Forgiveness without Delay: Biblical Medicine for a Healthy Marriage

by Amy Brown

Our home, just like every home, is full of sinners. Currently, we have five sinners seeking to love and live in harmony with one another, yet sin remains. Where sin is present, forgiveness must reign all the more! We seek to have a home of forgiveness. We don’t always forgive perfectly, but we strive for this to be a pattern for our family as the gospel guides and influences all we do.

Regularly, as I go about the daily work of my calling as a wife and mother, I hear the refrain of Matthew 18 run through my mind where Peter asks of Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (v. 21). And Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (v. 22). My God has forgiven me fully, completely, eternally for the sins of commission and omission which I am guilty of minute-by-minute (Col 2:13-14). Hallelujah!

Extending Forgiveness
So how can I be one to not extend forgiveness to my closest neighbors whom I love the most dearly, my husband and my children? And on the flip side, my minute-by-minute sinfulness often requires of me to confess and ask forgiveness from these same neighbors whom I sin against. When I think upon Matthew 18:21-22, I most often think upon how I need to ask for forgiveness “seventy times seven times.”

“Forgiveness is not a method to be learned,” Nancy DeMoss notes, “but more of a truth to be lived.”[1] Forgiveness within our family, therefore, happens everywhere and all throughout the day. In our marriage, Derek and I seek to be quick to forgive. It is rough to go any length of time with a quarrel between us. A healthy relationship of any sort should be characterized by a quickness to forgive and ask forgiveness; for a relationship soaked in love cannot go long where peace is not found. When Derek and I have the perspective that there is no greater sinner than our own selves, it makes reconciliation swift. We know we have been forgiven much, and any root of anger or bitterness in our hearts will turn to poison and erode our covenant love for one another (see Eph 4:31-32). 

Confessing Sin to Each Other
Seeking forgiveness with one another always begins with confession of our own sin. When Derek and I extend forgiveness to one another it gives opportunity to rejoice in the good news of the gospel together. We can forgive because we each have been forgiven through the sinless blood of Christ. When forgiveness is shared, it is a means of preaching the gospel to one another. We need the gospel preached to our hearts daily; quick forgiveness-seeking and forgiveness-giving is one way this can be accomplished daily. Within our marriage we experience what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones described: “I say to the glory of God and in utter humility that whenever I see myself before God and realize even something of what my blessed Lord has done for me, I am ready to forgive anybody anything.”[2] 

We also model forgiveness with our children when one of our children has disobeyed. At the conclusion of discipline, we model for them how to ask for forgiveness so their relationship with us can be properly restored. Right then and there we forgive them with words and hugs and kisses because we love them, reminding them of the eternal forgiveness which can be theirs in Christ if they ask for it.

Likewise when our children sin against each other with a harsh word or unkindness, they are guided to ask for forgiveness from one another with words and a hug. It has been a blessing to see this reconciliation happen and our hope is this practice will root out bitterness in their hearts toward one another, so true love can thrive. With children who are young we are seeking to lay a pattern so that, Lord-willing, He melts their hearts of stone and Christ-like love for one another blossoms. We hope that the practice of forgiveness will be all the sweeter because the good habit of quick reconciliation has been already established in their relationships.

Seeking Forgiveness from Our Children
It also tastes so sweet to be forgiven by my children! My children see my sin. They see my anxious fretting, my irritability and anger, and my lack of patience. I regularly sin against my children and once my heart has been re-centered, regret sets in and the Spirit reveals how utterly foolish I have been. It is at these times when I must seek forgiveness from my children. This happens with them all piled on my lap on the couch or sitting beside them on their bed or in our mini-van before we head out and about. It is humbling to confess my sins, yet I am amazed at the quickness with which my children forgive and what immediate, joyful smiles light their faces when they see how mommy realizes and admits when I have hurt their tender hearts. The Lord speaks of having faith like a child (Mark 10:15); I wish I forgave as easily as a child.   

When I seek forgiveness from my children it gives opportunity to articulate the good news of the gospel to their unbelieving hearts and share with them mommy’s need for the blood of Christ. My children see how I rely on His perfect sacrifice and how I need His sinless blood because mommy is a sinner. When I ask for forgiveness they see modeled how the Christian life is a journey of progressive sanctification. I have been redeemed once and for all at the moment of my conversion, yet sin is still present within me and I battle with it as I grow in godliness, even and especially, as I seek to parent my children day-to-day. 

We desire for our home to be one of forgiveness to not allow Satan a foothold or even a toe in the back door (Eph 4:27). Unforgiveness is a breeding ground for bitterness, anger and all types of relational sin. We want forgiveness to be the pattern, the norm of our home. Where there is forgiveness love can abound, the soil for spiritual growth is rich and people are set free to confess their sins to one another as they journey together toward godliness. We want our home to be that which is described in Colossians 3:12-14, where we bear with one another in kindness, humility, patience, love and perfect harmony as much as is possible for five sinners living together.  

Forgiveness unleashes joy. It brings peace. It washes the slate clean. It sets all the highest values of love in motion. In a sense, forgiveness is Christianity at its highest level.

John MacArthur

Notes
[1]Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Forgiveness (Chicago, Moody, 2008), 28
[2]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1976), 349.