Sunday, September 18, 2011

Forgiveness: In Relationships - Colossians 3:12-15 and Romans 13:8-10

Today we are going to continue our preaching series focusing on forgiveness. This all important aspect of our lives that leads us to incredible freedom or never ending bondage. Throughout this series we have looked at forgiveness as it plays out in various situations and relationships always focusing on forgiveness through its two dimensions; our willingness to ask for it and how we receive it; and our willingness to extend forgiveness to others. Two wees ago, we came together and looked at the forgiveness we seek from God and the forgiveness that God offers us. Last week, we focused on the forgiveness that we must ask for and offer to everyone else, including our enemies. Today, we are going to look at forgiveness as it plays out in our intimate relationships. If you are married it would be your marriage, if you are romantically involved with someone that would be that relationship. We focus on this because those relationships cannot stand without forgiveness.

Pure as Snow
It seems most people, as they start out on a new relationship, are given advice by at least one person. I am sure many of you remember the advice given to you. It was advice meant to help us navigate the journey ahead. Here are a few adages about relationships that I have come across.

  • Trouble in a marriage often begins when a man is so busy earning his salt he forgets his sugar.
  • When a man marries a woman they become one. The trouble starts when they try to figure out which one.
  • If a man has enough horse sense to treat his wife like a thoroughbred, then she will never turn into an old nag.

When Debbie and I got married, one of ladies of our church, came up to us at the reception and wanted to bestow some her advice upon us. Now Miss Ruby, was in her late 90's and was as sweet as they come. At this point, my new bride and I had known Miss Ruby for about 20 years. She walked up to us, took our hands and placed them between hers. She looked at both of us and said, “if you want your marriage to be strong, never go to bed angry.” Before Miss Ruby's husband had died they had been married for over 50 years. She knew what she was talking about. She knew that love was not going to be the only thing we needed to make this new phase of our relationship last.

Marriage Is Not Always Fun
Marriage is hard. The act of sustaining any intimate relationship over a long period of time is hard. There are things that Debbie does that absolutely make no sense to me. I do not understand them, I do not know why she does them, and if she must do them, I think there are a million better ways to do them. But for every million odd things she does that make no sense to me, there are probably 5 million odd things that I do that make no sense to her.

That is the reality of marriage. These are two human beings who are raised in different homes, they see the world in different ways. Their life experiences are different. Then if that wasn't enough to overcome, you ask them to try and live in close quarters together for the rest of their lives. No wonder it is hard work. Marriage is not sustained solely by romantic feelings. For most of you, I am not telling you anything that you did not already know. Many of you know that it takes will power and determination to make a relationship work, and it also takes forgiveness.

Forgiveness is Key
Forgiveness is important because we as human beings struggle with sin. In this series, we have learned that there are a number of Hebrew and Greek words used in Scripture that we translate into the English word sin. But the one most commonly used in the Old Testament means, to stray from the path, and in the New Testament the word means, to miss the mark. In both cases the implication is that there is a way we are to live as human beings, a path laid out for us by God. For our purposes today, that path is the way we are to live within our intimate relationships.

Now, if you choose to be involved in a marriage or an intimate relationship, that you want to work, it will help you to learn two things. One, learn what God's intended path in marriage looks like. Two, understand that we will all stray from that path and therefore we need to learn forgiveness.

I do not know of a better place to turn in order to learn what God's path is supposed to look like, than the Bible. Scripture has so much wisdom for us concerning what God's plan for us looks like in a relationship. Our first Scripture lesson this morning is one that is often read at weddings because of this wisdom it contains. I invite you to pull out your insert that has today's Scripture lessons on it and I want you to circle five words found in Colossians 3:12-15. This words were written to the Christians in the little town of Colossae and they were meant to show them how to live in Christian community with one another. And I believe if they can apply to a group of people, we can apply them to our intimate relationships with each other.

Listen again to what Paul writes, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves...” Meaning this is what other people should see first in us before anything else. He continues, now circle these five words, “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” Now in this passage that is the mark. That is what the path is supposed to look like. These qualities are what people should see in your first, before anything else. If these qualities are what your partner sees in you most of the time, it would be very hard to mess up a marriage. So let's take a moment to remind ourselves what these words mean.

Compassion: This word comes from the Latin word, pati cum, which means to suffer with. To put yourselves in the shoes of another person and to see the world as they see it, to feel the world as they feel it. To empathize with them.

Kindness: Thoughtful acts that bless or encourage another human being with no expectation for something in return.

Humility: This is a respect for another person and to see them as a valuable human being. It also means putting their own needs before our own.

Meekness: This is a gentleness, a softness. Think of Proverbs 15:1, “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” When we treat others with meekness then things generally go more smoothly.

