“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24, ESV).
Last week I wrote about the f-word. Now I’m writing about the s-word: sorry. It’s often more difficult to apologize than to forgive! When we forgive, we acknowledge the wrong someone else committed, and we choose to release them from the debt they owe us. When we apologize, we must acknowledge that I am the one who was wrong. That’s not something I find easy to say!
Saying sorry is vitally important to building strong relationships with family and friends. We all know people who refuse to apologize (maybe we’ve even been one of those people). Their pride makes it hard for them to acknowledge their own faults. And that makes it hard for others to trust them.
Apologizing is so important that Jesus said we should make amends with those we’ve hurt before coming to offer worship to God. It’s important to note that Jesus was not saying you can’t come to church if you’ve offended someone and haven’t apologized, yet. Rather, he was warning against inconsistency in our hearts. How can we sing praises to the Lord while holding onto unconfessed sin against a brother or sister? The mouth that praises God should be the same mouth that confesses sin (see James 3:10-11). If it’s not, we’re in danger of doing what God said in Isaiah 29:13, “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” If we’re unwilling to say, “I’m sorry,” when we’re wrong, then singing, “I love you, Lord,” doesn’t mean much.
Additionally, an unwillingness to admit you were wrong is a symptom of a pride infection. As Gary Cook recently said in his message at LakeView Church, confessing your sin is the entry point into the kingdom of God. No confession, no admittance. When I find myself struggling to admit my faults and apologize, I hit my knees and ask God to root out the pride that has enslaved my heart.
Here are a few pointers when apologizing.
- Be specific. “I’m sorry for (fill in the blank).” Ambiguous apologies sound fake (and often are).
- Acknowledge the hurt you caused. “I’m sorry for snapping at you this morning. That was disrespectful. But you are someone worthy of respect, and I was wrong to be grouchy.”
- Avoid explanations unless they’re asked for. I have a tendency to explain my actions in an effort to show I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. I’m learning that this is just another form of self-justification. Most of the time, you don’t need to explain anything unless the other person asks.
- Ask forgiveness. End your apology by saying, “Please forgive me.” This puts the ball in the other person’s court. You have done your part by sincerely saying the s-word. Now it’s up to the other person to choose to say the f-word. This might not happen immediately, and that’s okay. You can’t make someone else forgive you. Your job is to apologize. Let God work on their heart to forgive.