To understand how difficult it is to be married to a certain kind of person, you need to know that the Bible was written in a desert. The Promised Land is described as a place of “milk and honey” but even the most generous of geographers would call it “arid.” Average temperatures run in the high 80s and 90s. Places like Tel Aviv aren’t just hot, they’re also very humid.
Having been a resident of Houston, Texas for nearly a decade, I don’t have to imagine how it feels to live in temperatures in the 90s with high humidity—I run through months of days like this every year. One of the best feelings in life is to come in from a long, hot and humid run and step into an air-conditioned house. If “How Great Thou Art” isn’t the first thing that comes out of your mouth, you have a calloused soul indeed.
It’s out of that context that I recently read Proverbs 25:24: “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”
In a hot and humid world, the one thing I would not want to do is live outside. The second thing I would hate to do is to be exposed to the sun without shade, which this image implies. The third thing that would make it even worse is having to stay on the corner so that there are at least two sides in which I could fall off and potentially break my neck.
The writer of Proverbs has created an image that, three thousand years ago (when it was written) would have caused everybody to think “ewwwwwww….” And that’s the image he uses to picture what it’s like to be married to a “contentious” person.
If you’re single, don’t marry a contentious person. If you’re married and contentious, you need to kill this tendency before it kills your marriage.
Contentious means quarrelsome and argumentative. Synonyms include belligerent, combative, and confrontational. It exists on a continuum. Just as you can be tipsy, drunk, or passed out, so you can be consistently confrontational, full on argumentative, or contentiously toxic. Most of us exist on this dangerous spectrum at some point or other.
Proverbs was originally written for young men, so it’s only natural the writer would warn against picking a contentious wife, but it’s just as true a warning for a woman not to marry a contentious man. And the wisest man who ever lived argues that it’s so unpleasant to be married to such a person that it’s actually more pleasant to live in a hot and humid place, exposed to the sun and having to constantly guard against an injurious fall than to share an air-conditioned mansion with an argumentative person.
Here are a couple examples: one wife puts up with a husband who has strong political opinions and who loves to watch politically oriented shows. Every day he has a dozen fantasy debates against opponents who can’t even hear him. She’s embarrassed at church, restaurants, and family gatherings. One innocent “trigger word” from an unaware person, like “immigration,” “taxes,” “Obama,” or “Trump” and she tries to get as far away as possible because she knows what’s going to follow. If a pastor mutters one of those words in a sermon, that’s the only part of the sermon this man will hear—and all the wife will hear about on the drive home. He is consistently one sermon, actually one sentence in a sermon, away from leaving his fifth church.
A husband has a wife who is easily disappointed and processes her disappointment verbally. He has his feet cut out from under him several times a day. He folds the towels wrong. He buys the wrong food at the grocery store. He orders the wrong dish at the restaurant; there’s always a “better” choice. When his wife sent him with his daughter to a used bookstore to use up some store credit before moving out of town, he got yelled at for buying six books for himself and six for his daughter.
“What did you expect me to get at a used bookstore?” he asked.
“Not six books!” she said. “Maybe one or two.”
“We had $80 credit!”
You get the point. Living with a contentious person leaves you continually on edge, having to justify a dozen decisions or opinions a day. There’s no peace, little quiet or rest. It’s like living with a prosecuting attorney, without a defense lawyer, and you’re the accused. It will feel exhausting. No matter how good the rest of your life is, the fact that you married a contentious person will feel like getting splashed with cold water several times a day. It gets really old really fast.
So, if you’re single, the writer would advise, don’t marry a contentious person. If you’re dating a woman or man who is extremely opinionated and contentious, you don’t need a second date. If you’ve fallen head over heels in love but notice that he or she is contentious on the 100th date, thank God that you didn’t rush into marriage right away and can still get out of there. You’ve escaped. Good for you.
If you recognize yourself as a contentious person, don’t pass it off as just the way you are. The “way you are” may be destroying your marriage. We urge guys who are looking at porn to get help because eventually that repeated action will wreck sexual intimacy. In the same way women (and men), you need to know that if you are contentious you will wreck relational intimacy. If you want help, here are a few suggestions.
