Apologizing, Forgiveness & Reconciliation
WCC 8-11-19 Introduction
Last Monday my youngest Son and I went to a Broncos team practice. I’ve gone to a few of these and I think they’re a fun way to catch a little live pro football. You sit on a giant grass berm with several thousand other people and watch these guys play. People applaud and cheer, and you’re up close to the guys you see on TV. Last week Von Miller even signed my Graham’s T-shirt. Graham thought it was pretty strange but I thought it was pretty cool.
Most of the time, the players are working on specific skills. Quarterbacks are working on their throws. Receivers are working on their routes. Everyone is doing something. And off to the side, they’ve got a machine that throws footballs as fast as the guy can load them. It’s called a JUGs Machine and it has two spinning wheels that can grab a football and throw it almost any way you’d want. It can throw a perfect spiral or a touch pass or even simulate the high kick of a punt. And so, the players use the JUGS machine to work on the same skill—over and over—to master it.
Now, we’ve been working through our summer series on Marriage and this morning we’re going to circle back to three critical skills that will help us have homes of harmony. Sometimes our home is like a JUGS machine. It throws problems at us over and over and if we’re going learn to maintain harmony in our homes, we need to master the skills of being quick to apologize, being quick to forgive, and knowing how to reconcile.
Having given this introduction, today we’re just going to scratch the surface of these principles. If you’d like to learn even more about these skills, I preached a 9-part series on Conflict Resolution several years ago that you can find on our website. Also, Peacemaker Ministries has some great material, and John Macarthur has a great book called the “Freedom and Power of Forgiveness”.
So, this morning we’re going to talk about becoming pros at three critical skills that are necessary to have harmony in our homes. The first one is the skill of being quick to apologize.
Point #1 We need to be Quick to apologize
Now, let me just say that sometimes the word “apology” gets a bad rap because often it’s just something people say to get out of trouble. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about having a daily habit of being considerate of others and apologizing when we’ve done something that hurts them or offends them.
Apologizing is not easy for some people. When I was a kid, I used watch to a TV show called watch Happy Days. I was pretty young when it was on but I remember a couple episodes pretty well. One was when the Fonz jumped the shark, and the other was when the Fonz had to apologize for something. The whole episode was about him trying to say three words… “I was wrong” and he was just too cool to admit he ever did anything wrong! And so, when the final scene came, the Fonz could only say, “I was wwaa”, “I was waaarr”, “I was ---wwwwrong….” The Fonz was too cool to say he was sorry!
Some people hate to apologize but knowing the skill of giving and receiving apologies is a key to a healthy home. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” So, contrary to the example of the Fonz, we need to be people who are quick to say or accept an apology.
Quick apologies are when we recognize that the blame rests with us. You see players do this all the time in the NFL where they’ll drop a pass and pat their chest and say, “My Bad!” You’ll see a husband do this when he comes home late and apologizes right after walking in the door. A quick apology is a fast way of letting everyone know that you know you’re the problem and you’re working on it.
Going back to James 5:16, when it says, "confess your sins to one another” the word “Confess” there is the Greek word “homologeo”. “homologeo” literally means to “say the same”. When we’re “confessing” our sins to God, we’re saying the same thing about our actions that God does. When we confess to our spouse, we’re doing the same thing. We’re recognizing and agreeing with their perspective on the situation.
In practical terms…this is the kind of thing we do when our spouse is in the car and we’re making them wait. And as we get in the car, we say “Sorry to keep you waiting I needed to turn off the lights.” We’re have a mindset of being considerate and we recognize that the other person might not be happy with us, and a quick apology helps keep the peace.
Quick apologies should be a regular part of our lives. Were called to be peacemakers. Were called to be considerate of others. We’re called to look out for the interests of others. Daily life will give us plenty of reasons for giving quick acknowledgment that we have done something that might bother our spouse. And if we’re not quick to apologize, it might be because we’re so full of ourselves we don’t realize just how hard we are to live with. So, it’s important that we learn the skill of being quick to apologize.
But so far, we’ve been talking about apologizing for little things… what about for serious things? What if we’ve really broken the relationship? What do we do then?
There’s an example of this in Luke 15 in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Now the intent of this parable is to show us God’s heart towards repentant sinners; but it also gives us a window into what a sincere apology looks like. Turnover to Luke 15 and let’s look at a couple verses of this parable.
