This week we continue our look at forgiveness by looking at what it means to both ask for and offer forgiveness in our most personal, committed and intimate relationships. For many people this will be the relationship with a husband or wife in the covenant of marriage, but for those who are not married, this can be a life-long relationship with a friend or sibling. These are simply the people we choose to walk with and partner with in life. Too often when we talk about intimate relationships we only think of it terms of physical and romantic intimacy – but intimate relationships can be any relationship where we in some way commit ourselves to support, love and care for someone in very real ways over the course of time. These relationships are always hard and they require a lot of work and a lot of forgiveness.
The reason forgiveness is essential in these relationships is because all of us are sinners. If you remember from last week, sin simply means to stray from the path or miss the markwhich means that there is a path we are to follow in life and when we stay in this path we are not only in a right relationship with God, but with others. There is also a path we are to follow in our relationships with one another. Not just in marriage, but in all our relationships and we heard this path outlined in Colossians 3. Now it’s important to remember that Paul was not writing this to couples getting married, he was writing this to the early church. The followers of Jesus were striving to live in community with one another. They were developing deep relationships of trust and commitment – real intimacy – with one another. What this shows us is that the kind of close and committed relationships we are talking about today are not just the relationships found in marriage but relationships we should be developing here in the church as well.
If we go back to Colossians 3:12 we will define the path we need to be living in our relationships with one another with these five words: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness andpatience.
Compassion actually means to suffer with someone. It means we experience their pain and frustrations and work to understand what it is they are going through. It means to have empathy for someone which requires us to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others.
Kindness is the thoughtful acts and words that bless and encourage others. They are the acts given without thinking about getting something in return. It’s love put into action and service.
Humility is not putting ourselves down as much as it is lifting others up. It is a basic respect for others. It is seeing value and worth in other people and placing their lives before our own.
Meekness is a gentleness or softness in our words and actions toward others. It’s what we hear in Proverbs when it says that a gentle answer turns away wrath.
Patience means long suffering and waiting with someone. Sometimes patience is simply putting up with or bearing with someone until change happens.
Obviously what we have just defined here is love. The kind of love we see defined for us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. Again, we often read this passage at weddings, but this was not written to couples getting married it was written to the church which means that this is how we need to treat one another and these are the kind of relationships we need to nurture and develop.
So this is the path we are to follow, but we miss the mark. We stray from this path. When we fail to listen and have compassion we stray from the path, when we are unkind, lose our patience and lash out in anger we miss the mark. When our ego gets in the way and we place our needs before others, we stray from the path. In every relationship we might stray from the path and then return, then stray again and then return, so our lives might look something like this… but every time we stray from the path and miss the mark we need to seek forgiveness.
We also need to be willing to offer forgiveness when others stray from the path. If we aren’t willing to offer forgiveness to others then we will end up alone in life because others will stray from us and we will stray from them.
So let’s look at forgiveness in these relationships because forgiveness looks different in different situations. Now the reality is that what we are going to look at today are some very general principles about forgiveness. Forgiving one another is very personal and always needs to take into consideration a lot of issues, so today we are just going to look at some general principles about forgiveness and to do this we are going to go back to the illustration from last week.
In all of our relationships there are small, medium and large sins that we struggle with and if we don’t learn to seek and offer forgiveness then these sins pile up in our heart and soul and become a burden which will weaken and in time destroy our relationships. But when we miss the mark in these ways the sin not only piles up in our backpacks and weigh us down in life but when we say and do these things we are also placing stones in the backpacks of others and this creates more division and distance in our relationships and real pain for others.
Now some of the ways we all stray from the path in relationships are small. We might not even know we are doing anything, it might just be the way we are and the different ways we see and experience life that cause those close to us to feel frustrated. If that is how we are feeling, if these little sins of those we love are piling up then we need to learn to simply forgive and let these things. Let me give an example.
My parents are very different people. My mom is a classic extrovert who gets energy in life when she is around other people so she always wants to be part of groups at church and in the community. My Dad is a classic introvert who gets his energy replenished by coming home and experiencing a measure of peace and solitude. As you can imagine, two people trying to live life together with such different needs can be challenging. If my Dad insisted that my Mom stay home with him, it would lead to bitterness and resentment and if Mom got angry that my Dad never wanted to go out and be involved in things there would also be resentment and bitterness. But here’s the thing, they didn’t hold on to these things. They let them go. They know the other one isn’t intentionally trying to hurt them or change them it is just who they are and so while at times there might be some tension or frustrations, they have chosen to bear with one another in love.
There are times when we need to let go of these little things that might rub us the wrong way. We need to tell ourselves that the other person didn’t mean to harm us or offend us and they really do love us so we can let these small sins go. Now this takes a conscious effort. We might actually have to name the offense or frustration and say to ourselves, I know they didn’t mean this, and I know they didn’t intentionally try to harm me so I am choosing to let it go. This is what it means in 1 Corinthians 13:5 where it says, Love keeps no record of wrongs. It means we don’t hold on to this anymore – we choose to let it go.
Now if these little things become a habitual part of a relationship they need to be dealt with. My parents have talked through their difference in life and my Dad has told my Mom to go and be involved in all that she wants and needs to. He wants her to because he knows it is important to her and my Mom will do that without making my Dad feel guilty about not going with her. They have talked it out and learned to bear with one another. If little sins build up in a relationship they can become a bigger issue, so if you can’t just let it go – then talk about it.
