Forgiveness Is Not Optional
From the FamilyLife Today vault, hear classic conversations from Dave and Ann Wilson, Shaunti Feldhahn, David Stoop, and Bryan Loritts about the constructive nature of biblical conflict resolution, and the value of forgiveness.
About the Guest
From the FamilyLife Today vault, hear classic conversations from Dave and Ann Wilson, Shaunti Feldhahn, David Stoop, and Bryan Loritts about the constructive nature of biblical conflict resolution, and the value of forgiveness.
From the FamilyLife Today vault, hear classic conversations from Dave and Ann Wilson, Shaunti Feldhahn, David Stoop, and Bryan Loritts about the nature of biblical conflict resolution, and the value of forgiveness.
Bob: You know that it says in the Bible you’re not supposed to let the sun go down on your anger. Well, author and speaker, Shaunti Feldhahn, says, “Sometimes, when you’ve been trying to resolve conflict for a few hours and it’s one in the morning, it’s not a good idea to try to keep things going.”
Shaunti: You’re going to say things you didn’t mean. You’re going to hurt each other’s feelings. You’re going to agree to things you wish you hadn’t agreed to. Sometimes, you say: “You know what? Let’s sleep on it. We’re okay. We will work this out. The relationship is solid. Let’s talk about this in the morning.” Half of the time, when you get to the morning, they’re like, “What was that about?” —like, sometimes, it can resolve on its own; but if it doesn’t, then, you deal with it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. So, what exactly does the Bible say about resolving conflict and forgiving one another in marriage? We’ll spend some time looking at that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. I already asked you, this week, about when conflict ends in a marriage relationship. I do think, if you pay attention, you can get better. Maybe, the conflict still happens; but it can happen more gently, or it can happen with a better outcome than it did—at least, for me—than it did ten years ago.
Dennis: Well, let’s hope, Bob; because I think what marriage and family ought to be are God’s—I think they are His finest training tools for teaching us how to love and how to forgive on the planet. I mean, where else do you sign a covenant / do you make a pledge to live with one another until death do you part? In other relationships—people hurt you—you can discard them like a Kleenex®.
Dennis: But you can’t discard a family! You can’t toss a spouse in the trashcan. You’ve got to learn the lessons that God has for you to learn.
And just to start off, at the beginning of the broadcast: “Forgiveness means you give up the right / you relinquish your justification to punish another person.”
Bob: Here’s what we thought we’d do this week. We—we’ve talked about this subject, off and on, for 25 years.
Dennis: Mostly on. [Laughter]
Bob: In 2017, we will celebrate our 25th birthday as a radio broadcast; and that means that in our vault—and by the way, the vault is opened up online for anybody who wants to go listen to programs about conflict, and forgiveness, and marriage, and intimacy—all kinds of subjects. You can go, and it’s all free for you to listen to and download.
Dennis: And the reason it’s free is because we have Legacy Partners, who give monthly, to keep this broadcast on the air and make the broadcast both audio- and text-available online—and also, people who give throughout the year.
So, if you give, you’re having an impact in literally millions of people’s lives, marriages, and legacies.
Bob: Thanks to those of you who are partnering with us in getting this word out to more and more people. I was starting to say that we know, in the vault, where some of the real nuggets are; and so, we thought, “Well, let’s talk about conflict and forgiveness, but let’s hear from some of the voices we’ve heard from over the last 25 years.”
And one of our favorite couples to have on FamilyLife Today live in the Detroit, Michigan, area. Dave Wilson is one of the pastors at Kensington Church in suburban Detroit. He and his wife Ann have spoken at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways for more than a quarter of a century. They were speaking to an audience about the reality of conflict in their own marriage and how it started early for them.
Dave: So, we get married—we don’t know any of this; right? We have a conflict in our first couple months of marriage. We were living with her parents—
—raising support as missionaries, now, on Athletes in Action staff. We’re going to be sent to the University of Nebraska and be their chaplain. So, we’re raising money, back in our hometown. It’s a summer afternoon—everybody is gone, windows are open, and we get in this fight. And I do what I do—I didn’t even know I did—I just got up and started to leave the room. That’s what I do—I just walk out.
