Summary: God wills that we are grace-filled people and God will help us to offer grace and forgiveness in marriage.


A. Once upon a time there was a husband who sinned against his wife, but he apologized and she forgave him.

1. However, from time to time, the wife reminded the husband of his past indiscretion.

2. Finally, one day the husband asked his wife, “Honey, why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was ‘forgive and forget.’ ”

3. “It is,” the wife said, “I just don't want you to forget that I've forgiven and forgotten.”

4. Actually, forgiveness in marriage is not something to joke about.

B. In his book Lee: The Last Years, Charles Flood reports that after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house.

1. There she cried bitterly that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union Artillery fire.

2. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss.

3. After a brief silence, Lee wisely said: “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.”

4. It is best to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain, and allow bitterness to take root and poison the rest of our lives.

C. This is the third lesson in our Marriage Matters Series.

1. So far in the series, we have discussed the fact that marriage ain’t easy, and the fact that marriage belongs to God.

2. God’s plan for a man and a woman is a perfect plan, and it works best when we allow God to shape us into His image, and when we follow God’s example and follow God’s commands.

3. In today’s sermon, we want to discuss the blessing of a grace-filled marriage.

4. Perhaps no command of God for marriage is more important and more impactful than God’s command to forgive as God’ forgives.

5. Forgiveness is a key to a healthy soul and healthy relationships, especially the marriage relationship.

D. But let’s admit it, right at the start: forgiveness is not easy for us, right?

1. Most of us would rather sit on a judgment seat than a mercy seat.

2. If someone has done us wrong, especially someone as close to us as a spouse, there is a part of us that would rather watch them squirm in misery than smile in relief.

3. But what we must come to grips with is the fact that our God is a merciful God and He expects that we will be a merciful people.

4. Let’s also recognize that nothing good ever results from being unforgiving.

a. No matter how much a person nurses a grudge, it doesn’t get better.

5. Ultimately, withholding forgiveness is not a right or privilege – it is sin!

a. Withholding forgiveness destroys our relationship with God and with others.

I. God Wills that We Become Grace-Filled People

A. We don’t have to search our Bibles very long or hard to conclude that God wills that we become grace-filled people.

1. Let’s start with Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

a. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes which include this one: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt. 5:7).

b. As Jesus continued His sermon, He addressed the need to love even our enemies. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:44-45; 48).

1. Luke’s version of the same instruction ends with, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36)

c. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, we discover the Lord’s Prayer, which includes: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12).

d. After finishing that prayer, Jesus felt the need to emphasize and clarify the importance of forgiveness, and Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15).

e. If that statement of Jesus doesn’t get our attention, then I don’t know what will.

2. I can picture the apostle Peter contemplating those words for a period of time.

3. Perhaps, in part, it was those words that caused Peter to later approach Jesus with this question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Mt. 18:21)

a. Perhaps Peter thought that Jesus was going to be really impressed with him, for the rabbis taught that you must forgive a person 3 times – Peter was doubling it and adding one!

b. Peter must have been shocked when Jesus replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (some translations say “seventy times seven” – 490).

c. Either way, Jesus’ answer took it completely out of the realm of counting.

d. 77 times or 490 times is too much forgiving to keep track of.

5. The point that Jesus was making is that we are called to a life-style of forgiveness – we are to be a merciful people, a grace-filled people who shower others with grace.

B. In Paul’s letters, we see that he continued to point us to God’s will that we become grace-filled people.

1. For example, look with me at Colossians 3:12-14: 12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

2. These verses are so complete in supplying us with all that we need to help us to be grace-filled people.

3. First, we notice the foundation for our esteem and our ability to carry out God’s will – We are God’s special people – chosen, holy and dearly loved.

a. We must allow God’s love and His power to fully live in our hearts and minds.

b. We must know that we are especially cherished and empowered by God as His people.

c. Because of this reality, we then can be clothed with the characteristics of God.

4. We notice that being like God includes treating each other with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

a. Can you imagine how our relationships would be blessed if they were characterized by that kind of attitude and behavior – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience?

b. How would your marriage be different if those kind of characteristics were the norm?

5. But then, in addition to those characteristics Paul adds forbearance and forgiveness.

a. Forbearance has to do with bearing with each other, and longsuffering or enduring is another way to put it.

b. There are other words used for forgiveness in the Bible, but the one used here means “freely or graciously giving” – the idea is of not exacting payment that is owed you, but freely forgiving it, canceling the debt.

