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A Blessed Marriage: Forgiveness

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This one old preacher, when he was a pastor, had the habit of bringing all the children up to the front of the church to talk to them and teach them before he would preach his message. One day he was going to talk to them about forgiveness. So, in order to make his point clear and wanting to visualize it to the kids, he brought a terrible looking ugly summer shirt and held it up and said to the kids, “kids, somebody said to me, this is an ugly shirt and I need to throw it away. But that person hurt my feelings deeply because this is my favorite shirt. I love this shirt. I can’t get rid of this shirt. In fact, I feel so deeply hurt by those words that I can’t forgive this person. Why should I forgive that person?” Then his own six year old girl who was setting there with the other kids spoke up and said, “You should.” And then, hoping that his daughter would keep quiet, he said, “Why should I forgive that person. Why, because they hurt me deeply?” Then his little girl yelled again, “Because your married to her.”

We have begun a series of messages on the three legged stool of the blessed marriage, this second one is about forgiveness. Forgiveness is probably on of those subjects that Christians, non-Christians, church and non-church goers and people all over talk about because it is a familiar subject. You have all the secular preachers like Opra and Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura all preaching forgiveness and how important forgiveness is and how healthy forgiveness is and how freeing forgiveness is and they preach that message to their congregations all over the country telling them how great and important and healing that forgiveness is and that is wonderful for their emotional well being and that unforgiveness is bad for your well being and emotional health.

But let me tell you something. Any preacher of the virtue of forgiveness, religious or secular, who does not comprehend experientially what it means to be forgiven by God, is like someone trying to describe the blue sky to a person born blind. You can explain away all you want but it can never replace or substitute for this vital experience which makes all the difference in the world.

A true experience of forgiveness is only possible when you recognize your own sinfulness and how much you have fallen short of the standards of God and how you recognize that you could never save yourself and that your sins separated you from God, until you came to Him in confession and repentance. That God in His mercy, who reached down through His Son who died on the cross can say to you when you come to Him in repentance, “you are forgiven.” Until you experience that, you do not and will not truly know how to give or receive forgiveness.

So when a couple has a problem forgiving one another you can almost be certain that either one or both of them have a faulty understanding of the grace of God and the forgiveness of the grace of God.

Like the Apostle Peter, I am so good at times at putting my foot into my mouth, just like he was, though I do have to say that was mostly before Calvary and Pentecost. He is so impetuous.  Peter knowing the law, comes to Jesus with a most interesting question, which he then tries to answer in Matthew 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

You get the impression that Peter was hoping that Jesus would commend him for being so generous and magnanimous to say seven times.  The law says forgive once, but you said seven times, Peter, that’s great. But I am sure Peter got surprised and shocked when Jesus replied in Verse 22. “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Let’s see, seventy times seven, that’s 490 times. But then Jesus goes on to tell a parable about forgiveness.

What was Jesus saying? In a word, it was forgive until you loose count, then just keep on forgiving. Forgive without limit, without number, without reservation. That is what God does for us. It’s forgiveness without measure or number. We need to learn to understand, comprehend and practice the anatomy of forgiveness because without that understanding you will continuously have a hard time truly forgiving others from your heart.

1. Attack the insignificant. What does that mean? When it comes to the church of Jesus Christ and the ministry you must major on the major things and let go of the minor things. But here you reverse that point. You’re going to major on the minor and insignificant things and attack them. When it comes to forgiveness between a husband and wife you have to learn to forgive the small stuff, then you will be able to forgive the big stuff. When you understand and practice the forgiving of the little things, you will forgive the big things. When you don’t deal with forgiveness with the small issues, you will have a very hard time to understand, let alone know how to forgive the big one.

You see, when I don’t know how to understand and deal with the little blips in life, then I won’t understand and know how to deal with the big blips when they come along. So we have to practice and work to forgive all the little hurts, errors, mistakes, harsh words, misunderstandings or whatever so that we will know how and be able to handle the big one when it happens, because we have been practicing forgiveness and have that habit and pattern built into our daily lives. It becomes as the scripture tells us that the one who is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the big things, but when a person is unfaithful in the little things, then God will not entrust them with big things. Luke 16:10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”

In the Song of Solomon, Solomon’s wife said in Song of Solomon 2:15 Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” What is she saying here? What is her deepest concern? Her deepest concern was that if these little foxes in marriage relationships, make their way through some broken fences and get into a marriage relationship, no matter how blessed it may be, even in full bloom, it will most certainly create havoc. When you train yourselves to deal with each others bad habits, irritating habits, and we all have them and each others annoying characteristics and aggravating traits, then you will avoid the building of an invisible wall in your marriage that will seriously hamper your relationship. In the long run, it can be as dangerous and hurtful as a sudden knowledge of infidelity.