Ann: And I couldn’t believe it! I’d never seen anyone get up and leave the room when we are in the middle of a fight. So, I yell at him, “Come back here and fight me like a man, you, chicken!” [Laughter] Wow!
Dave: That’s what I hear. I hear that—
Ann: Wow! That’s helpful!
Dave: —as I’m walking in the kitchen, I hear that. I turn around, and I walked back in. I’m like: “You want a man? Watch this! Bleep you!” and I walk away. Now, I know you can’t believe I cursed, but I did. [Laughter] And I just started walking away. Then, I hear from behind me, from the couch—go ahead.
Ann: I said, “Well, bleep, bleep you!” [Laughter]
Dave: And I’m not kidding—I turned around—like: “Awl! You cursed! Oh my goodness!” [Laughter] and I walked out. I was like, “I can’t believe this.” So, I’m going upstairs to the bedroom, closing the door. She follows me! [Making sounds like she is walking upstairs]
I sit down on the bed. She sits down right beside me; and she goes: “We’ve got to talk about this. We’ve got to resolve this. This is what you do when you get married—you resolve conflict.” I’m like: “What are you doing right now?! Get out of here!” because I had never in my life resolved conflict.
Do you know why? I thought conflict was bad—you avoid it at all cost. You ready? That’s not the truth. The truth is this—you ready?—conflict is neutral. How you handle it determines how it will work out in your marriage. Do you hear me? It’s true! I actually would even say this—I think conflict can be really, really good.
Ann: I do too.
Dave: If you learn—and we’re going to talk about it tonight—some ways to handle conflict from God’s Word and you start to resolve conflict, you will be more intimate, you will be—
Dave: —closer in oneness than you ever would get by avoiding conflict. So, I’ve changed in 35 years of marriage. I do not withdraw anymore—it’s still in there.
Ann: And you don’t curse at me.
Dave: It’s still in there, but I—yes; I never curse at you / that doesn’t happen—but I mean, just a glimpse into our marriage at that time.
Now, I’m going to give you one main truth—now, I’m not talking about the God-part / I’m only talking about the human-part—
—the health and future of your relationship is determined by how you handle conflict.
Bob: That’s Dave Wilson—an interesting point. In fact, I remember hearing—
Bob: I remember hearing a guest on another radio program—another family-oriented radio program that’s heard on many Christian radio stations—not that that gives it away for anybody else; right—but this was a guest on Focus on the Family. And he said [imitating guest], “We have discovered this is the one thing—this one thing—if couples learn this, this will make all the difference in their marriage relationship.” You know who the guest was?
Dennis: Of course; of course.
Bob: Gary Smalley.
Bob: And Gary Smalley said, “This is it—couples, who know how to resolve conflict, have better marriages.” And I thought, “Well, I could have figured that out.” I mean if you know how to resolve conflict, you’re going to have a happier marriage. If you don’t know how to resolve conflict, you’re going to have ongoing conflict; and you’re going to find yourself frustrated.
Dennis: Yes; and just to continue in our clips here—that we’re playing from the past / kind of classics on FamilyLife Today— one of our guests, Shaunti Feldhahn, who is an author out of Atlanta, Georgia / great communicator—she shared a misconception, Bob, about what you do with anger and how that can really keep a couple from pursuing forgiveness in their relationship.
Bob: This is, according to Shaunti, a Bible verse that many of us have heard that we’ve misunderstood how to apply.
Shaunti: It’s interesting—there is a tweak to—you know I’m kind of a freak for research; right? I wanted to find out what these happy couples were doing—actually doing—opposed to what they were saying to do. So, when they would advise me—they would say, “You know it’s really important not to go to bed mad,” I would say: “Oh, yes; absolutely. Do you ever go to bed mad?” “Well, it’s a really important principle.” [Laughter]
As I started talking, what they had learned in practice was that: “Sometimes,”—this is the way they put it—“if you’ve got two upset, emotional, exhausted people who are trying to duke something out in one o’clock in the morning, you’re going to say things you didn’t mean, you’re going to hurt each other’s feelings, you’re going to agree to things you’re going to wish you hadn’t agreed to.” And in practice, they had learned that sometimes you say: “You know what? Let’s sleep on it. We’re okay. We will work this out. The relationship is solid. Let’s talk about this in the morning.” And half of the time, they told me, when you get to the morning, they are like, “What was that about?”—like it, sometimes, can resolve on its own; but if it doesn’t, then, you deal with it.