In this parable in verse 12, a son does the unthinkable and says to his father that he wants his inheritance before his father even passes away! Although this is a tremendous insult, the father agrees and gives half of his wealth to his son. The son leaves and squanders everything and eventually gets a job feeding pigs, which is the lowest level a Jewish person could reach. Then in verse 17 he comes to his sense and in verse 18 he says to himself: “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:18–19).
That’s a pretty good apology! The son owned his actions, he owned the damage, and he owned the solution. He owned his actions by recognizing that what he did was offense to God and to his dad. He owned the damage by recognizing that he was no longer worthy to be called a son. And he owned the solution by being willing to just work for his dad as a hired hand. If we follow his example, we’re learning skill of apologizing.
So, a good apology includes three elements…
First, we own our actions.
When we own our actions, we acknowledge the reality of what we’ve done. “I was late and I’m sorry.” “I did wake you up and I’m sorry.” “I did spill the coffee in the car and I’m sorry.” Acknowledging what we did is a great first step towards working through problems.
Owning the damage means recognizing the impact our actions had on the other person. If we made our spouse wait, we recognize they had to sit in the car in the cold. If we woke them up, we recognize they didn’t get a full night of sleep. We recognize that our actions have caused some kind of problem.
Finally… a good apology also owns the solution.
This is the principle that true repentance results in a change of behavior. It’s not going to do a whole lot if we’re always apologizing to our spouse, but never changing. An apology is a commitment to working on a solution.
Let’s tie these principles to a practical scenario…
Imagine that a husband and wife are going to a friend’s house for dinner. Dinner starts at 6, and since they live only a few months away they planned on leaving at 5:55. When it gets around that time, the husband says, “Hey, I’m ready so I’ll wait in the car.” This might annoy his wife who says, “If all I had to do was wipe grease off my face I’d be ready too!” But she has a lot more she’s working on and once she gets herself ready, then she has to download with the babysitter and by the time she gets to the car, it’s 6:01 and they’re going to be late. Now, her husband is pretty ticked off, and there’s a few ways she could handle this:
One — she can get in the car and ignore being late and ignore her husband’s frustration and when they get to their friend’s house, they can act like everything is okay. (But that’s just going to make them feel like frauds).
Two — she in get in the car and say, “I was late because I was talking to the babysitter. If you would just help me, we would’ve left on time!” And rather than accept any responsibility, she pushes it all onto him. That irritates him and they argue the entire way to their friend’s house, and when they get to the friend’s house, no one’s talking.
These first two responses are relationship killers, but there is a third way the wife can handle the situation.
Third — When she gets into the car she can say, “Sorry I made you wait and now we’re late. I need to keep a closer eye on the clock.” Her husband might say, “You sure do!” And she could overlook the offense and say, “You know, this seems to happen a lot when we go out. Can you help with the babysitter? If you showed her where the kid’s stuff is, I could finish getting ready.” Hopefully, he remembers this sermon series and says, “Sure, snookums. By the way, you look nice.” And instead of a 5-minute drive filled with heated hostility, it’s filled with warm love. That skill of being quick with an apology is a great way of maintaining harmony in the home.
Everyday apologizes should just flow off our tongue naturally. They shouldn’t take much effort or much thought. They shouldn’t slow things down or require everyone stop. It should just be a simple, apologetic “My bad…” and move on. And when we master the skill of a quick apology, we’ll be building our homes on grace, kindness and love.
People who can’t say “I’m sorry” are like the Fonz and filled with a self-absorbed pride that just looks foolish to everyone else around them. They’re so self-absorbed they’re not thinking about other people and what they need. They’re not thinking about how they need to be transformed to be more like Christ. They’re too prideful to admit they could do anything wrong. And they’re too self-absorbed to really have meaningful relationships with other people.
We need to master the skill of quick, kind, sincere apologies that demonstrate love and consideration for those around us. And if you’re not sure how you’re doing for the next 24 hours, count how many times you apologize to your spouse for little things. If you never said something to the effect of “I’m sorry…” you may be creating a difficult home environment.
So, that’s the first skill we need to master for a harmonious home. Let’s go on to the next skill, which is the flip side of making a good apology…we need to…
Point #2 Be good at Forgiving
The New Testament is clear that we must be forgiving people. We have been forgiven by God, and therefore we ought to forgive others. Colossians 3:12–13 says, "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving 10 each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." Matthew 6:14–15 says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Mark 11:25 says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." Over and over again, the Lord calls us to forgive others because we have been forgiven ourselves.
