The First Conflict

Unity Starts with Humility

by Tim Bryant (

Have you ever spoken an unkind word to your spouse? Has your spouse ever acted unkind to you?  Have you ever been drawn into saying or doing something wrong in your marriage after your spouse said or did something wrong to you?  Have you ever stopped to consider that when wrong actions and reactions in a relationship go unresolved, they are the cause of relational trouble and can lead to destruction?  The Bible calls all these wrong actions and reactions sin because they are not only offensive to a spouse, but to God.    

I wish I could say that such wrongs have never happened in my marriage, but the truth is, I have sinned against both God and my spouse.  And, at times, my wife has also sinned against God and me.  It has been my experience, both in my own marriage and in the many I have counseled, that the real problem in marital conflict that must be dealt with is our sin against God.  

The first married couple to experience conflict was Adam and Eve (see Genesis 3).  Satan tempted Eve to disobey God.   Eve disobeyed God and tempted Adam to do likewise.  Adam was drawn into Eve’s sin and chose to disobey God.   Adam then sinned against Eve by blaming her for his sin.  Sin complicated everything.  Their sinful actions and reactions to sin created conflict in their marriage.  Their sin against God both wronged one another and hurt one another.  And if they had not first sinned against God they would have never sinned against each other.  Oh, how you and I need to understand this.

Since the very first marriage this principle of sin has been at work destroying unity and stealing closeness in all marriages - including yours and mine.  We sin against God before we sin against our spouse.  We offend God before we hurt our spouse.   Sin against God always precedes sin against others.[1]  This is why the greatest command in the Bible is actually one and the same - “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  This is why our greatest need in our marriage is an improved relationship with God.

Over the past ten years as director of Lowcountry Biblical Counseling Center, I have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing many ways that spouse’s sin against each other.  On the other hand,  I have also been blessed to see many of those typical patterns of sin change because each spouse was humble enough to see and focus on their need for change more than their spouse’s need for change.  That’s humble.

Here is a list of some typical ways married couples sin against one another.  I have broken them down into six main categories.  Can you be humble enough to see your own sin?   The first step in successful marriage counseling, the kind that will positively affect unity and avoid destruction, requires each spouse to accurately assess and acknowledge specific sins against their spouse and then be motivated to change because their sin is sin against God. As you read, circle several typical ways you have sinned against your spouse and recognize your sin is sin against God.

        Yet God’s Word says - 1 Tim 6:17-19; Luke 16:11

        Yet God’s Word says - Eph 6:4; Mal 2:15

        Yet God’s Word says - Gen 2:24;

        Yet God’s Word says - Gen 2:25; Proverbs 5:18-23; Heb 13:4

        Yet God’s Word says - Eph 4:29-30

Yet God’s Word says - Gen 2:18; Matt 19:6; 1 Cor 7:32-33

GOAL #1 - Are you willing to learn how to live humbly before God in light of your own sin? If a spouse is willing to learn to do this and then actually does it, they will change and their change will be an invitation by God to their spouse to join them in the change (2 Cor 2:14-16).  This first session is part of the new restructuring of “Unity in Marriage”  and it begins with this clear goal.  May the Lord use each session to build and rebuild marriages.  But may the Lord also use these sessions to effectively train those who seek to counsel others.  



[1] the Spirit. Joseph, when tempted to go to bed with Potiphar's wife, says "How can I do this great evil (against Potiphar is the implication) and sin against God." We can do nothing wrong to one another without it in essence being primarily against God.David after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed said in Psalm 51:3, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight." David committed at least two major sins that caused major human pain, yet the painful sins against man are eclipsed in David's mind by sin against God. This is evidenced by David saying these sins of murder and adultery are sins against God and God only. This means all sin against others are primarily sin against God that was revealed as sin against others. There are many other passages that reveal the truth that all sin against others is sin against God - Leviticus 19 [14] You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. (The reason a person would do such a cruel thing to a dead or blind person from a biblical perspective is because they do not fear the Lord as He deserves) Romans 3:23 makes clear that all sin is defined as falling short of the glory of God. Hebrews 4:12 says that all sin is laid open and bare before the one whom we have to do. Nothing we do to one another is wrong unless God's law is broken - the law of love. Nothing we do to one another is wrong unless it is a transgression and treason against God. Jesus took this to a whole new level when he said, "As you have done it to the least of these my brethren you have done it to me" (Matt 25:40). Amazing. If we remember this in relating with our spouse and one another, we would have far less conflicts and sin toward one another. And, just to add a few more, in speaking of conflicts with one another, James says in 4:4 that conflict with one another is adultery to God, Eph 4:29-30 implies that speaking unwholesomely toward one another grieves