6. Paul then adds some clarification and motivation for forgiving – “forgive as the Lord forgave you.” In so doing, Paul reminds us of the very thing that Jesus said about it.

7. I wish I had more time to mine the richness of this section of Scripture, but I hope we can see how clearly and pervasively is our call to grace-filled living in our relationships.

C. From these few examples of Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings, it is clear that one of the central pieces of Christian ethics is becoming grace-filled people.

1. In grace, we are called to treat people better than they deserve to be treated, which is how we want to be treated.

2. All of these commands must be applied to all our relationships, especially the marriage relationship.

D. Before we go any further, please allow me to make an important clarification – I am painfully aware that there are sins that spouses commit against each other that can push forbearance and forgiveness across the line into enabling sin, and may warrant separation or even divorce.

1. When I say this, I’m thinking of things like: assault, adultery, child abuse, drug abuse and drunkenness, addictive gambling or theft that brings a family to ruin.

2. My focus and aim today as we discuss forgiveness in marriage is not focused on those kind of extreme and destructive things, but on the more common place ways we need to bear with and forgive each other.

II. How Can We Practice Grace and Forgiveness in Marriage?

A. Let’s start with a definition – What is forgiveness?

1. Dr. Archibald Hart defined forgiveness as “surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.”

a. That’s a good one…mull it over in your mind…forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.

2. The Grief Recovery Institute offers a great definition for forgiveness.

a. They define forgiveness as: “Giving up the hope of a different or better yesterday.”

b. In many ways, forgiveness is about coming to peace about the past.

c. No matter what we do or how hard we try, the past cannot be changed – it can only be accepted and forgiven.

d. No mater how we may have been hurt, violated, betrayed, disrespected, abused, or abandoned – we have to give up the hope that the offending past occurrence can somehow be different or better.

e. What has happened to us has happened to us – that can never change.

f. The only thing that can change is what we think about it, feel about it, and what we do about it as we live in the present and move toward the future.

g. As long as we dwell on these things in the past and will them to have been different, we imprison ourselves to that unchangeable past and bind ourselves with the heavy chains to old emotional and physical scars.

h. God can help us let go of the past through forgiveness, regardless of whether or not there has ever been any apology, recompense, punishment or reconciliation.

3. Ultimately, forgiveness is an act of faith.

a. By forgiving another person, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am.

1. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out.

2. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.

b. We have to trust that through forgiveness God will heal our hurts and use our forgiveness to help restore the relationship.

1. Our forgiving others doesn’t guarantee a change in them, but it does guarantee that we will grow and we will be protected from bitterness.

c. None of this is easy, but God makes it all possible, if we trust Him.

4. What things can help us to learn to forgive? Let me suggest 3 things…

C. First of all, it helps to remember how much we have needed forgiveness.

1. All of us are sinners and have offended our Holy God, and have received His amazing grace.

2. All of us have also offended and hurt others, and have received forgiveness from them.

3. That’s why Paul taught the Ephesians: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32)

4. Because we all have been forgiven, we should seek to extend that forgiveness to others.

5. The proud, however, find it hard to forgive.

a. Pride causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we should, and to think less of others than we should.

b. Holding on to an offense may give us a sense of moral superiority over others and may distract us from having to look at our own hearts and lives.

c. Our real enemy isn’t the one who has injured us, but the evil one and his work in the world and his work on our own flesh.

d. Unforgiveness is a work of the flesh.

e. We need to realize that being unforgiving is a sin that is just as ugly and sinful in God’s sight as the sins that may have been committed against us.

6. We win the victory of becoming grace-filled people who are generous with forgiveness when we are able to see the beams in our own eyes and stop focusing on the sins of others.

a. Those who refuse to recognize their own failures are going to struggle to tolerate, to understand, and to forgive the failures of others.

7. So let’s be a people who are very aware of our own failures and sins, and let’s appreciate the amount of grace that has been shown to us, so that we will be inclined to be more forgiving to others.

D. Second, it helps to understand where the offender is coming from.

1. It helps to try to see beyond the offense and try to understand what might have been going on or might still be going on inside the offender.

2. Many times the offender is someone who has also been greatly wounded by others.

a. Inside that adult body we can see, there is often a scared, hurting little boy or girl who has not yet recovered from their own abusive experiences.

