“I forgive you.”
That’s the day-in and day-out litany of the children in my classroom. My students apologize for the least little infraction.
“Remember to dot your ‘i’s’”
“I’m sorry. I won’t forget.”
With as much sincerity as the apology is given, they expect to hear they’ve been forgiven. “That’s OK. I know
you’re still learning.” This is the gentle pattern of our life in the classroom. The students learn that all their failings are carried by Another, and that One carried them to the cross to die for them. Perfection is not attainable because sin has robbed us of that ability. Besides, no sin, no Jesus; Jesus only came for sinners. That doesn’t mean repentance is cheap. For, holding onto sins is the same as telling Jesus, “No, thank you. This sin’s on me. I’ll die for this one.” The children get it. They live from it freely and openly.
I cannot count the number of sermons I’ve listened to based on Eph 5:22-33. I can tell you this: The number of sermons based on this text encouraging husbands and wives to confess sins and absolve each other can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
I watch my students submit to one another daily. They admit their sins openly and freely. They receive each other’s absolution, and the gates of heaven are opened to each other. Anger is released, grudges are stopped before they are even begun. Gossip is halted in its tracks.
When the sins against each other are serious, the students are asked if they would like to speak with the pastor to receive Absolution “as if Christ was speaking Himself” into their ears. Often they do. Sometimes it’s not an option. They are simply sent to pastor so he can help them untangle the mess they have made for themselves. They do not return without his Absolution, and an apology to all concerned.
These children live from the Absolution as Christ intended it (Mt 6:12). Luther caught the whole of it in the first of his Ninety-five Theses: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”
What of husbands and wives, though? Too often I’ve heard a sermon based Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives that seemed to want to only reminded me that “submit is not a dirty word.” Then it failed to tell me that the sort of confession of sin and forgiveness practiced by my students should also be practiced between husbands and wives. Of what higher service can any spouse be to the other than to speak Christ's words of forgiveness to the other? What better submission can any wife give to her husband than to ask that he forgive her, and he, in turn, die to her sins as Christ did for his, and hers?
This is not merely “looking over” the day-to-day trivia of human life encountered when two people live together. Did he miss the clothes basket again? Does she snore? Who forgot to close the refrigerator door or turn off the garage light? No, this is real confession of sin. Hurts and angers can submerge deep inside the heart and mind, not seeming to affect a relationship. Yet their edges poke and prickle, wearing away until finally they find a weak spot and emerge. Will it be confronted with more destruction? Or will there be an opportunity for forgiveness in Christ? Marriages can survive long and hard, even looking the healthy picture of Pauline dual submission, yet still be suffering without this joyous service between husband and wife.
Pastors, preach it as often as you are able! Husbands, wives, submit to each other with the confession of your sins. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church by forgiving her; wives, submit to your husbands forgiveness, for it is as Christ’s own to you--just as your wife's is Christ's to you. As Paul also says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,” (1 Corinthians 11:4). But also as Paul's Teacher taught him, we are to forgive sins as we have been forgiven in and by Christ.