Now, I was a little concerned when I started hearing that was the pattern; because so often you hear advice that’s contra-biblical. It doesn’t matter if it’s what they do if it’s against the Bible; right? So, I went back and took another look at what the Bible actually says about this.
I was flabbergasted because that comment that we all quote from Ephesians—
—the Apostle Paul is actually quoting the Old Testament. He is saying, basically, in Ephesians 4, there—he’s saying, “In your anger, don’t sin; don’t let the sun go down on your anger,”—right? He’s quoting Psalm 4:4, which basically says: “In your anger, don’t sin. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” And he’s quoting a Scripture that is really contrary in some ways to what we think the advice is.
So, clearly, “In your anger, don’t sin,” doesn’t mean “Don’t go to bed mad.” It seems to be something about this principle of: “Don’t hurt each other’s feelings. And if you need to work it out before you go to bed to not sin in your anger, then, do that. But if you are going to sin in your anger—you’re going to say hurtful things that you wish you hadn’t said—think about it overnight and remain silent.” The key is: “How you are handling your anger.”
Dennis: Let’s just read this passage.
Bob: You turned to Psalm 4:4 while she was talking there.
Dennis: “Be angry and do not sin. Ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.” I don’t know who said it, but it is so true in marriage: “I have regretted my words. I have never regretted my silence.”
Dennis: Now, there are times in a marriage when—
Bob: —you need to speak.
Dennis: —you need to speak and silence is not golden—it can be very cowardly. It can be kind of an escape from a conflict like Dave Wilson was talking about earlier in the broadcast.
Dennis: But here, Shaunti is really encouraging us: “Be wise. Be wise about what you say.” And Bob, I think we’re really careless with our words. In fact, if you go back to the context of the passage of Ephesians, Chapter 4, and look at it—it is saying: “Be angry. Do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Give no opportunity to the devil.” Well, words hurt.
You know the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones; words will never hurt me”? Baloney! That may work on the playground—well, it doesn’t even work there. I can still remember a name I was called in the sixth grade. So, don’t let your words be used as missiles / as swords—as weapons that hurt your spouse—instead, use words to encourage.
Bob: Well, and the point of not letting the sun go down on your anger, I think, is a point of saying: “Don’t let conflict linger.
Dennis: That is the point.
Bob: “Don’t let it just stay out there and fester and grow roots and get bitter.” When you’ve got an issue, move in to address it—as you said—with the right frame of mind. Maybe, it’s better in the morning when you’ve had a chance to sleep on it. Pick your words carefully / pick your—the time of approach carefully—but don’t just leave it alone.
In fact, we had a guest on FamilyLife Today—Dr. David Stoop, who is a counselor and an author. He said one of the big problems he has seen with couples is that they think conflict is bad.
So, they will simply move to: “Oh; it is okay. I wasn’t hurt.” There’s just a denial that—he called it “Easy forgive-ism.”
David: I had a young man call me, desperate to get in for counseling, because he had just caught his wife in an affair with his best friend. They came in that week—I set up an emergency appointment. They came in. I, talking to him—I’m asking him how he is doing. Well, he’s fine. I said, “Well, how are you doing with your wife?” “Well, I’m fine.” “Are you angry with her?” “No.” And I kept pressing him because this just didn’t seem real.
Finally, he got angry; and he said, “Look, I’m a Christian. I’ve forgiven my wife.” He said it so strongly—I just kind of backed off, and we did some other things—set another appointment. That weekend, he called me—he said, “She left again.” I said, “Well, you and I need to talk about your easy forgive-ism.” I said: “You didn’t really forgive her. You simply excused her. By excusing her, you were saying to her, ‘This is no big deal.’”
