Resentment Revisited 2

This is the second part of an article exposing our human tendency to withhold forgiveness and to allow resentment, bitterness and anger to rule our hearts. (see below for links to the first 2 articles on Resentment: Resolving Resentment and Resentment Revisited)

Our human heart objects to forgiving others and relies on several tricks to excuse its unforgiveness.  One trick is to give partial forgiveness and then stop forgiving, as if you now have a right to be hard hearted, because you have already shown grace.

We saw that resentments come from our unresolved issues of the past, where withholding forgiveness makes issues out of those things we hold onto.  Now let’s look at another source of resentments.

The Way I Want It

Another source of resentments is our selfish desire to have things our way.  We all want to be loved, valued and appreciated, and we all want to have an easy life if we can get it.

Once we have determined the way we want things to be we can easily fall into resentment of those who upset our plans, block fulfilment of our will and so on.

If we don’t get the attention we want from family, spouse or friends we can become resentful.

If our spouse and family continually frustrate our hopes and dreams we can become resentful.

If our personal capacities let us down we can resent ourself and even resent God for making us with such limitations.

If you want peace and quiet you will resent those who take it from you.  If you want lots of intimacy, you will resent the spouse that is not interested.  If you want to live in a big house you will resent those that obstruct that objective.  If you want to be the centre of attention you will resent those you must compete with and those who don’t value you as much as you want.

“We weren’t supposed to start a family so quickly.”  “I wasn’t counting on your health being such a problem.”  “I didn’t expect your family to be so interfering.”  “Why don’t people just leave me in peace?”  “I really thought you were going to make something of yourself.”  “I never expected you to be so much like your mum.”  “I thought I could trust you to make wise decisions but you just keep messing things up.”

How do you like things to be?  Do your spouse and family frustrate your hopes and dreams?  Have you forgiven them yet or are you carrying resentment toward them?

It Is Not Fair

Justice issues are another interesting area of resentment.  Are you intolerant of injustice?  Such intolerance appears to be very noble, but you may actually be a slave to bitterness.

I have seen people get on their high horse, as the expression has it, and go charging into a situation in defence of justice.  They are incensed by something they will not let pass: someone wrongly judged; someone not sharing properly; selfishness displayed; or whatever.  The justice champion cannot but dive into the situation and berate the offender.

A common expression of this motivation is the “It’s not fair!” claim so readily heard from the mouth of children.  What they are really saying is, “I’m offended by that”.

A wise parent teaches a child that life is not fair and that each of us must respond to our situations with godly character, grace and faith.  In the absence of such wisdom children learn to fight about the matter of fairness and become demanding, intolerant, hyper-sensitive and so on.

Don’t be fooled by your noble and righteous indignation at those who are selfish, arrogant, loud, exploitative, thoughtless or whatever.  I dare suggest that your reactions are evidence of issues you have not resolved, rather than a divine calling to right the wrongs on earth.

Cleaning the Garage

As I visited friends a few weeks ago I saw their neighbour trying to clean out her garage.  The mother of the family directed the exercise and her tone and demands clearly indicated that she was driving the project and had little trust in getting the help she needed voluntarily.

She shouted like a sergeant-major and found fault with the efforts of her husband and teenage son.  Within half an hour the husband drove off at high speed, revving his motor in what seemed to be a show of machismo, as if to say he is a real man and not really dominated by his wife.  The husband did not return until the whole ordeal was well over.  Several hours later the woman was still scolding the children helping her.  She was on a crusade and it sounded like a dreaded ordeal for all involved.

She probably had very good reasons to act as she did.  Her husband probably lets her down repeatedly.  Her children probably resent being recruited into her projects and subjected to her ugly attitude and tone.  It is probably a toxic experience for everyone.

And that’s consistent with the warning in Hebrews.  If you allow a root of bitterness to grow inside you then many people will be defiled (Hebrews 12:15 ).  In fact, the whole process gets poisoned.

And in such a case it is probably impossible to imagine handling the situation differently, without any resentment, but with plenty of grace.

Resentment Free

If all resentment was removed and thorough forgiveness given then there would be no hurt, disappointment, frustration, shame or similar negatives in the way of getting the job done.

In such a case a happy discussion and negotiation could be explored to see how best to achieve the objective.  Where disagreement exists then godly wisdom can be applied to come to a gracious agreement that does not grow a crop of bitterness.

Accusations and vilifications would not occur.  Despairing thoughts and emotional outbursts would not be part of the process.  Any ruffled feathers would be soon smoothed over by finding God’s grace and keeping that grace as the key quality of the whole exchange.

Manipulation would not be resorted to, nor taking command of the lives of others so as to squeeze from them the required obedience.

And I think to myself (to quote a line from a song), “What a wonderful world!

How Else

Many a frustrated person will protest by asking, “If I don’t get angry and let people know how they let me down, how can I get them to do the right thing?”

I fully sympathise with the question, but please stop a moment and consider its implications.

