“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.”
— Proverbs 17:14 [ESV]
It’s impossible to go through life without conflict. Families are not immune from skirmishes. The workplace often seems like a Petri dish for strife. We are all familiar with disputes, discord, and disharmony.
I marvel at individuals who appear to allow conflict to roll off of them like water. However, navigating strife has not come easy for me. Thankfully, I’m learning how to confront early. Accepting conflict as a reality of life helps me not to take differences too seriously. And, I realize why it’s necessary to guard myself against disputes.
The wisdom of this Proverb reminds us that once strife starts, it is like unleashed water whose flow is often uncontrollable – and powerful. Inspectors frequently check dams. They look for even the slightest trickle of water. The reason is – if left unattended – a small leak will eventually breach the dam, unleashing a gigantic torrent of water that has the potential of destroying anything in its path.
Like water, quarreling erodes the foundations of relationships. An argument is like a slow water leak. The admonition is: Quit quarreling so that you can prevent a major breach! Don’t allow bickering to escalate, because relationships are at risk. Whether it is family, co-workers, or our neighbors – mutual respect is always to be honored because relationships are important to God – and us.
This proverb is not insinuating that we shouldn’t have different opinions or ideas. However, it does admonish us to resist the temptation to allow our differences to become disputes. Another proverb explains why:
“A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
and quarreling is like the bars of a castle” — Proverbs 18:19 [ESV]
A brother, sister, or close friend who is offended is an injured person. And, wounded people have the potential of becoming irreconcilable enemies. The prospects of re-establishing relationship with the offended party are harder than conquering a walled city. Wounding words tend to elevate walls of self-protection, and mistrust and suspicion will always fortify them.
I understand the need for self-protection. How many times have I said: “I’ll never let that happen to me again!” Somehow, I want to get beyond the pain, move ahead, and forget the offense as quickly as possible. The problem is, we don’t forget! So, like bars placed on windows for protection, I can only observe relationships from a distance. Living behind bars in a castle intended to keep me safe also has its drawbacks.
In my community, especially within neighborhoods more prone to crime, it is common to see homes whose windows are barred. These window gates are frequently attractive wrought iron coverings, ornately designed. However, what we envision as safety often has a downside.
Recently the news reported a tragic story of a family who died because of a fire in their home. By the time they discovered the fire, all the entrances were engulfed in flames. The only escape routes were windows – blocked by beautiful iron coverings. The entire family perished.
Strife is a reality of life. I’m familiar with injuries received because of quarrels. Sadly, I’ve also inflicted wounds on others because of my impatience, insistence, and insensitivity.
The wise words of this proverb is a timely reminder for me to:
● Inspect my life frequently to discover even the slightest leak that could create a breach.
● Acknowledge differences, but always guard relationships.
● Be aware of the dangers of closing me off from others.
● And to remember, dispute is not possible without my participation.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Pr 17:14.. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Pr 18:19.
● Is there a resentment you hold that is harming you?
● What quarrel are you currently engaged in? Is it possible to “agree to disagree”
to avoid severing a relationship?
● Has an offense moved you to surround yourself with bars of protection?
● Are they protecting you? Or, are they separating you from relationship with others?
● Is your life pliable or unyielding?