Focus on the Family Broadcast   >>   All Episodes

Building the Bridge to Forgiveness (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 04/02/2012

Get Social and Listen

Best-selling author Gary Chapman explains how listeners can work to heal broken relationships by taking personal responsibility and seeking forgiveness. (Part 1 of 2)

Listen here, watch recent episodes on our YouTube channel, or download our app.

Episode Transcript


John Fuller: Today on "Focus on the Family," Dr. Gary Chapman shares encouragement for those times that you have some discord in a relationship.


Dr. Gary Chapman: God does not want you depressed for three months because you sinned against your spouse. He wants you to accept His forgiveness, get up, move on; do something good today.

End of Teaser

John: You'll hear how to have better relationships today and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, Dr. Chapman was here just two weeks ago with advice for expectant parents and how to prepare for that new addition to the family. Today he has a message about forgiveness for anyone who feels stuck, trying to mend a broken relationship, be it with a spouse, maybe a prodigal child, a boss, you fill in the blank. There are things you can do on your side of the equation to make it better. Dr. Chapman's best known for his work with The Five Love Languages. We all talk about that here at Focus. This content is from his book, When Sorry Isn't Enough.

John: And here's Dr. Gary Chapman, speaking at Moody Bible Institute on today's "Focus on the Family."


Dr. Gary Chapman: Our theme for the whole week of Founder's Week is The Image of Christ In Us. And if ever there was a place that we need the image of Christ, it is in our marriages and in our families. Today I want to speak on the topic of Tearing Down Walls. There is no question but what many marriages, many families, parent-child relationships, there are long, thick, high walls that exist between the people involved. Now how do walls get erected in relationships? I would suggest that they are erected one stone at a time.

Now when we got married, we didn't have any walls between us. We were close. Everything was wonderful. We could spend hours together and want more. Oh, when we went home, we wanted to go back. Do you remember those days?

And for those of you who are married, can you go back about three weeks before you got married? Do you remember how happy you were going to be? Do you remember the dreams you had? You could hardly wait to get married. That's the way I felt. I was 23 and I could hardly wait, ooh, to be as happy as I was going to be when I met that woman and we could get together. Phew!

But do you remember about three weeks after you were married? (Laughter) You guys will remember the afternoon you came home and said to her, "Guess what, darling? I'm going to the game on Thursday night with the guys. You know, our team is on top." And do you remember what you gals said? "Going to the game with the guys? You're married!" And that's the first time it dawned on him what he's done. (Laughter) And he said, "Well, you don't think I'm gonna give up ball games just because I got married, do you?" And she said, "Well, no, but you're gonna leave me at home all weekend."

And he said, "Well, you know, none of the guys are gonna take their wives." And she said, "Yeah, they don't have wives, except George and he left his." (Laughter) And then you remember what you did, gals? (Laughter) (Crying voice) "Can't believe you're gonna leave me." (Laughter) "Only been married three weeks." (Laughter) "Mamma said it would be like this." (Laughter)

And then it didn't matter whether you went to the game or stayed home, you had a miserable weekend. Do you remember that weekend? That little experience was like putting a block in a wall between the two of you. But in those days, you were in love, so you got over it.

Three or four weeks down the road, you had almost forgotten that little event, but the block was still there. And then there was another event. You remember that one? And another block and then, another and then, another. And many of your friends now, who've been married for five years or 15 or 25, many of your friends now have a long wall, high and thick. Only now they don't have any love feelings. All they have now is hostility, hurt, anger, bitterness or just apathy, just stay away from each other, just live and let live.

And if you happen to talk to the husband in that marriage about his marriage and if he opens up at all, I can tell you what he will say about the marriage. He will telling you about the blocks on her side. He will say, "You want to know what I live with?" Da-da-da-da-da-da-da. "You want to hear another one?" Da-da-da and da-da-da. And by the time he gets through tell you about all of his wife's failures, you're gonna wonder how anybody could ever live with that woman. And if you ever meet his wife, you will be shocked, because she won't look anything like you thought she would look. (Laughter).

And if she opens up about the marriage, I can tell you what she will say. She will tell you about the blocks on his side. She will say, "You want to know what I live with? On the day baby was born, he played golf! Want to hear another one? On the day they had my mother's funeral, he went to the softball game." And she will continue to tell you about the blocks on his side.

And they both have the idea that the problem in this marriage is the other. And the same thing is true in every family relationship. If you talk to parents about their relationship with their children, most parents have the idea that if my children would just … then things would be better. But if you talk to their children, you will get another story, because children and young people have the idea that if their parents would just wake up, then things would be different in our house. And most of us spend our energy blaming the other family members for the situation that we're in.