The only mechanism you have developed in order to get things done to your satisfaction is an evil and toxic mechanism.  You are highly unqualified to lead any project at all if your skill set is limited to anger and abuse.  Rather than being a person of grace who can bless, train and lead others, you are so limited that your only powertool is toxic treatment of others.  You are actively sowing poison into others in order to get your will followed.

And who is to say your ideas of the “right thing” are correct?  If you have to contend with people to get them to fit in with your idea of what is right, then maybe you are the one who is out of order.

Why is YOUR way or YOUR priority, which others don’t seem to be supporting, the way that must be enforced?  What if you are trying to control and drive people to fulfil your agenda when God does not care as much for your agenda as you do?

Remember Martha telling Jesus to force Mary to do what Martha wanted, and Jesus saying that Martha had it wrong (see Luke 10:38-42).

Put Down that Knife

If you are a control freak, totally sold out to the offences that drive you, and determined to have your way, your justification, your vengeance or whatever else YOU think is vital, then you will have already gagged at what I am saying.  You will have your knives drawn to cut me down to size and let me know how justified you are in being angry, resentful, indignant, controlling and demanding, since you are standing on holy ground and everyone else is mired in irresponsibility, foolishness and self will.

But remember the words of Christ.  If you do not forgive you will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:14).  If you demand that others pay their debt to you then God will deliver you into the hands of ‘tormentors’ (Matthew 18:34,35).  And the torment you display suggests you are already under God’s sentence of punishment.

Check out my article titled Resolving Resentment to see the Biblical basis for these claims.

You have abandoned God’s grace and the mental and emotional distress that now drives you to torment others is a stinking mess that YOU have made.  Others have not made it for you.

You desperately need to apply forgiveness to all those who incense you and who you feel so offended by.  If you do not then you are doomed to deeper misery than you currently have and you will burn off more and more of your family and friends.  You are TOXIC, despite your prideful belief that you are on God’s side.

Better Solutions

People are selfish and irresponsible.  Your spouse, family, friends and associates fit that description.  You will be let down and hurt by those people.  That’s an everyday part of life.

You will either resent life or you will bring God’s grace into it.  As you learn to forgive and extend grace to people who do not deserve it, just as you want God to extend His grace to you when you don’t deserve it, life will become a blessing and a joy, instead of a wrangle.

In order to resolve differences and difficulties you have with your spouse, family or friends, you are best to start with a clean heart and free spirit.  Resentment, anger, frustration, jealousy, wilfulness, prejudice, and the like are barriers to the better solutions you need.  Remove those barriers immediately by giving open hearted forgiveness to all those who offend you.

Then work with God and your spouse, family and friends to find a godly and blessed solution.

You may have to change your priorities, because they are unrealistic.  You may have to accept others for who they really are, not who you want them to be.  You may need to inspire others to see the merit of things you hold dear.  You may need to see the wisdom of their different way of doing things, and give up your limited concepts about how things and what things are to be done.

You Choose

There are only two options in dealing with the upsets of life.  You either find and give God’s grace to those who offend and fail you, or you become bitter toward them, a root of bitterness springs up in your life and you and many others become defiled.

If your relationships involve contention, argument, disappointment, resentment, wrangling, hardness of heart, or similar negative elements, then you have already made bad choices in the past and are living with the toxic results.

I don’t have to live your life or live with you.  If you want to go ahead and mangle your life then do so as much as you want.  But please don’t live in deception any longer.  You are not a noble agent of God, but a miserable, selfish and bitter person who has personally chosen to come under the power of evil and to damage all those around you.  If you choose to live in unforgiveness then you have everything you deserve.

If you are willing to humble yourself, let me encourage you with this wonderful news.  By you simply following God’s instructions, forgiving all who offend you, God’s grace and His heavenly blessings will be released into your life, no matter how desperately bad things are right now.

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your offspring may live” Deuteronomy 30:19

The earlier articles on Resentment can be found by these links:
Resolving Resentment http://chrisfieldblog.com/2012/01/02/resolving-resentment
Resentment Revisited (part 1) http://chrisfieldblog.com/2012/09/12/resentment-revisited

Resentment Revisited

Resentment is probably the most prevalent disease in relationships and marriages today.

In my previous Resolving Resentment article (http://chrisfieldblog.com/2012/01/02/resolving-resentment) I showed how Forgiveness is the key to unlocking and removing the resentments that poison relationships.

I now revisit Resentment to help bring home its presence and to help people grapple with its impact in their heart and home.  This article is in 2 parts so after you have read this, look for Resentment Revisited 2 to complete the thoughts I want to share with you.

Resisting Forgiveness

Our human heart is totally selfish and proud.  It resists forgiveness and chooses resentment.  Resentment is really just a soft label for bitterness.  Bitterness is totally toxic and means we have refused to show God’s grace to those we are offended by or angry with.