Now in every relationship there will also be these middle sized sins. These are the hurtful words and insults we say in a fit of frustration knowing it will hurt. It’s the dishonesty that creeps in when we intentionally keep things from one another and it’s lashing out in revenge when we feel like we have been hurt.
With these sins we have two options. We can see seek justice oroffer mercy. Seeking justice means getting even – you hurt me so now I am going to hurt you. In the Old Testament this was calledan eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. Adam Hamilton says if we live this way we will end up toothless and blind, so we need to find a better way, we need to offer mercy and this means to forgive and this is what forgiveness look like in these situations.
Forgiveness starts with awareness. We need to own up to what we have said and done that has caused pain to those we love. We need to stop making excuses for our sin and start taking responsibility for our words and actions. Once we really understand how our sins have hurt others and worked to destroy the relationship we need to experience remorse. Now this is not often our initial feeling. When we think about something we have said or done our first response might be to become defensive and say, they had it coming because look at what they did to me. Remorse often takes some time and reflection. The more we think about what we have done to those we love and the more we take responsibility for our own actions the more we will feel bad about it and want to do something about it.
Remorse then leads us to confession. This is where we get to put into practice those three words we learned to say last week, I am sorry. But we don’t say these words in passing without any feelings to back them up, we really should only say these words when we feel some remorse and understand how our words and actions have hurt those we love. But confession is not the end of the process because it needs to lead to change. What will we do differently in the future so that these words and actions don’t continue? It doesn’t mean we will never stray from the path again, but we need to put clear expectations and boundaries into our relationships so that things really do change for the better.
What this process does is actually work to take the stones out of someone else’s backpack. We are working to remove the hurt, heal the pain and restore the relationship – but remember forgiveness goes both ways. At times we need to seek forgiveness and at times we need to offer it, so if we have been the ones wronged, what will our response be when some comes seeking forgiveness? Will we let the stone go? Will we allow them to remove it from our lives or will we hold on to it because we can then pull it out later to seek some kind of revenge. If we hold on to it then understand that we are now the ones who are placing stones in the packs of others. We have to learn to let the stones go. When those we love come seeking forgiveness and restoration we need to learn to forgive. We may not always feel like it, sometimes forgiveness begins as an act of the will and choice we make, but that act and choice will slowly shape our hearts and lives.
Now let’s also say a word about the big sins in our relationships. These are things so big that they threaten to destroy the very life and soul of the other person. Here we are talking about things like physical or emotional abuse that destroys the other person. We are talking about addictions that destroy not only relationships but families and drag people we love down with us. We are talking betrayals like infidelity and adultery. Every single one of us is capable of straying this far off the path. Given the right (or wrong) circumstances in life, every single one of us is capable of this kind of destructive behavior so we can’t sit here today and think about how someone else needs to hear these words, we need to think about them for ourselves.
When this kind of violation takes place we aren’t talking about this kind of stone, we are talking about this kind of stone. As you can see, the backpack can barely hold it and the reality is that our relationships were never meant to endure this kind of pain and brokenness. Our relationships were never meant to experience physical abuse and adultery which is why God allows some grounds for divorce. While God doesn’t want people to get divorced, He has always made an exception because God understands that relationships can not always survive this kind of brokenness.
For example, God has always said that adultery was one reason you could file for divorce. You didn’t have to and some relationships can and have survived this pain and even grown stronger through them, but some can not. When these relationships have survived it is because the person who has committed the sin has gone through the same process we just looked at. They have acknowledged their sin, felt genuineremorse, confessed their sin and worked to change. In fact, most of the time change is required before there can be any kind of healing. While all of this is needed by the person who has sinned, the other person must also be willing to stay involved and this is often a very clear choice that is made every day.
Now this kind of forgiveness and healing often takes some good counseling because these things never just happen and it is important to understand how and why it all has taken place and how to safe guard everyone as they move together into the future. When both parties work on this, what is happening is that you removing the stone together so there can be healing and restoration.
Once the stone is removed, the person who has sinned and missed the mark can’t just take it back and hold on to it forever. If you do it will destroy your life and relationships, so now we are back to where we were last week. We have to be willing to give this to God. And this is what it looks like… and this is what it sounds like. Psalm 51:1-4, 7-12
You see, this was written by David after he committed adultery. He asked God to forgive him and as we saw last week, God always does. Not every relationship in this world can endure this kind of sin. Not every marriage or friendship can survive abuse and betrayal but because God’s very nature is to forgive he does give us the ability to seek forgiveness and he is always willing to receive us when we turn to him and as we learn to accept God’s forgiveness and grace it will help us to both offer and receive that forgiveness and grace to others.
Forgiveness in Marriage (and other personal relationships)
1. In your most personal and important relationships, how can you intentionally put these qualities into practice this week. Be specific.
Compassion: (to suffer with someone, to show empathy)
Kindness: (thoughtful acts that encourage and serve others)
Humility: (respecting others, placing their needs first)
Meekness: (softness, gentle words and actions)
Patience: (long suffering, waiting with someone)
2. Name the little sins you need to overlook in your spouse and/or close friend. As you bear with them, make sure to communicate your love for them.
3. Where do you need to seek forgiveness from your spouse and/or close friend? Where are you on this journey of forgiveness: awareness, remorse,confession, change? How can you move to the next step?
4. If there is a big sin that threatens to destroy your most personal and important relationship, make the decision this week to ask for help and support and begin the path of forgiveness.