The Word: It takes two to quarrel

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

“The Foxes” by Franz Marc (1913) is a painting in the collection of The Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Germany. (Public Domain)

Bad temperament is such a disfigurement of character that no one should spare any pains or cost to have it cured. The ideal Christian life is one of unbroken kindliness but, most of us fall into the bad-tempered category.

The dictionary has been well-near exhausted of adjectives of this order, in giving the different shades of bad-temper: aggressive, angry, bickering, bitter, capricious, choleric, contentious, crotchety, despotic, domineering, easily offended, gloomy, grumpy, hasty, huffy, irritable, morose, obstinate, quarrelsome, reproachful, peevish, sulky, surly, vindictive — these are some of the qualifying words. There are employed, in all, 46 terms which describe a bad temper.


We do not like to believe the case is quite so serious — that most of us are unpleasant to some offensive degree. It is easier to confess our neighbor’s faults and infirmities, than our own.

Bad-tempered people ofttimes hurt others — including their best and truest friends. Some people are sulky—and one person’s sulkiness casts a chilling shadow over a whole household! Others are so sensitive, ever watching for slights and offended by the merest trifles — that even their nearest friends have no freedom of fellowship with them. Others are despotic, and will brook no kindly suggestion, nor listen to any expression of opinion. Others are so quarrelsome that even the meekest and gentlest person cannot live peaceably with them. Whatever may be the special characteristic of the bad temper, it makes only pain and humiliation for the person’s friends.

A bad temper usually implies a sharp tongue which can speak out hateful feelings; and there is no limit to the pain and the harm which angry and ugly words can produce in gentle hearts.

It would be easy to extend this portrayal of the evils of bad temper — but it will be more profitable to inquire how a bad-tempered person may become good-tempered. There is no temper so obdurately bad that it cannot be trained into kindness. The grace of God can take the most unlovely life and transform it into the image of Christ.

Christian living It is dominated by love — the love whose portrait is drawn for us in the immortal thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

We have but to turn to the gospel pages to find the story of a life in which all this was realized. Jesus never lost his temper. He lived among people who tried him at every point — some by their dullness, others by their bitter enmity and persecution — but he never failed in sweetness of disposition, in patience, in self-denying love.

A fable relates that in the depth of a forest, there lived two foxes. One of them said to the other one day, in the politest of fox-language, “Let’s quarrel.”

“Very well,” said the other; “but how shall we go about it?”

They tried all sorts of ways — but in vain — for both would give way. At last, one fox brought two stones.

“There!” said he. “Now you say they are yours and I’ll say they are mine and we will quarrel and fight and scratch! Now I’ll begin.

“Those stones are mine!”

“All right!” answered the other fox, “you are welcome to them.”

“But we shall never quarrel at this rate,” replied the first.

“No, indeed, you old simpleton. Don’t you know, that it takes two to make a quarrel?”

So, the foxes gave up trying to quarrel, and never played at that silly game again.

The fable has its lesson for other creatures, besides foxes. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,” Paul tells us, “We should live peaceably with all men.”

A wise man says, “Every man takes care that his neighbors shall not cheat him but a day comes when he begins to care that he does not cheat his neighbors. Then all goes well.” So long as a man sees only the quarrelsome temper of his neighbor, he is not far toward holiness. But when he has learned to watch and to try to control his own temper, and to weep over his own infirmities, he is on the way to Christ-likeness, and will soon be conqueror over his own weakness.

Life is too short to spend even one day of it in bickering and strife. Surely we ought to learn to be loving and patient with others — since God shows every day an infinite patience toward us.

J. R. Miller (1840-1912) was a pastor and former editorial superintendent of the Presbyterian Board of Publication from 1880 to 1911. His works are now in the public domain.