“ON BEING AN APPEALING CHRISTIAN” Part 8
Allow me to quickly restate the seven requirements to formulate a biblical appeal, just to make sure we are all on the same page of the playbook. We understand that there are times and situations so complicated and fluid that you simply do not have the freedom, the time, or the requisite wisdom and experience to make sure all your ducks are in a row. Nevertheless, these recipe ingredients things should be in place whenever possible. The seven things you are responsible to see to are,
· First, to make an appeal you must have the right standing for your appeal,
· Second, to make an appeal you must have the right basis for your appeal,
· Third, you must present your appeal when the right timing exists,
· Fourth, you must communicate the right information when presenting your appeal,
· Fifth, you must display the right attitude when presenting your appeal,
· Sixth, when stating your appeal you must use the right words, and,
· Finally, you must display the right response no matter the response to your appeal.
Keeping in mind that an appeal is a request to someone who has authority over you requesting a new decision based on new information or information not previously considered, we saw that prayer to God is a special kind of appeal.
This evening we look at yet another specialized appeal, not an appeal made to someone who has made a decision that affects you, but someone you have sinned against and seek reconciliation with. We recognize that asking forgiveness is unique in that anyone can sin against anyone else, making it entirely possible that the person whose forgiveness you are seeking is not someone who has God-given authority over you, but someone who is placed by God in a position subordinate to you.
Say a boss sins against his secretary, or a father sins against his child, or a husband sins against his wife. In each of those situations the person you have sinned against can harbor ill-will and bitterness in his or her heart toward you for doing him wrong. Is that what you want? Are you willing to live with that? Remember what the Savior said, in Matthew 5.23-24:
23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Imagine a husband so foolish that he discounts the harm to his own life of his wife’s bitterness toward him, or the regret he must endure if he does not do what he can to deal with the wounded spirit of a son he has provoked to wrath. As well, recognize that such folly pales in comparison to the fact that Christ informs us that we cannot worship God without first attempting to reconcile with the person who has ought against you.
Admitting that those who do not seek proper reconciliation with those they have sinned against are not spiritual, and cannot worship God, it does not require much additional thought to imagine the tragedies people bring upon themselves because they are too ignorant, too foolish, or too stupid to ask the forgiveness of those who are in some way subordinate to them. Think practically. What employer cannot be ruined by a secretary who intentionally undermines the boss she secretly hates because he sins against her without remorse? What home cannot be irretrievably ruined by a wife or child who has grown so weary of the repeated transgressions of the adult in charge?
Families are under enough pressure to cling together already. They certainly do not need the additional pressure of a husband or parent who thinks he can be effective without seeking the forgiveness of those in the home he sins against.
My friend, I know you commit sins. You know I commit sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” First John 1.8. Therefore, if you cannot remember the last time you humbled yourself and appealed to someone for his forgiveness, it may be that you are running roughshod over people whose forgiveness you need and would do well to quickly seek after.
Listen carefully, then, as I quickly review the process of making an appeal as it applies to a Christian seeking forgiveness for some sin you have committed against another person.
Finally, THE APPEAL OF ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS WHEN YOU HAVE SINNED
Before we proceed, you should firmly fix in your mind the importance of repentance in connection with forgiveness. If there is no repentance, which is to say that there is no godly sorrow associated with wronging another, it is trickery and deceit to seek forgiveness. Implicit in asking for forgiveness is sorrow for having sinned against another person. When appealing to that offended person for forgiveness for some sin that has been committed, the manner in which your appeal is formulated and presented will give evidence to show if you are truly repentant.
When you have sinned against another person, consider these things when asking for forgiveness.
First, to make that appeal for forgiveness you must have the right standing. This will obviously be difficult if your sin has damaged or destroyed the relationship you once enjoyed with that friend or loved one. How can you count on a right standing with a spouse after committing adultery? How can you count on a right standing with your child after you have shown yourself to be unfaithful to his mother or father? Even if your sin has not destroyed or severely damaged a relationship, such as when you sin against your saintly mother or godly father, or when one spouse’s sin is committed against a Christian whose heart wells up with grace and tenderness in the face of painful sins, the sinning person must do what he can to repair and reinforce the relationship as much as he can before asking for forgiveness. Allow me to use a very simplistic example: A sixteen-year-old boy whose mother is always on him about cleaning up his room and combing his hair would do very well to clean up his room and comb his hair before asking his mother’s forgiveness for completely forgetting to honor her on her birthday. She has been hurt and embarrassed by your selfish inattention to her, but you help your cause by addressing matters you know she cares about before asking her forgiveness. It is hardly likely that boy is truly sorrowful for his sin against his mother if he is unwilling to perform such simple tasks as cleaning up his room or combing his hair, which obedient steps ought to be taken anyway.