3. Our mates and others who hurt us are not yet mature and complete in Christ and often still have a lot of room to grow.

4. As Jesus hung on the cross, he was able to keep all this in perspective and so he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34)

5. Putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes often helps us objectify their actions and helps us to control our reactions.

E. Third, it helps to realize that extending forgiveness is what is best for them and for us.

1. Someone has said, “bitterness is like drinking poison hoping that your enemy will die from it.”

2. Or as comedian Buddy Hackett once confessed, “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”

3. In the end, when we don’t forgive others, we are hurting ourselves.

4. This is what we concluded earlier from Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt. 6:14-15)

5. Forgiveness is so necessary for those who give it and for those who receive it.

a. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

b. It releases the heartache, the load of guilt, and brings an incredible feeling of cleansing.

c. It sets the stage for fresh starts and healing.

F. Let me clarify what forgiveness is by sharing a few things about what forgiveness is not.

1. Forgiveness is not pretending that it never happened – that’s called repression.

a. We can’t truly forgive until we accept what really happened to us.

2. Forgiveness is not excusing what the other person did.

a. What they did to us is not okay and we don’t have to make up excuses for what they did.

b. We don’t have to approve of sinful behavior in order to forgive it.

3. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiving takes one person, reconciliation takes two.

a. We must learn to forgive no matter what the other person does or doesn’t do.

4. Forgiveness is not giving up on justice and change.

a. Forgiving doesn’t mean that there are no consequences nor any expectation of change.

b. When we forgive, we are actually getting out of the way of God’s perfect justice and transforming power.

5. Finally, forgiveness is not forgetting.

a. There is a difference between remembering (which we can’t control) and rehearsing (which we can control). 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”

b. We have to choose between keeping a list of wrongs and having a good marriage.

c. The good news is that once we stop rehearsing the list of wrongs about our mate, the bad memories can begin to fade (at my age the memories are fading faster and faster!).

d. When we nurse our grudges against others, the bitter memories will eat away at us and at our relationships.

G. So how do we begin to forgive?

1. The first step is: Decide to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice and a decision.

2. The second step is: Pray for God’s help! We must ask God to give us the ability to forgive.

3. The final step is: Act with grace and love. Treat the person you have forgiven as you would want to be treated.

H. Know this for sure: the powers of darkness seek to destroy us and our marriages.

1. The last thing Satan wants us to do is to forgive.

2. As the sun sets and we nurse anger, bitterness and resentment toward anyone, the devil smiles.

3. Unforgiveness opens the door for him to hold us back and bring destruction into our lives.

4. Satan is selfish and prideful. When we are unforgiving we are acting just like Satan.

5. But when we forgive, we are acting like our Heavenly Father.

I. Near the end of Irving Stone’s powerful novel, Love is Eternal, there is a moving conversation between Mary Lincoln, wife of the deceased President, and the President’s bodyguard, Parker.

1. “Why were you not at the door to keep the assassin out?” she demanded.

2. With head bowed, Parker replied, “I have bitterly repented of it, but I did not believe that anyone would try to kill so good a man in such a public place. The belief made me careless. I was attracted by the play, and did not see the assassin enter the box.”

3. Mrs. Lincoln said, “You should have seen him. You had no business being careless.”

4. With that she fell back on her pillow and covered her face with her hands, and with deep emotion said, “Go now. It is not you I can’t forgive; it’s the assassin.”

5. Then Tad, the president’s son, who had spent that miserable night beneath his father’s desk, said to his mother, “If Pa had lived, he would have forgiven the man who shot him. Pa forgave everybody.”

J. Our PA, our heavenly Father, is a forgiving father, and I want to be like Him – how about you?

1. W. A. Ward, in his book, Thoughts of a Christian Optimist, wrote: “We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.”

K. Marriages that are grace-filled are such a blessing.

1. May God help us to be more like Him in every way, especially in the ability to forgive.

2. May God help us to be receivers and givers of forgiveness, especially in marriage.


“The Revolutionary Power of Forgiveness” Sermon by Matthew Parker (

“Overcoming Unforgiveness” Sermon by Todd Leupold (

“The Power of Forgiveness in Marriage” by Domeniek Harris,

“What it Means to Forgive” by Winston Smith, adapted from Marriage Matters.

“Forgiving” Sermon by Edward Skidmore (

“Marriage: Forgiving and Forbearing” by John Piper,

“Marriage, Pursing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant” by John Piper,