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Forgiveness in Marriage

  1. God’s Purpose in Marriage
How to Get Rid of Resentment When You Can't Forgive Your Spouse

As blood-bought, Spirit-filled members of the body of Christ, our entire purpose and reason for living is to bring glory to God. Paul’s statements in the first chapter of Ephesians establish that we are to live lives that reflect praise on His glory. We were born to serve the Lord, and to show this wicked world what the grace of God can do in the lives of sinners. Let us fix that concept in our minds: we exist to glorify God. I Corinthians 6:20 says we are a bought slave; so we should glorify God in our body and spirit. In John 21:18-19, we learn that by our death to self, we glorify God.

So, if our lives are to bring glory to God, what is the ultimate aim of marriage? Is it procreation? Companionship? Sex? Happiness? The ultimate purpose for marriage is not any of those; but rather the ultimate goal of marriage is holiness! We speak of holy matrimony. Jesus said that what God has joined together, let not man part asunder. Matthew 19:6. Children of a godly marriage are holy children. I Corinthians 7:14. God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden. It is something He gave to mankind. Why did He do it? God gave us marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy.

Marriage among Christians is supposed to reflect the glory of God. While marriage is very real, it is also highly symbolic. Holy matrimony is a very visible symbol of the relationship between God and His people. Before we can really address how to improve our marriages, we need all understand the great symbolism our marriages are supposed to demonstrate. Whether we are married or single, we need to understand this point. The Apostle Paul was unmarried, but he understood this important symbol perfectly well.

Hosea 2: 16 says, “And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali.”  The center column reference in most Bibles will say that “Ishi” means “my husband;” and that “Baali” means “my master.” Speaking to Israel, God said they would call Him their husband instead of their master. Verse 19 explains why: “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.”

There is a big difference between “husband” and “master.” The relationship between God and His people is not one based on fear, and force; but one based upon love, intimacy, trust, loyalty, etc. God wants a relationship like that of a husband and wife; and not like that of a master and slave. How do you view God – as master or as husband?

Isaiah 62:5 tells us that God rejoices over His people like a husband over a bride. In Matthew 9:15, Jesus is described as a bridegroom. I know the bride of Christ is a limited company of 144,000 overcomers, but in some respects, the entire body of Christ is like a bride. This is seen in Revelation 12:1, where the church is a woman, a married woman who is pregnant. In Isaiah 54:1, the church is the married wife.

At one time, God was the spiritual husband of Israel. But in Jeremiah 3:8, we see that God divorced Israel because of her spiritual adultery. When speaking to backslidden Israel in Mark 8:38, Jesus deliberately used “adulterous” to describe them – not because of sexual adultery; but spiritual adultery. The Lord expected a relationship of fidelity and trust between Himself and Israel. But the natural Jews played the harlot spiritually, and He divorced her. He is now married to the church, at least in a symbolic sense.

Why is this important? Because our marriage as members of the church is supposed to demonstrate the relationship between Christ and the church. This is why Paul said after writing about marriage in Ephesians 5:32: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Paul’s writing in Ephesians 5:22-33 demonstrates this relationship between marriage, and Christ and His church.

This is not just an interesting analogy. If you really want to understand how your marriage, or any marriage, is to bring glory to God, you must comprehend this point. God did not create marriage just to give us a pleasant way to populate the earth. Marriage is to point to the loving, caring and close relationship that God wants to have with His own chosen people.

So, does every marriage in the church showcase the loving relationship between Jesus Christ and His own ransomed church? Sadly, no. But our marriages, in the body of Christ, should.

  1. Love is a Decision

My purpose here is to present the concept of forgiveness within the framework of a Christian marriage. It should be so very easy to forgive the person you love. But let me say something first about loving the spouse you married. You should love that person even during those times when you don’t like them very much.

