The Three Most Important Words In Marriage (Matthew 18:21-22; Colossians 3:12-15)

By | July 17, 2011

To Have and To Hold #3


     Every marriage has a beginning just like a good story. For many, that wedding is both memorable and romantic, a day to be remembered and cherished. For some, like Frank and Helen, it’s a day filled with anxiety and worry. But the beginning is not the wedding. The wedding is what seals the covenant in front of God, family and friends but it is not the beginning.

     The beginning takes place long before the wedding day. It takes place in the hearts and minds and souls of the two who make that covenant together before the wedding. It is in the heart, soul and mind that the covenant is held, preserved and sustained as well. Those most important of these, I believe is the mind. Because our thoughts and those ideas we see in the media influence what and how we think.


     When it comes to the marriage covenant, we have to guard our minds as well as our heart and soul.

     A guy who came into the Pastor’s office one day and said, “Preacher, when I first got married, I thought marriage was the ideal. Now it’s turned into an ordeal. And I’m here looking for a new deal.”

     Believe it or not, despite what the media has reported, marriage is not going out of style. Marriage is actually stronger than you think. According to pollster Louis Harris: the glum statistics that say half of all marriages end in divorce are wrong. Actually, only 1 in 8 marriages end in divorce, Harris said. Americans have been led to believe that marriage is decaying and dying ever since the government’s National Center for Health Statistics revealed that there had been 2.4 million new marriages and 1.2 million divorces back in 1981.

     What they overlooked in their calculations was the number of already existing marriages. Harris said, “What was left out is that there are 54 million other marriages that are going on very nicely.” Each year only 2 percent of existing marriages will actually end in divorce, according to calculations by Harris which combine ongoing and new marriages. Statisticians from the U. S. Census Bureau agreed

     A number of academics made a sensational splash with those numbers, the media got a lot of mileage out of them and it sort of got ingrained into the ongoing myths of America, like the Bill to stop all religious broadcasting or the postal charge for email or that Facebook is going to start charging its users. All of which are false. The religious broadcasting thingy has been around since before I went into the ministry. Yet, we tend to believe them because we hear them so often and everybody knows them.  In reality, marriage and the American family is surviving under enormous pressure.”

     The Harris poll showed:  Eighty-five percent of families have happy marriages. Ninety-four percent are highly satisfied with family relationships. Eighty-six percent said they are happy with the support they receive from family members during a crisis. Only 20 percent said they are not happy with family life. Harris called the 1-2 divorce-marriage ratio “one of the [worst] pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetrated in modern times.” (1)

     A poll conducted by George Magazine substantiates that: the poll asked: “If you are married, are you satisfied with your marriage?” 91% of the Men and 94% of the Women said “Yes!”

     I can’t prove it statistically but I’d venture to say that there is one thing that all of these marriages have in common. They all use the three most important words in any marriage. And what are they? Maybe you’ll guess after we read the passages for this morning. Matt 18:21-22; Col 3:12-15 (NRSV)

Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)

[21] Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

[22] Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Colossians 3:12-15 (NRSV)

[12] As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

[13] Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

[14] Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

[15] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

     The three most important words in marriage aren’t: “I Love You.” Those are important both to say and to hear, but they’re not the most important. Neither are the following: “I need you” or “I want you” or “Can I help” or “I was wrong” or “You were right” or “Okay, you win” or “Ask Your Father/Mother”

     I asked Mary what she thought the three most important words were but she failed my test because and she said they were:  “Leave me alone.”; “Do it yourself.” “Close the lid.” And “Let’s eat out.”


     A. In my opinion, the three most important words in marriage are: “I forgive you.”

     Forgiveness is one of the most important ingredients in life and one of the most important ingredients in a successful, happy marriage. Forgiveness allows us to put away past hurts and pain. It allows us to start fresh and build upon the positives in the marriage.

     You can love someone dearly, and hold a grudge or have a hurt so deep that it cuts you off from that love or taints that love. The pain of that hurt gets a strangle hold on your relationship and until you forgive, it will continue to strangle the life and the love out of your relationship until all love is gone. The words: “I forgive you.” tear down the walls that separate. And the forgiveness and reconciliation that accompanies them helps build and rebuild the relationship.