Because Christian transformation begins with the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2), remember to do what I suggest in Cherish: preach the Gospel to yourself first thing every morning so that you can extend the same unmerited grace to your family members throughout the day. The Gospel is, in part, the unconditional acceptance, love, and affirmation of your heavenly Father based in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s something you didn’t earn and therefore something you can’t lose. Your acceptance by God is rooted outside who you are and what you’ve done in the finished work and person of Jesus Christ. Give your spouse and children what God has given you.
The “Gospel” isn’t just a belief; it’s a way of life. It’s living in the awareness of our debt to God so that having received grace, we can offer that grace to others.
Second, memorize Philippians 4:8. You’ve heard it a million times, but use it as a filter. Because it’s so familiar, I’m going to write it out as a list. The apostle Paul says the only things you should think about are:
- Whatever is true
- Whatever is noble
- Whatever is right
- Whatever is pure
- Whatever is lovely
- Whatever is admirable
- Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy
If thinking about the acts of the current President or Congress always make you contentious, stop thinking about him/them. Don’t let a toxic government create a toxic marriage or home. If your spouse knows only how they disappoint you, inconvenience you and frustrate you, you’re thinking about the wrong things. You talk about what you think about so stop thinking about how often your spouse lets you down and find the few things that you can praise (unless it’s abuse and you need to get to a safe place). Your marriage may depend on it. The happiness of your marriage almost certainly does.
Go on a correction fast. It’s not wrong for a person to go into a bar, but it can, under certain circumstances, be foolish for a recovering alcoholic to do so. In the same way, a contentious person should think twice about expressing any negativity or correction until he or she can get it under control. Recognize that you have a problem and respect the severity of the problem.
Proverbs 18:21 is clear: “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Men, if you have loaded guns in your home you probably keep them in a locked cabinet. Take as much care with your tongue. Colossians 3:19 is clear and extreme when it tells husbands, “Love your wives and never treat them harshly.” Did you catch the word “never?” That means it’s not okay to be harsh when you’re really tired. It’s not okay to be harsh when your life is disappointing. It’s not okay to be harsh when you’ve had a long day. Paul says we never get to be harsh with our wives.
But wives, Proverbs 25:24 essentially says that the same is true for you. Sloan Wilson, author of the best-seller The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, utilizes a novelist’s brilliant touch when he depicts a wife who cuts her husband down. Listen to this scathing indictment of a woman slowly poisoning not just her marriage, but the husband whom she once promised to cherish: “She had a high art of deflating him, of enfeebling him, with one quick, innocent sounding phrase….She was, in fact, a genius in planting in him an assurance of his inferiority.”
The famous Puritan John Owen once said, “Kill sin or it will kill you.” I’ll borrow heavily from Owen to say, “Kill a contentious spirit before it kills your marriage.”
I’m not suggesting being married to an argumentative person is grounds for divorce. If you find yourself in that unhappy place, make your home in Philippians 4:8, lest your spouse’s contentious heart turn you into a contentious person yourself. In other words, don’t treat your spouse like your spouse treats you. Fighting sin with sin doesn’t conquer sin; it multiplies it.
Instead, preach the Gospel to yourself. When we are reminded of how much God loves us, accepts us and forgives us; when we meditate on his wisdom, power and wonder, the negative opinion of a fallen human being—even a spouse—won’t define us. Live in the affirmation of God. Go back and read the blog entitled “Arise and Shine.”
And then, prayerfully consider sharing this blog with your spouse. They may not be able to hear it from you, but perhaps they can hear it from someone else. We don’t usually have a problem calling out other relationally destructive sins like addictive gambling, excessive spending, porn, affairs, or domestic violence. A contentious spirit is on par with many of these. It needs to be called out and addressed.
So, if you’re single, just don’t go down that road.
If you’re married, take a hard U-Turn. There aren’t enough riches or big enough houses in this world to make up for living with a contentious spouse.