Jesus said the second greatest of all the commandments is to love thy neighbor. He taught that we are to love even our enemies. Divine love, or charity, is greater than both hope and faith – Paul so taught. We can sometimes love our enemies better than we love our own spouse. Those whom ought to be closest to us, those who promised and swore before God to love and cherish us, are sometimes the ones we love the least. Little children, such things ought not to be.

Hate springs quickly from the human heart. It doesn’t have to be taught. Whenever we are provoked, hatred rises up. But love isn’t that way. Love never springs up instantly. Nobody “falls” in love. Infatuation and lust are quick to appear, but not true love. Love is not an unbidden natural response. It is something that must be acquired. It must be pursued, sought for, and attained.

It is really sad when one spouse says to the other: “I don’t love you.” In truth, that statement is an admission of failure. The person who says that is really admitting that he or she didn’t learn to love their spouse. The Christian thing to do is to learn to love people – even your enemies. If you haven’t acquired love for your spouse, then you haven’t acted as a Christian. Please let me state this without you being insulted: If you don’t love your spouse, you are admitting you have failed to live as a Christian.

There is a common misconception in society. It is not only common, but dangerous. Society thinks love is an emotion. It is not. It certainly has emotional contexts and connotations, but love is not an emotion. It is a decision. You decide to love someone. If you say to your wife, “I don’t love you;” you are saying you have decided not to love her. How does that statement compare with the truth of Scripture?

I John 4:20 asks, how can you love God, and not love your brother or sister? Can you love God and not love your spouse? Jesus said love was the greatest commandment. In the midst of debates and arguments in the home, somebody has to rise up above the din and implement the greatest commandment. Your spouse is your neighbor. Love your neighbor.

Jesus said to love God, and your neighbor. It is easy to love God. He is good all the time. He doesn’t get on our nerves. He doesn’t yell at us. He is always loveable. But loving your marriage partner, well that isn’t always easy. But he or she is your neighbor. And think about it: how can we love God? He is so different from us. He is a Spirit; we are flesh. He is sinless; we are thoroughly infused with sin. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, as far as the heaven is above the earth. He is eternal; and we are temporal. He is unlimited; we are beset with limitations. We are not much like God. How can we love Him? Yet we do.

But if we can love God when we are so different from God, how much easier should it be to love another human being; the one you married? We have many more similarities with our spouse than we do with our God. We are both flesh and blood; we live side-by-side with them. They are much more like us than our God is. Can we decide to love them?

Matthew 5:43-44 is where Jesus told His followers that they cannot just love neighbors; He said to love your enemies. This again proves that love is not an emotion. Nobody naturally “feels” like loving an enemy. You have to decide to love them – despite what they have done or are doing to you. It is the Christian thing to do. If a child of God can decide to love their enemy, why can’t they decide to love their spouse? Is their spouse their enemy? It doesn’t matter whether they are or are not. Our only response to them is to love them. “What if they don’t love me back?” It doesn’t matter. Your enemies probably won’t love you back either; but you are still to love them. Remember, love is a decision.

Too many people are confused. They have been told that love is a many-splendored thing. They think they fall in love. They think love is over when the “spark” is gone. They feel love is some giddy, emotional attachment. They are wrong. Love can have wonderful emotions connected with it. But the decision to love is not an emotional decision. It is a choice. If you base your choice of who to love on emotions, you are going to have a lot of trouble in life. Base your decisions on higher things than emotions – duty, commitment, responsibility, service, and such noble criteria.

God’s Word commands in Colossians 3:19: “husbands, love your wives.” It teaches in Titus 2:4 that wives are to love their husbands. These are not biblical suggestions. This isn’t optional. This is the Word of God for your life. If you are married, decide to love your spouse. Decide right now. Whether you feel like it or not; choose to love the person you swore before God that you would cherish and honor in sickness and in health, till death.

  1. The Virtue of Forgiveness

There are so many things I could cover about Christian marriage. I remind you that the purpose behind it is to demonstrate the love of God for His people. There are biblical guidelines that will improve your marriage. But the number one step in this is to choose to love your spouse. That choice means it doesn’t matter what he or she does. It doesn’t matter whether they are nice to you. It doesn’t matter whether physical relations are good or absent. Love is constant and abiding. Love is deliberate. You are supposed to love your wife. You are supposed to love your husband.

