“Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” (Thomas Watson, quoted on p16)
When sin is bitter, then Christ becomes sweet. When Christ is sweet, marriage will inevitably be sweetened.
Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed. (Spurgeon, quoted on p38)
Key Passage: 1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (see next post for a quick qualification)
With the passing of each day, two things grew larger for Paul: his sinfulness in light of the holiness of God, and God’s mercy in the face of his sin. (36)
In any conflict, I must first look in and stop buying the lie that the problem is always “out there” in my/our circumstances – like finances or health or kids, or “out there” in my spouse – like when I say (or think), “if only s/he would (or wouldn’t)…” or “S/he’s the real problem in this marriage!”
Harvey gives the illustration of Rob and Sally, whose issues are typical of many marriages:
Rob and Sally have been Christians for a long time. Like many couples, they have each adopted certain assumptions about how the other should behave, and they each feel they have certain needs that they think the other should meet. And although they attend church and live conscientious Christian lives, Rob and Sally are experiencing serious marital conflict. …
Here are just a couple of examples. Rob says he needs respect, but all he seems to get are Sally’s critical comments each evening when he comes home from work. Sally says she needs Rob to reach out to her and provide her a greater sense of security in their marriage, but all she seems to get is Rob’s passivity day after day. … The problems emerge when, several times a week, they rehearse each other’s failures, reiterate their demands for change, and repeat (with slight variations) the kind of hurtful remarks they’ve been tossing back and forth for months. Curiously—and tragically—Rob and Sally both feel vindicated by many of the marriage books they’ve read, books which feed their sense of justice denied and seem to legitimize the needs they feel so deeply. (39, emphasis mine)
What does the cross have to say to these sinners who’ve said “I do” (and the rest of us)?
The cross makes a stunning statement about husbands and wives: we are sinners and our only hope is grace. Without a clear awareness of sin, we will evaluate our conflicts outside of the biblical story—the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross—thus eliminating any basis for true understanding, true reconciliation, or true change. Without the gospel of our crucified and risen Savior our marriages slide toward the superficial. We begin to make limp justifications for our sinful behavior, and our marriage conflicts end, at best, in uneasy, partial, negotiated settlements.
But once I find 1 Timothy 1:15-16 trustworthy—once I can embrace it with full acceptance—once I know that I am indeed the worst of sinners, then my spouse is no longer my biggest problem: I am. And when I find myself walking in the shoes of the worst of sinners, I will make every effort to grant my spouse the same lavish grace that God has granted me.” (40-41, emphasis mine)
Harvey then goes on to make it clear that all our sin – even though it is so often played out on the horizontal plane of our relationships – is against God. All sin is vertical.
The big deal is that my sin is not first against me or my marriage. All sin is first against God. And that changes everything. (41)
To accept the designation of “sinner” is to acknowledge who I am in relation to God. It also says who I am not: I am not a neutral actor. (41)
When I speak a critical, unkind word to Kimm in front of our children, my sin is to some degree against the children. Obviously, it is to a much stronger degree against Kimm. What I need to see, however, is that this sin is most strongly, and therefore primarily, against God! And that is something it has in common with every other sin that has ever been or ever will be committed. Every sin, however small or great its apparent impact on people, violates the purity of the perfectly just and holy God. Sin is always aimed first and foremost at God (Dt. 9:16; 1Sam. 15:24; Ps. 51:4). (41-42)
See also Jer. 2:11-13 to ponder the real evil of our sin.
Therefore, if all our sin is ultimately and primarily against God…and if (from last week),
Marriage is not first about me or my spouse. Obviously, the man and woman are essential, but they are also secondary. God is the most important person in a marriage. Marriage is for our good, but it is first for God’s glory. (25)
THEN…we must ask ourselves why we do what we do in our marriages.
- Why do you confront sin in your spouse?
o To gain the moral high ground?
o To get back at your spouse for times s/he’s embarrassed you or been critical?
o To shift the spotlight from your failures to hers/his?
o Or, for the glory of God and the good of your spouse? (Oh, how easy it is to whitewash our selfish agendas with these words!)
- Why do you encourage (flatter?) your spouse?
o To butter him/her up? Is it ever a set up for your real agenda?
o To manipulate in order to get what you want?
o To soften the blow or bad news you’re about to deliver?
o Or, to give thanks to God and point out to your spouse his gracious work in your spouse?
- Why do you pursue resolution (or give up) in conflict?
o To win or prove your point?
o To just “get it over with” so you can watch Sports Center or “get some sleep?”
o To get her/him off your back?
o Or, because it is the gracious reflex of being reconciled to God by the Prince of Peace?
Harvey recounts this helpful example from his own marriage:
Several years ago I became aware of a subtle, destructive habit. Whenever I sensed I had sinned against Kimm I would go to her, confess, and seek to resolve the situation. Looks pretty good when I put it that way, doesn’t it? But I came to realize that my goal was far from noble. I wanted a quick and efficient restoration of our relationship so I could stop feeling bad and get on with “more important things.” In other words, the confession was basically a tool I was employing for my own sake. No wonder, then, that I was often left with a shallow haunting feeling that I now believe was the kind prompting of the Holy Spirit.
After a time of prayer, I recognized that God had been surprisingly forgotten in my words of apology to Kimm. I saw that I had been almost completely unconcerned with the fact that my sin had been first against God, and that I stood guilty before his infinite holiness. I had regarded my sins as errors, or at worst, as “little sins” that required little consideration of my heart. My real goal was simply a kind of marital damage control, not an honest accounting before my Heavenly Father. But by God’s grace I began to see, as J.I. Packer says so well, “There can be no small sins against a great God.” (42, emphasis mine)
All this is pretty humbling stuff. But don’t forget what God promises to the humble:
That blood-bought grace is the most powerful marriage-sweetener on the market! When sin becomes bitter, Christ will become sweet...and so will our marriages.