Now when we come to talk about tearing down those walls so that we can begin to rebuild relationships, I want to read you the words of Jesus in Matthew, chapter 7, beginning with verse 3. The analogy is different, but the message is very clear. Jesus said, "Why do you behold the speck that is in [your wife's eye], but do not consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how is it that you will say to [your husband], let me pull the speck out of your eye and behold, there's a beam in your own eye. Thou hypocrite! First, cast the beam out of your own eye. And then thou shalt see clearly to cast the speck out of thy mate's eye."

Have you ever read that? I put in the words "husband," "wife" and "mate," okay? It says "brother." But the principle applies in a marriage, as well as in all other relationships. Jesus said, if you want to improve a relationship, the place you start is by getting the beam out of your own eye. To use my analogy, tearing the wall down on your side, not on their side.

Now folks, it's terribly easy for me to say that, but it is not easy to do that. By nature, that's not the way we operate. For example, I often when couples come to see me, after we've talked a bit, I will say to them, "I tell you what I'd like to do. I'd like to give each of you a sheet of paper and I want to put you in separate rooms for 10 minutes. And I would like for you to make me a list of all the things that are wrong with your spouse, okay? Just tell me all of their failures in this marriage, okay?"

And they usually are rather eager to do that. Oh, they like that assignment. And they will sit down and they will begin writing and they will write and write and write and write and write. And when I bring them back at the end of 10 minutes, most of them are still writing when I go get them. (Laughter) In fact, one lady said to me before she ever left the room, she said, "I'll tell you right now, it'll take more paper than that." (Laughter)

And I bring them back and I read their lists silently. And when I get through reading their list, I say to them, "You know, this is good. You all have done a good job. This shows a lot of insight." And it does; it shows all those things that are between the two of them.

But I say, "Before we work on these, I would like for you go back and this time, I would like for you to make me a list of all the things that are wrong with you. Just tell me your failures in this marriage, okay?" Do you know, they will sit down and most people can think of one right away. They call it their "besetting sin," so they write it down, No. 1. Well, now, I do lose my temper once in a while. Or whatever it is, they'll write it down. But I have seen folks sit there and sit there and sit there, tryin' to think of No. 2. (Laughter)

And seldom has anyone ever come back to my office with more than four things on his or her list. Twenty-seven things wrong with his wife, but he only has four on his list. (Laughter) In fact, one lady came back after 10 minutes. Her paper was blank. (Laughter) And she said, "Dr. Chapman, I know you're not gonna believe this." (Laughter) She said, "But I honestly can't think of a thing I'm doing wrong." And I didn't say anything, because I didn't know what to say. I've never met a perfect woman before. (Laughter)

And after 30 seconds of silence, she said, "Well, now if he were here, I know what he would say." And I said, "What's that?" She said, "Well, he would say that I'm failing in the sexual area." And again, I didn't say anything, because I didn't know what to say. And 30 seconds later she said, "Well, he's probably right about that, but that's all I can think of." Well, I didn't clobber her on the head, but if that's all she could think of, that's pretty big in a marriage. And don't ever forget, God instituted the sexual part of the marriage, as well as the rest of it.

You see, it is not easy to behold the beam in our own eye. It's much easier to see the things that are wrong with them, than to see the things that are wrong with me.

Program Note:

John: Dr. Gary Chapman on "Focus on the Family" and this reminder, you can get his book on this subject, When Sorry Isn't Enough, for a gift of any amount when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or donate and request that book at Here now, Dr. Gary Chapman, speaking at Moody Bible Institute on today's "Focus on the Family."

End of Program Note

Gary: So, I want to give you three steps on how to get the beam out of your eye or how to tear the wall down on your side. No. 1, identify your own failures. Identify your own failures. We've got to get 'em on the front burner. Now how do you do that? I suggest prayer. Psalm 139, verses 23 and 24 is a good example. David said, "Search me, O God and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts and see if there's any wicked way in me." That's about as straightforward as you can get. Lord, shine Your spotlight on me and show me where I am failing in this relationship.

Now folks if you will sincerely pray that prayer, get your pencil ready, because God will answer that prayer. He will pour it out to you. Now He will not give you all of your failures on the same night. That would kill you. (Laughter) But He will give you enough that you can begin to tear the wall down on your side.

We've got the first, "identify." Where am I failing in this marriage? And it doesn't take God a long time to get right to the point with you. I mean, He will bring back to you all those verses you have memorized about, "Be ye, kind one to another." And He will remind you of what happened last night and you'll have to say, "I was not kind." And He will bring that word to you, "tenderhearted" and you will have to say, "I was not tenderhearted yesterday. I was harsh and cold and bitter and cruel and mean."

And He will bring to you that word, "forgiving one another." And you will have to say, "Oh, God, I have not forgiven him. I bring it up every third day." And He will bring to your mind all the promises that you've made that you never kept. "Ooh, I promised to paint the bedroom four years ago, still not painted. No wonder the woman's mad." (Laughter)

And He'll bring to your mind all the failures in your own life. You must first of all identify them and God is the best source to identify them, because God knows the truth about you. And God knows the truth about me.

