Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In Part 1 I opened up the topic of how to say Sorry—Is it hard to apologise? And I said it really is difficult for some people. Human pride says, I’m not going to apologise.
Do you know that there are several examples from the Bible about people that were quite prepared to apologise?
There is the great Apostle Paul. The Bible is wonderfully honest! We see in the Bible where great leaders or disciples and apostles like Paul and Peter got things wrong. Now, Paul knew when to apologise. There was one occasion, as we read in Acts 23:1-10, where Paul had to defend himself before the Jewish high court—the Sanhedrin. The high priest Ananias was infuriated by Paul’s honest words and ordered those standing by Paul to punch him on the mouth.
Paul declared, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to judge me according to the law, and command me to be struck contrary to the law?”—that the one appointed as judge should not resort to violence. Whoops! Now that was no way to speak to the high priest! As soon as that was made clear to Paul he immediately admitted his fault, explaining, “I didn’t know, brothers, that he was high priest. For it is written, You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people“.
Saying sorry helped save the day. Be clear, what Paul had said was perfectly valid, yet he still chose to apologise for unknowingly showing disrespect by speaking to the high priest in that way. Paul’s apology paved the way for the Sanhedrin to listen to what he had to say. Paul knew there were differences of opinion between the Pharisees and Sadducees in the court—especially when it came to resurrection, so it gave Paul a chance to tell them it was on that very subject he was being tried. Arguments within the court split the opposition, with the Pharisees siding with Paul. If he had not respected the high priest, others wouldn’t have respected him.
So what can we learn from these Biblical examples? In each case, honest, humble expressions of regret opened the way for further dialogue. Words of apology help us make peace. When it seems others hold something against us, you can be sure that admitting our mistakes and apologising for damage done can make way for constructive conversation.
We Must Follow Jesus’ Advice
But what happens when I haven’t done anything wrong? How do you feel when another person has chosen to take offence at something you said or did? Perhaps you feel that he or she is being unreasonable or too sensitive. Perhaps you think you don’t have to do anything. It was their choice to take offence, and you know you didn’t mean it to be offensive. You may feel the other person is in the wrong, and they are the one being silly and need to ‘snap out of it’.
But, as always, let’s consider the advice of Jesus. He said to his disciples in Matthew 5:
If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 – NKJV)
Just go and actively make your peace with your brother.
Jesus teaches us that it is not about whether you feel you have done anything wrong or not. Just go and actively make your peace with your brother. Often, when two parties have a problem, there may well be a measure of blame on both sides, imperfect as we are. This usually calls for mutual concessions. It means going to the other person and seeking that they will get rid of any grudge they hold against you.
You are seeking forgiveness from them. If they continue to hold on to unforgiveness it will not do them any good as it will change into bitterness. It is out of true love for others, and wanting what is best for others too, that you will apologise. The issue is about who will take the bold and courageous step to make peace.
We Must Be Sincere
Some people, though, overuse the words that are meant to express apology. It can be used almost unconsciously as a quick way out for an easy life. This word ‘apology’ can end up being used too often and we may wonder if those saying it are really sincere. However you say it, if it is an apology it has to be from the heart.
The words you use and the way you say them all send out signals as to the genuineness of your sorrow. Jesus Christ was a plain speaker. In the Sermon on the Mount, he taught his disciples, “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one” (Matthew 5:37). If you apologise, mean it!
Sincerity is not a facial expression. It is not an Oscar-winning performance. It includes a real and honest determination not to repeat again what you are apologising for now. The truth of your sorrow is not just shown in your face—it will be seen in the future. If you have to say sorry over and over again for the same thing, few will trust you are truly sorry at all.
A sincere sorry can cost you. It can take you time, cost you money and lose you face, but you will gain peace with others, and that is priceless.