forgiven

No doubt you’ve heard about the seven last words of the Church – “We’ve never done it that way before.” I’ve been thinking about two words that have probably cost the Christian Church more than any other two words. Those words are, “I’m sorry.” (OK, OK, I know – technically, it’s three words!) 

 

I have a nice-sized file of heartaches and frustrations written by people who have been hurt by bull-in-a-china-shop church workers or fellow members of their congregation. The words "I'm sorry" cost the church plenty because they were not said even when the person knew that he or she had committed a wrong. Instead, there's often an attempt to shift the blame, a tactic as old as Adam and Eve themselves. So what's the cost that the absence of these two words creates? 1) Disruption of church unity. 2) Time spent trying to bring the person to the point of repentance and asking forgiveness from the other. 3) Lost members when the wronged person transfers to another congregation because no apology was offered. 4) In serious cases, the expense of bringing in outsiders trained in reconciliation.

The sad part about this is that every week those who are assembled for worship hear from God a word of absolution from the pastor. Each week those gathered for worship say together, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." Every Sunday the congregation prays to God, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us." So can it really be that those who need to apologize are fearful that they won't be forgiven? If so, well, that's the other person's problem. The obligation of the guilty is to confess the sin, to apologize, to seek to restore unity. If the apology is rebuffed, if the hurt party refuses forgiveness, well, then the burden of guilt has shifted from the one person to the other.

I fear the problem lies elsewhere. The guilty do not want to be humbled. The guilty do not wish to admit that they have done wrong to another person. It doesn't fit with the self-image they have of themselves. The guilty do not wish to believe what they did or said was all that bad. The reluctance to bear their own sin stands in contrast to Christ who willingly bore sins He did not commit! Christians can freely admit their guilt to another and be reconciled because they know they are sinners, but also because they have the power of the Holy Spirit who will give them the words they need to speak.

Scripture urges us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. But when it is incumbent upon a person to apologize to another person, faster speaking spares many people a lot of heartaches. If you are one who owes another an apology, pay what you owe with humility! Don't let your church family suffer for your stubbornness!