Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. This morning we’re continuing in part three of our series “Getting Past Your Past” with a message that picks up where we left off last week. If you remember we talked about the importance of forgiving others because we have been forgiven. Today we’re going to look at the flip side of the same coin and that is what to do when you need forgiveness.
Now we all know that forgiving others is hard, maybe you felt that last week, and anyone who has ever needed to forgive knows this; but as hard as forgiving others is, needing to ask for forgiveness is 10 times more difficult. So today I want to talk about those times when you need to ask for forgiveness, not your husband or wife, not your neighbor or friend, not your brother or sister, but those times when you’re wrong, you know it, others know it, and there’s no question about it. How do you seek forgiveness in that situation and make things right?
Many years ago a man named Jesse Jacobs created an apology hotline that makes it possible to apologize without actually talking to the person you’ve offended. People who are unable or unwilling to apologize in person would call the hotline and leave a message on the answering machine. Each week there were supposedly 30 to 50 calls as people apologized for things from adultery to embezzlement. Jacob said, “The hotline offers participants a chance to alleviate their guilt and to some degree to own up to their misdeeds.”
Well this morning, I want to talk to you about what God says to do in the Bible when we’re the one who has hurt or wronged someone else, when we’re the one that needs to apologize, and we’ll look at the words of Jesus from Matthew chapter 5 as he was teaching a very powerful message about relationships and he said this in verse 23:
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (NIV)
In other words, if you’re going to church and there remember that your brother has something against you, you’ve hurt a friend’s feeling, you let someone down, you disappointed someone, you lied to someone, and you go to worship God and you remember that someone is upset with you, someone’s been hurt, and your relationship is not where it’s supposed to be. Jesus says, “First go and be reconciled to your brother.” Then you can come back and worship.
Now I don’t know if this struck you like it struck me, but Jesus is saying that this is so important that we should take care of this before we even worship God. I personally can’t think of another place in the Bible where it says that there’s something that takes higher priority over the worship of God, but that’s exactly what Jesus is saying here. He says, “Don’t come to church lifting your hands in prayer, dancing in worship, or acting all religious when you’re not loving and working hard to bring reconciliation to every one of your relationships.”
As a matter of fact, Jesus had just said earlier in verse nine, chapter 5 at verse nine, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” Now I want you to notice that he didn’t say, “Let’s not talk about it,” he didn’t say, “Let’s not fight about it,” or “Let’s just pretend like everything is okay.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” and I believe that he chose the right words, that he was very specific, and that when he said peacemakers that was exactly what he meant to say.
You know, sometimes we can be sarcastic in the use of our words. For instance, the word “peacemaker” has been applied to both the huge B-36 bomber of the 1950s and the Colt .45 revolver used by lawmen and the Army in the late 1800s. But here, Jesus uses the word “peacemaker” for something a lot less intimidating, for exactly what it means, and so when it comes to us being peacemakers it has a whole lot to do about us using the right words in the right way.
Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” He was saying, “Blessed are those who seek solutions to problems rather than causing problems, those who seek the calm the waters rather than stirring them up, and those who work hard for reconciliation rather than retaliation.” And so we’ve been talking about “Getting past your past” and Jesus doesn’t want us to fake it, to put on a mask, and just pretend like everything’s okay, because he knows and we know that deep inside this relationship is not where it’s supposed to be. And so Jesus said, “Go. Before you come to worship, before you offer your gift, go and try to reconcile, apologize, do whatever it takes, and work to make peace where there is no peace.”
Today, you and I as peacemakers must be willing to embrace confrontation and to endure uncomfortable situations if that’s what it takes to make peace, because there’s three things that we just can’t do as Christians. When it comes to being a peacemaker and asking for forgiveness…
1. You can’t UNDO anything.
Now I say that just to point out that when you ask for forgiveness most of the time that other person will forgive you without hesitation. But forgiveness doesn’t make everything go way. Whatever happened still happened, you can’t undo what you did, and you can’t unsay what you said. So we’ll talk about that some more later.
2. You can’t control someone else’s willingness to forgive.
You see, if you’ve offended somebody it’s up to you to ask for forgiveness, but when you ask, they may forgive you or they may not forgive you. As Christians we know that we’re supposed to, and most of the time they will, but sometimes it may take them a while to get to the point where they’re ready or able to do it. They might struggle with it, it may not be easy for them, or they might flat out refuse to forgive you at all, but you can’t control their response. And the third can’t to consider is…
3. You can’t ignore it.
As followers of Christ, whether the other person forgives you are not, even if they never bring it up, even if they pretend it never happened, you can’t ignore it, and you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. It doesn’t even matter if the other person is a great big jerk, because you are still part of the problem in some way and you need to own up to your part. You’ve got to…
As Christian’s we must acknowledge it, and if we have sinned against someone we have got to deal with it. The Bible says, “If it is possible”, Romans chapter 12, verse 18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Now I assure you, that Jesus said that knowing that the greatest stumbling block to what God wants to do in our relationships is pride. If you were to evaluate any relationship in tension you would see at least one proud person, if not two who say, “I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m not going to apologize, I don’t have to say I’m sorry for this.” And even if they were to admit that they were just a little bit responsible for the offense there’s always the excuse, “If you didn’t then I wouldn’t have... or “I did a little, but you were the instigator, so I’m not going to apologize, or at least, I’m not going to apologize first.”
