. Disagreements are common and can be worked through amicably and peacefully. Quarrels are not peaceful. A quarrel is a verbal fight. We quarrel, James tells us because there is something that we want and we can’t get it (James 4:1-3). We want to change someone’s mind or behaviour. We want to win an argument in order to feel superior. We want to be treated better. So we quarrel. Parents quarrel when they want to change the behaviour of their children. Employers quarrel to get better results out of their workers. Customers quarrel whenever they feel they are getting a raw deal.
But ultimately, quarrelling is an attempt to control someone by fighting with our words. When we quarrel, we are trying to force another person to agree with us or change in some way. Quarrelling is foolish because it can never win another person’s heart. You might win the argument. You might end up getting your way. But you’ve done it by verbal bullying. And you’ve driven the other person away.
Sometimes quarrels are started by the most ridiculous things. You might not believe this but I’ve actually quarrelled with my wife over a towel that wasn’t hung up:
“Dear, what’s this towel doing there?”
“It’s waiting to be hung up”
“Then why didn’t you hang it up?”
“I am going to hang it up”
“Do we have a fixed time frame for this?”
“You might – I don’t”
“You’re being deliberately difficult with me”
“No – you’re being deliberately difficult with me”
Why do these things happen? Why do we get into quarrels over such stupid things?
One word: PRIDE
Proverbs 13:10 says that pride breeds quarrels. You say, “You mean whenever I am difficult, disagreeable and confrontational, it is because of my pride?” As a matter of fact, YES. The quarrel becomes the battleground for domination. Quarrelling should never characterize the life of a Christian. When giving advice to Timothy, a young leader in the church, Paul said,
“The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24–25)
Notice how quarrelling is contrasted with gentleness and patience (in fact gentleness is mentioned twice). Proverbs 20:3 says,
“It is honorable for a man to resolve a dispute, but any fool can get himself into a quarrel.”
Any fool can get himself into a quarrel. You don’t have to be smart or clever – just stubborn and prideful. Proverbs 17:14 says,
“Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.”
We must stop flood while the water flow is just a trickle, otherwise the hole will enlarge and become a raging torrent. The same applies to your mouth and the use of your tongue. If a small quarrel starts, abandon it! Plug the hole! Bite your tongue! Otherwise you will say things you will be sure to regret.
Here are some examples of quarrel-starters that are part of our everyday speech:
1. Verbal Slamming
Have you ever watched a table tennis game between two people? There they are, pushing that ball back and forth, back and forth and then suddenly the game starts turning more serious, sweat breaks out on the brow and then one of the players slams the ball so hard it careens off the table and the other player has his back up against the wall. The same happens with verbal slamming.
Here are a few examples:
“You’re such a liar”
“You make me sick”
“Don’t be such a moron”
“Do you always have to be such a jerk?”
Proverbs 29:11 says,
“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it in check.”
It is not wise to vent everything you feel. Yet many counsellors today advocate just that, and in doing so they encourage people to sin. The wedges in the relationship are only driven deeper. Proverbs 12:18 says,
“There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
It when we start hurling harsh and cutting words that will only have the effect of making you more distant from the other person. Let me give you another quarrel-starter:
2. Take-back Speech
Take-back speech is when you say something in one breadth and then take it away (or cancel) again with the next. Here are a couple of examples:
“Thanks for calling to tell me you’re going to be late. It’s just a pity you don’t do that more often”
“You did a good job at mowing the lawn, except for the edging”
“Sure you got a great mark in your Maths, but your English is lousy”
Do you know why we do that? PRIDE (again!) We want to keep others in their place. We can’t express simple appreciation for someone else’s efforts without some kind of disclaimer. That’s being quarrelsome. If you are one of those people who do that on a regular basis (just ask a family member – they’ll soon tell you), you need to practice saying:
“Thanks for calling me” PERIOD
“You did a good job” PERIOD
“That’s a great idea” PERIOD
Say what’s good and then put a sock in it to prevent any nasty additives! Proverbs 26:21 says,
“As charcoal for embers and wood for fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”
Stop stoking the fire. There’s enough trouble in the world without creating more. Let me give you a third quarrel starter:
3. Gunpowder Speech
Proverbs 18:6 describes a very serious kind of unwholesome talk, which we could call “gunpowder speech.” It says,
“A fool’s lips lead to strife, and his mouth provokes a beating.”
Some people just can’t help themselves shooting off their mouths, and it’s all you can do to keep from firing back. It is speech that invites retaliation. You ask this person a question and the answer you get is,
“What’s it to you? Why do you want to know?”
“I don’t remember giving you permission to stick your nose in my personal life”
“What are you – thick or something?”
That’s a mouth that invites a beating Proverbs tells us. People who have gunpowder speech are continually causing quarrels.
4. Verbal Hand Grenades
You know how a grenade works – right? It has a built-in detonator on a timer which is activated when you pull the pin. You then lob the grenade at your enemy, count to 3 and then “BOOM!” Well, there are verbal grenades as well. They are words with a delayed detonator which then explode in your face. I grew up with these. Your mum or dad says to you, “I noticed the neighbours did a good job on cleaning their car yesterday. It would be nice if our car was cleaned more often.” You think to yourself, “Yeah, I guess it would be nice if the car….” Then suddenly BOOM! You realize that was meant for you! Proverbs 15:4 says,
“The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.”
When you drop these little bombs on other people which are intended to make them feel guilty, you’re using devious talk to crush their spirit. They will harbour feelings of bitterness and resentment toward you which serve as fuel for quarrelling. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you have a complaint, make it. If you want your teen to clean the car, ask him. Here’s one more quarrel-starter:
5.The Final Word
Some people insist on having the final word, no matter what. They project the attitude that once they have spoken on a subject, nothing more can be added. Even if the conversation has ended, they chip on something at the end. If you are one of those people who insists on having the last word, please stop doing it. It is not loving or kind or considerate. It is selfish and prideful and invites rebuke.
Verbal slamming, Take-back speech, gunpowder speech, verbal grenades, and the final word all serve as fuel for quarrels, contention and strife. Is there any way we can avoid all these? Yes, there is. Have a look at James 1:19-20:
“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”
Here James gives us three important commands that will help you avoid being in the centre of conflict and strife:
Be quick to hear
Be a good listener. Work on listening and understanding what the other person is trying to communicate rather than trying to get your two cents in. In any field of knowledge, we learn by listening, not by speaking.
Be slow to speak
There is a very good reason why God has given us two ears and only one mouth. We are prone to talk and argue more than we listen. Proverbs 10:19 says, “he who restrains his lips is wise.” Listen carefully and then consider carefully what you want to say before you answer. Then thirdly,
Be slow to anger
Anger is a very natural emotion – often at times an automatic response, to anything or anyone that says or does something to harm or displease us. That anger needs to be kept in check. It needs to be brought under the reigns of the Holy Spirit so that it can be channelled in a direction that glorifies God, and not self.
We might well summarize James’ advice with the following four steps:
- HOLD YOUR TONGUE. Whatever you do, don’t open your mouth before you’ve thought very carefully about what is going to come out.
- LISTEN to what the other person is trying to communicate. Put yourself in their shoes.
- PRAY for wisdom on giving the right reply.
- Then SPEAK such a word that is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29)
Note: this is based on a message I preached from a series called “Trouble with our Talk.” You can access the full sermon here.