But what is forgiveness?
Almost all of the references to “Forgive” in the New Testament are related to the Greek Word “aphiemi”. Aphiemi means “to release,” “to let go”, “to pardon.” It’s often used in times of debt where one person forgives the debt of another, and that other person no longer has to pay them back. One of the clearest explanations of what forgiveness means is Matthew 18. Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 18…
Matthew 18:21–35 "21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”
In this parable, the slave owes the lord an incredible debt. Verse 24 says the slave owed 10,000 talents of gold. A talent weighed 75.6 pounds, and 10,000 talents equals 756,000 pounds of gold. Gold was selling for $1507 per ounce last week. So, in today’s terms, that slave owed the king over $18 billion dollars. That’s some serious debt!
Jesus’ point was that the slave’s debt was so large he could never pay it back (just like our debt to God). But verse 27 says the Lord “felt compassion and released [the slave] and forgave him.” The same word “compassion” was used by Christ in Luke 10:33 to talk of the Good Samaritan who saw the beaten man left on the side of the road and the Samaritan felt compassion on the man and helped him. In the same way, the Lord took pity on this man for his debt because there was no way he could pay it back.
Debt can be crushing to a person…Just last month, the Seattle Weekly ran a story about a woman named Christine Hendrickson who was arrested in 2001 for stealing from Microsoft. She had been a Microsoft employee, and while she worked for them, she and three other employees stole software worth about $32 Million Dollars. Christine Hendrickson was the one who got the software. She worked in an office where she could order it and give it to her friends who would sell it on the black market. She was doing it because she was a meth-addict and she needed the money. So, although the software was worth millions, the other three pocketed most of the money and only gave her about $250,000, which she spent on drugs. She was eventually arrested and convicted of theft and spent several months in jail, but the judge also sentenced her to pay back all $7.6 million dollars. Now that she’s a felon, and a recovering meth-addict, she’s in her late 40s and can’t get a very good job, and at best pays back $200 a month, which is somewhere around $40,000 or $50,000 dollars over 20 years. After 20 years, her debt is essentially unpaid. She told the reporter that if she could go to jail for 10 years, and be forgiven of the debt, she’d do that in a heartbeat.
And here’s where we get a sense of our debt to God. Our debt to God is so massive it would take us eternity to pay it back. Anytime we dishonor God or disobey Him, we commit a sin against Him. Since God is infinite, it will take an “infinity” to pay back what we owe. And when we consider the mountain of our sin, our debt against God is staggering.
Not only that, we can’t pay back our debt because it’s constantly growing. Isaiah 64:6 says, all that are righteous deeds are as filthy rags. That means even our best actions are so laced with sin they belong in the debt column. The very things we do that we think are righteous still serve to condemn us. So, our sin taints everything we do, and we are stuck in the self-perpetuating problem of sin. Like Christine Hendricksen, we simply cannot repay what we owe. That’s why we need the Lord to rescue us and forgive us.
Now, I’m sure Bill Gates knows all about Christine Hendrickson and I’m sure he has reasons why he’s left her to pay back her debt. But imagine if Bill Gates were to call up Microsoft’s Accounting Department and say, “I’ll pay what Christine Hendrickson owes.” She’d be free and she’d have her life back. If my math is right, Christine’s debt is less than one hundred of a percent of Bill Gate’s net worth. He makes about 7 million dollars every four hours. He has it in his power to restore her life, for four hours of work, but he doesn’t. If that debt was against the Lord (which it is), He’d forgive her debt the moment she asked.
God forgives us by taking our debt and placing it on His Son. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Jesus took our debt on Himself and gave us His wealth. And rather than demanding we do the impossible… He does the impossible for us.
Now, that’s the first part of this parable—and it shows us the incredible debt God has released us from. And the second part of the parable is about how we should live with that same heart to those in our life.
Going back to Matthew 18, verse 28 says, “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Jesus’ point is clear: Those who have been forgiven by God will be forgiving towards others. We won’t hold things against them. We won’t let their debt harm the relationship. We’ll let it go.
