Have you noticed how apologies have become, well, less apologetic? It seems like apologies, whether from public personalities or private individuals, are increasingly couched in language that is intended to relieve the apologizer of as much culpability as possible. The most egregious such efforts probably come from the political arena, and we can all think of some examples. You might remember former Senator Al Franken’s horrific first attempt at an apology after he was revealed to have forced himself onto a female reporter on a USO tour, forcibly kissing her while rehearsing a comedy skit and then groping her while she was asleep (and photographing it). His initial apology blamed her for misremembering the rehearsal and then tried to justify his groping by saying it was an attempt to “be funny.” Space does not allow me here to provide even a bullet point list of political non-apology apologies!
We might wince and “tsk, tsk” such attempts at self-justifying apologies in the secular world, but sadly such efforts pervade the Church as well. How many famous preachers have fallen into sexual sin, only to offer an apology that consists of how the ministry is such a lonely place? Of how the pressures of leading a large church forced them to find solace in the arms of a mistress? Recently, a nationally known SBC pastor posted on a Facebook group of ministers and laypeople he operated a message so vile and reprehensible that I will not even reference its content here. Very quickly, he was forced to resign by the board of directors of the organization (rightfully so). He has issued two apologies, both of which were bad. In his second apology, he says many of the right things, but they are all couched in excuses and justifications: he was responding to a perceived conspiracy against one of his ministry heroes; he was attacking those who he thought were behind the conspiracy; the #MeToo movement was responsible; and the increasingly ubiquitous “It is truly not who I am” statement.
Brothers and sisters, we must fight against the urge to try and justify ourselves to those to whom we are apologizing. We are naturally defensive; we want to explain why we did what we did. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, many of the times we offer such qualified apologies, we don’t think we need to be apologizing in the first place. So, we say things like, “I’m sorry if you were offended…” If? If? Of course, they were offended! That’s why you are apologizing! Our defensiveness is rooted in our desire to be right. But Jesus is more concerned about our relationships with one another than He is in whether you were “right” to say that jerky, snarky comment to a brother or sister. In Matthew 5:23-24 (a passage we’ll soon be studying when we start our series on the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Do you see the emphasis in Jesus’ words? There may come a time for explaining why you did or said whatever it was, but our apologies are neither the time nor the place. Our apologies are the time for exactly that: apologizing. No qualifications. No justifications. Just godly sorrow that we have offended our brother or sister and our desire to be reconciled with them.
Is that easy? If it were, do you think I’d be writing about it here? No, it’s not easy. It will require you to die to yourself and your (often perceived) rights. It will require you to put others before yourself. It will require the transforming of your minds by the Holy Spirit, and it will require being conformed to the image of Christ. But isn’t that the point? Just something to think about…