Patience: This is long suffering, endurance, waiting, until change happens.

This is what the path looks like. The challenge is that we do not always exhibit these characteristics in our relationships with others. The truth of the matter is that we all struggle with these from time to time. We all struggle to show proper amounts of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience to those that we love. Sometimes, we show none at all. So when we veer from this path, we often bring hurt to the other person. When that happens, when we have hurt another, we need to seek reconciliation. We need to seek forgiveness and the other person needs to offer forgiveness. If we are unwilling to forgive, then we will find ourselves very lonely.

Paul continues and gives another piece of advice in verse 13. He tells the people of Colossae to bear with each other. To put up with one another. Why does Paul have to say this? Why do we need to hear this all these years later? Because none of us are perfect. He also says that not only are we to put up with one another, but we are also to “forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Now here is where the rubber meets the road. It is one thing for us to intellectually know all of this about forgiveness. What it means, what it entails, why it is necessary. It is entirely another thing to practice it.

Scoreboards: The Downside
So how can we practice forgiveness? One way is not to keep score. Last week I brought in a backpack. Our backpack of forgiveness if you will. We talked about the small things, or rocks, in life and how we need to let them go and not to sweat the small stuff. If any of you read my midweek moment this week on my blog, your are free to tune out for a moment. As forgetful as we can be as humans, we have an incredible ability to remember each others faults. To kind of keep score if you will, by counting the rocks. We can hold on to things that someone committed against us with great ease and then pull it out later to remind them. But do you remember what 1 Corinthians says? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, NIV). Folks, we need to tear down our scoreboards. We need to put those things behind us. The small things should not be insurmountable.

But what about the issues that are a bit bigger we cannot just let go. Those things that when we do not deal with them, it kills the intimacy in our relationships, the closeness we once enjoyed begins to disappear. You have two options, you can seek justice or offer mercy. If we live in a relationship where mercy is never offered or felt then the other begins to seek justice. You did this to me, I will do this to you. We are no longer partners, but adversaries.

The answer to getting though this is forgiveness. But how do we seek forgiveness? Through repentance. I encourage you to write these three words down.

Awareness – we need to be aware that something that we have done has caused pain for our partner. We need to recognize our role in the situation.

Remorse – those feelings of regret and remorse for what we have done. Now sometimes remorse is not the first feeling we get when we are faced with a misdeed. Sometimes it is defensiveness. But if we were to stop, remember that we chose this person because we loved them, that just the sight of them used to put butterflies in our bellies, that our heart used to beat faster just at the thought of them, and that our only true desire in life is to bless this person and love them, then we can begin to feel what they felt when we wronged them. Then the remorse will come. It takes time, sometimes hours, sometimes days.

But these both will lead to confession. It is always accompanied by a request for forgiveness. You express to the other person that you finally have an idea of how you hurt them. Now please do not fall into the trap that I have seen so many times before. You say, 'I am so sorry for doing this to you, but you know what you did to me caused....' No! That is not a confession. That is an opening to create more hurt. Confession is also not, sorry (said with attitude and no feeling). Confession is pouring out your feelings of love to another and asking for forgiveness.

Now here is a fourth word for you to write down, and this word is the culmination of these first three steps of repentance: change. It is not enough for a relationship, it is not good enough for the people you love, to stop after three steps. It is not enough to say, I am just that way, and expect that to suffice. You must commit to change. To say to the other person not only are you sorry for your actions, but that you will strive to change your ways so that you do not hurt them in that way again.

Now please understand this does not mean that change is instantaneous. It takes time. So as a loving partner that has been hurt, as a person that also cares deeply for the other, do not expect an instant change. Remember that Jesus said we are to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times”. You both have a path to follow here.

There are many things in this life that can tear apart our relationships. So we need to be able and willing to practice, offer, and accept forgiveness, Forgiveness is not always a feeling. Sometimes it is sheer will power. Sometimes, it begins as an intellectual endeavor rather than an emotional one. But it is always necessary.

Today you have an opportunity. If you are struggling with offering forgiveness to another person I encourage you to come to this altar rail and bow before your Father in heaven and ask for help. Come to this rail and ask God to help you lay down your anger, lay down your fear, lay down your betrayal. Then leave it here. Give it over to God and ask God to renew within you the resolve to forgive, to tear down your scoreboard, and to strengthen the love you have for your partner. Ask God to help you to love your spouse and your partner the way they need you to love them. If you are struggling with asking for forgiveness or you have asked and you are waiting for it to granted, then come to this altar rail and ask God to give you the strength to humble yourself before your loved one. To give you the strength to change so this issue is no longer a problem in your relationship. God is waiting right here, willing to help you in whatever way you need.

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