Second step, we confess those things to God—confession to God. 1 John, 1:9 is not a verse simply to be memorized. "If we confess our sins," please notice the word is in the plural, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Now the word "confession," as you know, means literally "to agree with." If I hold up this book and I say to you, "This is a Bible" and if you come down and look at this book and then you say to me, "You know, you're right; that is a Bible," you have "confessed" that this is a Bible. You have agreed with me.

Now when we confess our sins to God, I think it means, we agree with God on at least three things. We agree that it is wrong. Now by nature, we don't do that. By nature, we excuse our wrongs, based on their wrongs. We say such things as, "Well, how do you expect me to act when she treats me that way? How would you act if your wife treated you that way?" And we excuse our sin based on her sin.

No, no, no, no, no. Confession says, "Lord, the way I treated her last night is wrong. The way I have ignored her for three days is wrong, let alone what she did. That's her problem. But the way I have responded to her is wrong." Confession agrees that it is wrong.

Secondly, confession agrees that Christ has paid the penalty, that Christ has paid the penalty. The central theme of the Bible is that on the Cross, Christ paid the full penalty for our sins. Now folks, I must confess to you, I still do not fully understand the Cross. But the Bible is very clear. From God's perspective, Christ took our full penalty, our full punishment for our sins. And confession says, "Lord, I thank You that Christ has paid for these sins."

And thirdly, confession agrees to accept forgiveness, to accept forgiveness. God does not want you depressed for three months because you sinned against your spouse. He wants you to accept His forgiveness; get up; move on; do something good today! So, confession involves at least those three things.

There is a third step and this is where many of us fail. It is found in Acts, chapter 24 and verse 16. I believe this is the most powerful verse in the New Testament on mental health. Consequently, it greatly affects marital and family health. Will you listen to these words? Paul is talking about himself. Acts 24:16, "In this do I exercise myself." The word "exercise" is the Greek word, gymnazo, from which we get our word "gymnasium." Good translation, "exercise." [It] could also be translated "discipline." "In this do I discipline myself--now listen carefully--to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men."

Paul says, I am committed to living with an empty conscience toward God and toward men. Nothing is more fundamental to mental health, let alone spiritual health, than living with an empty conscience. May I picture for you the conscience as being a five-gallon container, strapped to my back? That's my conscience. And every time I sin against my wife or anyone else, it's like pouring a gallon of liquid into my conscience.

And three or four sins and my conscience is getting full and I am getting heavy. And you ask me how I'm doing and I will likely say, "Not too well, because I remember yesterday. I remember last night. I remember what I did or didn't do. I'm not feeling well; my conscience is full and I am heavy."

Now Paul says, "I'm committed to living with an empty conscience toward God and toward men." Now how do we get an empty conscience toward God? By confession to God, we've just talked about it. How do I get an empty conscience toward men? By confession to the person I sinned against and that's the third step. Confession to the other person, confession to the other person. If I really want to tear the wall down, it is not enough to seek God's forgiveness; I must seek the forgiveness of the family member against whom I have sinned.

So, what are we suggesting to people who want to improve family relationships? We are suggesting that the place to start is by tearing the wall down on your side. We are suggesting that people get alone with God and say to God, "Lord, where am I failing in this relationship?"

And as God brings their failures to mind, they confess those things to God and accept God's forgiveness. Then they go to their spouse and they say to them, "Have you got a few minutes? I've been thinking about us and I know I've been on your case, but I have realized that you are not all of our problem. In fact, the other night I sat down and asked God to show me where I have been failing you and He gave me a pretty good list. And if you've got a few minutes, I'd like to read this to you and I would like to ask you to forgive me." (Whistling)

Now you share that idea with people, which is exactly what Jesus said we're supposed to do. You share that idea with people and they will ask you questions, such as one lady said, "Dr. Chapman, now I understand the principle," but she said, "I don't think you quite understand my situation." She said, "What if your husband really is the problem? How's that gonna help?"

And I said, "Well, let's assume for a minute that your husband is 95 percent of the problem. Now that only leaves five percent for you. Now you wouldn't say that you're perfect." "Oh, no," she said. "No one's perfect." You know, everybody agrees to that. No one's perfect. Well, if we're not perfect, we're imperfect, right? So, let's just say you're only five percent imperfect and he's 95. What I'm saying is, if you want to improve a relationship, the place for you to start is by tearing the five percent down on your side." The wall is not as thick now, because you've removed your side.

People will also say, "You know, but if I go do that, how do you think my spouse will respond?" And my answer is, "I don't know." Maybe your spouse, if you go do that, will say to you, "I don't want to hear your lousy list. Get out of here." Or maybe your spouse will listen to you read your list and say, "You forgot a few." (Laughter)

Or maybe your spouse will actually forgive you. Who knows? Maybe they will even forgive you. But you are doing the first and most important thing that Jesus taught. You are tearing the wall down on your side. What if they don't forgive you? You've still torn the wall down.