I mean, when your wife betrays you like that, there is a deep wound / deep pain you don’t get over just because you are a Christian and you have to forgive. You may say: “I’m going to forgive you. I’m choosing to do that, but I’m not there yet. I’m too hurt / too angry.” We talked about that, and he saw the fallacy of it—that when I forgive too quickly, I’m simply saying to somebody, “Oh, no big deal.”
Dennis: You’re saying the process of forgiveness, especially with someone who has really profoundly impacted you, needs to be a process that has integrity.
Dennis: It doesn’t need to be some kind of quick, easy forgive-ism; instead it needs to be a deliberate statement of love / grace in action, where—when you go and you say: “I give up my right to punish you. I forgive you,”—you’ve worked it through.
In the case of the young man, whose wife had left him, he needed to face the realities of what her affair was doing to him.
David: Yes—all the pain that was there that he was trying to deny and push away.
Dennis: I think there is a lot of dishonesty within the community of faith—the Christian community. I think we use a lot of Christianese, a lot of jargon, and a lot of hyper-spiritual words; and our hearts aren’t clean. We’re not really forgiving; you know? In fact, we’ve got a heart that is bitter; and we know it.
And if I’m speaking to you right now—that’s one of you, who are listening right now—do not let the sun go down on your anger. Deal with it. Find a way—and if you need a friend to help you—a counselor; a pastor; maybe, your closest same-sex friend—maybe, it’s your spouse you can go to and ask for wisdom because, maybe, it’s not your spouse that hurt you. But don’t let this broadcast just be a broadcast; let it be an opportunity / an invitation to reestablish relationship and really deal with the hard stuff of broken relationships.
Bob: Well, I know some people are thinking: “You don’t know how much I’ve been hurt. You don’t know how often I’ve had to forgive. You don’t know my circumstances, and it’s easy for you to say; but if you were living what I’m living, you might think differently.”
Dennis: I had a man tell me that this morning—sure did. I said, “No, I don’t; but let me hear what your context is,” because everybody needs someone to be a fellow burden-bearer. At the end of my time with my friend, I put my arm around him, and I just said: “I’m sorry for the hurt. I’m sorry for what you’ve experienced.” Some people are carrying this stuff alone.
Dennis: And they can’t get out of it! They just need someone who will touch their hand. I reached across the table—I touched this man’s hand, with compassion—I said, “I really am sorry.”
I just think we are missing opportunities to bring some healing and relationship to remind them of what’s right—and encourage them to do that—and not tell them the easy thing to do, which Dr. Stoop—I love what he said—“…not an easy forgiveness but a gritty forgiveness that has integrity to it.”
Bob: Well, our friend, Bryan Loritts, who pastors Abundant Life Christian Center in—I think it’s in Mountain View, California, up in the Bay Area. Bryan was speaking at an event for FamilyLife a few years ago. He reminded all of us—that for those who profess love for Jesus, forgiveness is not an option / it’s a requirement.
Bryan: Now, I love Peter; because in verse 21 of Matthew, Chapter 18, you can still see Peter is stuck on verse 15; because in verse 15, Jesus says, “If your brother”—
—we can insert: “If your husband” / “If your wife”—“sins against you, here’s how you do it. Go and tell him his fault.” Then, he deals with this whole issue of forgiveness. Peter says to Jesus, “Now, Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me, and I’m obligated to forgive him?” And I love Peter—he doesn’t even wait for Jesus to answer—he says, “Seven times?”
And he’s got to be saying it with a smile—“Seven times?”—because in Peter’s day, the rabbis said you only had to forgive three times—three Mulligans is all you got. Peter takes the number three, multiplies it times two, adds one for good measure to land him on the number of completion. He thinks he is doing good: “Seven times?” [Laughter] And classic Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Now, someone in here is going: “That’s 490—good.
“My spouse is on 489.” [Laughter]
You know what Jesus is doing here—He is employing a literary device called hyperbole—He’s exaggerating to make a point. It’s what we parents do all the time when we tell our kids, “I told you a million times to clean up the room.” Now, chances are you haven’t told them a million times—unless they’re 16, you have—but chances are you haven’t told them a million times. What you are saying here is: “We’ve talked about this extensively. I’ve told you over and over again.” You are exaggerating to make a point.