Our determination to be bitter means we quickly develop a variety of Objections to Forgiveness.  And what is more we can even pride ourselves that we gave partial forgiveness and have put up with the other person better than others might.  At heart we can be real ‘stinkers’!

Limited Forgiveness

A common approach to forgiveness is to give Partial Forgiveness and to applaud ourselves for doing so.  At heart we are Objecting to forgiveness, and using Partial Forgiveness as a way out of forgiveness.

We see an example of this in Peter the Apostle.  Peter accepted Jesus’ teaching about the need to forgive, but in his heart Peter really wanted to take a hard stand against those who offended him.  Look at the historical record of the event, recorded for us by Matthew the Tax Collector.

“Then came Peter to him (Jesus), and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times? Jesus said to him, I say not to you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21,22

Peter thought that forgiving his brother SEVEN times was pretty good.  Imagine being offended by the same person the same way Seven Times!  That would be SO offensive.  Forgiving someone Seven times sounds pretty impressive under those circumstances.

Surely there has to be a limit to forgiveness.  If a husband continues to forget anniversaries, continues to drink too much, continues to embarrass his wife in public, continues to waste money, continues to ignore his wife’s advice, or continues any other offensive behaviour, then SURELY there must be a limit to any forgiveness.

And what about a wife who continues to ignore her husband’s wishes, continues to rubbish him to her friends, continues to nag him about his failings, continues to manipulate him, continues to frustrate his interest in intimacy, or continues any other offensive behaviour?  Surely there must be a limit to forgiveness in such cases.

Unlimited Forgiveness

Jesus responded to Peter’s question about limited forgiveness by saying there is no real limit to forgiveness.  We are to forgive and keep on forgiving.  What ever we think is our absolute limit needs to be multiplied ten times and then multiplied by the original number all over again.

If we offer ‘partial forgiveness’ then we have not truly forgiven.

And there is nothing to boast about that we have put up with this or that for so long or so many times.  There is no room for pride in our partial forgiveness.

What Really Happens

People normally put up with something that bothers them for a while, then decide they have a right to explode, react, get angry, resent the action and be bitter toward the offender.  People even see their short lived patience as a badge of honour and they usually broadcast the fact that they have been tolerant, as if that excuses their anger, resentment and final UNFORGIVENESS.

“I haven’t said anything for three days, but you just keep on doing what you are doing and so, ENOUGH is ENOUGH!”  “I’ve had a belly full of your behaviour and I’m not taking it any more.”  “This has gone TOO FAR!”  “I’ve been patient with you, and I haven’t said anything before, but I just have to tell you that I am angry with what you are doing.”  “You have no idea what you have put me through and how patient I have been!”

Despite all those high sounding self affirmations about how wonderful we have been putting up with the other person’s faults, what really happens is that we give in to Unforgiveness.  We choose to be Unforgiving and to then be angry, resentful, judgmental, condemning, etc.

Our pride justifies our anger and unforgiveness and we commend ourselves for having temporarily endured the offence, when in truth we have violated God’

Human Limits

Whether we actually ‘forgive’ or just try to tolerate the other person’s behaviour for a while we usually have pretty short limits.  Peter thought that forgiving SEVEN times was pretty impressive.

It could even be that Peter was proud of his incredible willingness to forgive an offender Seven times.  He had no hesitation in offering the idea to Jesus, as if it was a pretty good offer.

Our human hearts are evil and so we don’t want to act like God or Christ and to forgive.  That is why Christ warned us that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven, Matthew 6:15.  We are so prone to reacting badly to other people’s failures, while wanting to be excused from our own.

Resentment is Resentment

Whether you give in to resentment the instant you are offended, or whether you forgive someone seven times before you give in to resentment, Resentment is still Resentment.  Anger is still anger.  Bitterness is still bitterness.  Unforgiveness is till unforgiveness, even if you gave partial forgiveness for a while before you reverted to unforgiveness.

Your temporary tolerance, incredible patience and limited forgiveness don’t count for anything.  You have allowed a root of bitterness to spring up and to defile you and those around you (Hebrews 12:15).  Your heart reaction is wrong, and you failed to give God’s grace to someone who needs it.

What is more, you set yourself up as judge.  Despite God’s warnings that we are not to judge others (Matthew 7:1) a person who becomes angry and resentful has stood in judgement of someone.  In fact, they have set themselves up as “Judge, Jury and Executioner”!  They judge the person to be out of order, find them to be “guilty” and then prescribe the punishment.  The punishment is that the offender is subjected to the anger and resentment of the one standing in judgement.

Our choice to resent someone means we think we can stand in God’s place and lord ourselves over the other person.  And that’s pride.

Growing Your Resentments

Where do resentments come from?  Obviously they come from our decision to be angry and unforgiving toward those who offend us.

By that process, however, we each grow our own garden of resentments, based on our past decisions about the things we will resent.  Some people have a flourishing garden of resentments and live their lives in a perpetual state of reaction to people who offend them.