Second, to make an appeal for forgiveness there must exist the right basis. You sinned against your secretary at work. You blamed her for an oversight that was clearly your own fault, but to avoid embarrassment in front of your boss and other workers you shifted the blame to her. Now you are convicted of that sin and want to ask her forgiveness. On what basis is it in her best interest to truly forgive you, rather than just saying she forgiveness you and continuing to hold resentment in her heart? Keep in mind that an appeal seeks what is best for the person you are appealing to. As well, when you are seeking forgiveness for sinning, you should be after more than relief from your own guilty conscience. Consider how your sin damaged her. You shamed her and wrecked her reputation and credibility in front of your boss, and in front of her coworkers. That is obviously more than just a personal insult. You may have affected her livelihood. Of course, she will say she forgives her boss when he says he is sorry. What choice does she have if she wants to keep her job? Therefore, if you truly want to establish the right basis for her to grant your appeal for reconciliation, which is to forgive you, then you will ask her to come into the break room where you have already brought the boss and those who heard what you had said earlier. In that setting, where your apology will repair her reputation with your boss and her coworkers, she can then show herself to be a forgiving person in a public setting. Doing that, you have not only repaired her reputation, but you have also given her an opportunity to show herself to be magnanimous and big-hearted toward a jerk like you. Of course, that would require real humility on your part, suggesting that you might be truly repentant for the sin you committed against her.
Third, the right timing. The timing must be right whenever possible to appeal to anyone. It is profoundly important that the timing be right, if it is at all possible to control the timing of your appeal for forgiveness. Of course, if you fuss with your daughter just before she goes on a trip, you need to ask for forgiveness straightway. Why so? You would never be able to live with yourself if something happened to her on that trip with her holding a grudge against you. However, ordinarily, you want to time your request for forgiveness so that the person you sinned against will not feel manipulated, will not feel rushed, will not feel imposed upon, and will not feel forced to forgive you. If your secretary was obviously steamed at you for blaming her, and she was obviously agitated toward you, then immediately calling the boss and the others into the break room to apologize to her would be a dumb move, because she would feel like you were forcing her to forgive you. Give her some space. Let her calm down. Depending on how angry she is, you should consider telling your boss what you did and explain to him, and perhaps to the coworkers as well, that you would like to apologize to her tomorrow at a convenient time. As well, apologize to her in private and explain to her why it is important to you to ask her forgiveness in public. In that way, you can restore her reputation whether she forgives you or not, but she will then feel less pressure and knows that forgiving you is her choice to make. However, if she tells you that she does not want you to ask her forgiveness publicly, it is likely that she really does not want to forgive you. In such a case, you have no right to force her, since all appeals are supposed to be humble requests. If she initially says, “No,” but is willing to let you talk to her about it in a day or two, perhaps she will then allow you to seek her forgiveness in front of others. If she does allow you to make your apology to her in front of others in a day or two, when she is more relaxed and less angry, then she may be more willing to forgive you. Timing is very important.
Fourth, you must communicate the right information when appealing to some to reconcile. Have you noticed the way politicians apologize? They usually seek forgiveness only when the outcry against them is so loud they have no choice. Typically, they say something like, “If my remarks offended anyone, I am truly sorry.” Several observations: First, if there is any doubt about offending anyone, clear up the doubt. Don’t say, “If I offended you.” Either you did or you didn’t. An appeal must contain the right information, and quibbling about whether there was an actual offense is not conveying the right information. The right information would be something along this line: “Mom, what I said to you was hurtful, unkind, disrespectful, and dishonoring to you.” You do not need to repeat the words that wounded her heart, only to wound her heart again. However, you should clearly describe the seriousness of the sin you committed.
I remember the famous Dodger left fielder, Duke Snider, commenting about being arrested for illegally selling phony baseball cards and memorabilia some years ago. Snider was interviewed and asked how he felt. He said, “I’m sorry I got caught.” He was obviously not interested in seeking reconciliation with those he robbed.
One piece of information that should never be included in an apology, unless the wounded person asks for the information, is why you did what you did. Your mother should never hear something like, “Mom, I’m really sorry, but you made me really mad.” That is nonsense, and it is needlessly hurtful. Truth be told, the reason people do what they do is because they want to. So, if a kid feels bad about sassing his mom, and if he is brutally honest about it, he will say, “Mom, I am really sorry about what I said, but I really wanted to say it, so I did.” That is no good. People do what they want to do, and say what they want to say. However, such words fail to convince the wounded party that you are truly repentant for what you did.
