Continue on with us in our devotional challenge!
If you are standing before the altar in the temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. Matthew 5:23–24
Carrie accompanied Dan to his company's summer picnic, even though she really didn't want to go. But it was the first social event since Dan had joined the company, and he insisted that Carrie go with him. So they went. They had been at the park only a half hour when one of Dan’s female co-workers came up to greet them. She had a trim figure and was wearing a halter top and shorts. "Hey, Stacy, you look great!" Dan said exuberantly. "Someday Carrie might be able to wear an outfit like that again." Carrie smiled, but inside she felt the knife wound go deep.
"Not tonight, Eddie," Sarah sighed as she slipped into bed, "I'm just too tired. The kids ran me ragged today, and the baby will be up early. I need my sleep." She gave her husband a peck, flipped off her bedside lamp, and was asleep in minutes. Eddie lay awake in the darkness, numbed by Sarah’s refusal. He had called her during the day with sweet talk and hints of his intentions, and she had sounded willing. He had arrived home with flowers and a twinkle in his eye. He had cleaned up the kitchen and bathed the kids, allowing Sarah an hour of peace to watch her favorite TV show. After the kids were asleep, Eddie had lit candles in the bedroom and turned on soft music. But she had rebuffed him – again – and it hurt.
Alma raced out the door, keys jingling in her hand. She didn't have a moment to spare. It was her day to drive the car pool, and she didn't want her daughter are the two other little girls she was taking home today to wait at the school curb. Two blocks from home, the engine of the minivan sputtered and died, allowing just enough momentum for Alma to steer it to the roadside. Looking at the fuel gauge, she let out a grown of panic. It was empty. "Ben, you promised to fill up last night!" she grumbled angrily to herself. "You don't know how awful it is for me when you forget to fill the tank."
Can you identify with Dan, Sarah, or Ben? Have you ever hurt your spouse in some way? Alright, so it's a trick question. Of course you have hurt your spouse, just as he or she has hurt you. If not, you either haven't been married very long or one of you isn't human! Even the best of relationships is vulnerable to slights and slams, criticism and avoidance, lies and betrayals of some kind. Since marriage is the closest of all relationships, it is anything but exempt from hurt. And it's never a one-way Street. You have been the offender at least as often as you have been the offended.
Of course, the vast majority of the hurts we inflict on our husbands or wives are unintentional. We never really set out to insult each other, violate each other, or ignore each other. A slip of the tongue, a careless word or deed, a thoughtless omission – they happen because we are weak, sinful, and selfish human beings. But these slights and slips still hurt.
You have been on the offending side of marital conflict, and you have also been on the receiving end, feeling the pain of hurt and disappointment. Whether you were the giver or the receiver, every offense in a marriage needs a relational solution. In Matthew 5:23–24, Jesus offers some helpful and very practical advice for dealing with these painful lapses in marriage. And his instructions seem to be directed at the person who caused the offense.
It's interesting the way Jesus sets the scene for relational reconciliation. He pictures us "Standing before the altar … offering a sacrifice to God." Let's say this represents a good Christian husband or wife going about the business of seeking and serving God. You go to church regularly. You have devotions regularly. You do the Christian disciplines wholeheartedly.
It's no coincidence that this person "suddenly remembers" something isn't quite right with his or her spouse. That's what happens when we approach God in worship. The closer we draw to him, the brighter the searchlight of his love shines in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is free to point out areas of weakness and sin.
So don't be surprised if while standing in the church service singing to God or kneeling in prayer during your time of devotions, you suddenly feel convicted by the Spirit of an offense. Of course, God can plant that thought in your heart at any time, even by prompting you're offended spouse to say something like, "I felt hurt when…"At that key moment, you are right where God wants you and he is lovingly taking the opportunity to clear up something between you and your dear one.
Next Jesus commands, "Leave your sacrifice…Go and be reconciled." Is he saying that the health of our horizontal relationships with others, including our spouse, is at least as important as our vertical relationship with God? Is he saying something like, "God isn't interested in your worship until you make right the wrong you did"?
This may be a little difficult for some to grasp, but such an interpretation is compatible with the rest of Scripture. For example, Jesus didn't want people to call him "Lord "if they weren't going to obey him (see Luke 6:46). Love for God and love for people are inseparable in God’s scheme of things. You won't get very far in your spiritual life if you fail to clear up offenses in your marital life.
Does this mean that Dan should drag Carrie out of the church service and apologize to her when he realizes how insulting his comment was? Should Sarah get off her knees without finishing her devotions and call Eddie and ask his forgiveness for being insensitive to his needs? There's nothing wrong with these ideas, but the essence of Jesus' command seems to be this: "As soon as you realize that you have offended your spouse, nothing is more important than making it right."
Don't delay. Don't put it off. Don't procrastinate. Confess your wrong, and ask your spouse’s forgiveness at your earliest convenience. The health of your marriage and your relationship with God depend on it.
Which of the following statements best summarizes how you usually respond when you have offended your spouse?
I am quick to recognize my wrong and quick to make it right.
I am a little slow to recognize my wrong, but when I do, I am quick to make it right.
I am quick to recognize my wrong, but it takes time to work up the courage to make it right.
I am slow to recognize my wrong and slow to make it right.
I make things right only when my spouse confronts me and demands a response.
I try to ignore my wrongs and hope my spouse will just quietly forgive me.
Lord, thank you for responding quickly to my confessions of sin and pleas for forgiveness. Impress on my heart this week the importance of clearing up offenses with my spouse just as quickly. I don't want my relationship with you to be hindered by insensitivity or hard-heartedness. Shorten the response time between my wrongs in my efforts to make things right. And please work in my heart so that I am more quick to stop before I hurt my spouse by what I say or do. Amen.
Renew Your Love
How have you become aware this week of ways you have hurt your spouse? How has the Holy Spirit brought to your attention offenses you have either overlooked or not made right? It's time to "leave your sacrifice at the altar" and clear up any offenses that may be between you. Spend some time in prayer, asking God to bring to your mind anything hurtful you have done. Ask your spouse if you have unknowingly offended him or her in any way. Confess your wrong, ask for forgiveness, and enjoy renewed fellowship with God and your spouse.