Thursday, June 27, 2013

Freedom through Forgiveness

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

This summer is all about freedom, and nothing is more freeing than forgiveness.  I love what Lewis Smedes said about forgiveness: "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."  Let’s take a few minutes and focus on freedom through forgiveness.  Here’s the truth: As people grow closer, friction is bound to occur.  Both small and not-so-small offenses are inevitable.  Nobody likes to apologize, but Scripture calls us to a higher standard than apology. Our standard is to confess our faults to one another, (James 5:16), seek reconciliation when we wrong one another (Matthew 5:23), and forgive each other (Ephesians 4:23).

While heartfelt forgiveness can bring freedom even to the most charred relationships, a poorly-made apology or perfunctory platitudes of forgiveness often accomplishes the opposite. When you find yourself in the wrong, make sure your offer of forgiveness includes the following elements.

Express regret | “I’m sorry.”
If you feel bad, say so. Give voice to your regret. This is a necessary first step. We’ve muddied the waters by overusing the word “sorry.” We say:
  • “I’m sorry your car needs to be worked on.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re feeling under the weather.”
  • “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
None of these instances warrant an apology, but we use the word “sorry” to express solidarity with less-than-ideal circumstances. When you’re in the wrong, “I’m sorry about the circumstances” just doesn’t cut it. You have to go further. Express sorrow, (remorse) over the pain you have caused.
Accept guilt | “I was wrong.”
Take ownership of your mistake. Don’t worry about properly assigning partial blame to anyone else. That’s not your job. An apology does not seek justice—it seeks forgiveness. Don’t bother with an explanation, unless one will help avoid a repeat offense or offer clarity to who you wronged.
Request forgiveness | “Will you forgive me?”
Asking for forgiveness places the offended party in control. It gives them the next move. They can choose to forgive or hold a grudge, and it isn’t your primary concern which option they choose. Your responsibility before God is to express regret, accept guilt, and request forgiveness. Whatever happens beyond that is someone out of your control.
Never say “but”
If at any point you hear yourself saying “but” or “that being said,” stop. You’re doing something wrong. An apology should never include a defense or an attempt to share the blame. If the offended party chooses to own their contribution, that’s their business. Your objective is to mend a relationship by confessing a fault. Don’t replace the original fault with a new one by mounting a character defense.
If we are serious about becoming a Biblically functioning community, we best be serious about humbly asking for forgiveness. This weekend we will look at humility up close, seeing Jesus’ words on the topic right before He is arrested.  Read up in Luke 22:24-30.  I will see you this weekend.