You may ask, should these big things and the little things be on the same level. No. Absolutely not! But if you have practiced forgiving the little things, then you will be more able and likely to forgive a big thing if it happens in your marriage and God forbid that any big ugly thing will even come into your marriage, but unfortunately in our world today, such is becoming more and more common.  

What are the little foxes? They are and can be things as simple as whether you squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle or the end (I’ve got an automatic cure for that one) or the man leaving that dreaded toilet seat up instead of putting it back down or even someone going around turning off the lights behind another who turns them all on. It can be as simple as neatness and tidiness compared to the others seemingly sloppiness or disorganization. What I am trying to say is that all these little foxes have the ability, if we allow them, to gnaw their way into a relationship and cause a great deal of damage. Little foxes have the ability to start adding up, if not forgiven until when they are all added up together and taken as a whole, they become something big and insurmountable to some and destroy marriages, even without some big ugly event happening to divide and tear up the marriage because the couple have not understood and practiced forgiveness and dealing with the little foxes and so they decide their marriage has become insupportable or they are no longer compatible.

All that means is that the things they could overlook when they first got married, they are no longer willing to overlook. It means that before, because of love and affection they were willing to make room for each others humanity and differences and now they have lost that ability because of unforgiveness of the little things. They have become hard hearted and hardened against each other and can no longer “cut a little slack” or “allow a little room for differences.” It has become a, ‘do things my way, to please me, serve and live for me, or hit the highway.’ In other words, they first lost their selflessness that I talked about in the first message and became selfish and self centered. That alone has destroyed many marriages. Then they added unforgiveness and now there is nothing left to support the marriage.

In anther way and simply put, the little things require daily, continuous forgiveness because forgiveness is not a one time act, but a lifestyle for a true believer. When forgiveness stops being a daily part and practice in a marriage, it will soon begin deterioration.

But the major offenses take time, they take effort and prayer and repentance and brokenness and willingness for a total change to bring healing. When a spouse betrays their marriage vows, a deeper level of forgiveness is required than with all the simple things we have been talking about and the level of forgiveness is dependant upon the level of repentance and change of heart in the major offenses such as the betrayal of the marriage vow. Hurt, anger and grief are very real to that individual and they cannot be glossed over. When someone betrays our marriage vow, there is a deep hurt and sometimes anger that can’t be verbalized and it takes time for these emotions to heal, outside of God’s grace. The scars may never go away, but it takes time for healing and trust to be restored. You cannot hold onto those feelings of betrayal and distrust forever. You cannot hold onto them forever and walk uprightly before God and please Him and walk in salvation. I can tell you from experience, if you have a pure heart before the Lord and you love and have no malice, God can give you the grace and ability to so forgive and put it out of your mind and life, that you can go on and act and treat a spouse that did such to you, as if they didn’t.

But it takes the grace of God and your desire and love. You have to have your heart in the right place and want to please God and do what is right to have and enjoy this kind of forgiveness. It is not human and it is not normal, but it is possible for and God has done it for many who have given Him their broken hearts. God is a heart mender and healer, but only if we are willing to obey Him and want to forgive.

2. That is why you have to not only attack the insignificant but you have to arrest the incompatible. What do I mean? Once you forgive and let go of the hurts, you need to learn and you need to understand and you need to practice what the Bible means in 2 Corinthians 10:5 when it tells us to take every thought captive. The full verse says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” Another way of saying it is this way, “we take prisoner every thought to bring it into obedience to Christ.”

We need an understanding of that verse that we will not forget. The first things we need to know about this verse is that we all live in a continuous state of war. We get into trouble when we cease to know and understand that and to be on the alert. And the battlefield of that war is in your mind. The enemy knows that if he can conquer some territory in your mind, he can set up a beachhead and from that beachhead he will not only harass you all the time, every day, but from that beachhead he will continually work to take more and more territory until he completely gets you away from your walk with the Lord.