But if we would just heed the admonitions of the apostles, if we would just listen to what the Word of God says we would be so blessed. You know the letters in the back of your Bible, the epistles, are practical application of our faith given by the Holy Spirit through the apostles to the Church. And Peter tells us in his first letter at chapter 5 verse five, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
And he promised in chapter 3, “Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Don’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Don’t you want to receive a blessing?
Well then here’s what you do, you humble yourself, you elevate this relationship above yourself, and even if you feel like you’re right you choose to love this person, to love this relationship, to value this relationship more than being right. And so you choose to humble yourself and value this person above being right.
The apostle Paul said it this way in Ephesians chapter 4, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4).
And so here’s where we’re going to go this morning; we’re going to see five things that we can do, and we’re going to talk specifically about how we apologize, because there’s a right way to apologize and there’s a wrong way to apologize. For example, you don’t say, “If I did anything to hurt you I’m sorry,” you don’t say, “I’m sorry you feel that way and you got your feelings hurt.” But there are five things, five specific ways that I want to share with you that we as peacemakers should learn to do as we apologize. So that we can number two…
If you are taking notes this morning, the first thing, number one is…
1. Be Specific.
If you did the wrong thing, or said the wrong thing, or failed to do the right thing, then you need to take responsibility for it. This means that you may have to look the other person in the eye and say, “I was wrong, I did something I shouldn’t have done, I said something I shouldn’t have said, and I’m asking you to please forgive me.”
Or maybe we need to apologize for not doing something, because there was something that we should’ve done but we didn’t. James tells us in chapter 4, “Anyone then who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it sins” (James 4:17) and I believe that many relationships would be healed if we would apologize specifically for what we didn’t do. You know like, “I should’ve paid that bill, that child support. I should’ve said something. I should’ve stood up for you or protected you. I should’ve whatever…”
And just be specific, admit to the offense, because you can never be fully forgiven and the relationship fully restored if you’re not willing to take responsibility for your part in the conflict. Apologize specifically for both actions and attitudes and watch as God does a healing work in you as well as in your relationships. And then number two, don’t make excuses.
2. No Excuses.
It wasn’t because you were having a bad day. It wasn’t because someone pushed you to the limit. It wasn’t because your boss was giving you a hard time. It wasn’t because the other person gave you no choice but to respond in anger. It was because you chose to do something wrong. The bottom line is that if you want to restore this relationship you can’t shift the blame to someone else. You have to own it. There are no excuses! You just need to say, “I’m sorry and I’m going to change.” Admit to the specifics and don’t make excuses. Number three, you’ve got to...
3. Own The Consequences.
You see, seeking forgiveness includes seeking to make everything right. When you sin against someone else, you hurt them, you’ve betrayed them, you let them down, and there will often be consequences. Maybe you lied to someone and let them down it will take time to rebuild that trust and that’s a consequence. If you messed around on your spouse when you were out of town on business and they loved you, forgave you, and told you that they’d prefer you don’t travel out of town alone… that’s the consequence. Part of the apology is owning up to the consequence, because you need to demonstrate to the other person that you mean what you say, that you’re committed, and you’re ready to do what it takes, even if it requires changing jobs to one that doesn’t include travel. Number four…
4. Change Your Behavior.
This means that you’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen again. You’re going to do whatever it takes to make things right and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to bring things back into balance. You see, because when you sin against someone it’s your responsibility to take whatever steps may be necessary to make things right. You change your behavior, you get help, you get counseling, you get other Christians to hold you accountable, you do whatever it takes to move from reconciliation, to restitution, and to full restoration. Number five….
5. Ask For Forgiveness
And I mean that literally, don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” But look that person in the eye and say, “I was wrong, I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have said that, and there’s no excuse. Would you please forgive me?”
If you’ll do that you’ll be closer than ever before. If you’ll do your part, if you’ll go and do what the Bible says, and you take ownership for your part in the conflict; you can’t control their response, but what you’re going to do is to trust God with that other person, and as God works in that relationship, because we all know that God is in the restoration business, he’s going to take that which was broken and heal it, and it will be stronger than it ever was before.
Now sometimes, and especially if you’re dealing with unbelievers, when you ask for forgiveness they don’t say, “No problem, don’t worry about it, let’s just move on.” But instead they say, “You’re out of your mind. I am not going to let you forget about this for a long, long, time.” And we know that that bitterness and resentment will become like a cancer eating away at their soul, but we also need to remember that it was our actions and our words that set this conflict in motion. If your relationship is strained for a while, you can’t place the blame on them, and so if they’re unwilling or unable to let it go just yet, you need to be prepared to deal with that consequence.
You’ve got to be willing to take responsibility for what you’ve done, and you’ve got to be willing to take responsibility for making things right, and sometimes that process may take longer than you think it should, but you’ve got to be ready to deal with that. The thing that’s important to remember is that things will never get better until you make the first move, you take ownership of your actions, and you take ownership of the responsibility to set things straight. You’ve got to become a peacemaker.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
August 28, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.