In the message last week, we addressed the problem of how pride and a lack of self-reflection compounds the problem of cluttered relationships. In this message we are going to focus on some practical steps that will help you get things picked up, and will help you keep it that way. As things stand now, you are contemplating moving to the Swiss Alps to start your own signature ministry—you could call it Debris.
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Summary of the Text:
The text contains an overt teaching about confession of sin and the blessing of God. But there is also an unstated assumption about time which we can make explicit in a paraphrase. “He who covers his sins for any length of time shall not prosper for that length of time. But whoever confesses and forsakes them immediately shall have mercy immediately” (Prov. 28:13). In other words, there is a now implied.
This is one of those things that you might think goes without saying. And it does go without saying in any area where the prideful heart of man is not messing with us. Suppose you burned yourself, and a doctor gave you some ointment for the burn. He said, “Put this on.” Would you ask, “Should I start applying it next August? Or perhaps after the first of the year?” No. You got burned now, and so you put on the ointment now. Stop covering up your sins now and receive the promised blessing of the prosperity of God now.
One more thing, since we are talking about “covering sins.” Sins must be covered. It is not a bad impulse to want to cover them. They are shameful, and they cry out for a covering. Our own lame efforts to cover them with lies, bluster, and moralistic furniture polish are not wrong because they cover, but rather they are wrong because they don’t. The only thing that really covers sin is the blood of our great High Priest. Every other way of dealing with sin has to be done constantly, repetitively, over and again. And like the woman with that discharge of blood in the gospels—the more the doctors treated her the worse it got. When we cover, the problem is that we can’t. But knowing the need for the covering is not the problem.
A Tale of Two Houses:
Those of you who have gone through my pre-marriage counseling have almost certainly heard this illustration. But given the nature of the world, and how backlogs of unconfessed sin are out to get us all, I give it to you again with no apologies.
Imagine two families living side-by-side. They are good friends, the husbands work at the same company, they drive the same kind of minivan, and they have the same number of kids. The only visible difference between the homes is that one of them is apparently spotless and the other one is knee-deep in clutter.
Now life happens in both of them. And the kind of life that happens is at least comparable. The same number of tee-shirts get put on in the morning and taken off at night. The same number of shoes are worn. The same number of breakfast bowls are used. The difference between the two homes is not the rate at which things get dirty. The difference between the homes is the rate at which things get cleaned again.
In the clean home, the philosophy is “it must be done anyhow, so let’s do it now.” In the cluttered home, the philosophy is “let’s postpone this until it is bad enough to be thrown into the fright room.”
This is a parable. Your marriage is one of those houses. Which one is it?
Why Not Now?
The Bible tells us to confess our faults to one another (Jas. 5:16). This is something that should characterize life generally, but it is most obvious when done in the home. And when people refuse to do this in the home that too is also glaringly obvious. Something just spilled. Wipe it up now. Something just go knocked over. Pick it up now. Something just got dirty. Rinse it out and put it in the dishwasher now.
What this is about is the confession of your own faults, period. You can confess other people’s sins all day long, and your joy still doesn’t come back. And if confess your own sin, but you are only doing it to “prime the pump” of their confession, and then you get mad because they didn’t take the hint, it should hardly be a news flash that you are doing it wrong. And if you wrap up a barbed accusation in the thin filmy gauze of an inadequate confession, this is also a problem. “I am sorry for being mildly annoyed at your egregious behavior just now.” When you confess, confess as though you are the only person in the history of the world who ever did anything wrong. You know theologically that this is not the case, and that it could not be the case, but your emotions need the practice anyhow. When you are confessing heartily, you are the only sinner.
A Few Rules of Thumb:
We all need reminders to help us “do it now.” When Nancy and I were first married (or engaged, I forget), we agreed on some basic rules that would govern our behavior in this respect. And if you were to ask me for one bit of advice on marriage and one bit only, this is what it would be. Keep short accounts. Pay it down now. Rinse it now.
This is what you do when you get out of fellowship. And by “out of fellowship,” I mean annoyed, irritated, bent, frosted, angry, ruffled, agitated—with the barbs directed at the other. You have such an episode, the kind that we called “bumps.” And a bump is not a simple difference of opinion. A bump is when the harmony is gone.
- When you have had a bump, do not separate, do not part company.
- When you have had a bump, do not let anybody into your home.
- When you have had a bump, do not go into anybody else’s home.
- When you have had a bump in the presence of others, use a pre-arranged hand signal to seek and extend forgiveness.
Remember the Relationships:
These are not the rules that “nice” people follow. These are just simple reminders that sinners need to help them to pick up after themselves—and to constantly remember that apart from Jesus Christ, there is no way to pick up after yourself. He is the third party in your marriage relationship, and so do not treat Him as an abstract principle. What do you want the aroma of your home to be? You want people to walk in and feel like Christ is there.