Salvaging Your Relationship: Recovery
It’s been well over a year ago now that they came. I was standing at the Welcome Center greeting guests who had been in the service when a couple approached. I could tell they were troubled. As I observed them, their body language was all wrong. She was fighting back tears and he was talking. She wasn’t standing very close to him and she looked almost angry. He was desperate for some kind of response and took some time to explain their situation. The short of it was that their marriage was in trouble. I don’t remember much what he said other than that they needed help. When I heard that I looked at her. I was looking for some sign that she wanted help as much as he did. All I got was tears coming out of pretty hard, defiant eyes.
I tried to console them and encouraged them to work on their marriage, but as they walked away, I must admit that I really didn’t feel a whole lot of hope. I thought, “If they ever save that marriage it really will take a miracle.”
You’ve probably had those very same feelings! Maybe you’ve had a friend whose marriage was on the rocks and there were many complicated, painful problems roadblocking the path of reconciliation. You may have even thought like me, “This seems pretty hopeless. It would take a miracle to save this marriage. Maybe you’ve even felt that way about your own home. Years of neglect have choked any feelings you ever had. Mountains of betrayal squeeze the life from your relationship. Hope died years ago and your marriage has become a desperate attempt to just hold on. You’re about ready to give in to the despair and abandon what has become a painful existence. If you are hopeless over your marriage, I want you to receive some hope this morning.
Maybe that’s not really it for you though. No, the reason that your relationship is on the rocks is that, in the midst of everything that has gone wrong you feel guiltless. Now, notice, I didn’t say that you were guiltless, I said you feel guiltless. See, the truth is you really do have a boatload of guilt. You have just become so adept at hiding from the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit and lying to yourself that you are able to go one as though nothing happened. All the while you’ve betrayed your spouse through adultery, or belittled your spouse through pornography, or blasted your spouse with emotional abuse, or even beaten your spouse through physical abuse. Yet you feel guiltless. Today its time to come clean. Your marriage miracle may only be a humiliation away.
Others of you are not guiltless, but you are merciless. You consider yourself the wounded party in everything that has happened. At first, there was a willingness to try to work things out, but wound after wound has so debilitated your heart that mercy has left you. Now, all you want is revenge. You want to take your ex- down and take them down hard. The switch has flipped in your heart and you have no intention of ever reconciling.
Today, I want to speak to those of you who may be going through this whole process right now, but I will tell you that the principles I discuss connect with all of us. Whether it’s a marriage or not, we all struggle with our relationships in life. We are all just selfish and proud enough to be able to do permanent damage to those around us, often without fully understanding. All of us are like this, whether saved or lost. The difference for the Christian, however, is that we are commanded, as a matter of our lives as members of God’s kingdom, to always word for restoration. So whether it’s a busted relationship with your spouse, your parents, your friend, or your boss, here’s what I really want you to know: Restoration is possible.
Now, if you’re really hurting today, you may be shaking your head at that. You find it hard to believe that love could be restored or that your marriage could ever be saved. It would take an amazing miracle. But here’s what I want you to know: God is in the salvage business. Restoration is His great passion. And if you are ever going to experience this in your life, there are three requirements that you see in these ten verses. Read them with me:
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ”
The first requirement is this:
D1: RESTORATION REQUIRES HARD WORK!
The hard work begins with recognizing our offenses. In fact Jesus takes these very seriously. He says: Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves. Now to those of us who claim not to be offensive, He pretty much calls us liars. He says, “It is impossible that no offenses should come . . .” In other words, I think it’s pretty clear that all of us become offenders at one time or another.
Men, you didn’t mean to hurt your wife. She asked you how she looked in that dress. I mean if she didn’t want you to tell her that she looked like an elephant in a bikini, why did she even ask you. You didn’t mean to offend, but you did.
Ladies, you didn’t mean to wound his ego. Sure, you know he doesn’t like it when you put him down in front of other couples, but that zinger was so good, you just had to say it. You didn’t mean to offend but you did.
Here’s what I observe about marriage: We constantly live in the arena of unintended consequences, or should I say, unintended offenses. Grudges are nursed; resentments grow like kudzu and, before you know it, there is a huge gulf of mutual resentment between you.
Maybe that’s why Jesus says at the end of v1, Yes, it is impossible that offenses not come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves. Applied to marriage, Jesus tells us that offense against your partner is not to be taken lightly. In fact, he says that a mafia-style death, where the equivalent of our concrete block is tied to our necks and we are cast into the sea is better than us causing offense.
