(Get ready for an extended quote. Don’t let its length put you off. It’s really important.)
So here you are. She did that again. He said that again. While you are always aware of your own temptations, you’ve truly been trying to love with kindness and treat your spouse as you would want to be treated. You’ve been careful to try to please God in how you’ve responded. And yet once again it’s happening, and what bad timing. You’re walking into church—a little battle under the breath before he heads off to usher and she’s off to children’s ministry. Gotta look happy for the visitors and children. So you’re in that awkward place where something isn’t right but it can’t be resolved. What do you do?
You could agree to pick it up later, which is always a great idea—but what if later can’t happen for a couple of days? Is it really that big a deal to keep it in mind? You could take the time to work it out right now, inconveniencing others in the process. Do you just try to forget it, only to see it pop up in some future conflict? Do you file it away in “Things About My Spouse that Need to Change”? …
Maybe you didn’t know this, but the Bible gives you a special privilege in dealing with sin committed against you. It’s called forbearance. It means that you can bring love into play in such a way that you can cut someone free from their sin against you—without them even knowing or acknowledging what they’ve done! Forbearance is an expression of mercy that can cover both the big sins of marital strife and the small sins of marital tension. And let’s face it; small sins are the fuel for most marital blazes.
Let’s be careful here. Forbearance doesn’t mean we tuck sin away for another time. It’s not a variation on patience, nor is it some Christianized, external “niceness” where you pretend nothing bothers you. It’s not even a kind of ignoring the sin, in the sense of refusing to acknowledge it.
In forbearance, we know (or at least suspect) we have been sinned against, but we actually make a choice to overlook the offense and wipe the slate clean, extending a heart attitude of forgiveness and treating the (apparent) sin as if it never happened. Proverbs 19:11 tells us it is a “glory to overlook an offense.” Forbearance is preemptive forgiveness, freely and genuinely bestowed.
Of course, righteousness often demands that we address the sin of another, even if that my create some unpleasant results. (We’ll discuss this in chapter seven.) It’s not forbearance to suppress an offense you can’t readily release, or to prefer the pain of being sinned against to what you imagine would be the greater pain of discussing it, or to let a pattern of sin in your spouse go completely unaddressed.
Forbearance applies to specific instances of sin. It involves a clear-eyed realization that we may have been sinned against, and then a bold-hearted, gospel-inspired decision to cover that sin with love. Peter gives us the key to forbearance. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Looks like Peter learned the lessons of Luke 6 pretty well.
When we are sinned against, we can cover it—overwrite it, if you will—with the perspective of love. Thus, forbearance includes a commitment to earnestness in our love, actively holding ourselves accountable to keeping the sin covered.
Covering sin with love in effect removes a sin committed from the field of play. This can be extremely helpful during certain seasons. Often in marriages we’re working on big issues, a process that can be derailed by small offenses. Sometimes petty sins can be so frequent as to leave us discouraged about making any progress at all. And sometimes one spouse can be in a season of challenge that makes him or her more susceptible to temptation in certain areas. In such instances, forbearance sets aside the smaller issues that could distract or detract from something more important.
For example, at times Kimm and I have the privilege to speak at marriage retreats. While Kimm is greatly honored at these times to address wives on some topic dear to her heart, message preparation is not an area in which she feels gifted. The weeks of preparation leading up to the event, on top of her daily responsibilities, can bring anxious temptations into play. Sometimes this anxiety expresses itself in complaining to me. When we first encountered these seasons, I thought what she needed was perspective, something like, “If Susannah Wesley could run a house with, like, eighty-three kids, and still have a three-hour quiet time, how big was her God?” Pretty slick, huh? Suffice it to say those were never productive conversations.
Thankfully, I’ve learned it is not only wise but loving to take into account the “heat” in Kimm’s life. I need to look for how she’s battling it, try to encourage rather than critique, and be willing to let a little of her mud (or well-heated engine oil) splash on me so she can grow in faith through the experience. What a privilege to represent the love of our Savior in forbearing the sins of my spouse for the sake of love. What a reminder of God’s forbearance of my sin because of love. (87-90, emphasis mine)
Need some new memory verses?
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Pet. 4:8)