Unforgiveness is an incompatible thought for the man or woman of God. It is Satan’s beachhead that he brings into your mind and heart and life and from there he harasses you to expand his territory and take over your life completely. Unforgiveness is the enemy’s tent that he pitches in your mind and in your heart and your emotions that he might conquer other parts of your mind. Unforgiveness is an incompatible thought for the believer. Unforgiveness in your life is a territory that has been conquered and acquired by the enemy. Unforgiveness like all other ungodly thoughts, whether they are continuous anger, uncontrollable lust or a hateful heart, selfishness; they are all thoughts that need to be arrested.

Ephesians 4:31-32 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 Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” How do I do that? The best way, the only way I know how to handcuff unforgiveness in your life is by genuinely praying for that person you are having trouble forgiving. I am not saying it is always easy, but when you call upon the Lord, everything becomes possible. This is a key to true and full forgiveness and emotional healing.

3. Finally, attain your identity. You have the human reaction of betrayal and hurt and the normal human reaction is so predictable. What is the natural human reaction? Revenge! He hurt me so I’m going to hurt him back. That is the natural reaction. That is what the Bible calls the flesh or the old nature. You are a slave to the old nature. Christ comes into your life and the old nature begins to shrink. And as the old man shrinks the new man grows. But without being on your face before God, without regular prayer and Bible study and fellowship with other believers, the old nature will always nag you.

And so, when you are betrayed and hurt the old nature wants revenge and punishment. But then the new nature that Christ puts into your heart and mind and life begins to whisper to you. You see, the old nature shouts, but the new nature whispers and says, “vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord, I will repay.” Let God be the judge. You extend mercy and you offer forgiveness. You don’t try to balance the scales by yourself. Why? Because first you cannot do a good job and secondly because you need to remember that you too were once a sinner and you offended a Holy God and God forgave you when you repented.

That is your identity in Christ. Even as a believer, when you stumble in your walk in Christ and you stumble into sin and you come back to the Lord and ask forgiveness, the Lord forgives you again. How many times? Seven times seventy? No! He has lost count because He doesn’t keep a count at all. He forgets it. No, God doesn’t have amnesia and knows what you did, but He is not counting your sin against you, because when we “confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God’s not counting you sin against you any longer is what it means when the Bible says that God forgets our sin and removes them as far from us as the east is from the west. That is only a promise to those who also forgive others their trespasses. Scripture makes it clear that to the one who will not forgive, as he/she has been forgiven, God will put back upon them, all the sins He once forgave. That is not taught today but that is what Jesus taught. When Jesus answered Peter’s question about forgiveness in Matthew 18:22-35 He begins in verse 22 with “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” And ends with a sad conclusion to his story of the one who was forgiven who then refused to forgive in verses 32b-35. “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt (your sins), because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” The sin once forgiven and removed by God is not put back on the ledger and account of the one who refuses to forgive.

And so forgiveness is both an act and a process. I can tell you this with certainty. You no more identify with Christ in anything you may or can do as when you forgive, because it is His nature to forgive. That is Christ’s nature and the Father’s nature, to forgive. That is why Jesus came to the cross and died for our sins, so that He could freely forgive us, continually forgive us, day after day. You are identifying with Christ on the cross, with outstreatched arms and blood soaked lips when He said, “father forgive them.” And then every time you blow it, every time you sin, every time you slip, every time sin raises it ugly head in your life when you come back to the Lord and say, “Lord, forgive me”, He says to you again, “I forgive you.” Yet it must be stated that you must mean your forgiveness, that it is not just empty words or lip service, but repentance from the heart. That is what God requires and He knows our heart and the motives of our heart.

You see, sometimes we think that if God forgave us on the cross, and He has, that every time we sin, it makes no difference. Oh yes it does. It hurts God and He grieves over our sin. But He keeps on forgiving us because of His love. Right now, in Heaven, this moment, Jesus is interceding for you and me, even though He paid the price 2,000 years ago. When we sin and go back to the cross and say, “forgive me of my sin”, Jesus stands on our behalf before the Father and when we come to the Father through Christ with faith in His sacrifice for us, we are forgiven by the Father because Jesus intercedes on our behalf.

