This is a true story. Jack and Emma seemed the perfect godly couple; Jack was going into ministry and Emma, a very godly woman, seemed the perfect partner for him. Now, get this. On their honeymoon, Jack told Emma in a straight forward manner that he did not love her…he had merely married her because it would not have worked for him to go into ministry solo. For 40 years Emma lived in a loveless marriage in which her husband was at times unfaithful to her and even relegated her to sleeping with their daughter while he had his own room and their 4 sons shared a room together.
The amazing parts of this story? To begin with, all 6 of their children grew up to be strong believers, thanks in large part to the example of mercy and forbearance their mother showed throughout the many trials in her marriage. They saw Christ in her and that spoke more loudly to them than the absence of Christ in their father. Also, though Emma and Jack ultimately divorced after 40 years, Emma prayed continuously afterwards that her unbelieving husband would come to a saving faith. Imagine, after all the hurt and humiliation he had put her through, Emma still cared deeply about the spiritual sin and darkness in which her husband lived.
How does the story end? Jack did become a true believer and wrote a letter afterwards asking for Emma’s forgiveness. With the mercy she had always exuded, she forgave her husband, writing her thoughts in a letter, which included this sentence: “Though I am saddened by many marriage memories, I have released them to the Lord and have guarded my heart against the ravages of bitterness.” No they never remarried but at the end of the day, Christ’s mercy triumphed over years of misery.
Chapter 5: Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement
This week I’m going to do the chapter review a little differently. I’m merely going to include a few key quotes and then several practical points Harvey gives on how to extend true mercy in marriage and beyond. Mercy is the key point in this chapter.
“It’s not the presence of differences but the absence of mercy that makes them irreconcilable.”
“Kindness says to our spouse, “I know you are a sinner like me and you will sin against me, just like I sin against you. But I refuse to live defensively with you. I’m going to live leaning in your direction with a merciful posture that your sin and weakness cannot erase.””
“(Forbearance) 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.”
“Self-righteousness doesn’t just show up when people sin against us. It also expresses itself when we encounter the weaknesses of others.”
Practical ways to show mercy when under attack:
- Remind yourself that your greatest enemy is “the enemy within”-your own sin. We covered this in chapters two and three.
- When you’re not in a conflict, ask each other the question, “What behavior of mine expresses anger or a lack of love to you?” Take your spouse’s answer and attempt to do the opposite when you feel sinned against.
- Learn to love in the style of 1 Corinthians 13 by being “patient, kind and not resentful.” Resist being a defensive attorney in your mind. Fire the “prosecuting attorney” within-it’s nothing but an expression of the sin of arrogance.
- Memorize and apply this wise advice from James, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (James 1:19-20). Applying this one verse in the heat of conflict can have an amazing effect on where the conflict goes.
- Where patterns of sin are causing persistent problems, draw in the outside counsel of friends, pastors, etc. who can help you spot where chronic problems are occurring and provide accountability for responses of love.
Questions to ask oneself in the battle of self-righteousness:
- Am I self-confident that I see the supposed “facts” clearly?
- Am I quick to assign motives when I feel I’ve been wronged?
- Do I find it easy to build a case against someone that makes me seem right and him or her seem wrong?
- Do I ask questions with built-in assumptions I believe will be proven right? Or do I ask impartial questions-the kind that genuinely seek new information regardless of its implications for my preferred outcome?
- Am I overly concerned about who is to blame for something?
- Am I able to dismiss questions like these as irrelevant?
Discussion: Please share some practical ways in which you show mercy to your spouse (if married), friends or both when you feel sinned against! I would love to hear your examples as I constantly struggle in this area and find it difficult to show “undeserved” mercy, especially in friendships…