So let’s put this together: If offense is so easy to cause, and yet it is so very serious, then you and I have to be very diligent not to cause that offense. I tell you that is very hard work, which is why I say that restoration requires hard work.
But there’s another reason in these verses. Jesus goes on to say in v 3: If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; Hey! That’s confrontation. If you are offended, your job is to confront the offender. The word “rebuke” literally means to “express strong disapproval of someone.” Now that’s hard work. No one likes conflict, especially in your marriage. But, here’s what I’ve observed that often happen. You’ll look one day and you’ll find this couple filing for divorce. You’ll be scratching your head saying, “Wow! How did that happen? They were the perfect couple. They seemed to have everything together.” Now, here’s a truth I want you to write down: No couple ever breaks up quickly. O it may seem quick, but the truth is that, very often, they were stuffing down their problems and not dealing with them. They were putting on a front, maybe in front of each other, acting happy while they were dying on the inside. Jesus says, If you are offended, get it out in the open. Deal with it. Confess it. Yes, its much easier just to go along and stuff it down unless you are a naturally confrontational person, but that doesn’t really work long term. If you want real restoration to be working in your marriage, there must be this willingness to confront.
And this hard work goes even further. Not only must we confront, we must also forgive.V3, again, says: Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Notice that this forgiveness is absolute. There is no condition, in fact, it is limitless. There are no limits. If seven times in one day your mate commits the very same offense against you, and comes back to you and says to you, “I repent, I’m sorry,” you are to forgive them. Now that’s hard work! But that’s what restoration is: Hard work. And yet it is worth while work! Watch this
DVD - BLUE FISH - REMARRYING EACH OTHER
Now let’s be clear of one thing: This hard work begins with YOU! See I know how we think. I see it in myself and I hear it often when I do marriage counseling. Someone will come to me with a litany of their spouse’s failures. They got a list of how their mate needs to change. IN essence they are saying that this failure is not their fault.. I will always tell them. Listen, you’re the one seeking relief and the only person who can bring that relief is you. You’ll never change your mate, you can only change yourself. Hey when it comes to the hard work of restoration, each person in every marriage must individually decide, I’m going to do the hard work of restoration.
Which just leads me to these applications:
First, this hard work requires two willing people.Bot of you must be willing to work to restore your marriage. The offender (which will, in some ways be both of you) and the offended will have to do the hard work of seeking and giving forgiveness. Now what usually happens in a marriage which is going through difficulty is that only one person who is emotionally invested in seeking restoration, or it has even happened that they both were interested but at different times. Since this is true, we must take this hard work out of the realm of emotion and put it into the spiritual realm. We do not seek restoration for us, or because we even have a passion for it. We seek it because we want to obey God and we have a passion for Him. It requires two willing people and then . . .
It requires two honest people. We must be willing to see ourselves as we really are and the relationship for what it really is. We must be willing to confront and be confronted. That takes a lot of courage and a lot of work. It requires two honest people and then . . .
It requires two forgiving people. We must be willing to let go of our resentments and seek real repentance and forgiveness. That’s hard work, but you’d expect it to be. After all, restoration requires hard work, but secondly,
D2: RESTORATION REQUIRES MIRACULOUS INTERVENTION
When you first read Luke 17, you almost coming away wondering if Luke is rambling. He gives us what Christ says about offenses and forgiveness, then all of a sudden, in v 6, he’s giving us what Christ says about faith. He says, So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. What does this statement about the power of God being activated by faith have to do with forgiveness.
I think that there is a real connection. Jesus is telling them that these “kingdom relationships” He intends them to have are miraculous things. To be able to avoid offenses and to be able to forgive offenses all root from the same mustard seed of faith. They must be enabled by God’s power and activated by vital faith. These things are, in short, miracles of God, not actions of men. I even think that the Lord may be giving us a word picture of this miraculous intervention in this verse. Let me tell you what I mean:
The mulberry tree Jesus mentions in this verse was probably a black mulberry tree. They were especially hardy trees known to live up to 600 years. In the arid soil of Palestine, a mulberry tree required a vast root system. Pulling one up would have been difficult if not impossible. Jesus says, however, that if we have the smallest seed of faith, the miraculous could happen. A hardy black mulberry tree could, simply through our word, be ripped from the ground and planted in the ocean. I think that the tree in this verse figuratively pictures a resentment or offense that you may carry in your heart. When you move in faith and determine, with God’s grace to forgive, you can speak to that resentment and have it rooted out of your life and taken forever from you. But, make no mistake: You cannot humanly do that. It is a miraculous intervention.