Since this is so very debilitating, as well as against God’s instruction to show grace to people and even to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43,44), we should have a closer look at how this process takes place in our lives.

People I Dislike

When we are offended by a person or a situation and allow resentment to spring up we easily become resentful of all people or situations that remind us of that original offence.

You will be familiar with the idea that, “I just can’t stand people like that!”  Whatever the “like that” is in your case, and whatever it is that you can’t stand, it represents a pet resentment you are growing in your life.

The problem for you is that you have been offended in the past and not given forgiveness to the one who offended or wronged you.

Guess what might be unresolved in your life if you say things like these.  “I can’t stand bossy people.”  “I can’t tolerate such injustice.”  “That look on someone’s face makes my blood boil.”  “I have absolutely no time for people like that.”  “Don’t raise your eyebrows at me when I’m talking to you!”  “You just think you’re SO superior, don’t you.”  “I’m not going to let that happen to me ever again.”  “I won’t have someone looking down at me.”
People have issues about being belittled, ignored, misunderstood, misrepresented, falsely accused, taken for granted, used and rejected.  Some people engage the rest of their lives trying to even some score, prove some point, vindicate themselves, right some wrong or otherwise react to some offence they have never forgiven.

Learned Intolerances

Every time we fail to show God’s grace to someone who wrongs us we become trapped in bitterness.  We are warned that the only alternative to giving grace is to have a “root of bitterness” spring up in our life (Hebrews 12:15).

We don’t like the word ‘bitterness’ so we use such terms as resentment, anger, frustration and intolerance, because those things sound reasonable, and can even be justified as a righteous response to someone else’s evil.

The examples can be quite obvious, like having a bossy older sister causing people to be intolerant of strong minded women.  At the same time we each have unique and personal opportunities to learn intolerance toward certain types of people or behaviour.  Our intolerance is really a sign of a root of bitterness inside us.

People despise the favoured child in their family, feeling wronged by not getting the same attention.  People despise the over confident person who always outperforms them.  People resent others who get privileges they did not get.  And on it goes.  Much of the energy behind feminism is fuelled by feelings of resentment toward males.

What are your intolerances?

Resolve It

Discovering your intolerances and uncovering your bitterness is not a game where you get to bring up how others have hurt you.  It is a vital challenge to your heart, calling you to whole-heartedly forgive those who have offended you in the past.

Don’t revisit your pain, but RESOLVE IT!

All the unfinished business in your heart needs to be removed by you forgiving every offender who ever wronged you.  Give up your unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment and anger.  Despite what those people have done, your only hope of a better future is for you to forgive them.

If you do not forgive them you end up in the hands of spiritual tormentors, as Jesus warns in Matthew 18:34,35.  So the mess you are now in is not because of the way they treated you but because of your refusal to forgive them.

Stop blaming others for their faults when YOU are the worst enemy to your happiness and blessing.

Grow up and resolve your issues right now, by choosing to forgive people who don’t deserve to be forgiven, just as you want God to forgive you even though you don’t deserve it.

There is More

If you find these thoughts helpful then look out for the second part of this article on Resentment Revisited.  I have additional practical insights to share with you, so you can be free and so you can help others.

Look out for Resentment Revisited 2.

Resolving Resentment

I pointed out recently, in an article titled Marriage Big Issues, that resentment is a real danger in our relationships. (The link to Marriage Big Issues is at the end of this article)

To assist those who are struggling with resentments or other issues in their marriage or relationships I want you to see the key to resolving resentments and dissolving many of the issues and problems that can destroy relationships.

One of my granddaughters, just eight years old, told me today that she prays about her tendency to get angry and now has greater control over her anger.  Last night I saw her quietly leave the table after something upset her and she came back a short while later in a perfectly happy mood.  She had prayed about the feelings she was struggling with.

So the keys to resolving resentments and related upsets are not hard to access.  Even a child can apply God’s truth to become free.

Power Tool

Back in the 1980’s I taught a marriage series in which I included a session on the Marriage Power Tool.  Susan and I had proven the power of this key on several occasions and so I could confidently teach and recommend it.  That ‘power tool’ is the key to Resolving Resentments which I am sharing here.

God’s Power Tool for repairing relationships is FORGIVENESS.

It may not sound impressive or catchy, and it may even be something you most want to avoid, but it is the wonderful and simple key to unlocking hurts, resentments, pain and hopelessness in many relationships.

Forgive the Offender

Jesus gave extensive teaching about our need to forgive.  In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus included the words, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  Then Jesus immediately followed the prayer with a challenging instruction.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14,15

Forgive or else!  If you refuse to forgive then you won’t be forgiven.  It’s as simple as that.

To nail the message home Jesus later told a parable about a king who forgave a servant who owed a great debt.  That forgiven servant went off and threatened someone who owed the servant a small debt.  Because the servant refused to pass on the grace of forgiveness, the king threw the servant into prison, demanding that the whole debt be paid in full.

