Robert Jeffress - The Right Way To Ask Forgiveness From Someone You've Wronged
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. It's been said that one of the hardest things to do in life is to say the words, "I'm sorry". But asking someone for forgiveness is also one of life's most liberating experiences. Are you looking to find freedom from an overwhelming feeling of guilt? Well, today I'm going to outline a biblical method for asking forgiveness when you've hurt someone deeply. My message is titled, "The right way to ask forgiveness from someone you've wronged," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
One of the most difficult things you will ever have to do in your life is asking forgiveness from somebody you've wronged. And yet one of the most liberating experiences you will ever have, is receiving that forgiveness from someone you have wronged. As we now go into the home stretch of our series, "When forgiveness doesn't make sense," and we're talking about some very practical things that every Christian needs to understand. First of all, how we receive forgiveness. We all need it, don't we? Last week we talked about how we receive forgiveness from God.
Now, some people would say, "Well that's all we need," for after all in Psalm 51, verse four, didn't David pray, "Against the and the only I have sinned". Well, what we saw was, yes, God is the primary person we wrong when we sin, but he's not the only person. You see, God not only wants us to have a clear conscience with him, he also wants us to have a clear conscience with other people. In Psalm, 133 verse one the Psalmist said, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity". As much as it depends upon us, God wants us to be at peace with all people. And that means learning how to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged.
In Acts 24, verse 16, Paul said this was his prayer. He said, "I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience, both before God and before men". Remember, Paul didn't think it was just enough to have a clear conscience with God. He said, "I've got to have a clear conscience with other people". What is a clear conscience? Write this down if you don't remember it. A clear conscience means having the assurance that neither God, nor anyone else, can accuse you of a wrong you've not attempted to make right. It means having the knowledge that neither God, nor anybody else can accuse you of a wrong, you've not attempted to make right. Well, pastor, how do I go about asking for and receiving forgiveness from other people that I've wronged.
Principle number one, determine if you really need to ask for forgiveness. Determine if you really need to ask somebody for forgiveness. You see Jesus taught, that the only people we are to be reconciled with, are people we have actually wronged. In fact, he went a step further Jesus said, "Those who are wrong and are were aware that we have wronged them". Remember what he said in Matthew five verses 23 to 24. "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar and there you remember that your what brother has something against you, leave your offering there and be before the altar and go your way, first be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your offering". Notice the words, your brother has something against you. That is inherent in the idea is not just that you've wronged somebody, but that they are aware of it because they have something against you. That's the case in which you need to ask forgiveness. Now, that brings up a thorny question I'm often asked, and that is, should I ask forgiveness from people whom I've wronged, even if they are unaware that I've wronged them. What I'm going to do is I'm going to land on the maybe side and give you instead of a hard and fast answer, a checklist to ask yourself before you confess a sin to somebody who's not aware of your sin.
Three questions you ought to ask yourself. Number one is restitution necessary and/or possible. Is restitution necessary and/or possible. For example, if you've stolen money from an employer and they're not aware of it, to have a clear conscience you need to make restitution which means you're going to have to make them aware of what you've done. I was talking to my accountant yesterday about my taxes and that was a terrible day yesterday. But anyway, I was thinking about the story about the man who wrote this letter to the internal revenue service. He said, "I'm writing to confess that last year I under reported my income and I'm a Christian I feel guilty about it and I've had many sleepless nights. So enclosed, you will find a check for $10.000. If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest of the money that I owe you". You know, some people are like that, but we have to make restitutions to have a clear conscience. So that's one question to ask yourself.
Question number two what are the chances the offense will be discovered? What are the chances this person's going to discover what you did to them. Quite Frankly, an affair that happened 40 years ago, that's been confessed and forgiven by God. It's probably less likely to come to light than something that happened six months ago. And you have to ask yourself, what if my mate or the other person that I've wronged, what if they hear this from somebody else, how is that going to make them feel?
And then thirdly, and this is the bottom line question. Will your confession help or hurt the other party? That's really what matters. Will it help or hurt the other party? You know, sometimes our desire to confess our sins is very self-centered. We want to relieve ourselves of guilt so we dump our garbage on somebody else and we feel great, but they feel devastated. And so we have to really ask, will it help or will it hurt the other party? Sometimes in a situation like this, we have to bear the burden of guilt ourselves. We have to shoulder the guilt ourselves and deal with God about it and receive his forgiveness. You know, Paul suggested a great filter in Ephesians 4:29 to guide us in every decision about what we say. He said, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification". That word means for building up another person. "According to the need of the moment that it may give grace to those who hear it". Before you confess a hidden offense to somebody you've wronged, ask yourself, is this really going to build them up? Is it going to help the relationship or is it going to hurt it?