     B. From a Christian perspective, every person is a sinner. A forgiven sinner. A sinner in a recovery program of sorts. A sinner seeking to be a saint but a sinner nonetheless. If you follow that through, then every marriage is made up of two sinners.

     But it doesn’t stop there. You see we are forgiven. That’s the Good News. As forgiven sinners, we’re called to emulate Christ in all that we do. We are called to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In Colossians Paul says, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

     We can’t “clothe ourselves in love” if we are unforgiving. Nor can we know the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness. Therefore it’s good to remember that, A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers.


     A. If the three most important words in marriage are, “I forgive you.” Then it follows that the three second most important words in marriage are “Please forgive me.” or “I am sorry.” You see, forgiveness doesn’t happen without repentance.

     Remember the movie “Love Story” and the famous line: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I don’t think ANY marriage will succeed on that premise. Most couples have to say, “I’m sorry.” a whole bunch. You have to say, “I’m sorry,” in order to hear the three most important words in marriage. “I forgive you.”

     It’s not just enough to say, “I’m sorry” and then keep on doing what you’re doing. That’s saying “I’m sorry I got caught” or “I’m sorry it hurt you” but it doesn’t change the situation or the person. Real repentance changes the person. Forgiveness and repentance are about change. They are about changing, building and rebuilding the people, the situation and the relationship.

     You see, no matter how much you love your spouse, even the most devoted couple will experience a ‘stormy’ bout every once in a while. We in advertently and sometimes unknowingly hurt each other from time to time; through disappointment or failure to do something. There can be miscommunication in even the best situation. One day a husband said to his spouse: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Figure that out.

     Even in trying to clarify, there can be miscommunication. That’s why a marriage has to be made up of two forgivers.

     B. Forgiveness isn’t pretending nothing has happened, or pretending that what happened didn’t hurt. It isn’t even forgetting it completely, and it isn’t going back and starting over as though it never happened. Instead, forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationship. There’s a place for saying, “I’m sorry.” There’s a place for assuring the other person that “all is forgiven.” But the goal of both is to reconcile and rebuild the relationship. It’s about remembering the beginning and beginning again. One of the amazing things about a healthy beginning again is that the relationship is often stronger than it was before. (2)


     A. There are three more words that accompany “I forgive you.” and “Please, forgive me.” And they are “Give it up.” And by that I mean: “Give it up to God.” Turn the burden of your hurt over to God. Give it up. Put it down. Lay the burden of that hurt and the pain that goes with it at the foot of the cross so that you CAN forgive.

     You see, sometimes we say we forgive but we still bear the burden. We still carry the weight. We know our spouse’s repentance is real but we just can’t let it go. Sometimes, we can’t let go of the hurt we caused even though we know we’re forgiven.

     When we do that, we become self-destructive. We aren’t “Bearing with one another,” Or “Letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,” as Paul says in this passage. So, we have to bring our hurts and pains to God through Christ and leave them at the foot of the cross. We need to “Give it up” by laying them down, so we CAN forgive as we have been forgiven.

     B. A grandmother, celebrating her golden wedding anniversary, told the secret of her long and happy marriage. She said, “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,” A guest asked her what some of the faults she had chosen to overlook were. The grandmother replied, “To tell you the truth, I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten!’” (3)

     Forgiveness is a conscious decision we make when we’d especially like to knock the other person unconscious. In a Christian marriage, forgiving our spouse and rebuilding our relationship is living out this passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Forgiving our spouse is truly “being subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” As we talked about last week.


     Zig Ziglar tells a true story of a couple who went to see their pastor as a last stop before seeing their lawyers about a divorce. It seems that little things had escalated into big things. Past hurts were piled up and card cataloged. The marriage had gone cold. When they showed up, the tension was thick. The husband sat on one side of the room hurling accusations. The wife sat on the other side, cold as ice, but occasionally blasting away with bitter fireball put downs.

     The preacher suggested to this couple that they start over. He suggested that they go back to that point in time where they were in love. To which the man replied, “But I don’t love her anymore.” The preacher said: “You do respect the Bible, don’t you?” The man replied. “Yes.” The preacher went on, “Well, then, Scripture says, ‘Love Your Wife.’” “Yes,” said the man, “but we’re not living together as husband and wife. We have separate bedrooms.”