Here is the point Jesus is making: “Our horizontal forgiveness of one another knows no statute of limitations. It is to have no expiration date because the vertical forgiveness we have received from God, through Christ Jesus, has no expiration date as well.” [Applause] So, Jesus is saying, “I’m calling you—forgive, and forgive, and forgive.”
And if I’m going to split theological hairs—I want you to understand—our passage is not so much about reconciliation as much as it is on forgiveness; but the truth of the matter is we cannot be reconciled unless we first forgive. So, He is saying, “If you have come to the foot of the cross, forgive, forgive, forgive.”
Bob: Pretty clear; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is. I’ve got two application points here. First of all, answer this question: “When is the last time you asked your spouse to forgive you for something?” The host of the broadcast will answer it: “Last night, and the day before—and my memory is short after that. [Laughter] But I was sharp with Barbara two days ago. I came back in—I said: ‘I’m sorry. That was not right. Will you forgive me, please?’”
Really, answer the question: “When is the last time you humbled yourself and asked your spouse to forgive you?”
I think there are some arrogant listeners to this broadcast—is what I think. And by the way, that could be any of us at any given point of time. We can get arrogant in our sin and think we’re better than… “When is the last time you asked your spouse to forgive you?”—and then, you were quiet / and you let them process it—and you had a working definition in your marriage to understand that forgiveness means you give up the right to punish the other person.
Second application point—it’s to parents: “Do you realize that how you and your spouse resolve conflict—how you train your children to resolve conflict as they have sibling-rivalry between themselves and between you and them and the family—do you realize you are training a generation of husbands and wives/ moms and dads, who will someday have to practice good conflict resolution skills in their marriages and families?”
You cannot afford to fail. You must equip them to know how to do this.
And if you don’t know how to do it, sign up for a Weekend to Remember A.S.A.P. Get you and your spouse to the conference and get some good, biblical practical training with authentic people that aren’t going to give you some pie-in-the-sky baloney about marriage and family—that will talk about it around real family life.
Bob: I’m headed out in a few weeks to Branson, Missouri, going to be speaking at the Weekend to Remember getaway there. I know you are going to be in Atlanta with Crawford Loritts, coming up in April. We’ve got getaways happening in cities all across the country this spring and would love to have you join us at an upcoming Weekend to Remember getaway. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for more information about the Weekend to Remember; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say, “I want to go to one of the getaways.” We’ll answer any questions you have and make arrangements for you to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember.
If you have any questions, go online to FamilyLifeToday.com; or again, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
You know, this issue of forgiveness—this is a key issue for so many couples. This skill—being able to resolve conflict and being able to forgive someone else—is at the heart of every vibrant marriage relationship; but ultimately, the ability to forgive someone is a spiritual decision we have to make. It is rooted and anchored in understanding that we have been forgiven by the God we have offended with our own sins / our own actions.
Here, at FamilyLife, we are committed to helping couples understand that for a marriage to work the way it’s designed to work, you have to know the Designer. We understand that happy marriages are not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is that men and women would know their Creator; and that, in the context of being forgiven, they could forgive one another.
And I just want to say a word to those of you who have enabled FamilyLife to reach more and more people every year that we’ve been on the radio for the last 25 years—your financial support of this ministry has caused the scope of this ministry to expand every year. When you donate to support this ministry, you are helping us reach more people with practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family. And we’re grateful for your partnership with us.
In fact, if you can help with a donation today, we’d love to send you a set of Resurrection Eggs® that you can use with your children or with your grandchildren and share with them the story of Easter in a way that is unforgettable for them. That’s our gift to you when you make a donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or when you call to donate—1-800-FL-TODAY—ask about a set of Resurrection Eggs. Or you can request the eggs when you mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to introduce you to a mom, who a couple of years into being a mom—she thought she was just failing completely—it just was not coming naturally to her. You’ll meet Hettie Brittz, and you’ll learn how God changed her thinking about being a mom. If you are a young mom, you’ll want to tune in and hear the story.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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