Have you ever heard that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission? That may be true in some circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that asking for forgiveness is an easy thing to do. It can be very hard to apologize sometimes – especially when you don’t think you’re the one who’s most in the wrong!
Surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t seem to say a whole lot about apologizing, at least not on the surface! You won’t be very successful in trying to do a word search for apologize in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that the concept is missing in God’s word… Let’s look at a couple of places where the Bible addresses this from a different angle.
Jesus spoke about asking for forgiveness in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus talks about what we are to do when someone is angry with us… He says to “reconcile” with them right away. Notice in the passage that Jesus didn’t say who was at fault… He just started off saying that it was bad to be angry at someone and call them a fool… Then He said that if you remember that someone may be angry at you, go make it right! In context this tells us that we need to do what it takes to make things right with this person (including asking for forgiveness) not for our sake, but really for their sake!
I can imagine some of you scratching your heads on that. Let me explain. Jesus said that it was dangerous for Christians to hold on to anger at someone. He then told us to go reconcile with people who are angry at us. So, what He’s saying is to love others enough to do what you need to do in order to help remove that bad blood between you.
One way to diffuse a situation is to admit your portion of the wrong and ask for forgiveness… Not just say “I’m sorry if I offended you”, but instead say, “I was wrong when I _______________. Will you please forgive me?”
I know that it seems like splitting hairs, but saying “I’m sorry” usually doesn’t move the heart of the one we’ve offended, but taking responsibility by saying “I was wrong” often does.
I am convinced that this is at least partially what James 5:16 is telling us to do when it says, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Taking responsibility for where we were wrong in a situation (even when the other person may have been MORE in the wrong) brings healing to a relationship… This is for the betterment of everyone involved.
What else is difficult about apologizing? It requires a HUGE amount of humility. What do we naturally want to do when someone is angry with us? Defend ourselves, of course. Especially if and when we think the other person is more in the wrong than we are… Really though, in the greater scheme of things, that doesn’t matter – The fact of the matter is that it always takes two or more people to make an argument and almost always the fault for the argument is at least partially shared. You may not have the greatest majority of the blame, but was there anything you did that contributed to the argument? Probably… So ask for forgiveness for your part without pointing out the obvious (the other person’s part) – take responsibility for taking the first step toward healing in the relationship. I think this is what God was getting at when He inspired Peter to write:
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12, ESV)
God’s saying that if we want to have a good life here on earth we need to do our best to live in harmony with others. We are to bless others – one way to do that is to diffuse their anger. But that’s not our natural reaction… Normally, when someone is upset with us we want to defend ourselves and fight back. But I Peter is saying that is absolutely the wrong course of action! Defending ourselves and our pride is counterproductive to what ought to be our primary concern: the greater good of all involved (including ourselves) – and that only comes through restoration! Consider the following related verses:
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11, ESV)
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21, ESV)
Scripture may not speak specifically and directly about apologizing or how to apologize, but it does have a great deal to say about humility and forgiveness. Perhaps this is because forgiving is even harder! Regardless, I think that the passages above speak to all of this.
Because there is so much to say about forgiveness, we will deal with it more extensively in another post – too much to cover here without short changing apologies. What does need to be said about forgiveness here is: “when someone asks for forgiveness, give it – period.”
What else needs to be said about forgiveness is that as difficult as it is to give, it is super hard for true forgiveness to happen without something initiating the process – 99.99999% of the time that something is a sincere apology.
So, let me challenge you today… give asking for forgiveness a shot, it may save a relationship or two.