Forgiveness: Is an Apology Enough? – Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:21-35
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
The Matthew 7 text opens with a command for us not to judge. We are charged of God to deal with a person’s actions, but not to pass judgement on the content of their heart. When you hear the words of an apology, are you judging another? Are you allowing pride to keep you from moving on?
So, is an apology enough for me to forgive someone? Yes and No. For the one forgiving, an apology is enough. For the one seeking forgiveness, an apology is not enough. Now, I’m going to get very picky with words. In the Luke text, we are commanded to rebuke (point out a wrong) when we see a fellow believer doing wrong. We are to forgive the person who wronged us. Period! If we are the ones who wronged someone, repentance MUST precede forgiveness. There is an ocean of difference between apologizing and repenting. To apologize is to say one is sorry for the wrong or hurt inflicted upon another. It says nothing about their future intent. To repent is to say not only that I am sorry for the act but, in my heart, I intend not to do it again. Thus, Luke 17:4 concludes with the command that we are to forgive a person in a fault if they say I repent for the act seven times in a day. Hold on! Don’t tune me out yet!
In the Matthew 18 text, Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven (verse 22). He then goes on to tell a parable (story) about forgiveness from the kingdom’s perspective. The king in the story is a metaphor for God. The King (God) was willing to forgive the unjust servant his debt. But, take a closer look at verse 26. The unjust servant didn’t want forgiveness. He was sorry for the debt incurred and he wanted a chance to make it right. The unjust servant did not understand his debt was so enormous the only way the account could be settled was for the One (God) owed to forgive the debt. He was sorry, but he was not repentant. It is evidenced by the way he treated the servant who owed him. The second servant used the exact words the first servant used with totally different results, however. When the Master learned of this, he had the unjust servant turned over to the torturers. The unjust servant apologized but his acts validated an unrepentant heart.
So is an apology enough? The answer is, “What do you mean when you apologize?” If in your heart, an apology is equal to the definition of repenting, then an apology is enough. If you know your apology does not rise to the level of repentance, then you must repent. If you are the wronged person, forgive. Take their apology as an opportunity to move on in your own life. You can judge another’s actions, but you cannot know someone’s heart. Forgiveness is a matter of the heart. From your heart, let go and move on. If you are the person who does the wrong, ask yourself what your apology means. Repentance or not?
Sins produce consequence just like a hammer hitting a crystal vase. Regardless of intent, the vase is destroyed. However, God has the capacity to restore that which the world has shattered. When forgiveness takes hold, restoration can occur. Thus, is forgiveness a gift we gift or a gift we receive? Join us in the next edition in this series.