All we can ever do with past failures or at least the best thing we can do with past failures is to confess them and ask forgiveness. We can't erase them, but we can confess them and request forgiveness of our spouse. Maybe they forgive. Maybe they don't forgive. If they forgive, wonderful. Will they come back in three weeks and confess their sins? I don't know. That would be nice, wouldn't it? Maybe if you loan them the tape, they'll listen to the tape and maybe they'll do it. Who knows? I don't know what they'll do. But I'm saying that if we're going to tear walls down, we've got to start on our side.

Now let's assume for a minute that you do that and let's assume for a moment, that your spouse forgives you. And ... and let's assume that they even come back in three weeks and ask you to forgive them and now the wall is torn down on both sides. May I suggest to you, that you will still need to follow this principle as long as you live so that the wall does not get erected again? Let me suggest that in a healthy marriage, we will still have to use this principle of confessing to God and confessing to the other person and asking forgiveness.


John: That's a good place to close today's edition of "Focus on the Family" and our guest speaker has been Dr. Gary Chapman and he's written the book, When Sorry Isn't Enough.

Jim: We're gonna hear the conclusion next time, John. It's so helpful to think through how to forgive. So often we don't know the first step and that's what we're providing you today. You know what? This is a great message for married couples to listen to regularly.

John: Regularly?

Jim: Regularly. I think Jean and I would've benefitted from that, maybe once a year, just a little tune up to say, how's our communication and are you feeling this from me? Maybe remind ourselves of these valuable principles and to work at keeping their side of the wall torn down, to use Gary's analogy.

In fact, last time we aired this message, we got this note from Kim. She said, "I heard today's message on forgiveness and it changed the way I was going to talk to my husband about an issue we needed to resolve. I didn't want to hear that my way was wrong, but I'm so glad I did. Thank you Focus on the Family.

John: Well, it sounds like our broadcast was used to help (Laughter) Kim avoid a little fight there.

Jim: Hey, Kim's husband should be thankful (Laughter) that we were able to help her in that way. But you know what? Those little things can become so serious in your marriage and I am grateful that she embraced that and put it to good use.

In fact, in the last 12 months, over 700,000 people said that Focus on the Family has helped strengthen their marriage and we're able to do that through support from listeners like you. So thank you in advance for giving to this ministry, to be there and stand in the gap for couples who are struggling. If you haven't made a donation in a little while, let me ask you to consider how Focus on the Family has impacted your life. I'm hopeful that's happened. And then ask the Lord to simply lead you. We want to make sure you take care of your local church, but if you've got some extra that you can spare, Focus on the Family is very grateful to you for standing with us and helping others.

And when you make a donation of any amount today, I want to send you a copy of Dr. Chapman's book, When Sorry Isn't Enough, which has a lot more detail than we're able to share here on the program, John. If you're feelin' a bit desperate about your marriage, be sure to ask about our Hope Restored intensive counseling program. It has an almost 85 percent success rate two years after the counseling. It is a wonderful program and we want to help you, so get in touch with us.

John: And you can do so by calling 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or online at Now tomorrow, Dr. Chapman shares some of his own mistakes and principles he's learned about forgiveness.


Dr. Gary Chapman: Folks, when you have sinned, you don't want to see people. You want to do what Adam and Eve did in the Garden; get you a bush and hide behind it and hope God won't see you. (Laughter)

End of Excerpt

John: That's next time on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly.

  • Featured MP3

    Free Resource of the Month: 40th Anniversary Collection

    Focus on the Family

    This special 40th anniversary collection contains some of our most popular broadcasts with Guy Doud, Mike Adkins, Patricia Ashley, Cynthia Tobias and Ray Vander Laan.

    Read more
  • Featured Initiative

    Have You Lost Hope in Your Marriage?

    Focus on the Family

    For couples in crisis – you can still put the pieces of your marriage back together with Hope Restored.

    Read more
  • Featured PDF

    Steps to True Forgiveness

    Gary Chapman

    Dr. Gary Chapman offers three biblically-based steps that can guide you toward forgiving others.

    Read More
  • Featured Article

    Fight for Your Marriage When Your Spouse Is Emotionally Distant

    Greg Smalley

    When we feel threatened, we build emotional walls that don't allow our spouse into the deepest parts of our hearts and minds. The emotional distance can cause marital problems.

    Read more
More Episode Resources


Gary Chapman

View Bio

Dr. Gary Chapman is the senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He's also an international public speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books including The Five Love Languages which has sold more than five million copies and has been translated into nearly 40 languages. Dr. Chapman holds several academic degrees including a Ph.D. in adult education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.