“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’ ” (Matthew 18:21, 22).
Years ago, when I married I thought I would have a match made in heaven. I was a divorcée at the time, so I came with an extensive list of do’s and don’ts that I thought led to success and failure in a marriage. I soon discovered that forgiveness was not on my list of do’s.
In the first year of our marriage, we walked hand-in-hand enjoying our new relationship, but then disagreements began to surface. I questioned if I had made a mistake in marrying again. Marriage was not looking so good, and I began to battle thoughts that I would fail again in this new marriage. When I prayed, I asked God to fix my husband to make him into the man I desired. I certainly didn’t understand Colossians 3:13, which says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Even though I was a Christian when I married, I held onto wordly ideas about marriage and hadn’t learned to surrender to God’s plan for my marriage. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, I believed that I could be independent and make my own choices, yet I didn’t realize that when I stepped away from the principles God had given me in His Word for making a marriage relationship work, such as forgiveness, those choices would only lead to strife.
Depending on God in the Marriage Relationship
When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, there were two trees in the middle of the garden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God warned them that they must eat only from the tree of life, but Satan came along and challenged God’s statement with a lie, “‘Can it really be that God has said, ‘You shall not eat from every tree of the garden?’ ” (Genesis 3:1)
God’s plan for them as individuals and in marriage was to stay attached to Him and depend on Him in their relationship. However, Satan tempted Eve with a different path — one in which she could do what she pleased. And we still face that temptation. What Eve didn’t know is that the choice she made would not be without consequences. She did eat the fruit of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil with her husband, and because of the choice, she and her husband were banished from the garden.
Humanity no longer lives in the Garden of Eden, but rather in a world full of sin because of Adam and Eve’s sin. However, God gave us a way to be restored and live how He originally intended us to live with one another. We have a tree of life in Jesus that we must choose daily. As the tree of life stood in the middle of the garden, so we must position Jesus — our “tree of life” in the center of our marriage, as He holds the knowledge of how we should do life within His Word.
In particular, as I mentioned, forgiveness, as well as some of the other commands in God’s Word, weren’t on my list of “do’s.” Yet, slowly, when I began to learn the importance of choosing not to “eat” from the wrong tree, but instead choose the tree of life in my marriage, I began to change my list of do’s — and forgiveness, as well as other biblical principles, became a priority. Doing so helped me change my perspective of my marriage and kept me connected to my spouse.
How I Learned to Forgive in My Marriage
In particular, in regards to forgiveness, I can recall a situation when I needed to ask for and receive forgiveness from God and my spouse. In this situation, I spent too much on an outfit for myself. Lured to purchase something that I knew was too expensive, I quietly put it in my closet, knowing I didn’t need it. My husband and I had agreed on our family budget, but instead of honoring our agreement, I spent more than I should have.
The day the bill arrived, my purchase was disclosed and my husband confronted me. I defended myself with words of justification, and he returned heated comments.
In my purchase of the item and attempts to justify my purchase, I broke the boundaries my husband and I had both agreed on for our finances. My husband was hurt because he trusted me to be faithful to the guidelines we had established. When he voiced his displeasure to me over my actions, I stormed off from the conversation, so filled with my justification of wrongdoing, that I refused to accept responsibility and admit my mistake.
I was restless all day after our argument. I knew I had to clean up my relationship by asking for forgiveness from my Heavenly Father in the marriage, and I needed to ask my husband to forgive me for my unkind words and reckless spending. It says in 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV): “ If my people who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and heal their land.”
It was not an easy choice to go to God to confess, but when I asked God to forgive me, I discovered my anger was gone. I began to see how my behavior was wrong and my words were hurtful. After going to God, I knew I had to approach my husband and not just say the words “I am sorry,” but ask him to forgive me. I needed to be specific, telling him how I realized I had broken our agreement and tried to hide it, plus defended my actions with hurtful words.
Just as God was faithful to forgive me when I confessed my wrong, my husband was faithful to forgive me. But like Adam and Eve had to walk out steps of repentance and confession, I had to do the same. Adam and Eve initially tried to hide from God because they felt ashamed of their choices and even tried to fix the situation by covering themselves with fig leaves.
But God went after them and initiated the repentance process. He asked them what they had done not because He didn’t know, but so that they could confess openly and be healed. When they confessed their wrong, He made a way for them to be cleansed of their sin by making the first animal sacrifice (Genesis 3:21).
Now, on the other side of the cross, we no longer have to make sacrifices for sin as Adam and Eve did. We have Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for sin. Jesus makes it possible for us to come to Him without sacrifices and be forgiven of our sin, but we still have to repent and confess when we wrong others (including our spouse) to make things right in our relationship with God and others (1 John 1:9; James 5:16).
Choosing to Put God at the Center of Our Marriage
Practicing forgiveness in marriage is not only that which brings healing and restoration to our relationship, our action is one that helps to put God at the center of our marriage because it glorifies God rather than ourselves. In our day-to-day living, our decisions and responses to life cannot be based on our desires, but on how we can glorify God in a situation. When I made the purchase, I made it out of my selfish desires, knowing I was going against our agreement. My spending decisions led me down the wrong path, which later erupted into fights filled with words and frustration that didn’t bring God glory in our home.
However, forgiveness restored the unity between us and helped us move past the incident. In our marriages, no matter the conflict, we have to seek God’s guidance on how to deal with it. Just like the first married couple post-Eden, we will have moments of marital bliss and we will have unhappy moments. But to have a match made in heaven, we have to understand and live out the principles God gives us in His Word for making relationships work — including confession of sin when we’re wrong and forgiveness of our spouse.
In choosing God’s way, we choose the tree of life, rather than our own way. Now that’s giving God the glory!
*This article was written in collaboration with Carol Whitaker.