Although it is not possible to separate the various aspects of marriage from one another, it is possible to distinguish them. We have come now to the third section in this series on marriage, a section that deals with marriage and sin. And in order to understand sin rightly, we have to understand forgiveness. And anyone who wants to be married in this fallen world without understanding forgiveness is frankly out of his mind. And understanding forgiveness means understanding, first, how to receive it, and secondly, how to extend it.
“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for ChristÆs sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:30-32).
Forgiveness is right at the heart of what we are called to in Christ. In this passage, St. Paul begins by telling us not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. This makes it clear that we are not simply obeying a list if impersonal duties, but rather are dealing with a Person, a Person who can be grieved by our behavior. The apostle then gives us a short list of attitudes that would grieve Him, and tells us to put them all away. The first is bitterness. Then we are given two different words for passionate anger and wrath. Then comes a word for an uproar or an outcry. The next word is literally blasphemy, meaning in this context slander, or running somebody down. And of course, malice is also excluded. This refers to an ill-will, and a desire to injure. In the next phrase, we are given the only alternative to this kind of grieving of God. It is to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, extending mutual forgiveness to one another, just as God forgave us for the sake of Jesus Christ.
The Font of All Forgiveness:
The word used here is charizomai, meaning both to bestow graciously and to give pardon. How are we to understand this in the context of marriage? First, it is crucial to note that unless both husband and wife understand this, their marriage will be described more accurately by v. 31 than by v. 32. And there is nothing worse than to have a man and woman yoked together, whose relationship is characterized by bitterness, anger, uproar, slander, and malice. This is particularly tragic when Christians grieve the Holy Spirit by living this way, when kindness, tender-heartedness, and mutual forgiveness has been offered to them, and modeled in Christ’s reception of us. Not only are we given our responsibility in this, we are given the ultimate model of it.
Forgiveness comes from someone whose heart is disposed to kindness and tenderheartedness. We are therefore talking about a disposition to forgive. In the first place a forgiving heart is a character trait. But a forgiving heart can be present and active and yet no forgiveness occurs. How is this possible?
Forgiveness Is A Transaction:
Forgiveness proper occurs when someone approaches someone else and acknowledges that what he did was wrong. He then asks for forgiveness, which is to ask that his behavior will not be held against him. When the person approached extends that promise, the transaction of forgiveness is completed. If the forgiver breaks that promise later (“You always . . .”), then he has sinned against the forgiven, and so he needs to seek forgiveness. This is the pattern that will usually be followed in a godly marriage, and which we will treat in detail next week.
When Life Isn’t So Simple:
We don’t just live in a world where forgiveness is necessary, sought, and extended. We also confront situations (all the time) when forgiveness is necessary, but is not sought by the offending party. Now what?
Manifest lack of repentance:
we cannot forgive those who are defiant, however much we might like to. Because forgiveness is a transaction, if someone steals your car, you can’t run down the street after them, yelling out your forgiveness. But you can have a heart full of forgiveness, full to the brim, ready to overflow the moment repentance appears. Until that happens, there is no forgiveness. But suppose it happens, and you discover that in the meantime, your brim-full heart of forgiveness turned into a brim-full heart of something else?
Evil motives are suspected:
Jesus tells us what our duty is when someone comes to us seven times in one day, seeking forgiveness (Luke 17: 1-10). Each time, Jesus says to forgive. Now, long about the third or fourth time, do you think we might be suspicious that our spouse was not really dealing with the issue? Yes, but that does not alter what we do. The forgiveness we are commanded to offer is objective.
the Bible tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Pet. 4:8-9). Notice the context of hospitality here. What sorts of sins are likely to be in this category? All of us are guilty of things we are not aware of (especially in marriage), and in any close, godly living it is frequently necessary to “let love cover it.” But this is not the same as “stuffing it,” or “eating it.” If you eat it, then digest it. Letting love cover it is a short cut to a genuine transaction. But love must either cover it efficaciously or confront it. There is no godly third option.
Finger pointed in the wrong direction:
and we now come to the central problem in many marriages. “Lord, change him.” “Lord, change her.” An acute awareness of the other’s faults does not mean that you are sinless. It is quite possibly an indication that you are the central problem. Holiness, in wisdom, is aware of the sin of others. But far more common is the awareness of other’s shortcomings that is nothing like holiness. It is bitter, wrathful, angry, clamorous, slanderous, and spiteful. Such people often have an eagle-eye . . . so long as it is looking away.