Fifth, when appealing to reconcile you must display the right attitude. What is the right attitude? I think there are two answers: First, you should be truly sorry for sinning and thereby harming another person. Keeping in mind that all sin is at its bottom sin against God, if you are a Christian you should certainly be sorry for sins committed against God by sinning against His creatures. As well, you should be truly humble. You have to humble yourself to appeal to someone else, or else your appeal stands no chance of being successful. Many years ago I supervised the attempt by a young man to plead with a girl’s father to forgive him for having sex with his daughter. The young monster was so happy to have committed fornication that he was actually smiling as he asked the outraged father’s forgiveness. That punk had no idea how close to dying he came that day. Though the father said he forgave the young fool, it was obvious by the red rage of his countenance that no real forgiveness was granted. He was neither truly sorry for his sin nor truly humble in his appeal for forgiveness. Today, more than 20 years later, the boy has been married at least twice, with children scattered around, while the young lady seems to have become a wonderful Christian who is happy married, serving God with her husband. The girl really was sorry for what she did, and she really did humble herself to her father when she sought his forgiveness. Their conduct in my office illustrated the difference between godly sorrow that works repentance and the sorrow of the world, which is only sorrow for getting caught, or sorrow that things didn’t work out the way you want. Paul makes reference to these two kinds of sorrow in Second Corinthians 7.10: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
Sixth, when stating your appeal for reconciliation, which occurs when the offended person actually forgives you, you must use the right words. Please pay attention to my focus on the proper use of words. Words have meaning and convey real information. Therefore, what you say when you formulate an appeal that seeks reconciliation, conveys what you really want. What is it you want from that person you have sinned against? Do you want anything from him? Or are you just concerned about making yourself feel better for the moment? If you say something like, “I am sorry,” the focus is entirely on how you feel and ignores the reality of the sin you committed that harmed that other person. Such talk makes me think the person has not truly recognized that what he did was a sin. However, what if you say something like, “Mrs. Jones, I sinned against you by placing the blame on you in front of the boss and the others. That was entirely wrong of me. Will you forgive me?” Are you not then accomplishing several things? First, you are humbling yourself. Second, you are admitting that what you did was sin and that it was wrong. Thirdly, you are asking that person to do something she does not have to do. You are asking her to forgive you, and then waiting for her answer without saying a word until she does answer. This is very important, in my opinion. When you ask someone’s forgiveness, be sure to remain absolutely silent while you wait for the answer. And be very sure you speak clearly. “Mrs. Jones, I am seeking your forgiveness for sinning against you in that way. Do you forgive me?” If the other person quibbles and mumbles, you may need to pose the question once more. “Do you forgive me?” Keep in mind that what you are seeking is forgiveness for a sin you have committed, not understanding for a mistake that you made. Admit that it was a sin, and then ask for forgiveness, since the only way to deal with sins is to punish them or forgive them. Do you want her to punish you, or do you want her to forgive you? Then ask for forgiveness.
Finally, when appealing for forgiveness, you must display the right response. If you humble yourself to a person and he kicks you in the teeth when you are down, your reaction will show whether your were truly humble. If you kick a humble person in the teeth, he takes it with humility. If you kick a humble person in the teeth and he gets mad, gets up, and punches you back, you have discovered a person who was just lying down. Humility is vital to seeking forgiveness after you have sinned because humility is where God’s grace is found, humility is where someone who is truly sorry for his sin is found, and humility is the place where God wants you to be whether you have sinned or not. Philippians 2.5 and 8 declare this about our Lord Jesus Christ: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus . . . being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.” Would you be Christ-like? Would you be spiritual? Would you be godly? Then you would be humble. Remember, “before honour is humility,” Proverbs 15.33. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time,” First Peter 5.6. Once you have formulated your appeal and properly and at the right time presented it to the person you sinned against, prayerfully seeking God’s help in restoring the broken or damaged relationship, you have done what you can. Now, it is time to be still to let God work in that other person’s life, to either forgive or not forgive. It is up to him. Whether the offended person forgives you or not is between God and him, but you need from that moment onward to show your repentance, to show the outworking of your sorrow by the way you treat that other person, and by the way you act toward everyone else. Sometimes an offended person will think, “How do I know if he is really sorry? How do I know if he truly has repented of what he did to me?” My answer is, “You won’t know, for a while. If the repentance is real, and if it is genuine, it will last and it will be accompanied by humility.” That means, you will be able to see it in that offending person’s life from that day forward, whether he is forgiven or not.
Seeking forgiveness when you have sinned is extremely important, for two reasons: First, because sin never just goes away. Did you hear me? Sin never just goes away. It must always be dealt with. Second, sin is always, ultimately, an offense to God.
For these two reasons, sin must always be dealt with in two directions: With respect to God, which we will deal with in two weeks, Lord willing, and with respect to the person who was the most immediate target of your wrongdoing.
When you sin against someone and you do not seek reconciliation by asking for forgiveness, you are showing everyone that you place no value on that other person. They are of no account to you. However, if you value them as human beings, as God’s image-bearers, then sinning against them is a terrible thing, and that person’s forgiveness should be properly sought.
Do you want to know and live among the people you are now acquainted with for a long time, or are you content to use them up and move on to new friends you can use up and move on from? If you want relationships to be for a lifetime, considering that we sin against each other, how can you not appeal to those you have sinned against to seek their forgiveness?