“Erosion is the detachment of earth material from the surface. Once detached, agents like water or wind transport the material to a new location where it is deposited. The most ubiquitous form of erosion is that done by water.”
Have you ever witnessed erosion? A small trickle turns into a raging current; the greater the pressure that faster it happens. In fact, huge chasms have been formed as the result of erosions. Probably the most famous is the grand canyon.
Interesting to think the Grand Canyon didn’t form overnight. It took a long time for that chasm to develop. The same thing happens with relationships. What looked like a match made in heaven turns into a cold, distant marriage; next thing you know they’re signing paperwork. Two friends who used to be inseparable soon become acquaintances or perhaps even strangers.
Which brings me to Proverbs 17:14, according to the 2011 NIV: “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” That’s a powerful image for the destructive power of arguments. Once a dam is breached there’s almost no hope for it. For all intents and purposes, it’s at the mercy of the water; and the longer the water has been building up and the greater the pressure, the more likely the dam is to be completely destroyed.
Luckily for us, this proverb also tells us how to prevent such destructive erosion from taking place in our relationships. The key is to simply drop the matter. Consider how often a petty disagreement can erode into an argument that can erode into a fight. Pretty soon, no one knows why they started arguing in the first place but it doesn’t matter because they’ll do anything to win. It’s foolishness and it’s destructive.
So, before starting a quarrel, consider what may become of it and whether or not it’s worth it. Elsewhere we’re given two illustrations from fire. In Proverbs 26:20, we’re told that quarreling will go out like a suffocated fire if we stop feeding it! This is contrasted, in Proverbs 26:21, to a person who keeps fueling the fire. The difference is obvious and easy to understand and apply: if you stop fueling the flames they’ll burn out or, at the very least, they won’t get any bigger! As Christians, we should always be seeking the path of reconciliation in our relationships. Marriage is one of our greatest opportunities to glorify God, yet all too often I’ve seen dear friends constantly struggle with the same issues. And much of it has to do with pride mixed with erosion.
On the other side of the coin, this doesn’t mean that you never address any problems within a marriage or close relationship. It doesn’t mean that you let your spouse or loved one intentionally and repeatedly sin against you without confronting them. But we are called to be careful about how we confront them and why we confront them.
How: We are to confront others in order to seek reconciliation, not just for the sake of quarrelling. Arguing just to argue is exactly how relationships experience erosion. Confrontation for the sake of reconciliation is how they become stronger over time. In fact, Jesus taught that when we have estranged relationships, they hinder our relationship with God (Matt 5:21-24).
Why: Are we confronting a spouse of loved-one so that we can “win” an argument? Or are we confronting them so as to make them more like Christ? Who is benefitting from the confrontation, you or the other person? Our motives for confronting others should be for their benefit, never for ours. Christ set the ultimate example of humble love when He died for our benefit, not His. We are called to sacrificially love those around us and help them in the process of their sanctification.
Thus, we see that in our lives there must be a difference between quarrelling and confrontation. Quarrelling erodes a relationship and can eventually destroy it; confrontation—when done in a Christ-honoring manner—is meant to strengthen the relationship and build up the other person.