Because the servant would not forgive he was not forgiven.  See Matthew 18:23-35 for the record of this parable.

And to make the matter all the more relevant to us, Jesus ended the parable by saying that God will treat each of us that same way.

“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due to him.  So likewise will my heavenly Father do also to you, if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Matthew 18:34,35

Resentment Resists

What makes Forgiveness so very important when people argue or are upset with each other is that our human heart is drawn toward resentment, rather than forgiveness.  Rather than forgive the offender, our selfish human heart gets upset, hurt and resentful.  So making the choice to forgive is a very powerful thing to do.  It defies the natural instinct of our selfish human heart and enables us to release God’s grace.

When we are upset with others we become ungracious toward them.  Our words and attitudes tend toward despisement and resentment.

Common responses people make toward each other betray the edge of resentment, rebuke and cynicism that are in place.  “So you finally decided to turn up, did you?”  “It’s about time you decided to help.”  “I do hope it’s not too much trouble for you to make yourself useful.”  “I suppose you think it was MY fault.”

All of these jibes shout our resentment and our failure to bring God’s grace into the situation.

Practical Examples

A wife may be resentful of her husband who seems keener to be at work or out of the home than to meet the practical needs of the family.  Similarly a husband may resent his wife who would rather talk with her friends than be there for him.

When a wife or husband is agitated by resentments they will speak them into the relationship, even if trying not to.  A wife calling her husband to urge him home will tend to display in her tone and her words that she is disappointed and accusing of her husband for not being home yet.  A husband trying to make comment about something he wants his wife to change will invariably bring disappointment and accusation into his tone and words.

However, if the husband and wife have fully resolved their resentments they can address the issues without bringing their resentments into the equation.

“Hi honey, are you getting home soon?  We’re waiting to eat together and so I’m hoping you can join us.”

“Sweetheart, can I get you to end that phone call so we can have a little catch up time before dinner?”

What do you resent?

There are many things that can be resented in relationships but the common ones will centre on food, time, intimacy, laziness, control and similar core issues.

When resentment enters the picture it is very easy for ungracious words and heated exchanges to erupt.

“Of course you liked the meal.  It’s full of fat.  When are you going to do something about your weight?”

“Why do I have to do it right now?  We have plenty of time to do that, but not much time for just being together.”

“I knew you’d be thinking about intimacy, but what about all those chores that haven’t been done?”

If you could identify the things you resent, and then ask God to help you forgive the other party for the failings and hurts that you attach to those resentments, then you can begin removing the barriers to your relationship.

Powertool

Susan and I have found over the years that some rather tough moments have been turned around in an instant, just by one or the other facing the resentments and choosing forgiveness instead of the selfish choice.

That doesn’t mean it is easy.  We have both faced times of struggle in coming to the place where we would give open hearted forgiveness to the other.

For us the issues have not been great dramatic reasons to resent the other, but the personal disappointments and frustrations that come with living life alongside someone who has a different approach or value system about some things than we do.

We have found forgiveness to be an absolute powertool for ourselves and for those who will accept it.  But it has to be activated.  Just like a machine that has to be switched on, forgiveness takes an active choice to activate it.

Everything Can Be Forgiven

I know that people are jealous about their hurts.  We are all likely to think, “Well you just don’t understand what I am going through”.  We want to have a right to hold resentment and bitterness in our heart.  We want vengeance and we want the other person to admit they are wrong and change their ways before we will give them forgiveness.

Be assured that all can be forgiven.  Adultery can be forgiven.  Incest can be forgiven.  Violence can be forgiven.  Betrayal can be forgiven.  I have helped people address these very issues and find forgiveness where they thought it was impossible.  Everything can be forgiven.

And that means that everything is fixable.  There is no ultimate sin against you or your marriage that gives you the right to put an end to the relationship.  Only God can end your marriage, since He is the one who joined you as one flesh in the moral miracle of marriage.

Jesus Christ was murdered by men who hated Him without a cause, supported by the very people He came to save.  And on His deathbed, Jesus said, “Father forgiven them”.

Everything can be forgiven.

Get God’s Grace

Giving forgiveness is a divine act.  It puts you into God’s territory.  In fact, the Bible calls forgiveness “the grace of God”.

The Bible tells us to be very careful to show God’s grace or a root of bitterness, which we like to call resentment or some other soft label, will spring up and pollute and destroy.

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” Hebrews 12:15

If you can’t forgive then you need to encounter God’s grace.  It is hard to give away something you have never received.

You are a rotten selfish sinner and you are worthy of nothing but God’s judgment.  But God sent Jesus to die to pay your penalty for you.  If you accept Christ as your saviour you receive God’s grace.  Then you can start to give that grace away to others, by forgiving them, just as God has forgiven you.
Find the Marriage Big Issues article at http://chrisfieldblog.com/2011/12/22/marriage-big-issues

Marriage Big Issues

I recently read a book by Joel and Kathy Davisson, Man of Her Dreams, in which they address a tendency by some men to make the wife’s “submission” a key issue in marriage.

