Avoiding Matrimonial Misery

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:32

A trip to Trader Joe’s last week produced an unusual conversation between a young man working the cash register and my friends and me. Out of the blue he asked my friends, “What’s the secret to a long marriage?”

I guess that’s one way to start a conversation!

When I offered my opinion on the answer—knowing Christ and forgiving your spouse—the cashier followed up with another surprisingly direct question, “Well, what if your husband committed adultery?”

*Gulp* Whatever happened to “Paper or plastic?”

I acknowledged how painful that trial would be, but told him that if my husband repented, I would hope I could… No…I knew that with God all things would be possible. Although my answers may have sounded far too simple for such complex questions, I do believe them to be true. Forgiveness, although difficult, holds the promise of untold freedom, while unforgiveness and bitterness will only produce ongoing misery within marriage. 

In his recent message on FamilyLife Today, Pastor Voddie Baucham addressed the vital role of forgiveness within marriage and explained how the power of the Gospel makes it possible. He included sober warnings for those who would ignore the Scripture’s clear command to forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ. Here’s an excerpt…

I’m going to say this as gently as I can—if you’re a person who’s not forgiving, then, you are actually a disobedient, arrogant hypocrite who does not appreciate the body of Christ…

Why disobedience?—because you are commanded to do it.  If you don’t forgive your spouse, you are in sin because you’ve been commanded to forgive.  By the way, it is difficult for us to understand that unless we know what forgiveness is; right?  

Forgiveness is a cancellation of debt.  That’s what it means.  Forgiveness means I give up my right to punish you for what you did.  If I come over to your house…I knock over a lamp, and I break the lamp.  You look at me and say, “No, brother, that’s okay.  I forgive you;” and then, you say, “but that will be $195,” you didn’t really forgive me because you’re making me pay.  Forgiveness is the cancellation of debt; okay? 

Why is this important? 

Remember—our experience of forgiveness is rooted in our understanding of the forgiveness that we’ve received in Christ.  If I am a person that doesn’t understand forgiveness as a cancellation of debt—and forgiveness just means I say, “I forgive you,” but I still make you pay—then, my understanding of salvation is going to be the same.  Then, my forgiveness from God is something that doesn’t cancel my debt.  I still have to work to earn that which I’ve already been given. 

It’s all rooted in the fact that I do not comprehend this concept of forgiveness because remember that first point.  These things are linked inexorably.   It’s a cancellation of debt.  That means that if I say to my wife, “I forgive you,”—but then, we have an argument, like a couple of days later, and I bring it back up—now, I’m punishing you when I said I would give up my right to do so—which means I lied.  If the debt is cancelled, it’s cancelled.  Again, first of all, if we’re not forgiving, we’re not obedient. 

Secondly, if we’re not forgiving, we’re arrogant.  Here’s why—because, basically, here is what I say if I’m not forgiving—and let’s just keep this in marriage; okay—here’s what I say if I’m not forgiving my wife—what I say if I’m not forgiving my wife is this, “All those things that I have done to offend God—those things are absolutely forgivable because that’s how good God is.  However, my standard is higher than God’s standard; so, though He can forgive you, I can’t.”  That’s the height of arrogance…

You can read or listen to Voddie Baucham’s entire message [broadcast date March 7, 2012] HERE.

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If a friend has betrayed you, Jesus knows how you feel. He fed Peter breakfast on the beach before Peter even asked for forgiveness. But He also addressed the sin; He didn’t ignore it. He gave Peter three opportunities to state his love, paralleling his three failures. Peter put it right. Judas also betrayed the Lord, but he did not put things right.

Sometimes your friends will wrong you (or your kids’ friends will wrong them), and this will result in a chilly distance. If you are the wronged party, you are obligated to extend forgiveness, but you are not obligated to continue to be best friends. If someone steals from you while fixing your sink, you may forgive him, but you may decide to call someone else next time the drain is plugged.

Forgiveness is one thing; friendship and trust are other things. If your friend has broken your trust, forgive him, and don’t entrust that friend in the future. This is wisdom. But beware of bitterness. Don’t mistake one for the other.