But notice that this intervention is actually the result of faith. Now I know that from what the disciples recognize in v5. Jesus has just told them that they must learn to live without offense and that, when they are offended, even by the same person seven times in one single day, they must forgive. Needless to say, the disciples are blown away. Their mouths are hanging open. They are incredulous. All they can say in response is, “Lord, if we have to forgive like that, You’re going to have to increase our faith because “they ain’t no way!”
Jesus’s answer really surprises them. He basically tells them, “This kind of forgiveness requires the exercise of faith, not the acquisition of faith.” Jesus says, If you have faith as a mustard seed. Now if you’ve been to Sunday School, you know that a mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds around. Here’s what Jesus is saying. “You’ve asked for more faith. I’m not going to give you more faith. Instead, I want you to exercise the faith you already have. Even the smallest imaginable amount of faith can accomplish unbelievable things. One commentator said it like this:
We do not need more faith. We need to see the faith that is already in us and exercise it. We need to understand the very nature of faith itself. It is not something we place in a deposit account until it grows sufficiently to do what we want done. Faith is an acknowledgment that no matter how long we wait, we will never be able to do anything on our own, but the moment we call on God, he can do anything.
See, I know that some of you may be saying today, “I don’t care what you say about believing God and miracles, my marriage is beyond restoration; my spouse’s heart is too hard; there’s been too much water under the bridge. I just don’t have that much faith.” Well, congratulations! That’s perfect! Now you’re finally ready for a miracle. You don’t need more faith, you just need to exercise the faith you already have!
This all kind of reminds me of something I just read about NASA. In 1972, I turned 13 years old and NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. According to Leon Jaroff in Time magazine, the satellite's primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph it and its moons, and beam data to earth about the planet's magnetic field, radiation belts, and atmosphere. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, because up until then no satellite had gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it could reach its target.
But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Swinging past Jupiter in November 1973, the space probe was hurled at a higher rate of speed toward the edge of the solar system by the planet's immense gravity. At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. At some two billion miles, it hurtled past Uranus; Neptune, at nearly three billion miles; Pluto, at almost four billion miles. By 1997, 25 years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun.
And it's still going. Though now nearly 8 billion miles from the sun, the satellite keeps sending signals; some were received as recently as April 27, 2002. And despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continues to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth. "Perhaps most remarkable," writes Jaroff, "is the fact that those signals emanate from an eight-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night-light, and take more than nine hours to reach Earth."
"The Little Satellite That Could" was not qualified to do what it did. Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of only three years. But it has kept going and going and going. By simple longevity, its tiny eight-watt transmitter radio accomplished more than anyone thought possible.
So it is when we offer ourselves to serve the Lord. God can work even through someone with eight-watt abilities. God cannot work, however, through someone who quits. Listen even if you only have an 8-watt faith, God can use it.
But let me give you two quick applications: First. You do have to have the mustard seed! In other words, you do have to have faith in Christ. There has to be a trust there in Him as the Son of God and as the ultimate power in your life. Simply put, you have to believe that He died for you on the cross to bring you forgiveness and that He rose from the dead to give you power. You have to have the mustard seed.
And then you have to use the mustard seed. What I mean is you have to be willing to step out in faith. Even if you think that picking up the phone and making an apology will blow up in your face, you step out in faith anyway. Even if you doubt that going to counseling with your wife will make any difference, you step out in faith anyway. Even if you’ve heard the same apology for fallling to pornography over and over again, you step out in faith and give another chance anyway. You use the mustard seed. Hey, what are those steps of restoration you need to take. Even if the flame of faith is only a flicker in your heart. Use the faith you have.
Why? Because restoration requires the miraculous intervention of God activated by your faith and restoration requires hard work. But last of all
D 3: RESTORATION REQUIRES RADICAL THINKING
Well if the introduction of teaching about faith into the middle of the words about offense and forgiveness seemed out of place, the introduction of this story by Jesus seems even more disconnected. Jesus says,
And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.
Even though this may seem to be disconnected, I really do not believe that it is. I think that Jesus is telling us that the whole restoration thing is not just a matter of a temporary set of circumstances, it is a whole way of seeing life. He introduces this radical thinking with this story of a slave who goes out and works all day long. Now, in our way of thinking about things, that slave would have deserved to be served because he had been working hard when, perhaps, his master had not. Yet, Jesus says that still, even though the servant had worked so hard, the master would expect himself to be served dinner first, just because he was the master. And even as the servant served the master, he would do so realizing that he was just “an unprofitable servant.” In other words, he would be filled with humility and that humility would permeate his whole way of thinking.