As they see it, Biblical marriage teaching popularised in the 1980’s ended up making “submission” the key issue in Christian marriages, leading to various ways in which wives have suffered. To bring redress they seek to wind back the significance of a wife’s submission and call upon men to lay down their lives for the wife.

It seems that the 1980’s teaching promised that if a wife submitted, the marriage would be wonderful. So the Davisson’s replace that erroneous idea with the proposition that if a husband submits to the vision of the marriage as directed by his wife, then they will live happily ever after.

Joel and Kathy’s book prompted me to consider how I would address imbalanced thinking about the Biblical issues for husband and wife.

Mind Your Own Business

The readily identifiable responsibilities for husband and wife as given in the Bible are clearly that the husband must “love” his wife and the wife must “submit” to her husband.

Now obviously wives are to love their husband and husbands give attention to and work alongside their wives. Mutual affection and submission are obviously ideal in a good working marriage relationship. However, the clear directive is that the husband give supreme attention to loving his wife and the wife give supreme attention to submitting to her husband.

But take note that the clear instructions to love and submit are clearly addressed to the responsible party, not their spouse. Husbands are not instructed to enforce submission, nor the wife instructed to force her husband to love her. Each is individually accountable before God for their actions.

So, husbands and wives, “Mind Your Own Business!”

Marriage is not a battleground where you struggle to get your spouse to do their part. It is a place where you live in the fear of God and be the man or woman God has called you to be, through all the “for better or for worse” challenges.

Dear Husband Dear Wife

Let me show you, in your face, so you can’t miss it, that the instructions for a husband and wife are given to the relevant party. It is NOT your place to be an enforcement officer in your marriage, or anyone else’s.

Ephesians 5 is the most extensive Bible passage addressing the responsibilities of a husband and wife. Here we see the love/submit responsibilities stated repeatedly and expanded with reference to Christ and the Church. Yet at no point is anyone authorised to police the responsibilities, except the individual husband and wife taking responsibility for their own actions.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22

“Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Ephesians 5:24

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” Ephesians 5:25

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:28

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

Note that the last verse does not say, “Husbands see that your wife reverences you”.

The Focus on You

When Paul repeats to the church he planted in Colosse the personal responsibilities of husband and wife he goes on to show that these are personal responsibilities before God. The point is, therefore, that we are not accountable to our spouse, but to God. And our spouse is not accountable to us, but to God.

In Colossians 3:18-25 Paul addresses wives, husbands, children, fathers and servants in a common instruction regarding their personal challenges.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men;

Knowing that of the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ. But he that does wrong will receive for the wrong which he has done: and there is no respect of persons.”

Note that the Lord will reward those who do right and will see that wrong actions receive due response, because all we do, as wife, husband, child, father or servant, is really done in service of Christ our Lord.

Beware the Human Heart

Marriage issues in western Christian homes are rarely about the husband or the wife not knowing their role and responsibility. The problems spring from the selfish evil human heart we all carry within us.

Men fail to love their wife. They do so often because of laziness and selfishness. They also do so because of resentment toward the wife.

Women fail to submit to their husband. They do so because of such things as self interest, self will and resentment.

God is watching our heart and will reward us according to how our heart responds to the various challenges that come our way, including the challenges that come from our marriage and family.

I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:10

Always Show Grace

The most common issue in marriage is that husband, wife or both have given up giving grace to each other. We all know that when we are in a good mood we suffer all manner of frustrations, but when we are troubled by ill will toward our spouse we find it impossible to show grace.

Human selfishness is counter to God’s grace. We are sinful but God is perfect. We are instructed by Christ to show God’s grace so we too may be perfect.

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; So you may be the children of your Father in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” Matthew 5:44,45

Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

However our human heart rebels against blessing those who we feel have wronged us. And that is toxic to a marriage.

Enter Resentment

Newlyweds find many things to resent in their newfound spouse. We enter marriage with hopes, dreams, delusions, false ideas about ourself and our spouse, fears, insecurities, unrealistic expectations, and so on. It is a recipe for hurts and disillusionment.

But in the honeymoon phase we tend to press past these bumps and show grace, in the hope that we can get our spouse to change, or in a trade-off for the benefits which marriage provides.

Eventually, however, our selfish hearts give up on grace and we give in to our selfish feelings. Not everyone pouts, seethes or revolts, but the tiny roots of disappointment, resentment, hurt, frustration, disillusionment and the like begin to sprout in our hearts.

What I call “resentment” is the soft term for “bitterness”. But westerners don’t like to be told they have such ugly things in their heart, so they will more likely accept the softer label of resentment, since resentment suggests we have a right to be resentful based on the failure or actions of the other party.

Enter Bitterness

Having softened you up with the ‘R’ word (resentment), let me switch it for the ‘B’ word, Bitterness.