In his classic book on relationships, called “The Peacemaker”, Ken Sande explains that biblical forgiveness makes four promises: I will not dwell on this incident. I will not bring up this incident and use it against you. I will not talk about this incident to others. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship. Ken Sande explains that Christians should be the most forgiving people in the world because we are the most forgiven people in the world.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not something we don’t have to work at. Forgiveness takes a lot of spiritual work. It requires walking with the God of forgiveness, and having His perspective on the people around us, and having the humility to see what He has done for us, and the generosity to give that same forgiveness to those around us.
And one of the most important places we need to exercise forgiveness is in our home. Our home is filled with sinners, and when sinners get in close proximity to one another, they’re going to step on each other’s toes. Each week has 168 hours and 10,800 minutes. That makes 31,536,000 seconds a year. Over the course of a 50-year marriage, that’s 1,576,800,000 seconds. And since it take just a moment to blow it. that’s 1.5 billion opportunities to offend each other. When we enter a marriage, we get all kinds of offenses flying at us where we need to know how to be quick to forgive. And the person who is not daily being renewed in the Lord, and daily reminded about how much God has forgiven them, will struggle to forgive, and over a lifetime, they’ll grow cynical and bitter, and breaking relationships with those around them.
Let’s ask a couple questions…
Should we forgive a person even when they keep on being offensive? In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us 70 x 7 times. In other words, there is no limit to the times we need to forgive our spouse.
What if they don’t ask for forgiveness? In this parable, the slave asks for forgiveness, and that’s always helpful but when you look at all of the New Testament commands to forgive, not one of them makes our forgiveness contingent upon their apology. In fact, Jesus even says in Mark 11:25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” Those people aren’t even there, and we need to forgive them. So, it’s nice when people apologize, but it is not necessary for forgiveness.
Now, having said this, sometimes we struggle in giving forgiveness because we don’t want to let the other person off the hook. Maybe they keep doing the act. Maybe they haven’t asked for forgiveness this time. Maybe they haven’t shown us enough remorse. When we require someone to repay us with an apology or remorse or something else, we’re not forgiving the person… we’re engaging in restitution. Restitution is what Christine Hendricksen is doing. She’s making payments every month, year-in & year-out to pay off her debt.
We’re doing that when we demand they do something before we will forgive them. Sometimes we want them to give us a certain amount of sincere apologies. Sometimes we want them to do some act of service. Sometimes we want them to buy us some kind of gift. And we give them the cold shoulder until they have paid us back. But the thing is, we are commanded to forgive others, which means not requiring restitution.
Now, that’s pretty easy when we’re forgiving something that’s minor. But it can be really hard when we’re forgiving a person for a repeated offense, or something that is very serious. But the solution to this challenge is rooted in our third point.
Point #3 We need to know how to Reconcile
We can begin to clear up the challenge of forgiving people who won’t repent by understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is releasing a person from debt. It’s not requiring them to pay back what they owe. And God commands us to forgive all people, even unconditionally if we have to. But forgiving someone doesn’t mean we’re reconciled to them.
Reconciliation is the restoration of relationship harmony. It’s when two people come to an agreement they’re both happy with. Reconciliation comes from the Latin word “concile” which meant “to bring together”, and a relationship is “conciled” when both people are in a harmonious state. They are not attacking each other, or hurting each other, or fighting each other. They’re agreeing to the same relationship path, agreeing to what that relationship path will look like, and instead of tearing each other down they build each other up.
The skill of reconciliation starts with our fellowship with God. Jesus said in Matthew 5:23–24 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." Jesus’ point is that since God has made peace with us, we are to be those who have peace with others (especially our brothers in the Lord). That’s why Jesus says that we need to reconcile before we can worship. We can’t really worship God together in unity when we’re at odds with one another. So, before we even go to worship, we need to try to reconcile with others.
Now, it’s not uncommon for people to bicker on their way to church. Maybe the kids are whining, and the eggs got burned and everyone is grumpy. The enemy would love for us all to say, “That’s it, let’s just forget the whole thing.” (God is robbed of His worship and we’re not transformed by it). Instead, we need to say to our spouse… “Hey, I’m sorry for snapping at you. I love you and want to worship God with you.” And the other person needs to say, “I forgive you, and I’m sorry too.”
By the way, when someone apologizes, we should be quick to say “I forgive you.” Don’t say, “That’s okay” if you were really bothered by what they did. Just say, “I forgive you.” A lot of times, when people say, “That’s okay” they’re actually not forgiving a person or reconciling with them and they’re violating the principles of this message. It’s better to acknowledge the offense and forgive it, then to gloss over it.
