There are three little words that I believe are sorely lacking in the Church today: “I am sorry.” I’m sorry. Please forgive me for __________. I think we have lost the fine art of taking responsibility for our actions, owning them, and being genuinely sorry for them. Maybe we haven’t lost anything. Maybe we never possessed that art in the first place. But I was always taught that when you do something wrong, when you hurt someone else by your words or actions, you tell them you are sorry. You ask for their forgiveness. You seek reconciliation.
What a blessing it would be in the Church and in our families if this simple rule was followed. In thirteen years in the Ministry, I think I can count on my hands (maybe even one hand) the number of times I have actually heard anyone express genuine sorrow over their sins to someone, whether that is a wife towards her husband, a husband towards his wife, children towards their parents, congregation members toward their pastor, and church member to church member. I hear a lot of defensiveness. I don’t hear much in the way of contrition.
The Bible says: “Confess your faults to one another.” If I have hurt someone by my words or actions, then the right thing to do is to confess. Apologize. Seek reconciliation. It’s true that today, people seem to be offended easily and by everything. And we need to evaluate our words and actions and see if we have truly wronged someone. It may sometimes be the case that someone is wrongly offended.
On the other side of that coin is the willingness to forgive, from the heart, someone who sins against us or offends us in some way. There have been times when I have expressed sorrow or remorse to someone over the fact that I had clearly wronged them, and received no word of forgiveness or compassion from them. In addition, I have witnessed numerous times in my Ministry this same thing happening between other people. These are supposed to be members of Christ’s Church!
Confession and forgiveness are at the heart of our relationship not only with God but with each other. Christ spoke very strongly to this in the holy Gospel, saying, “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This is not optional in the Christian life. Refusal to forgive and strive to live at peace with your Christian brothers and sisters is grounds for suspension from the Lord’s Table. That is how serious this is.
To live as a Christian means that we confess our sins not only to God, but if we have wronged our neighbor, to him as well. And it also means forgiving from the heart those who have wronged us. We should be ready and willing to speak a word of forgiveness and peace to those who come to us confessing their sins against us. Where this happens on a regular basis, great blessings will be reaped. Where it does not happen, where people fail to take responsibility for sin and refuse to forgive those who sin against them, then anger, resentment, and hurt feelings will be the result.