But let’s move to the heart of this subject: forgiveness in marriage. They say to err is human, but to forgive is divine. There is some truth in that. Forgiving is very god-like. It is one of the most noble and most honorable acts a human being can perform. It separates mankind, who were made in the image of God, from baser animals. Animals cannot forgive. They can forget, but have no capacity to forgive. And forgiveness is an identifying characteristic of a Christian.

Forgiveness is not just some noble dispensing of your pleasure on someone else. It is a commandment for Christians. We aren’t given a choice in this matter. We are required by our Lord and His Holy Word to forgive those who trespass against us. The requirement is stated in Matthew 6:14-15: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Then Jesus said in Matthew 18:35 that God will be angry with you if you don’t forgive, from your heart. “From your heart” means a full pardon – as if the transgression never happened. It is not just words from the mouth; there must be a removal of the pain of the injury from your heart. You must decide to treat a guilty person as if he or she were not guilty; as though they had not committed the transgression.

 A powerful scripture on this is Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” What does it mean to forgive as God forgives? Our Lord forgives those who don’t deserve to be forgiven, and He forgives them completely. We are to forgive like that – forgiveness is supposed to be both undeserved, and unreserved.

Earlier, I pointed out the biblical requirement to love your enemies. Now, in the context of forgiveness, I am giving you the scriptural admonition to forgive your enemies. In this context, sometimes your spouse is your enemy. So forgive your spouse. I doubt anybody can hurt you as much as your spouse can. He or she knows your weaknesses. That person knows your darkest secrets, your secret faults, your vulnerabilities. The very close and frequent association in marriage creates so very many opportunities to hurt and offend.

You will have more opportunity to forgive your loving spouse than you will a persecuting world.  Unless you are married to a perfect overcomer, you will have an endless set of opportunities to demonstrate the mercy of God through forgiving. Remember that God chose marriage to display His grace to the world. How can you claim to be a Christian if you cannot display the primary godly principle of forgiveness by forgiving the person you married?

To forgive means to pardon or overlook an offense. It means to treat an offender as not guilty. But usually he is guilty! And forgiveness means you choose to treat him as though he did not offend. Forgiveness is not justice. It is not fairness. It is a deliberate decision to leave the scales of justice unbalanced. Your enemy somehow hurt you, and you choose to treat them as if it never happened.

Too many marriages are in trouble because one or both parties are demanding justice, when they should be practicing forgiveness. Retaliation and getting even are never the road to happiness. Revenge is a poison to your own soul. In I Corinthians 6:7, Paul made this statement in another context; but even in marriage, a true Christian learns to take wrong and to suffer being defrauded.

I am not talking about meekly submitting to true abuse, and maybe it is too hard for you to forgive unfaithfulness; but I am saying you can and must forgive your spouse for the accumulated hurts, slights, and emotional and spiritual failings that you know he or she possesses.

You are to do so because the Lord has commanded you to forgive. You do it because your forgiveness is a display of the glory of God to your spouse, your family, the church and the world. And you do it for your own benefit. Because the hatred, anger and bitterness of refusing to forgive are poisonous to your own heart, forgiveness is also an act of self-defense. It not only releases the other party; it releases you from the toxic effects of these seething emotions. Hebrews 12:15 says that bitterness is poison. It is toxic to your spiritual life.

Forgiveness is not easy; nor is it a light thing. But I am asking you to consider deeply, and make a deliberate decision to forgive a lot of hurts you have already received. And then prepare your heart to forgive more of them in the future. You cannot have a long term relationship with anyone you are unwilling to forgive. It is the requirement of God for every Christian; be quick to forgive.

Colossians 3:13: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”

Few if any situations in life give us so frequent an opportunity to practice the godly virtue of forgiveness as does a marriage.

                                                                                                                        Glenn Goodwin