The writer to the Hebrews warns us clearly that if we fail to show grace the alternative is BITTERNESS. Call it by any other name if you like, but if you are feeling hard feelings toward your spouse you are in bitterness! Sorry about that, but it’s actually YOUR FAULT. You are in deep trouble because your heart has rejected God’s grace and given in to the powerfully destructive bitterness plant growing in your heart.

See it for yourself in the book of Hebrews….

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Hebrews 12:14-16

Let me paraphrase the message for you…

‘Live by peace and holiness, or you will never see the Lord. And be really careful about always giving God’s grace to people, because if you don’t a “root of bitterness” will spring up and trouble you and poison many people. And don’t commit spiritual adultery by putting other things ahead of your spiritual inheritance, like Esau did, selling his birthright for self indulgence.’

Be Not Bitter

Your selfish heart will readily enter into resentment (bitterness) and will justify those feelings based on the failure of your spouse.

Wives and Husbands will feel hurt, frustration, disappointment, shame, offence, defeat, death of their vision for the marriage, and all sorts of related feelings. Those feelings could easily feed feelings of self-pity, defeatism and depression. Those feelings make psychologists busy and profitable.

But God’s will is that we do not give in to those various expressions of bitterness. We are to show grace, like God does, and not fail to keep giving our best to those who don’t deserve it, just as God gives sunshine and rain equally to the good and the evil.

No matter what our spouse puts us through God is watching our heart to see how we react. He wants us to react in a perfect expression of His grace. Our flesh wants to react with anger, manipulation, retaliation, indulging our hurt feelings, and so on.

Note Paul’s specific word to husbands in Colossians …..

“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Colossians 3:19

The Big Issue is the Heart

The big issue in marriage is not the wife’s submission. And it is not the perfection of the husband’s love for his wife. The whole trouble with marriage is the resentment and bitterness that springs up in the human heart, producing hardness toward the spouse and justifying those bitter thoughts and the resultant actions they produce.

What comes out the husband’s heart and what comes out of the wife’s heart are the “issues of life” for that couple. Well, it is actually the issue for the individual, since the spouse does not really get affected.

Ooops! Did I hear a reaction to that statement?

Remember that you are in control of your heart. Your rebellious wife or your uncaring husband are not your issue. They are each accountable before God for their rebellion against God’s will for their lives. All that is important for you is that you show grace to them.

If you fail to show grace, then your heart reaction will become a serious issue in your marriage. What comes out of your heart determines the issues of your life and marriage.

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:23

Hidden Man of the Heart

The Bible reveals we have a hidden personality in our heart. It is our most private part.

Peter encourages women to let the beauty of their hidden inner heart attitudes of submission be more important to them than dressing up with clothes and hairdo.

“Likewise, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the lifestyle of the wives; While they behold your chaste lifestyle coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” 1Peter 3:1-4

Your wife is married to your hidden man of the heart. Your husband is married to your hidden inner man.

Is your hidden man of the heart one with a meek and quiet spirit? Does it live by the fear of God? Or is it defiled with seething self interest, selfishness, pouting, resentment, bitterness, and such like?

The Problem with Your Marriage

The problem with your marriage is your heart. It is not your wife’s lack of submission or your husband’s insensitivity.

God has set you up with a spouse that will constantly fail you and test your heart. As far as you are concerned, God is focussed on your heart reaction, not your spouse’s selfishness. It is up to God to deal with your spouse. Their willingness or unwillingness to be the husband or wife they are supposed to be is a matter of God’s judgment on their life. You have no stake in the matter.

You have a huge stake in your heart reaction. And you have a HUGE stake in the question of your resentment or bitterness toward your spouse.

So, get over the fact that your wife is a tyrant and your husband is a jerk. Get serious about your heart response. That’s the only thing you have to care about.

Legalistic Dad

How do you help a legalistic dad?  You know the kind.  He demands his family do as he wants, the way he wants, on the basis that he has GOD on his side.

I have had to deal with several dads over the years that have dug themselves into a hole but refuse to change because they are the DAD and the Bible tells the kids to obey them.  The children become hurt and rebellious and that only affirms to the dad that he is on the high ground and they are wrong.

Call For Help

I was asked recently by a Christian counsellor for some suggestions to help a legalistic dad face the mess he has created and the pain he and his family are living in.  The dad appeals to the Biblical command that children obey their mother and father as his trump card to justify his stern stand.

As I considered the question, my thoughts about sad situations I have seen over the years led me to a new suggestion to help a legalistic dad.

The problem is getting the dad to listen and to be prepared to review his own actions, when he has a strong sense of being “right” and others being wrong.

Test the Fruit

Jesus told us we can know the truth about people by the “fruit” of their life.  A father’s life is not measured by the legal ground he claims as his authority, but by the fruit of his actions.  “By their fruits you will know them” is a basic litmus test we can apply quite widely.

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Matthew 7:16

“So by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:20

I suggest we can apply this to test those legalistic dads who think they are right and others are wrong.

