Posted by: Mike Willoughby | May 10, 2011

Relationship Matters (Quarreling)

I grew up with a phenomenon that I believe is largely extinct within the modern family.  The phenomenon was what I call the “family vacation sibling smack-down” which was an inevitable component of every family vacation we ever took when I was a kid.  The conditions to which my brother and I were subjected were guaranteed to produce a smack-down – it was only matter of time. 

Squeeze two active energetic ADDish boys into the back seat of a 1973 Ford LTD for a 16 hour trip devoid of interesting scenery with Glen Campbell or Slim Whitman on the Eight Track player and only the billboard ABC game to provide a diversion and you have the crucible for an automatic quarrel.  With nothing else to occupy our brains and hands, we resorted to incessantly picking at each other (verbally and literally) until kids and/or parents exploded into full-out brawl.  The impending smack-down was signaled by my father’s warning that “you don’t want to me to stop this car!” which my brother and I foolishly ignored much to our disadvantage.  On one trip, my Dad even creatively assembled a partition for the back seat of the LTD from a piece of cardboard in an attempt to keep us physically segregated.  Insults travel through cardboard quite effectively and since the partition didn’t go all the way to the headliner, my paper footballs could also “accidentally” hit my brother on the head as they traveled over the ineffective barrier.  Funny how we didn’t get a warning for the detour to the highway shoulder on that trip!

Our modern family vehicles are veritable home theaters on wheels with flat screen TVs, DVD players, game consoles, multi-channel audio and (most importantly) headphone jacks.  Even if your family vehicle doesn’t have all these amenities, kids can bring their own portable entertainment devices.  Either way, our modern kids can be transported hundreds of family vacation miles with minimal human interaction significantly reducing the possibility for quarreling.  Little kid cocoons of self-entertainment make for preserved parent sanity.  Of course one wonders where the “family” went in the family vacation with all the cocooning but I guess I’ll take sanity over family interaction.  I am disappointed that my skill at billboard ABC has been rendered irrelevant.

Just like family can be a setting ripe for quarreling, church family or work family can also be an environment that fosters infighting.  The old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” seems to be all too often true in the context of our most intimate relationships.  My experience is that much of this conflict tends to be shallow and completely unproductive just like the backseat picking in the ‘73 LTD.  My brother and I didn’t have a dispute to settle, we just bickered out of sheer boredom.  How many of our inter-family quarrels at work or church are driven by some odd psychological need for relationship drama in place of boring peace?  Some people just seem to thrive on drama.

In our passage on relationship matters from Titus chapter 3, Paul writes ”to avoid quarreling.”  He gets personal with his relationship advice in Philippians 4:2-3.

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Reading between the lines, it would appear these two ladies have a quarrel going.  Paul pleads with them to get alone and even elicits help to mediate the ongoing dispute.  No one knows the basis for their fight but since Paul doesn’t take sides, one has to assume they are not arguing over a critical doctrinal issue that demands a resolution of “right or wrong.”  Perhaps familiarity has bred some contempt between these otherwise faithful and productive Christian sisters.  One thing is for certain – the issue was big enough to warrant a call-out in a very important letter from Paul to the entire Philippians congregation.  I wonder how Euodia and Syntyche responded when the letter was first read aloud to the congregation.

Let’s pay attention to Paul’s relationship advice about quarreling.  Don’t we have enough relationship drama without artificially creating more drama just for fun?  In addition to making life miserable for the combatants, everyone around them is also disturbed by the battle.  Paul had to “pull the car over” to discipline Euodia and Syntyche for their bickering.  Let’s not force our leaders to spend their time dealing with unproductive dispute settling when we can choose to simply get along with each other the vast majority of the time.  Peace may seem boring to some folks, but it’s so much healthier for our relationships!

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Previous Intersections Articles

Thinking about Justice Relationship Matters (Damaging Words) Relationship Matters (Attitude of Service)

Copyright © 2011 Michael Willoughby. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to author and/or owner with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Good lesson Mike; peace is such a happier place! (even over being board). p.s. If you miss the old ’73 Ford LTD, I know we could fine you one…

    • Drama has been brought up several times in my relationships lately. I never thought about it before. I’m afraid, after I’ve thought about it, maybe we enjoy drama more than peace in this day of entertainment. Thanks Mike for bringing me back to God’s way for us. Kay

  2. Mike, your thoughts on quarreling struck a cord with me. Recently Randy Daw, pulpit preacher @ the congregation in Greenville, spoke about unity. My thoughts at the time were that within the church, we basically ignore the admonitions for unity, as we ignore the admonitions to not quarrel. I believe quarreling leads to division. I think Paul nailed it in Colossians. Your reflections from childhood, reinforce what Paul wrote. One key to reducing quarreling and promoting unity is working together. I remember the days Brenda & I spent at the Maryland Heights congregation in St. Louis. We started a Bus Ministry, which grew to 3 routes, we started a Children’s Bible Hour, we supported 8 weeks of summer camp at Camp Neotez, we supported a Soul Winning Workshop in St. Louis, we spent all our spare time “working” with other brothers & sisters. It reminds me of our days at Waterview working with the Chinese Ministry. When you are hard at work, serving our Lord & Saviour, you don’t have time to quarrel or divide. I attended a seminar once where the speaker said, “if you want Team Work, give the team work. I believe the fact that as a church, we quarrel and divide, is truly related to boredom, due to the lack of work. We need to be focused on serving the Lord. We need to do good deeds and work for the Lord. This may sound strange, but I believe the church is to focused on worshiping the Lord, and not focused on doing the good deeds he prepared for us in advance (Eph. 2:10). Worship is an outflowing of our love for God, but I believe it is hollow without service.

  3. Relationship Drama, what a great way of describing our everyday bickering, but it is more than boredom that causes it. When I think about these so called confrontations that develop out of nothing I then realize it often has to do with one of the “combatants” just wanting to get the last word in. Or perhaps one of the interactors just wants to show how important they are or how smart they are and they even ultimately forget what the disagreement was all about in the first place.

    I had such a situation today, , where the other person said things like ” dont talk over me” or never let me finish a sentence so he never got to hear the full thought of what I had to say……this went on and on…and I just ended up saying to myself…let me just find some peace and I will pass on helping the other person….or even taking the time to explain myself.

    I think too often differences often arise when people question other peoples motives in a peaceful situation and cannot accept there is no hidden agenda, and what starts off as pure innocense escalates into something else.

    Keep up your thought provoking intersection articles, which i continue to read even though I have no background in the “New Testament” which you often make reference to.

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