     “Oh, you’re living in rooms next to each other? Well, Scripture answers that, too. ‘Love Your Neighbor.’”

     The young man retorted, “But I don’t feel like she’s a neighbor. We relate to each other more like enemies.” To which the preacher replied enthusiastically, “That’s great. Because Scripture covers that base, too. It says, ‘Love Your Enemies.’”

     Both husband and wife told the preacher, “But we just don’t feel like loving each other. You don’t want us to be hypocritical, do you?” The preacher said, “Why don’t we suspend the discussion of hypocrisy for a week? Go back to treating each other like you love each other.” To the husband he said, “You call her from work. Send her flowers. Tell her you love her.”  To the wife he said, “You have a nice meal prepared. Buy him a card. Tell him you love him.”

     And then to both of them he said, “Speak kind words to each other, even try to show some physical affection with an occasional hug or touch of the hands. Let’s see what happens in a week’s time.”  The following week, the couple returned. The preacher was surprised to note that instead of taking seats on the opposite side of the office, both sat down on the same couch, holding hands. So he asked, “What’s the deal?” To which the wife replied, “He’s been nicer to me this past week than he has been since we were married ten years ago.”

     Smiling, the husband said, “Well, I guess you CAN love your enemy and forgive those who persecute you.”

     Forgiveness is the great healer. It is a trait that runs in our family, the family of God. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” by making the words “I forgive you.” the three most important words in your marriage. Build a strong marriage through forgiveness. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

     You see if you don’t forgive, those little hurts and discontentments add up and build up and become burdens. We don’t notice them at first because there are only a few but after time the weight of those burdens begins to bear on our soul and hearts and mind and they turn into grudges..

     And a grudge, an unforgiven hurt, a sin against you which is not forgiven may be the heaviest burden in the world. It’s the heaviest burden on our heart, on our soul and even on our mind. Over time it can be seen in our appearance, in the downturn of our smile, in the droop of our shoulders from the unseen weight of that burden and in the loss of light in our eyes and eventually if will boil over on to someone else.

     Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave Himself up for us to take on the burden of our sin. And in so doing calls us to give up the burden of those who have sinned against us. He died so we would know the power of forgiveness and reconciliation with God; so we could experience the burdens of our hearts and souls being lifted.

     Our challenge, our call, is to do that same thing in all of our relationships but especially in our relationship with our spouse.

     Today as we close in prayer and take time for reflection, I want you to go back to the beginning, to that time in your heart and mind and soul when everything was right in your relationship. Focus on your covenant with God through Christ. And then focus on your relationship with your spouse, or your best friend or your family or whoever God places in your heart. Is there something that you need to forgive, something which you need to lay down or give to Christ so your relationship with God, with your spouse, with your friends, with your family, whatever that burden is lay it down. If you need to, then bring it to the altar rail and leave it there. Whatever it takes for you to let go.

     And during these moments, if your heart has been touched by God’s presence, if you have felt the Holy spirit move and would like to spend time in prayer at the altar or make a public profession of your faith in Christ and join the fellowship of our church, then come forward as we sing our Hymn of Invitation.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.


1.   News Digest, Pentecostal Evangel, Aug 23, 1987

2.   Kenneth Chafin “How to Know When You’ve Got It Made” .Christianity Today-Vol. 29, #18

3.   Leadership-Vol. 11, #2

Other References Consulted

Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage, Mark Gunger

We can Work It Out, Clifford Notarius & Howard Markman (Berkley Publishing Group, New York, 1993)

Love Life For Every Married Couple, Ed Wheat and Gloria Okes Perkins (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1980)

Fighting For Your Marriage, Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan L. Blumberg (Jossey-Bass Publishings, San Francisco, 1994)

The Interpreter’s Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter’s Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Willaim Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, (The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians) pp. 129-130. The Wesminster Press, Philadelphia, 1976.

Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, June 1995

The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651, June 1995

The Autoillustrator, P.O. Box 336517, Greeley, CO 80633

Stories for Preachers and Teachers Software, HeavenWord Inc. 1999

Bible Illustrator for Windows 3.0, 199-1998, Parson’s Technology, Inc.

Leadership, P.O. Box 37060, Boone, IA 50037-0060