Here is an expanded version of an earlier post I did on the application of Luke 17:4 to marriage for our church's newsletter:
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” We hear this phrase often. While I don’t believe familiarity in general breeds contempt, it certainly can in the context of relationships. We find it much easier to forgive people for whom we can make excuses, or from whom we can remove ourselves. If someone you seldom interact with, like a co-worker in a different department or the guy at the grocery store, does something to offend you, then you can simply move on. You’re not likely to see them again, you say to yourself. Or, you think better of them and assume they’re just be having a bad day. You’re willing to forgive them. It’s not really an issue. That kind of forgiveness is easy.
Marriages, and other close relationships, don’t have that luxury. It is much more difficult to forgive your spouse because you see the worst of them; and, you see it every day. As a result, justification of their actions becomes a lot harder to come by. We get tired of our spouses doing the same thing. So, we get angry a lot easier the next time the same thing happens. We find it more difficult to move on. We find it more difficult to forgive. This is why marriages need Luke 17:4, “If he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times, saying, "I repent," you must forgive him.”
Luke 17:4 quiets the mouth of excuse. There is never a reason not to forgive. There is never a reason in your marriage to harbor bitterness and anger. Jesus said, “we must forgive.” So, if we apply Luke 17:4 to our marriages I think we should start a new phrase, “Familiarity breeds gospel proclamation.” When you are left without the opportunity to escape a conflict or make excuses for a person, reconciliation only comes through true forgiveness. There are not other options.
So, we have a choice to make in our marriages. Will they be arenas of bitterness, bringing up the past, brooding, and revenge; or, will they be a glorious arena of forgiveness. How we treat our spouses when they offend us says something about what we believe about the gospel. Do we believe that through the cross Jesus forgives our sin, even the same one seventy times seven? Are we willing to forgive as we have been forgiven? Do we see our spouses as forgiven saints through the cross of Jesus Christ?
This creates harmony in relationships in two ways. First, the offended party is eager to forgive. Second, when the one who offended knows he/she will find forgiveness, repentance comes much quicker. Oh, what comfort and love would exists in a marriage where a spouse knows that they will be forgiven.
Let the gospel of Jesus Christ reign in your marriages and other close relationships. While familiarity has great potential to cause contempt, it also provides a canvas on which we can paint the glories of the gospel to a watching world.