Repentance and relationships

2 Corinthians 7: 8 – 13 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.

 1. Relationship conflicts

Life is made of up relationships, which differ from context to context. Our relationship with our spouse differs from that with our children, although they are both personal and intimate. These, in turn, differ from our work relationships, which are generally more impersonal.

Jesus and the apostles all taught on relationships as they are the central focus of our lives, our relationship with God being the primary relationship on which others are built. A faulty relationship with God gives us a faulty foundation on which to build other relationships.

Both Jesus and Paul stressed that love be the primary characteristic of relationships.

  • John 13: 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (Jesus)
  • 1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (Paul)

The love of God that drives our relationships isn’t a soppy sentimental feeling, although it can include that, but a sacrificial decision to put the other person ahead of ourselves in all things. This type of love listens to what the other person wants and what they expect of them. This type of love treats the other with respect and dignity to hear their perspective on matters, and to acknowledge if the other person’s perspective is better than their own and to change their own accordingly.

Paul lists characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

How do we match up to this list in our love for others?

None of us are perfect and we don’t match up to this list perfectly and so conflicts in our relationships arise. It’s quite normal for husbands and wives, parents and children, work colleagues, and so on to have conflicts from time to time.

Some common reasons for conflicts in relationships are:

  • Selfishness – considering yourself before the other person
  • Criticism – often criticising the other person and breaking them down.
  • Unrealistic expectations of the other person.
  • Bad communication. Not talking about matters clearly and not listening to the other person’s perspective on matters.
  • Resenting and / or being jealous of the other person for who they are and what they do. In a work situation possibly that they got a promotion and you didn’t.

 Relationship conflicts can manifest in various ways such as having arguments, not speaking to each other, and verbal or even physical abuse.

Even the apostles of Jesus had relationship conflicts:

  • Luke 9: 46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.
  • Acts 15: 37 – 39 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.

 2. Repentance and forgiveness

Conflicts in relationships are normal, but not everyone deals with them in a correct way.

Jesus often taught on repentance and forgiveness.

Paul, in the text above, is probably referring to his first letter to the church in Corinth where he confronted them for a number of issues. They had obviously taken his rebuke and repented as their grief led them to repentance. Although he was saddened by their grief, he was delighted at their repentance and forgave them. Their relationship wasn’t based on fuzzy feelings, but on truth and right actions and responses.

Jesus taught the combination of repentance and forgiveness

Luke 17: 3 – 4 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

As stated earlier our relationship with God is the primary and foundational relationship of our lives. In order to come into that relationship we have to believe and repent to receive his forgiveness to be reconciled with God. Likewise, we can forgive the person who initiated the conflict in our relationship, but unless there’s repentance from what was said or done then there can’t be a true restoration of the relationship.

Let’s take the issue of unrealistic expectations as an example. If a man expects his wife to do everything in the house without lifting a hand to help her but angrily scolds her if dinner isn’t ready on time when he gets home. This causes a conflict in their relationship. She can forgive him but unless he changes his thinking and actions and considers her there won’t be a change in the situation in their relationship. It’s possible that they’ve never spoken about their expectations of each other and they merely assume that they have the right ones accepted by the other person. They would need sit down and talk to each other to get to understand each other’s expectations then there needs to be repentance of the wrong expectations. If that doesn’t happen the problem in the relationship will merely continue and the conflict will be ongoing.

3. A return to a normal relationship – or not!

Our relationship with God begins with faith, repentance and forgiveness. That is merely when reconciliation with God takes place. The relationship needs to build on that through commitment to God. He is already committed to us as he is the one who reached out to save us, not the other way round.

Once there is repentance – a change of thinking, attitude, and action – on behalf of the person who initiated the conflict (sometimes both parties are responsible for the conflict), and forgiveness offered by the person who was wronged they can move on to building a wholesome relationship again.

What if the person who was wronged forgives but the other person doesn’t repent? Forgive them anyway as forgiveness is who you are as a Christian regardless of the other person’s actions. It keeps you from bitterness and resentment taking root in your hearts. However, forgiveness alone cannot build a relationship without repentance as the root of the conflict will remain. If a man has been unfaithful to his wife she can forgive him, but trust will take a long time to be rebuilt even if he repents. However, without true repentance their relationship will be impossible to rebuild even if she forgives him.

Have you got relationship problems?

  • Identify the root of the problem
  • Ask God to show you if you are at fault at all. Even if the other person is 90% wrong and you’re 10% wrong in the issue, you’re 100% responsible for your wrong part.
  • Find an appropriate time to talk about the problem.
  • Repent if you are wrong. Forgive if you have been wronged. Do both if applicable.
  • Make a decision to work on building on a strong relationship with God as your foundation.

1 Comment

  1. Merle Jubber

    This is an excellent message Alan. There are many people who need to read this. God spoke to me in this. Thanks Al.


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