Proverbs 21:9 NRSV
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a contentious wife.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 NRSV
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 NRSV
This proverb was written by a man, so to understand the perspective: wife. But the fact is, this goes both ways. It is impossible to live in a home where one spouse is contentious. The word can also be translated “brawling.”
“Contentious” is defined as “exhibiting an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes” (Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary). Think of it. First of all, the person has the tendency to quarrels and disputes. Well, likely that person has two characteristics:
(1) they usually (or always) believe they are right, and
(2) they are likely angry most of the time.
They need to control every situation so their viewpoint, their perspective is the only one possible. And they tend to jump all over anyone who disagrees with them. Secondly, this person is this way most (or all) of the time. So much so that people soon tire of being around them. Friends disappear; invitations dry up. Life becomes lonelier and lonelier.
Basically, the person this proverb is describing is a self-centered immature person who wants her way all of the time. And the proverb continues that it would be better to live in a corner of a roofless place (no protection from the elements of nature) rather than to live in a house where anger rules.
As believers, we are commanded to set aside our own concerns, agendas, opinions, and even needs in order to serve those around us. Paul taught that we are to do NOTHING from selfish ambition or conceit. It’s interesting that Merriam-Webster’s lists, as one of the definitions of conceit, “individual opinion.” And the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon lists as one of the definitions “self-esteem.” As Americans, we have embraced the idea that we should like ourselves, that we should look out after ourselves first and foremost, and that we have every right to our own opinions.
The Bible never talks about self-esteem or rights except in a negative way. As believers, we are to set down any desire for esteem (by ourselves or others) and our rights in exchange for trust in God and service to His will. We are to “regard others as better than ourselves” and to look after their interests. We are to “be subject to one another.” This is a very different picture than what we see even in many sermons today where preachers seem to be more concerned that we are happy, adjusted, and defending our rights. Have we become the “contentious wife” in our society because we want only what we want? Perhaps today is the day to ask forgiveness for our anger, to set aside our demands, and to look to the needs of those around us.