~Nancy Wilson in “Forgiveness and Broken Friendships

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Struggling to Forgive?

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:32

Last week during a conversation with my husband and me, a friend told us how he sometimes struggles to get over hurts inflicted by others. He said, “I don’t know if you’re like that or not. Do you just have a forgiveness button that you press or something?”

I could only laugh. If God created me with a button like that, I definitely haven’t found it yet. I only wish it were so easy.

If you, too, have yet to locate your forgiveness button, then you’ll benefit as I did from the biblical advice Brian Borgman shares on this topic in his book Feelings and Faith…  

Here is where we must breathe in deeply the sovereignty of God. Embracing God’s sovereignty over our lives and even the pain caused by others can liberate us from bitterness and vengefulness. Joseph modeled this for us in Genesis 50:20: “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.” This does not relieve people of their moral responsibility, but it frees us to forgive them and do them good (see Rom. 12:17-21).

Grab hold of God’s sovereignty with one hand and the cross with the other. The sovereignty of God gives teeth to Romans 8:28, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is the cross that reminds us of our forgiveness (Col. 2:13-14) and then empowers us to forgive others.

Consider the fact that God judged our sins on the cross, and we bear them no more. Justice was satisfied. If those who have sinned against us are in Christ, then their sins, too, have been dealt with at the cross. If they are not in Christ, God will still deal in justice through their eternal punishment. So either on the cross or in hell, all sin will be dealt with by God, and we can leave the ones who have hurt us with him. Romans 12:19 brings it into focus: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

The power of the cross, the power of grace, the power of the Spirit, and the truth of the Word all work to give us what we need to forgive from the heart.

[Feelings and Faith, p. 120]

Forgiveness—it’s not easy, but in Christ it is possible.

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You’ve probably heard the story Jesus told of the servant who owed a king a huge amount of money. The king forgave the servant, but that servant refused to forgive someone else who owed him a small amount.

The king found out about it and was angry. Jesus said that the king “turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” One translation says, “He turned him over to tormentors.”

When we refuse to forgive, God turns us over to tormentors. I think those can include the chronic emotional and physical disorders that many women experience. In some cases those problems come from unforgiveness. You see, God never intended that our bodies should hold up under the weight of bitterness and unforgiveness.

Is there some debt you’re still trying to collect? Do you want to be free from the torment? Then choose to cancel the debt and forgive.

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “Tormentors

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Did you know that God doesn’t forget our sins? You say, “Yes, He does.” Well, how could an omniscient God forget anything?

In the book of Jeremiah, God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin against them no more.” God doesn’t promise to forget our sins, but He does promise that He will never hold them against us again. That’s what He’s called us to do.

He doesn’t ask us to forget the wrongs done to us, but to simply forgive. Then we can remember the situation with a greater sense of rest. We can focus on how much God has forgiven us.

Is there a painful situation in your life? It may not be possible to forget about it, but you can choose to forgive.

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “Forgive and Don’t Forget

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Although I’m paralyzed from the shoulders down, there are a lot of people who are paralyzed from the shoulders up. They are paralyzed by envy or bitter, hard feelings. And, hey, maybe it’s time you had a check-up from the neck up.

Ephesians 4 says, “Get rid of every sort of bitterness…be kind toward one another, tenderhearted, mutually forgiving, even as God has in Christ forgiven you.” We handicap ourselves when we allow bitterness to fester.

A lot of people may wink at bitter, hard feelings, thinking it’s far worse to be paralyzed, but they’re wrong—I’ve lived in both camps, and I’d rather be confined to a wheelchair than be confined by hard feelings toward others! Today, follow the advice of Ephesians 4 and make a Holy Spirit-inspired effort to shut the door on every sort of bitterness. When you do, you’ll pass the check-up from the neck up!

