Paul was one of the main writers of the New Testament. He spends a lot of time helping us understand what love should look like in the book of 1 Corinthians. It is in this the 13th chapter of this book of the Bible that we find the “love chapter” that is commonly read at weddings. In fact, this entire book of the Bible is about love and even more specifically Paul teaches some useful lessons on how we can navigate relational conflict in a loving manner.
1 Corinthians 8:1 says, “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
One of the most important takeaways from Paul’s teachings is the realization that the pursuit of knowledge without love in conflict leads to pride and further divisions. When we pursue “being right” over “building a relational bridge” the focus is on winning and the result is an even bigger relational gap.
On the flip side, when we pursue God's love in our relationships, our goal shifts from being correct to being there to build each other up. The loving approach to conflict comes from a place of humility, from a desire for the person we are at odds with to win, and is filled with empathy. Love builds up.
Who Was Paul Writing to and Why?
Paul is the writer of 1 Corinthians, the first verse from chapter 8 was Paul’s response to a conflict that was causing division in this early church. The church members were not able to agree about which foods were okay in the eyes of God for them to eat.
Historically, the Jewish people followed strict dietary guidelines as a part of their adherence to God’s instructions. The Gentiles had not grown up following these restrictions so, therefore, had a different point-of-view on what counted as acceptable food.
In addition, much of the meat that was available at that time was first offered as a sacrifice to the pagan gods. Many of the new Christians believed that it was wrong for them to eat this defiled meat while others felt that their freedom in Christ redeemed the meat and made it acceptable to eat.
Surprisingly, Paul responds to this dispute without addressing who is right or wrong about the status of the meat. Instead, Paul explains that what is most important is that we are not acting as a stumbling block to each other. Ultimately, he is saying it’s about showing love, building each other up, and our personal feelings about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of this meat is a secondary issue.
We can learn so much from Paul’s approach to resolving this tension in this new church and apply the lessons from this passage to help us better navigate marital conflicts. Here are 4 takeaways from the passage to help mend conflicts in your marriage:
1. Lay Down Your Desire to “Win” the Fight
It is so easy to get hung up on tiny issues in our relationships. It could be differing views on what your routine should look like, how to parent, or even something as small as one of you using an insensitive tone of voice. We can become so laser-focused on how “right” we are about how to get something done that we feel justified in completely ignoring our spouse’s feelings.
The simple truth that Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 13 is that we are nothing if we don’t have love. When we begin to make our aim to love each other well over finding ways to be the more right one in any given scenario we can avoid so much marital strife. When love is our aim, our marriage comes first, and our opinions come last.
So many times, I have found myself guilty of stewing in my self-righteous anger when I felt wronged by my husband. The irony is that stubbornly pushing my way forward has never led to my husband agreeing with me. Maybe it is because he is more stubborn than me, but every time I throw a fit and say it has to be my way, by the time we get to the end of the conflict I always feel that we have lost.
Unity is found when we approach one another with humility. Paul’s words remind us that when we face conflict, we need to be most mindful of our posture before even attempting to try to untangle the details of what is driving a wedge between us and our spouse. We can overcome almost any disagreement if we approach one another with a humble heart and by using loving words.
2. Be Willing to Listen First
Conflict only escalates when we refuse to carefully listen to our partner. If our aim is to get on the same page, we have to be willing to listen first. This simple but sometimes incredibly difficult act of humility communicates so much value to your spouse in a moment of disagreement!
When communicating it is really key that you take the time to both summarize and affirm your partner. A simple way to show that you are listening is to resist the urge to interject while your spouse is speaking. Once they are finished talking then take a moment to offer a short recap of what they have shared with you. This is a great way to show that you are truly putting out the effort to hear all of what they are trying to say.
Before sharing your “side of the story” pause to verbalize the fact that you love them and are on their team, even when you don’t see things the same way. It is so important to show that you are willing to listen and that you care about their feelings. Listening is about considering your partner; it should not be a chance to formulate more ways to communicate to them that you believe that they are wrong.
3. Be Honest and Open When it Is Your Turn to Communicate
Once you have taken the time to hear what is on your partner’s mind and assured them that you care about what they have to say the next step is to share your thoughts on the matter. Trust is built and maintained in our relationships when we remain committed to being open and kind in our communication with each other.
Take care that your feedback is expressed in a loving manner. Honesty is important but not at the emotional expense of your spouse. Find ways to share what is on your mind that uses language that is not accusatory. Remember the path forward is one that you guys forge together.
4. Find a Path Forward Together
After you both have had a chance to communicate openly about how you are feeling then it is time to find a way forward that you can both agree upon. If you face an issue that feels like it will remain a stumbling block to one of you if change doesn’t occur, then it’s worth avoiding that activity out of love for your spouse.
There are no disagreements so important that winning trumps your relationship. Even when you face irreconcilable differences doing everything you can to show your partner love and forgiveness is what a marriage that follows after the model that Jesus sets for us calls for. When you realize that your number one job in your relationship is to love one another above anything else then the way you face conflict in your relationship will be transformed!
The next time you face a conflict in your marriage, remember, it’s not about the meat! The goal is always finding a path forward that genuinely shows love for one another. What a transformational way to approach your marriage! May you be one that remembers that love builds up.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Luis Quintero
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.