Principle number two, once you've decided that indeed, you need to ask forgiveness from another person, schedule an appointment to meet the offended party. Now the best way to do this, is in a face-to-face meeting. And I want to remind you of something I hope you'll write this down. When you're determining whom you're going to ask forgiveness from, remember this principle, the circle of confession should be no larger than the circle of offense. The circle of confession should be no larger than the circle of offense. In other words, if you've only sinned against God, then you only need to confess to God. You don't need to talk to other people about it. If your sin is against God and one other person, then you need to talk to God and that one other person. If it's two people, then you need to talk to two people. But your circle of confession should not be larger than the circle of offense there.
Very rarely would you ever for example, address an entire congregation. Maybe if it's a church leader who has truly sinned against an entire congregation, would you talk to the entire congregation. Most of the time, that's not beneficial. It doesn't help the congregation, it hurts the congregation. You confess to those that you have wronged. Where do you find this principle in scripture? James 5:16, "Therefore confess your sins to everybody? No. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed". Now the best way to ask forgiveness is in a personal, face-to-face meeting. And so that means you have to arrange the meeting. You call the person up on the phone and you say to them, would it be possible for us to meet on such and such a date at this time at this location, I have something important that I'd like to discuss with you. And usually the other person will try to pride out of you. Well, what is this about? And the best thing to do is say, "You know, it's so important I want to meet with you personally to talk about it". If it's impossible to meet with a person face-to-face for some reason, the next best way to talk to them is by the telephone.
Now, the problem with a telephone is they can't see your facial expressions. You can't see theirs, you really can't tell for sure how the conversation is going, but if you can't do it any other way, the telephone is the next best way. The worst way to ask forgiveness from somebody is through a letter, an email, a text or a tweet, don't do that. And why is that? If somebody said it well, the purpose of asking forgiveness is to erase the past, not to document the past. You don't want to write down everything you've done wrong so that, that person can read it over and over and over or can forward it to a friend. Hey, what do you think about this? Do you think I ought to forgive? That's a big mistake. It ought to be face-to-face. Again, Matthew 5:24 tells us we ought to be willing to do whatever it takes to have that face-to-face meeting. Jesus said, "If you know that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go your way and first be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your offering".
I mean, according to Jesus, getting matters straight with somebody you've offended is more important than worshiping God. Why is that? Because the is you can't worship God, not fully as long as you know, somebody has something against you. Now, can I remind you, Jesus isn't talking about a situation where you have something against somebody else. That's a whole different thing. Jesus said in Mark 11:25, "If you're praying and you remember, you have something against somebody else, you forgive them, right there on the spot, let go of it. You don't have to leave your pew, you don't have to go anywhere. You can forgive yourself". This is a situation where somebody has something against you. Somebody is embittered toward you. Jesus said you do whatever it means, including leaving in the middle of the church service in order to go be reconciled to your brother. When we ask forgiveness from somebody, yes, we are showing remorse, but we are actually asking the other person to do something. When we ask forgiveness, we are asking them to release us from a very real obligation we owe them.
Remember Matthew 18, the slave who owed his master $16 billion. What did he do? Did he stroll into the palace and said, "Hey, I got a letter in the mail saying, I owe you 16 billion bucks, sorry," and then walk out. No, when he understood the debt he owed, he fell prostrate before the king and begged for mercy. He was asking the king to do something. Forgive me, release me. That's what forgiveness is. Now, you don't have to go to that extreme necessarily, but never forget that when you forgive, asking forgiveness, you are actually asking the one you've offended to do something, to release you of your obligation. So there's an effective way to do that.
First of all, when you're asking forgiveness, refuse to blame others. Write that down, don't just stare at me. This is essential to your spiritual health. Refuse to blame other people. If you start out saying, "Well, I know we've got this problem between us and you know, you're partly responsible, I'm partly responsible, but why don't we first admit both of us are wrong and move on from here". Man, that is doomed to fail. Whenever you're asking forgiveness, even if the other person is 90% responsible for the breach in the relationship, that's not what you're supposed to be talking about. Don't blame them, don't blame somebody else. You concentrate on the 10% that you're responsible for. Refuse to blame other people.
Number two, identify the wrong you've committed, be specific. You're asking to be forgiven for something specific. A person who's been guilty for example, of incest in a family and says to his family member. "Well, I realize I haven't been the father. I haven't been the kind of uncle I should have been". It keeps it in that generality is never going to receive forgiveness. Remember the other party is very aware of what you've done already. What they want to know is are you aware of what you've done? Identify the wrong that you've committed.