So, being quick to apologize to our spouse is a key way we maintain the attitude of reconciliation in our home. But here’s the thing… sometimes we can’t reconcile (or at least, we can’t right away). Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." Paul’s point is that as the people who serve a reconciling God, we need to sincerely seek to make peace with the people in our life.
The problem is, some people are unreconcilable, and this problem is getting worse in our world. Americans are losing the skill of being able to get along with each other.
A survey was published a week ago that says that Millennials are the loneliest people in America. 30 percent of Millennials say they’re lonely. 22 percent say they have no friends at all! It’s tragic that the most connected generation in history, is the loneliest! Last year, the University of Pennsylvania published a study that showed that the more people use social media, they more likely they are to be depressed.
Social commentators say that we now live in “a culture of outrage” and thanks to the ability to communicate instantly, we are producing a society where people can post the most hate-filled, unforgiving content they can imagine. They sharpen their words for maximum damage and rather than aspiring to be “peacemakers” they actually celebrate being “peace breakers” who refuse to find any common ground with anyone they personally dislike. The problem is, these people are not learning to be peacemakers who know how to reconcile.
Even though the world is abandoning this principle, we cannot. We must seek reconciliation, and when the Lord gives us an insight in how to make amends with someone else, we need to pursue it.
So, the first step of reconciliation is being willing to reconcile. It’s having the humility of mind to realize that you’re not perfect, and God has found it in His heart to reconcile with you, and in the same way, you can reconcile with other, imperfect people, too. So, if we’re struggling to reconcile with our spouse, the problem may be us. We just might be a difficult person that needs a wholesale transformation by the Lord.
That being said, the 2nd step of “Reconciliation” is determining what path you want to be “conciled” to…
Both people need to talk about what they want from the relationship, what it looks like, and how to get there. For a Christian, they should be looking for a path that glorifies the Lord and engages in things that matter for eternity and conducted with words that edify.
This also means that each person might have to make some compromises. Last week we gave some key principles to working through difficult disagreements. They were arranged according to the ABCs, and when we’re working on a path we all can agree on, we need to… “C”—Consider their point of view. “D”—Don’t dig in. F—Focus on God’s Glory I—Identify if you’re the source of conflict. J—Join together in prayer. L—Listen to one another. Q—Quit wrangling. R—Rather be wronged. S—Serve Jesus. T—Trust in the Lord. And V—Value their values. The ability to live out these principles is part of developing the skill of reconciliation.
There’s an example of this kind of reconciliation in the life of Abraham and his nephew named “Lot”. In Genesis 13, there was growing strife between Abraham’s servants and Lot’s servants. They were just stepping on each other’s toes. And so, Abraham wanted peace and so, he told Lot to choose a portion of land for himself. According to Genesis 13, Lot chose the land with the water, and the text implies that it was the better land. Abraham was willing to give the better land to Lot in order to be reconciled to him.
That’s a helpful window into forgiveness and reconciliation. Abraham already had a heart of open love for Lot. He wasn’t holding the animosity against Lot. He just wanted a harmonious relationship with him. And when Lot wanted the best land—since Abraham wanted reconciliation—he gave it freely so that they could have a path they could agree on and were happy with.
Well, so much more can be said about the principles of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation, but that’s why we need to constantly work on these skills in the same way that a pro football player constantly works on catching passes. As we work on them, we’ll be building a home that is filled with harmony.
And so, we need to be pros at apologizing, not with fake apologies that get the person off our back. We need to be pros at giving sincere, humble apologies where we own our actions, and own the damage, and own the change necessary.
We also need to be pros at “forgiving”. Throughout life, you will be presented with countless opportunities to forgive your spouse, and your kids, and your neighbors and your Facebook friends. Learn to forgive so that you don’t become cynical. God has forgiven us, and called us to trust in Him, and we need to be ready and willing to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us in our life. Sometimes this might have to be unilateral forgiveness. Most of the time it’s going to be rooted in a reconciled relationship. That’s why we need to be pros at reconciliation.
Reconciliation is when we are restored to friendly terms with a person where we agree to the path forward and we agree to what the relationship looks like. Then, when we stay from that path, we are quick to repent and return back to it.
These are three skills we need to be pros at and as we live them out, we will find God’s grace enables us to have homes filled with His harmony.