Paul Burrell, Shepherd's Hill
Apologies and Repentance
Welcome to the message of the week from Shepherds Hill. As it often happened, God gave a clear message for the week in a brief moment of inspiration. This week has been trying as I am still fighting the cold virus going around. I was well enough to return to work but it took great effort to do my job.
This week, while listening to a conversation between two people I heard something remarkable. There was an issue between the two and as he had always done, one of them apologized to the other. It was a scene that didn’t particularly strike me as unusual in any way. I have often had to apologize to someone for something I had done wrong. But the response from the other person absolutely astounded me. They told the first person that if the issue was small enough to be fixed with an apology it would have been too small to even bring up.
It was as if the planet came to a screeching halt! I jumped up from my chair to find something to write on before the thought escaped me. No one even knew what was going on in my head but I realized that some great key had just been put in my lap. I began to ponder the point. In my mind I went back through time at all of the issues between Angie and myself. Over and over again there had been an offense and an apology, Many times it had been the same issue and the apology sufficed for the moment. But in reality it simply covered up the horrible mess at hand. It was as if there was a sink full of dirty dishes and when company arrived I threw a towel over it so that it couldn’t be seen.
I really started thinking about relationships and the way we handle confrontations. Generally, some offense occurs and the offended party brings it up to the offender. The second party often doesn’t see the problem but ends up making apologies for the action. It smoothes things over for the time and both people may think it’s taken care of. Let me use an example, if I may. Suppose a husband has a problem flirting with other women. He doesn’t think a thing about it and if his wife confronts him about it he views it as harmless fun. It may, in fact, be something that breaks her heart but to him it’s just playing around with the women at his job. In their discussion he discovers that she does not want it to happen. He may apologize but in fact may just keep doing the same thing and keeping it private.
We often are very sorry for getting caught and not sorry for our actions. The prisons are full of repeat offenders who were sorry that they were arrested but not sorry for breaking the law. In relationships we also may be sorry for getting caught but are not sorry for breaking our partner’s heart. That really is the issue here-the heart. As in the conversation I overheard-the person who brought up the issue was bothered so badly that it broke their heart and the issue warranted the conversation.
Dealing with someone over and over again becomes an exercise in futility doesn’t it? When our child breaks a known rule of our household we must deal with it. If they apologize we often assume they are really sorry for their actions. But repeat offenders show what is in their hearts. They desire to continue the action while trying to better cover the evidence. They try really hard to put more emphasis on doing the same thing in secret.
In honesty, Angie and I have the best marriage of anyone that I know. I don’t say that out of pride or because I am deceiving myself. I can honestly say that because I put my marriage above every other relationship apart from my own with God. I will side with her above family, neighbors, friends and co-workers. No one will come between us. In that same thought, I must also put her above my own wishes and wants. She must come first in all my decisions. This is what husbands loving their wives means.
If we discuss something that bothers either one of us we will end up with an apology. But the “I’m sorry” must be backed up with a sincere desire to change whatever caused the problem in the beginning.
At this point you may remind me about how Jesus talked about repeatedly forgiving someone. Remember the seventy times seven scripture? In Matthew Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother not just seven times but seventy times seven. Anyone that can multiply knows that this is four-hundred and ninety times. Think about it-if you forgave someone and kept track of it up to that point you would not actually be forgiving them. Would you remind them that they only had five more times to commit the offence? Of course not. While forgiving someone is really important my message is on the other side today.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. He was to pave the way to Jesus’ ministry and prepare people’s hearts for the change that was about to take place. I think it’s important to look at what he said. In Matthew chapter three we find his debut- he began to preach repentance. The word repent means to feel regret, and to turn from ones sin and dedicate their life to the amendment of it. In verses one through seven we read of people who came and changed. But in verse eight he told the Pharisees and Sadducees to produce fruit meet for repentance. It sounds like a word that we have forgotten the meaning of today.
Some people are under the impression that confessing their sins (merely admitting that they failed) is enough. I was always intrigued by basketball games where the referee would blow his whistle and point at a player. The player would in turn acknowledge his penalty by raising his hand. It did not mean that he regretted the foul but simply acknowledged that he had done it. Christians today are under the impression that simply saying you had done something is all you have to do. There is no heart change and therefore the same sin can occur again.
Think of your own life-are you a repeat offender in some sin? Is there something that you’ve been caught at over and over? On each time that it happened were you sorry that it happened? I’m sure you were at that moment but if you realized the difference you would not be repeating it. There is a difference between an apology and repentance. John told his disciples to repent.
Jesus also told us to repent. In the following chapter of Matthew Jesus went through the forty days of his testing. Immediately, His ministry began telling people to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt ). This was the same message that John had prepared people for. It was not an apology that Jesus was speaking of. It was a true change of heart that Jesus was talking about.
We have all had someone who treated us wrong. We may have had the responsibility of forgiving them if they came to us. More often, though, we go to them and ask them to explain themselves. The offense is to be dealt with. An apology, as we normally think of, is expected. But is it true repentance?
I can relate to both sides of the issue. I have been truly sorry for my actions and apologized to someone. Then, later on I have done the exact same thing. It seems as if I slipped up. People who battle with substance abuse find themselves wishing they could get away from the desire and eventual falling back into old habits. Only when we recognize that we are hurting people may we ever have a reason to quit something.
What our Father God has called sin are things that bring us to death. Just as Adam didn’t immediately die a physical death we rarely die from an action known to be sin. The spiritual death occurred with Adam though. It’s a silent thing but we can break our relationship with God one action at a time. Some denominations call it back-sliding. Others refer to it as falling away. Whatever you want to call it the slow sliding away from God is so gradual that you may not even realize that it’s happening.
I’m wondering about you today. Perhaps you have confessed your sin, meaning that you admit that you have failed. We all have failed and none of us can say that we haven’t. What I want to ask you today is how did you handle it? If a police officer stops you for speeding do you get upset about the ticket but continue driving just as fast? Perhaps you’ve been guilty of lust. You got caught and you were sorry for the sin. Did learn anything from the action? Perhaps it is hard to tell when someone apologizes as to the person’s sincerity. They may have even asked for forgiveness over and over with you forgiving them each time. It’s possible that they really aren’t sincere. But that is up to God to deal with.
If you are the person who gave a mock SO---RRY (said with a tone) it is apparent that you really aren’t. When my children were told to apologize to their siblings they sometimes gave that SO--RRY sound. It was clear to me that they only said the word because they were made to say it. How about you friend? How has your confession of sin operated? Were you apologizing or truly repentant?The bottom line is-sin can never be fixed with an apology.
Or do adjustments need to be made?