Number three, acknowledge the hurt that you've caused the other person. The other person, not only wants to know if you can name the sin, they want to know, do you really understand how much it has impacted their life? Try reliving their experience through their own eyes as you try to imagine the hurt that you might've caused. I remember years ago, staff member who'd really disappointed me and hurt the church. He came to me and he said, "Pastor, I'm really sorry for what I did. I imagine it kept you up at nights thinking about how this would impact the church. I've been a distraction to you. I have hurt the church and I am truly sorry for what I've done. Will you forgive me"? When people understand that you are more, that you really understand the hurt you've inflicted upon them, they are much more likely to forgive.
And then number four, ask the other person to forgive you. Remember forgiveness is a transaction in which the other party chooses to release you of your obligation. To lead up to all of this, but never to ask the other person to actually release you, not only hurts them, it hurts you as well. Now remember, not only do you need to be forgiven, but that other person needs to offer forgiveness for his own spiritual wellbeing. Now you don't need to remind them of that. You know, when you're asking forgiveness, don't say to them, you really need to forgive me because Matthew 6 says, "If you don't forgive me, you're going to hell", don't say that, okay? You don't demand forgiveness from somebody else that's between them and God. But nevertheless, you're asking for it. How do you do that?
You say, look, I realized that what I did in, and then you name the sin, was wrong. And I am truly sorry for what I've done to you. And although I will do my best to make sure it never happens again, I'm asking you today, will you forgive me for what I did to you? You're actually asking them for a response. You're asking them to do something. And at that point, the ball is in their court. It's their decision to make. And there may be a pregnant pause that may be very uncomfortable as they consider whether or not they're going to forgive. I wish I could tell you that every time this happens, the other person who will say, "Oh yes, I'm happy to forgive you," and hug and you live happily ever after. It doesn't happen that way all the time. And that's why number four, be prepared for a negative response. Not every time you ask forgiveness, results in a reconciliation with the other person. For example, many times the other person might say, "I don't know, I'll have to think about that". Sometimes they may respond very negatively. They may say, "Are you kidding? After what you've done to me? Do you think a simple I'm sorry is going to erase that, forget it".
Now, there may be a reason that somebody is hesitant or may even refuse to forgive you. Several reasons that people are hesitant to forgive us. Let me mention four of those. Number one, the person doesn't sense you're truly remorseful. If they see you attaching blame to other people, they don't sense genuine remorse. If they don't see the right facial expressions or inflections in your voice, they may not think you are really sorry for what you've done. A second reason they may not forgive you is that person feels guilty himself for either what he's done to you or to somebody else. Counselors tell us about something called the guilt blame seesaw. You all remember a seesaw, how it worked. You'd get on one end and you would hope you could balance out that in with somebody of about the same weight on the other end to keep the thing in balance.
Well, in our minds and hearts, we have an emotional seesaw and on one end of the seesaw is guilt. Guilt that we all feel for what we've done against God or other people. And the way we balance out our guilt that we haven't dealt with properly, we balance out our guilt with an equal amount of blame. We blame God, we blame other people. And so if we haven't dealt with our guilt, we've got to balance it out with blame. Now let's say you go to somebody and you ask them to forgive you. They've been blaming you for the wrong you've committed against them that's the way they've kept an equilibrium by blaming. And suddenly when you ask forgiveness, if they forgive you, guess what happens? The blame gets off the end of that seesaw, the other end comes crashing down. They crash under their own guilt because now they have nobody to blame for what happened. That's why somebody may not forgive you. You may be doing all the right things, but because they have guilt, they haven't dealt with, they may be hesitant to let you off the hook.
A third reason some people may not forgive you is the other person wants restitution. You know, you steal $50.000 from somebody, will you please forgive me? I know this has probably kept you up at night, it may have kept your children from going to college, would you please forgive me? Their first question is, well, where's my 50.000 bucks? You know, they're willing to forgive, but they also want restitution. Number four, they fare repetition of the offense. They may not want to forgive you because they think if they do, it's like hanging a kick me sign around your neck, kick me again. They may fear that you really haven't changed and you'll do the same thing again. And finally, some people don't forgive because they confuse forgiveness with reconciliation.
Here's a wife who's been under physical abuse from her husband and she finally moves out of the home to protect herself and her children. Her husband has a spiritual revival in his heart and he comes to his wife and says, "Honey, I realize what I've done is wrong, will you forgive me"? She may be hesitant to forgive if she thinks forgiveness means handing over a key to her home and inviting her husband back in. You see forgiveness is granted, but reconciliation is earned. But if people don't understand the difference, they may be hesitant to forgive if they think that means automatic reconciliation.
But here's what I want to say to you this morning. Whether that person forgives you immediately, whether they ever forgive you, is really something ultimately you have no control over. But what you do have control over is taking the steps to have a clear conscience with another person. Remember the definition, a clear conscience means knowing that neither God nor anybody else can accuse you of a wrong you have an attempted to make right. And that's why Paul said, "I have is my goal," acts 24:16, "To have that clear conscience before both God and man".