~Joni Eareckson Tada in “Check-Up from the Neck Up

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I believe the greatest demonstration of our love to one another is the readiness to forgive each other on the basis of God’s forgiveness of us. Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21–35) is very instructive on this subject. The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents — the equivalent of 200,000 years of wages for an ordinary laborer — a sum impossible to repay. The second servant owed the first servant 100 denarii — the equivalent of about one-third of a year’s wages. In itself it was not an insignificant sum. Not many of us would want to write off a debt equal to one-third of a year’s wages, but compared to 200,000 years, one-third of a year is insignificant.

The point of the parable is that each of us is the first servant. Our debt to God, because of our own sin, is a staggering one—an amount impossible to repay. By contrast, another person’s debt of sin to me, though maybe significant in itself, is nothing compared to my debt to God. Therefore, when someone sins against me, either actually or merely as perceived by me, I try to respond, “But Father, I am the servant who owes 10,000 talents.” That helps me put the other person’s sin in proper perspective, and it enables me to forgive freely even as God has forgiven me.

~Jerry Bridges in “Transforming Love

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As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Let’s just forget the past.” “I suppose I could have done a better job.” “I guess it’s not all your fault.”

These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A’s:

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

See Matthew 7:3-5; 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13.

~Ken Sande in “Seven A’s of Confession

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Unforgiveness is a toxin. It poisons the heart and mind with bitterness, distorting one’s whole perspective on life. Anger, resentment, and sorrow begin to overshadow and overwhelm the unforgiving person–a kind of soul-pollution that enflames evil appetites and evil emotions. Such bitterness can even spread from person to person ultimately defiling many (Heb. 12:15).

Forgiveness is the only antidote. Forgiveness is a healthy, wholesome, virtuous, liberating act. Forgiveness unleashes joy. It brings peace. It washes the slate clean. It sets all the highest virtues of love in motion.

In a sense, forgiveness is Christianity at its highest level.

~John MacArthur in The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness

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When I was in junior high, some friends and I discovered mercury. We were in an out-of-control science class, and we had too-easy access to the chemical cabinet. We started experimenting with different chemicals, and mercury was our favorite…We were fascinated by mercury, and we were extremely foolish. Much later, as a chemistry major, I learned that mercury is highly toxic. Get mercury in your system, and it will go to your brain and make you crazy (literally)…

Bitterness is like mercury. It is tempting to play with it. we can stew for hours on end thinking about how we have been treated unfairly and how we hope that someday justice will be done. We slide bitterness around in our minds and slip some of it into our pockets. And we are oh so foolish because all the while it is attacking our bones (Proverbs 14:30). Fooling around with bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping that someone else will die…

Bitterness is not something done to us. Others may create a situation that tempts you to be bitter, but if you live with bitterness, you do so because you have invited it to be your houseguest.

You can defeat bitterness in these ways:

  • Trust God’s justice and providence.
  • Listen to wise people.
  • Love those people to whom you are close.
  • Decide not to sin.

Beat bitterness, or it will beat you. 

~Chris Brauns in Unpacking Forgiveness

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Through forgiveness God tears down the walls that our sins have built, and he opens the way for a renewed relationship with him. This is exactly what we must do if we are to forgive as the Lord forgives us: We must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us. We must not hold wrongs against others, not think about the wrongs, and not punish others for them. Therefore, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises: 

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender. You promise not to dwell on or brood over the problem or to punish by holding the person at a distance. You clear the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs. This is exactly what God does for us, and it is what he calls us to do for others.

~Ken Sande in “Four Promises of Forgiveness

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Big Picture Faith

Erik Fitzgerald and Matthew Swatzell’s story serves as living proof that God will cause all things, even the very worst of things, to work together for our good and His glory… 

Photo: Daniel Jacob Horine
Video: Adam Kring

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[U]nforgiveness not only makes you a prisoner to your own past but unforgiveness produces bitterness. It produces bitterness. The cumulative effect of remembering without forgiveness some offense done against you no matter how brief the time or long the time is that you become a bitter person… Bitterness is not just a sin, it is an infection. And it will infect your whole life. And bitterness can be directly traced to the failure to forgive. It makes you become caustic, it makes you become sarcastic. It makes you condemning. It gives you a nasty disposition, harassed by the memories of what you can’t forgive, your thoughts become malignant toward others, you get a distorted view of life and you have literally diseased your whole existence. Anger begins to rage in you and it can easily get out of control. Your emotions begin to run wild. Your mind becomes the victim of that. You entertain continuing thoughts of revenge. And what happens? Even casual conversation becomes a forum for slander, a forum for gossip, a forum for innuendo against the offender and your flesh, that horrible remnant of your old self, has gained control.