Now here’s the thing: When we have been “offended” and someone has hurt us and they come and ask for forgiveness, we tend to feel just a bit superior to them. We have the upper hand over them. They are humbling themselves and we feel like we’re a bit “better” because they are having to apologize to us. And not only that, if we have been wronged, we tend to look at them as if they owe us and that they will continue to owe us. Jesus counters this here with this teaching on humility. He says, “When you have gone all the way with an offender. When he has come and asked your forgiveness, you are to forgive him and you are not to continue to demand that he or she jump through hoops and “pay what they owe” to you. Instead, you are to say, “I forgive you, not so that I can continue to collect the debt of this offense from you. I forgive you because I am the servant of a Master who has forgiven me. It is my pleasure to serve Him by forgiving you. I’m an unprofitable servant just like you. You owe me nothing. I was just doing my duty!
That’s humility! That’s commitment! That’s a whole new radical way of looking at yourself and looking at your marriage. Restoration is impossible if your marriage is all about you and your happiness, because if there has been betrayal, that loss of trust may seem insurmountable. But restoration is possible if your marriage is about the Kingdom and if forgiveness is simply you, as a servant of Christ, doing what “it was your duty to do.”
And this humility gets reflected in a couple of ways. In the first place, the one who is the offender must have the humility to admit that they are wrong. O I’ve seen it! I know what happens. The tendency is always to justify whatever you did that was wrong. Now, here’s the one truth that keeps so many couples apart. You can always find a justification. If you’ve had an affair, you can justify it with some slight your wife gave you. If you’re sneaking around behind your husband’s back and flirting at work, you can justify it with his neglect of your needs. But here’s the thing. There must come that moment when you as the offender realizes the offense and completely, without any rationalization, confess your sin.
The authors of the book, Mistakes Were Made, but not by Me, argue that our tendency to justify our actions is more powerful and deceptive than an explicit lie. They write:
[Self-justification] allows people to convince themselves that what they did was the best thing they could have done. In fact, come to think of it, it was the right thing. "There was nothing else I could have done." "Actually, it was a brilliant solution to the problem." "I was doing the best for the nation." "Those [jerks] deserved what they got." "I'm entitled."
[For example], when researchers ask husbands and wives what percentage of the housework they do, the wives say, "Are you kidding? I do almost everything, at least 90 percent." And the husbands say, "I do a lot, about 40 percent." Although the specific numbers differ from couple to couple, the total always exceeds 100 percent by a significant margin. It's tempting to conclude that one spouse is lying, but it is more likely that each is remembering in a way that enhances his or her contribution.
Over time, as the self-serving distortions of memory kick in … we come to believe our own lies, little by little. We know we did something wrong, but we gradually begin to think that it wasn't our fault, and after all, the situation was complex. We start underestimating our own responsibility, whittling away at it until it is a mere shadow of its former hulking self.
Listen, restoration is a mindset that says, “I’m through rationalizing my sin. I’m through making excuses. I was wrong!”
Not only must the offender have the humility to admit they were wrong, the offended must have the humility to completely forgive. The tendency will be to hold on to the wrong. After all, it is a good way to keep that person in line in the future. You can try to control them with guilt or intimidate them with threat. Holding on to the grudge may make it possible for you to feel superior to your spouse. Jesus explodes that tendency. Yo u and I can’t possible hold on to a grudge because we are just “unprofitable servants.”
One family grew up in the church. They had a fine house, great kids, and good jobs. But the wife had a mental problem. She would steal periodically from the family and gamble the money away. They tried to get her help. She went to counselors, doctors, and pastors but nothing permanently worked.
Can you imagine your mate stealing from you, hocking stuff form the house, or emptying the checking account and then lying about it so that she could gamble. Every time she stole from her husband and ruined his future, he took her back. Even when she gave up on herself and tried to commit suicide, he refused to give up on her.
Someone once asked the husband why he didn’t just get a divorce, but he would not, no matter how much he friends and family tried to get him to do so. When asked why he gave a simple, courageous answer. "She is a good mother most of the time, and my children need her. But more than that, they need to know the love of their God. How can they know of a Father in heaven who forgives them if their own father won't forgive their own mother?"
You see, this restoration thing is a radical way to think. It requires a kind of humility foreign to anyone aside from the power of the Holy Spirit. But when you and I use that faith that God has given us, amazing things can happen.
THE DAILS TESTIMONY.