I was listening to a podcast from two of my favorite people: Lisa and Stu Gray from STUpendous Marriage, and the top of their podcast this week was “How Can I Forgive My Spouse?” Honestly I thought that was a great question! Exactly how IS someone supposed to forgive their spouse when their spouse is the one they trusted the MOST, and trust was betrayed? Even when the Disloyal Spouse is repentant and ends their affair and wants to reconcile…HOW do you forgive?
Stu and Lisa have some great thoughts such as “Forgiveness takes time” and “We have to forgive them every day”…I’ll let you listen to their podcast to hear their thoughts. But I thought it might be useful and helpful to look at some Bible verses about forgiving others and comment directly on verses.
Matthew 5:23-24 NIV
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Comment: The main thing to learn from this verse is that these are words from Jesus, who is telling us what is important to God–he’s indicating what is a priority. Although God is indeed pleased by offerings at the altar, note that Jesus tells us that offerings are nice, but RECONCILING with a brother (or sister) is priority over giving gifts. Who is a closer brother or sister than your spouse? If your spouse has something against you, it says to leave the offering and go be reconciled first. And notice this too–Jesus says that the one who did something against the brother is to be the one initiating the reconciling and putting action into it. Don’t just say “Oh sorry” and carry on as the same person…leave the altar! Travel to where they are! Make the effort! Ask for forgiveness! Work it out! Do what you have to do in order to make it right with them … and THEN go back and give the gift to God.
Matthew 6:14-15 NIV
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins
Comment: A lot of people take this verse out of context, but if you look at the entire chapter, Jesus is teaching his disciples to not be hypocrites and to not practice their righteousness out in public. In his day (and now-a-days too) a lot of the “religious leaders” would act all pious and holy in front of the people, but in real life they wanted the best seats, wanted their name on the plaques, and wanted people to see them praying…but in their hearts they were selfish, spiteful, jealousy, adulterous and AWFUL! So Jesus’ theme is “don’t be a hypocrite” and this verse is RIGHT AFTER the Lord’s Prayer. So here, Jesus is essentially saying “Man, how can you expect God to forgive for your sins, when you aren’t a forgiving person yourself?”
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
Comment: Right before this verse is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Do you know the story? There was this servant and he owed his master $10,000.00 so the master says “Okay sell this servant and his wife and kids, and we’ll settle the debt” and the servant begs and pleads not to have his family torn apart and says “If you give me a year I’ll pay you back, I promise!” The master has compassion, cancels the whole debt, and lets him go. Now some other servant owed this guy $10, so the servant says “Pay up or else!” and the other servant says “Please I can’t pay right now but if you give me a year I’ll pay you back, I promise” and the unforgiving servant said “TOUGH you owe it!” and threw the guy in prison. Now the other servants were mad at the unforgiving one and told the master, who called him in front of him and said, “YOU WICKED MAN! I cancelled your huge debt and showed you mercy–shouldn’t you have done the same thing to your fellow-servant?” Then the master sent him to prison to be tortured until he could pay his debt.
What can we learn from this? Oh it’s easy. We owe an ENORMOUS debt to the Lord for forgiving us our sins. Shouldn’t we also show mercy to our fellow-servants?
So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.
Comment: Okay I love this one. First, notice that it doesn’t say that if someone sins against us we are supposed to be milquetoast and just accept their sinning. WE ARE SUPPOSED TO REBUKE THEM! That’s not vengeance, but rather calling sin by its name, and letting them experience the natural consequences of choosing to sin! Don’t cover it up. Don’t pretend “it’s okay.” Don’t agree with it and let it keep happening! And then you notice it says “IF THEY REPENT.” We aren’t told to forgive someone who isn’t really sorry and hasn’t really changed; this verse is specifically addressing someone who is actually remorseful and repents = 180 degree change. So they step in it…and repent. They try to be different and still do it wrong…and repent. They try again and sin against you again…and repent. They are not being their old, sinful self but they are trying but head off in a wrong direction…and repent. They make a mistake…and repent. See what I mean? Note that it says we MUST forgive them. It’s a command.
On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Comment: This verse doesn’t specifically have the word “forgive” or “forgiveness” in it, but I added it because here Paul is talking about how to treat an “enemy.” This is how a Christian is supposed to act toward someone who is openly hostile and at enmity in every way–in other words, definitely not a fellow brother or sister in Christ! If someone who is 100% opposed to me is hungry, I am supposed to feed them. If someone who hates me and would like to see me dead is thirsty, I’m supposed to give him something to drink. Matthew 5:38 -48 tells us even more about how to treat an enemy. So if that’s how we are to treat someone who is our ENEMY… how much more loving and kind should we be to someone who is our brother, our sister, or co-heir in Christ?
2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NIV
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.
Comment: One thing to learn from these verses is that it is possible to be “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” Now suppose someone has caused you grief–I think breaking trust and betraying your spouse via adultery counts as “causing grief”–and thank God they see that what they did was wrong and repent = 180 degree change from the way they were acting. Paul says here that if the person is not forgiven and comforted, there is a risk the person could be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I believe what Paul is referring to is the feeling a truly repentant Disloyal has of being worthless, unlovable, and lower than a worm under the mud of your shoe because of what they’ve done and all the damage they did. Paul literally URGES us to reaffirm our love for the one who has caused us grief! So it’s not a commandment per se, but Paul, via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is telling us that reaffirming our love for the one who has caused us grief and repented is pleasing to God.
Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Comment: Man, do I really need to comment on this one? Just because it’s your spouse and they caused you grief doesn’t mean you now have the right to rage at them and hold bitterness against them. Two wrongs don’t make a right. These verses are pretty self-evident, I’d say.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Comment: Again, pretty self-evident, I’d say. When your spouse commits adultery, you DEFINITELY have a grievance against them. But what does it say?
“What about a spouse that doesn’t repent or doesn’t ask for forgiveness?”
Comment: Well we do know how God has told us to treat our enemies–those who are openly hostile and at enmity with us. If your Disloyal Spouse had an affair and refused to end it and is divorcing you, I would say that qualifies as “openly hostile and at enmity with you”..wouldn’t you? So we know that we are to LOVE our enemies. We are to feed and clothe them. We are to turn the other cheek. If they force us to walk one mile, we walk two. If they sue us for our shirt, we’re supposed to give them our pants and coat too!
I don’t see anywhere where God says “…if they are hostile to you, it’s okay to be hostile back” so for a Disloyal who doesn’t repent, I’d join with Paul and urge you to forgive them and treat them with godly love for two reasons: a) if you hold bitterness and rage in your heart, it will eat away at YOU …, and b) if you treat them in a way that is counter-intuitive to the wisdom of this world, your very actions may lead them back into reconciling their relationship with God.