Fruit in the Family

A child starts out as a blank page.  And children are very resilient and forgiving.  They have the ability to cope with disappointments and the distractions of their parents.  And children learn much of their concept of life by watching their parents at close quarters.

So, at least in general terms, the way the kids turn out can be regarded as the “fruit” of the family.  If a family produces selfish, proud, loud, disobedient kids, you know that the home has some serious problems.  If a home produces quiet, obedient, loving, thoughtful children, the quality of the home is attested to by those kids.

So let’s use that fruit factor as a searchlight on the legalistic dad.

Stubborn Kid from a Stubborn Dad

When a legalistic dad digs in his toes and will not budge from his conflict with a child, and the child digs in his or her toes and will not budge either, we can see that the child is the “fruit” of the father.  The stubborn father has produced that stubborn child.

So, if the dad thinks he has the ‘moral high ground’, standing in the place of being right while the kids are wrong, he had better re-think things.  The “fruit” of what he has produced is a public testimony to his failure.  Instead of standing on moral high ground, he is standing in the place he accuses his kids of standing on.

Humility in the Home

If the dad is looking for a spirit of humility in his children, then we need to see that same fruit in him.  If he doggedly defends his opinions and the rightness of who and what he is he can only expect his children to be as stubborn in their stand for their own rightness too.

First let’s see the dad humble himself before God and admit that he needs God’s wisdom.  Let’s hear the dad admit that he has failed in his role as dad.  When we see that kind of humility we know there is hope for the family.
If dad defies the evidence then he has invalidated his stand before God.  God gives grace to the humble, not to the defiant and arrogantly proud.

Heart Issues

Another important truth for a legalistic dad is that the issue is not rebellious kids, but the condition of the dad’s heart.  Yes, rebellion in the family is wrong and the rebellious children need to have that resolved.  But the dad is the head of the home and it is vital to get him sorted out as a key to healing the whole family.  And getting dad sorted out means dealing with dad’s heart.

The Bible points out that the real “issues” of our life are not the things that come against us but the things that come “out of us”.

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

When we seek to heal a home, the real “issues” are not the rebellion of a son or daughter, but those things that come out of the heart of the dad and mum.  In the case of a legalistic dad in conflict with his children, it is what is coming out of the heart of that dad.

Out of the Heart

Listen to what Jesus said about the significance of what comes out of us.

“And he said, That which comes out of the man defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:20-23

The issue that is defiling the father and likely bringing real problems into the home is whatever is coming OUT of the father’s heart.

And we know what is coming out of the heart by what people say.

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

Legalistic Speak

A legalistic dad will speak judgment of his children, rejection, condemnation, fault finding, pride in his own standards, negativity, contention, and so on.  And those words of his mouth reveal that he is not standing on moral high ground, but is polluted.

A heart that produces evil speaking reveals an “evil heart”.  The legalistic dad has deep troubles in his heart that lead him to produce toxic speech and bad fruit.

The more a legalistic dad is challenged about his stand the more virulent he may become in attacking others, asserting that he is right, feeling rejected and intimidated and so on.

All of this reveals that the dad is not walking and living in God’s grace.

Fruit and Heart

The dual matters of the “fruit” of the dad’s fathering in the home and the “issues” in the dad’s heart expressed in his legalistic stance and speech, show that the dad needs help.  The home is what it is because the dad has internal issues that need to be resolved.  He will never be able to lead his family into joy and wholeness while he is beset with personal problems that have produced bad fruit in the home and which reveal bad issues pouring out of his heart.

Legalism as a Cover

If a dad has produced bad fruit in his home and his heart pumps out evil things he has issues.  And legalism may just be a way to cope with life and excuse his situation.  Legalism may be a cover.  By being legalistic he can point at others, rather than get free on the inside himself.

Just about anything could cause a person to become legalistic, but since legalism prompts a person to reject others it is reasonable to assume that rejection has a part to play in the legalistic dad’s heart.

Certainly there is a lack of the grace of God.  And the writer of Hebrews warns that failing to receive and give out God’s grace leads us to having a root of bitterness which causes us to defile others.

“Be diligently attentive lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” Hebrews 12:15

Legalism and the attendant accusation and rejection certainly defile and offend people so an important need in the life of a legalistic dad is to experience the grace of God and to give God’s grace to others.

Give Grace to Dad

If you suffer under a legalistic dad you will find it easy to become hurt, offended, resentful, judgmental, angry and so on.  And by so doing you will be tempted to let a root of bitterness spring up in your life.  If that happens then the problem has been passed down to a new generation, instead of being dealt with and rooted out of the family.

So if you have a legalistic dad press in to God for sufficient grace so you can give grace to your dad, even though he does not deserve it.  If you can give grace to those who have no grace, you will not come under the power of their failures and weakness but have triumphed into liberty for yourself and your children.

If your dad is legalistic and refuses to see that there is anything wrong in his life, you are in a very vulnerable place.  Determine with God’s help to give abundant grace to that graceless dad.