Marriage is a covenantal partnership that involves two people, a husband and wife, working towards a common goal: to represent Christ and his people to the world.
Founded on and motivated by the gospel, marriage is set apart from other partnerships, like businesses or organizations. But a marriage is similar to these entities in that it is founded on a mission, forms plans around its mission, makes decisions according to its mission, and tackles obstacles using its mission as a guide and motivator.
So what is the mission of marriage according to the Bible?
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31-33, emphasis mine)
Paul says that marriage is a means of displaying the love of Jesus Christ for his church; Christian marriages are on mission to be living, breathing illustrations of the beautiful gospel.
When Jesus came to earth as God-in-the-flesh, he gave up all of his divine rights, sacrificing his very life for the sake of his chosen people. He covered believers, once for all time, with his purity and holiness, bearing our sins and taking our deserved judgment in The Great Exchange of Calvary. He washed us clean and continually presents us to God as righteous and holy, as a husband and wife are to do for one another in the sanctifying ministry of marriage.
So if a marriage is motivated by a gospel-centered mission, just as a business is propelled by its mission statement, the pursuit of certain “best-practices” will propel a husband and wife towards this mission. One of these is forgiveness.
A “Best-Practice” Test
My husband and I came up against a test of marriage “best-practices” not long ago. Ready to enjoy a long vacation weekend at the lake, we arrived and spent our first couple of hours watching the sunset over the beach. The wind picked up as a storm rolled in and, as a result, a unwelcome fleck of sand flew across my left cornea, scratching it and leaving pain in its wake.
Not an ideal start, to say the least.
Instead of soaking up the beautiful evening as planned, we found ourselves waiting at the emergency room for two hours, surrounded by sick children, injured adults, and a medical staff who was in no hurry to help us. Needless to say, the tension, frustration, and disappointment tipped us both over the edge and, before we knew it, we had turned into two irritated people. After getting released from the emergency room, we went straight to bed, having agreed to work out the tension in the morning.
The next day, forgiveness was the name of the game, as we were both challenged to be faithful in the best-practices of our marriage, redirecting our gaze on our common mission and recognizing where we both had failed.
Forgiveness is not easy, but it is indeed best.
Why Forgiveness Is a “Best-Practice” for Marriage
Why is forgiveness a “best-practice” for Christian marriages?
Forgiveness is hard.
The Bible often teaches that the hardest things in life are the most growth-producing, ordained by the hand of God for our good and his glory. So forgiveness offers broken human beings the opportunity to deny self and partake in a difficult act of love and mercy, one that runs against the grain of our fleshly desires.
In marriage, it can be tempting to swallow our frustrations and brush offenses under the proverbial rug because, well, ignoring the tension is easier than confronting it head-on in love, grace, and truth. However, in the long-run, the ignoring of tension and the belittling of sin only causes a bitter root to spring up and grow. This bitterness is destructive and unhelpful and only serves to cause division, which is exactly what the enemy of our marriages wants to see happen.
When forgiveness is hard (and it is hard), look to Jesus. The Son of God was so assured of his mission to save sinners that he was able to say at the hour of his murder, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
So look to Jesus, find strength in the gospel, and then pursue forgiveness, even when it is hard.
Forgiveness is humbling.
Admitting “I was wrong” is not a sign of weakness and bondage; it is a sign of character and humility, both of which lead to freedom from selfish ambition when founded on the gospel. The world tells us to stand our ground and demand our rights, but the gospel frees us to set aside our own interests in order to seek the best interest of the other person (Philippians 2), in the example of Christ. The “offended party” has an equal opportunity to practice gospel-humility in how they respond to their spouse’s confession: in grace and forgiveness.
So look to Jesus, find strength in the gospel, and then pursue forgiveness, even when it humbles you both.
Forgiveness is healing.
Finally, forgiveness is a “best-practice” for marriage because it produces healing where a bitter root would threaten to spring up and wreak havoc. Since God, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself through the gospel, and since marriage is to picture the gospel, then the pursuit of reconciliation in marriage is key to freedom from discord and mutual spousal growth in grace.
A marriage in pursuit of healing through reconciliation demonstrates to the world that establishing peace is more important than being “right,” that forgiveness is better than keeping a record of wrongs. When the world asks, “How could you forgive your spouse like that?” see the beautiful opportunity to share the extent of God’s love for sinners in Christ.*
So look to Jesus, find strength in the gospel, and then pursue forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.