“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed from the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:25–32

I have a session in pre-marital counseling entitled “How to Have a Good Fight.” In any good fight people have to abide by the rules. In boxing, there are the Marquis of Queensbury Rules. In marriage, there must be the Eternal King Rules! (And I do not mean the “King of the Castle” or the “King of the Hill,” I mean the tried and true rules of our heavenly Father!)

For a young couple anticipating marriage there is a great deal of wisdom in establishing ground rules in order to fully air each other’s grievances while preserving peace and unity. It always scares me when a couple claims they have never had an argument. If that is the case, then they really do not know enough about each other. Two fallen human beings living in the closest of all life-long relationships will most certainly discover ways in which they do not agree—whether it is the way the toilet paper is loaded on the roller, how the toothpaste tube is squeezed, how much money each gets to spend in a month, what church to go to, or how to discipline the children. There are myriad ways that disagreements can crop up. Without a plan to disagree, communicate, and resolve a conflict, relational damage (sometimes lasting a lifetime) will occur and the hurt will compound until it ruptures forth.

Our text is filled with pearls of wisdom. Paul is challenging you to always behave in a God-honoring fashion through your deeds (verses 25ff), your declarations (verses 29ff) and your disposition (verse 32). In verses 21–24 he teaches you to pattern your life after Jesus Christ, “that you put off, concerning the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Truth is key in all we do, just as in Christ. Truth is fidelity, it is reality, it is factual, and it is eternal.

Observe Paul’s illustration of “put off” and “put on.” Like changing clothes, a believer is to make it his aim to shuck off the old ways, old sinfulness, and old habits and replace them with new ways, new righteousness, and new habits. This requires concentration, resolve, humility, and work to accomplish. It is a lifelong occupation! Paul then begins to list the new deeds (habits). These form the core of your marriage’s rules for how to have a good fight.

First, “put away lying,” speak truth. The old admonition “Is it kind, is it true, and is it necessary” is a worthy filter for your thoughts and for your words before you speak. Many people never really grow up in their fights and they “fire for effect” by overwhelming their spouse with emotionally charged words, inflections, and rising decibel levels. Here is a rule worthy of your consideration: Do not raise your voice in a disagreement. After all, if what you are yelling is true then it is just as true in a whisper. (You may want to try arguing in a whisper the next time and see how much more actually gets through to your spouse!)

An additional thought along this line is the way you use language. Make sure you share the same definitions in your arguments or you may find yourself talking past each other. Strive to eliminate the words, “always,” “never,” and “ever” from your vocabulary. Ladies, rest assured that while you are genuinely feeling like he “always, never, ever,” he is thinking of the one time he did the opposite and wondering why you do not remember!

Second, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” Guard against going to bed angry (Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 14:17, 16:32, 19:11). And do not employ the silent treatment. It is arrogant and demeans and belittles your spouse. Instead, if you do not quite feel like talking something through immediately (perhaps emotions are running high, you are exhausted, or you have not processed the problem) be sure to set a date and time for you and your spouse to sit down, resolve, and reconcile. Give no ammunition to Satan to split your marriage apart, he would love nothing better than to destroy a home designed to raise Christians.

Though the third subject (verse 28) relates to thievery (“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor working with his hands…”), there are many ways to rob your spouse. Marriage takes a lot of hands-on effort.

“Eternal King Rules” govern not only your deeds but also your declarations (verses 29ff): “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit….” Here are two observations to get you going in the right direction: Do not talk negatively about your in-laws, that is your spouse’s job. Do not dare speak negatively about your spouse’s body concerning things he/she cannot change (it will be something that grates on him or her whenever he/she looks in the mirror).

You must abide by the Eternal King Rules and maintain a godly disposition. Cultivate kindness toward your spouse with tenderhearted, receptive warmth, and be always ready to forgive. After all, your spouse will never require forgiveness from you that is even close to the eternal forgiveness God has granted to you in Jesus Christ. Trust and obey.