Forgiveness makes it possible to “start over.” The power of forgiveness is enormous—the reason it is so infrequently employed is because it transforms everything, and not because it is “a dud.” Last week we addressed what forgiveness is (a transaction), and how to understand it when the other party is being difficult. We now need to look at how forgiveness should work when both husband and wife sincerely want to walk with God, and want to do right by their spouse.
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Prov. 28:13)
Scripture gives us a constrast between coverings. We tend to be very hesitant to “cover” the sins of others, and very quick to “cover our own.” But Scripture requires us to reverse this. Our first desire should be (if possible) to cover the sins of others in love, and to refuse to cover our own. “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” (Prov. 10:12). “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Prov. 17:9). But in contrast to this, if we take care to cover our own sins, God promises that we will not prosper. The opposite of self-covering is defined for us in the text itself, and it is defined as confessing and forsaking. When this is done, the repentant sinner is promised mercy. The form the mercy takes is defined by the first part of the proverb, which is that the forgiven one shall thrive and prosper.
Application to Marriage:
Now the question is this. Are you prospering in your marriage? In asking this question, we are not asking about income, or reputation, or social status (though all such can be the fruit of prospering). The question is rather one of true fellowship between husband and wife, something that is simply and solely the gift of a gracious God. Is your marriage prospering? If you are prospering, then it is because you are not “covering” your own sins in marriage, but rather the sins of the other. If you are not prospering, then it is because your own sin is being covered in some illegitimate fashion, and you and your marriage need to look to the mercy of God.
The Basic Barrier:
We all understand our frailties very well. It is very unlikely that anyone here gets up in the morning, and sits down to make a “to do” list, writing on it things like, “be short with the kids this afternoon,” “be uncommunicative with my wife,” or “be disrespectful to my husband.” We don’t plan these thingsùthey ambush us. But there is an aspect of this that we don’t understand well at all, and it is this aspect that is the most significant barrier to confession of sin in marriage. It is a problem that afflicts both men and women, but it has to be said that masculine pride is by far and away the biggest offender here. The problem has to do with our response after the fact. When we wait for the effects of our sin to “blow over,” or just let others “cover it in love,” or act like nothing much happened, then our problem is insidious, diabolical, arrogant, marriage-destroying pride. If the sin was major (like an outburst of anger), then the situation demands that we seek forgiveness. To refuse to seek forgiveness is arrogance. If the sin was minor (like irritation in the voice), and we refuse to seek forgiveness, then our pride is so great that we refuse to pick up a trifle. The former damages directly, and the latter damages by petty insult. For the proud and arrogant, it is either to big to confess or it is too small to confess. Nothing is ever “just right” to confess.
Dealing With a Backlog:
If you have not lived this way in your marriage, then the chances are good that you have the marital equivalent of a garage that has not been cleaned out for twenty years. The first thing to do is to confess your sins individually (and separately) to God (1 John 1:9). When you are right with Him, the time is right to make restitution with one another. When you are standing on a high dive, that sensation in your throat is fear. When you are standing on the end of that bouncy board called humbling yourself, with no water in sight down below, the sensation is also fear—fear fueled by pride.
It is always preferable to have a fence at the top of the cliff instead of parking an ambulance at the bottom. One way to build this fence is to keep short accounts. Do not set yourself up for great transgressions through continuance in presumptuous sins (Ps. 19:13). So here are some suggested house rules that should be agreed upon by husband and wife, and this agreement should be close to the bone. You should be looking for deep agreement, where man and wife say to one another, “This is the way we want to live.’
Do not separate, however temporarily, if you are out of fellowship:
this means the husband should not go to work, the wife should not go shopping, and so on. When there is sin between you, that is the most important priority of your life. This does not mean that you have to fix all the problems that are related to the sin, but you must address the sin. Do not go into the presence of others when you are out of fellowship: this includes church, parties, Bible studies, or casual visits. Do not let anyone into your home when you are out of fellowship: your home should be a place of love and rest, and you do not want any others to ever be ushered into the House of Tension. If you are around others, and it happens then, arrange a hand signal for putting things right: this should be a simple way of saying, “I was wrong, please forgive me,“ and “Yes, I do.” It should not be so complex that your wife thinks you are telling her to steal third. But neither should there be private apologies for public sins. Do not make love when you are out of fellowship: do not make your central union and communion into hypocritical disunion.
Remember that the “others” here include your children. And realize that all the points here can be summarized as, “Wash your underwear regularly, and don’t do it on the front porch.”