Forgiveness is an act but it’s also a process. Some would say, “I really have tried, but I don’t feel I have forgiven that person.” Let me tell you this. Make a decision today to forgive by faith and then to pray for that person you have had held aught against for the next seven days. Forgive anyone who asks for forgiveness and then pray for that person. No pretending, but earnestly praying and interceding for them and for God to bless them and that when they have a need that you might be there for them. At the end of the week, if needed, make another seven day covenant and know that it will work if you will work this process. God will give you the spirit of forgiveness. He will give you the joy. He will give you the peace. He will give you fulfillment that you have never experienced until you have come to that decision of the act of forgiveness and the process of forgiveness.

So much is spoken and written in both the secular and religious worlds about forgiveness that it can all be confusing. The question is; what is forgiveness by Christ’s definition? It means that you not only will not hold a grudge against another person every after you forgive them, but for the rest of life. You do not keep bringing up their sin and reminding them of it. You do not keep throwing it in their face.

Many would say, I will forgive, but I know I can never forget. But to forget doesn’t mean that we suddenly get a case of amnesia and all of a sudden not remember what happened, but that you will no longer hold it against them and desire revenge or to get even. And you will not come back when they mess up again and remind them of past failures and of what you forgave them of in the past. No, that means that you have not forgiven and you are still holding it against them and so in Biblical language you are remembering it. To forgive means to let it go and give that person a new start again. To forgive means to put it behind you and not bring it up and hold it against them any longer.

It can’t be like the guy who went to a marriage counselor and said, “My wife is historical.” The counselor said, “You mean she is hysterical.” The man replied, “No, I mean historical, she remembers everything I ever did.” If forgiveness has truly taken place, then literally it is erasing it from the debt ledger.

No, forgiveness is not God asking you to be a doormat for someone else. It doesn’t mean that you let them use you and that you have to keep letting them do you wrong and suffer the same experiences again and again when they have not changed or turned from their sin and that which is wrong. If a man keeps beating on a woman, forgive yes, but there is a time when she needs to realize that she needs to leave and get away and maybe children also. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that she has to keep letting an angry man beat her or their children repeatedly. If he will not change, will not stop the abuse, then she needs to move on for her sake and safety and God will not hold it against her as a sin for getting out of such an abusive relationship. She may care about and love the man. She may forgive the man. Doesn’t matter! Common sense says she must leave, at least until he has repented and proves he has changed, which cannot be done in one day, when he has had a history of abuse.

I get prayer requests all the time for prayer for relationships and marriages because of every kind of problem. Some men and women write because their spouse moved out and with someone else younger, their spouse is having an affair and filed for divorce. They don’t want the divorce but God to heal their marriage. It works both ways and get as many of one as the other.

Forgiveness is an empowering thing. It is the opposite of being a doormat. Because when you don’t forgive, you are becoming a slave to that person and then you are truly becoming a doormat. But when you forgive, you rise above that situation and person and therefore you are empowered, you have power. It is a power that many don’t want but when you understand and exercise that power you find it to be an incredibly freeing and liberating power. Unforgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person who wronged you as much as it hurts you, though it affects both parties in a relationship. If they repent but you won’t forgive, then they can go to heaven while you go to hell. Of course, if you don’t believe what Jesus said, you won’t believe that either.

Forgiveness can and will help both parties involved, but mostly you. You are responsible for your own actions. You primarily pay for your own actions and must give an account for your own actions, not that of others. It isn’t up to you to try and make or force another to forgive or repent. No, it’s your responsibility to both forgive and repent of your own sin. Then God can continue to forgive you and bless you, regardless of the other person.

No, Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have amnesia about an issue or event or problem that happened. But it means that when it is brought to mind, when you are reminded of it, it no longer brings pain and hurt. When you have forgiven, you will have peace about it. You simple let it go and put it behind you. It begins with an act of faith and obedience to the Lord’s command and ends with your freedom and peace. The serpent’s bite no longer stings you, no longer hurts you, and is no longer festered up by remembrance. It has lost its power in your life and over you and you are truly free. Then is the reality of the scripture “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

When you choose to forgive, Jesus will set you free from that past hurt and pain and take away its power over you. Anything you have no power over, you are slave to. Jesus wants us to be slave to no man, devil or thing but free. In Christ, there is liberty, but we must choose forgiveness, or we will find bondage and a spiritual prison. The choice is ours, yours and mine. Which choice will you make? I pray you will Choose life! Forgiveness brings life, unforgiveness brings death.

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