So far, we’ve explored two of the “Big Seven” issues that can make or break Christian marriages. First, we learned that when it comes to the source of all our marital discord, “the heart of the matter is the heart.” It’s the sin in our own hearts (inner lives) that plagues our relationships. So, dear husbands and wives, you do well to focus more upon your own hearts, than to exert most of your energies griping and finger-pointing at all your spouse’s weaknesses and sins. If we cannot even change our own hearts apart from God’s grace, why in the world would we spend so much time trying to change someone else’s heart? We must all, as sinners saved by grace through faith in Christ, be actively removing the logs in our own eyes before we dare to try and help our spouses scrape out the specks in their eyes (Matt 7:1-6). We must all see ourselves as “the chief of sinners” in our marriages.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).
Notice David did not say, “O Lord, see if there is any wicked way in my wife.” The attitude of David will take us far in doing marriage God’s way.
Second, we learned to found and ground our love for our spouses in the only Source of True Love – God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Love in the Bible is fixed. The Bible does not define true “love” in different ways. Rather, it states unequivocally that God is love, and that He has displayed True Love in and through the Person and Work of His Son, Jesus, who bled and died for spiritually still-born rebels. The way we express true love may differ (for example I show my daughters love in different ways than I show my wife love). But, make no mistake, the essence of love is fixed. Therefore, just as Jesus does not consider divorce an option for His bride, neither should we. I exhort couples routinely to remove divorce from the table in their marriages. It truly is one of the most powerful things you can do to establish and maintain a marriage based on True Love. After all, if divorce is not an option, something else must change – namely, me!
All this brings us nicely to our third issue – forgiveness. I find the lack of understanding among Christians concerning this most essential gospel teaching to be greatly disturbing. So, let me try and summarize the basics concerning biblical forgiveness, noting that I am indebted to my seminary counseling professor, Dr. Stuart Scott, for many of these insights:
- Forgiveness in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, is viewed in two ways. One, there is the heart attitude of forgiveness. This type of forgiveness deals with our own hearts, and bids us release the offender to the sovereign hand of God. This forgiveness says, “I will not hold this sin against you, nor will I allow your sin to make me bitter, or to make me harbor anger towards God or you. I will guard my own heart before God and release you to Him.” We can do this kind of forgiveness without ever telling the offender and without the offender ever repenting and asking for our forgiveness. [Indeed it’s not really recommended to tell the person you’ve forgiven them in this sense if they’ve never repented, because it makes them think they’re now “off the hook” in the repentance department.]
- Followers of Christ are absolutely obligated and commanded to give this kind of forgiveness, whether or not the offender ever repents. If we do not forgive from our hearts, releasing the person to God and refusing to allow bitterness to control us, then Jesus plainly states we are none of His (Matt 6:14-15).
- The second way forgiveness is presented in the NT is a pardoning transaction that reconciles the offended and the offender. The first type of forgiveness deals with our own heart attitudes, but this type deals with an actual transaction whereby the two people or parties are brought together again on friendly terms. This requires repentance on the part of the offender. This is clearly the type of forgiveness Jesus had in mind in passages like Matthew 18:21-22 and Luke 17:1-4. This is also the forgiveness God extends to us when we repent and turn to Jesus in faith (Mark 1:15). O blessed reconciliation wrought for us by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Rom 5:6-11). We were God’s enemies, but His grace has brought us near Him (Eph 2:11-22). Praise God! He forgives repentant sinners!
The crux of the matter is best captured in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35). Without belaboring the point, we may easily summarize the truth in this way: “The Forgiven Forgive!” An unforgiving spirit or an outright withholding of forgiveness in the face of obvious repentance are sure signs that genuine salvation in Christ has simply not taken root in your heart.
Just as we are called to love as Jesus loves, so too we are commanded to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). That’s a verse we recite many times a week in our house!
A pattern is emerging, isn’t it? Marriage is not ultimately about us and our happiness and our self-serving wants. Marriage is about showing off Jesus Christ! His love and forgiveness are to be on display in us. So, whether the sin is seemingly “small” in our eyes, or a “biggie” like adultery, the command of God is the same – forgive!
May God help us be quick to forgive in attitude, and eager to reconcile upon repentance. May God give us humble hearts that quickly repent and seek forgiveness from Him and our spouses. May He do it to show off His own love and forgiveness in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So, if Jesus forgave you like you are forgiving your spouse, what would that mean for you?