Do Not Quarrel on the Way

Do you ever argue with a family member? Have you occasionally, even frequently, quarreled with a friend? Motivational speaker Tony Gakins proposed, “Arguing isn’t communication, it’s noise.” One marriage counselor notes, “Silence is never more golden than when a quarrel is brewing.” One ancient poet said, “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

Yet we “thunder” far too often, and usually with damaging results in our daily relationships. Maybe we blame this tendency on a personality trait. But could it be that our argumentative ways are rooted in something deeper with a need to reach higher? Maybe our problem with people is actually the result of a misfire in our understanding of God.

A Curious Caution

Recently, while reading through the book of Genesis, I was captured by a simple sentence. Near the end of the book Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt during a time of famine to try and secure some grain. Through a variety of providential events, and due to God’s blessing on Joseph’s life, he had been elevated to the second most powerful position in the land. His brothers did not know Joseph was in Egypt and did not recognize him in their previous interactions. Eventually, Joseph revealed his story and identity to his brothers. They were dismayed even though Joseph reiterated that God had sent him before them to Egypt for their sake (Genesis 45:1-15).

Understandably, Joseph sent his brothers back home to retrieve their father, Jacob. As he directed them off he gave them this admonition: “Do not quarrel on the way” (Genesis 45:24). What an interesting admonition. Why would he say that? Superficially, we might think that this band of brothers was just a cantankerous bunch. They may have been, but I can’t help but think there was more to it.

What Joseph Understood

Though all of the events of his life, “the Lord was with” Joseph. He saw the providence, protection, and wisdom of God woven into his story. With full assurance he understood his story through the lens of God’s goodness. In the final chapter of Genesis, Joseph affirms, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph was living with a high estimation of the goodness of God. I propose that his brothers had not fully embraced this powerful reality. So here is my proposition: When we fail to see life through the lens of God’s goodness we default to arguing and quarreling. Without a foundational assurance of the goodness of God, what might cause Joseph’s brothers to quarrel, thus prompting his advice to them?

When we fail to see life through the lens of God’s goodness we default to arguing and quarreling.

Guilt About What Had Happened

After witnessing the kindness of Joseph, in spite of all they had done to him, they must have felt pretty despondent about their past behavior. Without an understanding of God’s loving determination to redeem our mistakes for good, we inevitably get stuck in guilt over our past failures.

Without an understanding of God’s loving determination to redeem our mistakes for good, we inevitably get stuck in guilt over our past failures.

Confusion About What Was Happening

Joseph’s revelation of his extraordinary journey had to stagger his brothers. For many years they surely questioned his whereabouts. Now they may have wondered about possible revenge, or even legitimate justice. They were baffled about all that was unfolding. When we doubt God’s goodness we miss the threads of eternal purpose that He is weaving into our story. We are unsettled and perplexed — even argumentative — in our limited efforts to make sense of the events of life.

When we doubt God’s goodness we miss the threads of eternal purpose that He is weaving into our story.

Fear About What Might Happen

Some commentators have noted that the brothers figured that Joseph’s kindness might be short-lived. Maybe he would change his mind and punish them. Perhaps after their father’s death Joseph would finally have his day with them. It is reasonable to think that they failed to comprehend Joseph’s firm assurance of the goodness of God in and above it all. Neglecting to embrace the good purposes of God always leaves us overwhelmed by negative emotions. One of the most common vexations of our soul is fear. Fearful people are unsettled, edgy, and quarrelsome.

Neglecting to embrace the good purposes of God always leaves us overwhelmed by negative emotions. One of the most common vexations of our soul is fear. Fearful people are unsettled, edgy, and quarrelsome.

Blame About Why It Happened

One commentator writes, “Joseph’s parting shot was realistic, for the ancient crime was now bound to come to light before their father, and mutual accusations were likely to proliferate.”[1] They inevitably wondered who might take the final blame for this incredible unfolding of events. Rather than trusting God’s wise and gracious providence, they may have resorted to debates about who was really responsible. When we understand that a good God is in charge of the events of our lives, debate can be eclipsed by trust and gratitude. Another commentator concludes, “Joseph avoids laying blame on them for his tribulation, choosing to focus on the good that will emerge. He urges them to do the same.”[2]

When we understand that a good God is in charge of the events of our lives, debate can be eclipsed by trust and gratitude.

Another Brother’s Confirmation

Jesus’ half-brother, James, offered parallel insight: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” When the goodness of God is not governing our desires and decisions, quarreling is inevitable. James goes on to call out an adulterous heart, enmity with God, pride, and a paramount need for humility, coupled with submission and adoration of God (James 4:1–10).

Our Root Problem

Oswald Chambers noted, “The root of all sin is the suspicion that God is not good.” Joseph’s admonition to his brothers seems to affirm this. Our argumentative attitudes and broken relationships are a symptom of our failure to really believe in the absolute goodness of our loving God.

Our argumentative attitudes and broken relationships are a symptom of our failure to really believe in the absolute goodness of our loving God.

So, take a minute to revisit your conversations in recent weeks. Do you remember some heated arguments? Were you engaged in unkind debates? Are your relationships suffering from stress fractures? Here is some needful and transformational wisdom. Fix your thoughts and anchor your soul on the goodness of God. He has promised to keep you in perfect peace when your mind is stayed on Him (Isaiah 26:3).

Copyright © 2018 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.

[1] Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 219). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Mathews, K. A. (2005). Genesis 11:27–50:26 (Vol. 1B, p. 819). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.