Let’s not be naive, when any two people are in any type of relationship, especially marriage there are going to be rough spots. The key to getting through these rough spots is to do things as right as we possibly can, even when there are strong emotions involved. This is why Joshua 22 is one of my favorite passages in scripture. It is one of the few times Israel does anything right.
So what happens in Joshua 22?
First the people who live on the other side of the Jordan River (outside of the main part of Israel) build an altar. They got scared and worried that, because they were across the Jordan, future generations would not remember that their children were a part of Israel. So they built an altar. It was a Jewish altar, one any Jew would recognize. They meant for it to just be a memorial, a reminder that they were Jewish too. They never intended to sacrifice on it, but it did look like an altar that people would sacrifice things on…
Now the problem is God just told them not to make sacrifices at any altar other than the altar at the Temple. To the Jews on the opposite side of the Jordan River it looked like their relatives were trying to do something seriously wrong that would cause Israel as a whole to be punished by God. They were mad, but they checked their anger and appointed men to go over and ASK what the people involved what was going on, and OFFER to help them. Their offer was to allow them to live on the other side of the Jordan River with them if being across the river was going to lead them to sin.
So, we have an extremely mad group of people, ready to kill their relatives going over and ASKING why they were doing something that looked so bad, and OFFERING to help them if they needed help avoiding sin.
So what would this look like in real life? It would mean that when you discover something that looks incredibly bad you calm down, talk and actually listen to what the other person says. You also realize that sometimes sin comes as a result of unmet needs. This does not excuse the sin, it merely means that there are ways that you can help fill the voids that often tempt people to sin. Each person is different, so you must listen if you are going to help someone. Some people need accountability. Others need support and reassurance that they are loved. I’d love to give you the recipe for helping everyone with every type of sin, but there is none. Listen, and see if you can help. Some people are determined to sin, and that is different. But for many, the temptation comes along with a lot of other baggage. See if you can help ‘unpack’ some of those bags and make life easier on them.
Now remember in Joshua 22 the people had done nothing wrong. It only looked that way. They are being accused of something they had no intention of doing. Often when people are falsely accused they become upset. These men did not. They became humble. They EXPLAINED what they were doing and why. This is important. When you are accused of having motives that you did not have for doing something, do not fly off the handle and let your pride get in the way. EXPLAIN what you were thinking and why you were doing whatever you did. There is no guarantee the other person will listen, but it is the best thing to do.
Now remarkably the other people did LISTEN. (This is often not the case, and is why counseling is so important since counselors, for the most part, make you listen.) They understood what the people were doing and decided it was okay. Now this is also remarkable. Usually when we have decided that someone is wrong we do not want to change our opinion so we ‘nitpick’ and find reasons why it really was wrong even though it was not what we thought it was. Don’t do this. Be prepared to re-evaluate the situation and change your mind. Do not let your pride force you into being so stubborn that you cannot admit you might have made a false assumption. This is stupid and does not help the relationship. Now the Israelites on the opposite side of the river did have things they could nitpick. They could have said that the altar, being an altar, would be a temptation to them or to later generations since it obviously looked like something one should sacrifice on. But they didn’t. They accepted the explanation and went home. They did NOT NITPICK and neither should you. If small changes need to be made give the person some time. They have likely just realized that what they are doing could give someone a false impression and they are hurt that you would think they would be capable of doing wrong. Don’t make it worse by shoving minutia (stupid little things) down their throats.
The people who made the altar also did something right. They did NOT GET OFFENDED that they were falsely accused. This is tough. We want everyone to think well of us and it hurts when we realize that someone, especially someone close to us who is supposed to know us, could believe that we would do such a thing. But they didn’t get offended, and this is good.
The people who accused them then went back to their side of the river and told the other people who knew about the altar what was actually going on. They CLEARED UP ANY MISCONCEPTIONS anyone who knew about the situation might have. This is important. We do not leave people thinking that something bad has been done when it was not, especially if we were the source of the erroneous information. One of my former pastors, when counseling would make the person who had made false accusations make a list of whom they had discussed the matter with and made them promise to clear things up with them as well. This not only kept false information from spreading, but once it was known that he did this, it kept people from ranting to whomever was listening. It is not that you cannot talk to others about your problems, but there is a difference between seeking ‘wise counsel’ and letting everyone know you were wronged. A person seeking wise counsel will have a short list of people to inform when they realize they were wrong. A person who ranted immaturely to everyone they knew will have a lot of explaining to do…
So this is how a ‘good fight’ goes:
1. ASK CALMLY. No matter what it looks like, there may be a better explanation than the one you are thinking of. (Or maybe not, but at least you will know.)
2. BE WILLING TO HELP. Often sin does not occur just because the person is evil. (Occasionally it does.) Sin is sometimes a cry for help. Be open to the possibility that the person may need help refraining from sin, and that there are issues that you may be able to help solve.
3. EXPLAIN. When you are accused, or even when you are accusing, make sure you explain why you did or said whatever it was. Explain calmly and well. You may even have to explain more than once because people who are upset do not tend to listen as well. Be mature and try to master your emotions so that the conversation may be fruitful.
4. LISTEN. You cannot resolve anything if you are the only one doing the talking. Too often in an argument people think about what they are going to say next while the other person is talking rather than actually listening. Listen! If you want to save this relationship (and relationships are so important to God that you should) then you need to listen and hear what they other person is trying to say.
5. DO NOT NITPICK. Nitpicking usually occurs when we do not want to admit we were wrong to get mad. The problem is really that in our minds we tried and convicted the person before we even listened to what they had to say and we do not want to admit that we have made a mistake. Keep yourself open to the possibility that you might be wrong, and do not look for little excuses to ‘prove your point.’ It takes maturity to look at the facts and change your opinion. Be mature.
6. DO NOT GET OFFENDED. When someone accuses you it is easy to get offended. Don’t. Everyone makes mistakes, let this be theirs and let it go. Getting offended does not solve anything, and it makes it less likely that other person will talk to you about things in the future since they ‘do not want to offend you.’ Easily offended people rarely have close friends. Relationships involve getting through missteps until we more fully understand one another. You cannot do this without ever going through some misunderstandings. Accept that misunderstandings will happen, explain and move on.
7. CLEAR UP MISCONCEPTIONS. Typically arguments and misconceptions do not happen in isolation. When you realize that you have made something look like something it was not and have told people about it, clear it up. If you do not it will typically come around to bite you someday in the future. Remember, a person who thinks your spouse is awful will likely not vote for you for elder, or sign your adoption reference, or help you obtain a gun permit. Additionally, if they find out the true story on their own and think you have lied about another, they will not think much of you. There is also the other person’s reputation to think about. Clear things up as soon as possible, and when you think you are wounded try not to tell the entire world.