I suppose this happens most notably and most frequently in marriages. Two Christians married to one another should never be divorced. They should never be separated and they should enjoy a happy relationship. That’s by God’s design. Now when I got married I married a sinner. What is even more unthinkable is so did my wife. And the fact of the matter is that it is an utter impossibility for us not to offend each other. It doesn’t just happen now and then through the year, it happens quite regularly. But where forgiveness operates an offense is one moment in time come and gone. Where there is no forgiveness for that there is the accumulated bitterness that begins to turn you against your own partner, that makes you caustic and sarcastic. You shut off your affection, you shut off your kindness. You look for ways to get back and the bitterness results in the devastation of the relationship. Forgiveness, on the other hand, dispels bitterness and replaces it with love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. Why would anybody want to live in the prison of their past? Why would anybody want to live with accumulated bitterness that makes them violate every relationship?

~John MacArthur in “The Actions of One Who Forgives

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Let the Healing Begin

“I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity”

Psalm 32:5

I’ve heard it said that “I love you” are the three hardest words for human beings to say. I have to disagree. Although I don’t doubt there are times when saying “I love you” is a challenge, in general the words flow from our lips with relative ease. There are three other words, however, that seem to lodge in the throat like a mouthful of peanut butter crackers…

“I was wrong.”

Think about it. Compare the number of times you’ve told someone you love them with the number of times you’ve told that same person you had sinned against them. Now, of course, I’m not saying these two statements should be made equally, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we know we’re far more willing to vocalize the first fact, “I love you,” than we are the second, “I was wrong,” even when an admission of guilt may be needed far more than a profession of love.

Here are three more words that seem to leave our mouths with a bitter taste: “Please forgive me.” How long has it been since someone has said those words to you? How long since you’ve spoken them to another?

A couple of years ago, I received an ugly-looking gash down the front of my shin which sent me to an urgent care facility for a much-needed repair. By far, the worst part of that experience occurred when the doctor cleaned the debris from my wound before sewing everything back together. Oh, the pain and agony! The process brought tears to my eyes and more than one complaint to my lips.

Even though the process was painful, not once did I attempt to convince the doctor to stop what he was doing and just slap a band-aid on instead. Why? Because I knew, as we all do, that if I wanted to achieve total healing, I had to let the doctor clean the wound properly. Any shortcut could result in infection, scarring, and far greater pain than the initial cleansing would cause. Once the wound was clean, my body could begin the healing process without hindrance.

Not many of us are so wimpy that we’d avoid the temporary pain necessary to promote physical healing, but quite a few of us regularly allow relational wounds to fester in the filth of our unconfessed sin. Admitting our sin is a painful and unpleasant thought, so we concoct various methods of applying bandages over debris-filled injuries such as…

  • Waiting to see if the other person will simply forget what we did
  • Being unusually nice to try making up for the sin
  • Apologizing without actually admitting any wrong: “I’m sorry if you were hurt…”
  • Acknowledging just enough wrongdoing to smooth things over
  • Blaming the person we hurt for being unforgiving

As a result of this type of mistreatment, wounds in our relationships often fail to heal properly. Over time, they become more painful, infected, and impossible to ignore. Confession may hurt for a moment, but a truly repentant person knows that temporary pain is necessary to bring about lasting healing. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

Are your relationships characterized by ugly scars and lingering injuries? Perhaps you’ve been waiting for time to heal wounds that have long been infected by your pride. Humble yourself before the Lord and the people you’ve sinned against.

I was wrong.

Please forgive me.

You’ll soon discover that humility and healing walk hand in hand.

Photo: Pam Roth