Have you ever hurt your spouse in some way? All right, 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 (like maybe five minutes!) 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 are 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.
"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
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 your offended spouse to say something like, “I felt hurt when...” At that key moment, you are right where God wants you. 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.
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. When you are facing conflict always place the priority on the relationship over the issue at hand. The health of your marriage and your relationship with God depend on it.