Leading By Example

The sincerest form of apology is never doing it again

We all have our “oops” moments, whether with each other, with God or even just with ourselves–everybody does things they wish they could take back. However, since we often keep doing the same things even after we apologize, how do we make our apology mean we will actually stop?

What Is An Apology In The First Place?

In their simplest form, apologies are usually offered to repair relationships when people hurt or offend one another, whether intentionally or accidentally

The person offering the apology is usually trying to make amends for something, and, ideally, puts themselves in a place where they acknowledge they upset the other person in some way–true repair requires being able to listen with humility and vulnerability, without becoming defensive

Without acknowledgment of the other person’s feelings, repair is difficult, as that is what an apology is supposed to be about in the first place, ie: showing that we understand how our actions/words/etc… hurt someone, and that we care enough to repair the relationship by expressing regret for what we did and working on a solution to fix the situation

Apologies are a very important part of how mankind interacts with one another as they are frequently at the heart of conflict resolution, but why do so many apologies turn out to be unkept?

Nobody Likes An Empty Or Unkept Apology

Okay, first, nobody likes an empty apology or one that is not honored

When people behave in ways that hurt or upset us, it is safe to say we do not want these things to happen again, so when someone apologizes but keeps on doing them anyway, this can often be more damaging than the original offense itself

This hurts so much because we make the assumption that if someone apologizes, it means they saw how their behavior affected us in a negative way, and we trust they will not do it again since they now understand it will hurt us

This can be a dangerous assumption, as not everyone who apologizes truly means it nor does everyone have the capacity to truly stop hurting us overnight as a lot of negative behavior is the result of personality issues that typically do not just go away after saying a few words, even if the words are sincere

Because of this, when people apologize we should delight in forgiving them in a way that Jesus instructed us to, but we should also be careful to assess whether their apology is sincere or if it is designed to just make us feel better in the moment

Not Every Apology Is Created Equal

Even though apologies are common, and can be incredibly powerful, and disarming, when resolving conflicts, their meanings vary greatly from person to person, and from situation to situation–not every apology is sincere or reflective of a changed heart

For example, there are times when people offer insincere apologies to avoid conflict, consequences or to just to make someone leave them alone

Then there are the “apologies” where people do not acknowledge they did anything wrong, usually by saying the all-time classic half-apology:

“I am sorry you took it that way, but…”

(Or in other words “I do not want to apologize, so I will say I did nothing to hurt you and that your feelings are not worth caring about”)

Nobody has ever said or heard that one right?


Or what about the other classic:

“I am sorry, but I only acted that way because you did _____ first!”

(Or in other words “I am only going to say I am sorry because it allows me to blame my actions on you for being a bad person in the first place”)

Mmm hmm…

We should not use these types of “almost” apologies as they generally do not reflect a humble desire to make amends, they only serve to deflect responsibility for our actions without genuinely acknowledging we upset someone or acted inappropriately

Of course, not every apology is originally intended to be empty, as sometimes people are filled with regret, sorrow, etc… which motivates them to apologize and vow “never again!”, even though they wind up repeating their behavior because they have not changed inside enough to stop

I want to make sure it is understood that there is a big difference between apologies people do not mean in the first place versus sincere ones they end up do not honoring over time

Empty apologies: We did not really care in the first place, we just said whatever was necessary to turn a situation in our favor to avoid consequences, reduce our sense of guilt, regain someone’s trust, etc…

Unkept apologies: We had sincere regret, but in the heat of a moment later on, we made the choice to ignore our apology in favor of doing something again because we desire whatever it is than to protect the other person’s feelings

As Christians, in all cases, we should avoid making empty apologies no matter what, but the unkept apologies, especially ones we break with the justification that we will be “forgiven anyways since God loves us”, are just as damaging to our spiritual condition


Repeating Our Behavior After We Apologize Breaks Trust, Especially When Done Intentionally

It is common to feel guilt and remorse for things we know are wrong, especially after we get caught, but there are times where we will end up repeating our negative behavior over and over, regardless of any apologizing we do along the way

We know what it feels like when someone apologizes, sincerely or not,and repeats their behavior–it hurts, and often causes us to stop believing the sincerity of their apologies, which will eventually weaken the relationship due to a lack of trust

This changes when it comes to apologizing for areas of sin in our lives, as regardless of the amount of guilt we feel or any outward expression of regret, God knows whether we are truly sorry or not, no matter how much guilt or sorrow we feel at a given time–our emotions do not always indicate spiritual change, as we sometimes pray to be forgiven because we do not want to face consequences, because we do not want others to “find out” or we are overcome with guilt, not because we are truly sorry for hurting God’s feelings

How Do We Make Our Apologies Stick?

Whether it is something sinful we enjoy more than we want to admit or some type of emotion we cannot keep under control (ie: anger, unforgiveness, jealousy, etc…), we all struggle with areas in our lives that are more difficult to control than others

In order to truly overcome the toughest areas of our lives, and make our apologies stick, we have to focus both on the human and godly side of our apologies, as there three or four sides to any dispute involving Christians, as Christians answer to God, not just the other person/parties, and each person has their own relationship with God to repair not just the one with the other person/party after a stumble

Here are some quick tips on how to make our apologies more powerful!

1) Own up to our mistakes, both publicly and privately–do not wait for someone to apologize to us if they hurt us as well

(Everybody does things to offend/hurt others and God, so we have to be quick to make amends and show we care more about repairing relationships and correcting ourselves rather than protecting our pride, appear “weak” or anything else that would separate us from reflecting God’s character accurately–we want to protect our intimacy with God at all times!)

2) Stop focusing on wiping away our guilty consciences, and focus on how much our sinful behavior hurts God’s feelings

(Without taking the time to understand how our actions have an impact on God’s feelings, just like they would affect another human being’s feelings, it is very difficult to be motivated to stop sinning because we can see God as a “forgiveness” dispenser of sorts)

3) Do not just focus on “stopping” the symptoms of our sins, ask God for the illumination and wisdom necessary to understand why we do what we do

(Nobody just “developed” a drug/alcohol/porn/gambling/etc… problem overnight, we use these things as a way of dealing with something inside of us like the fear of rejection, abuse from others, low self-esteem, etc…)

4) Understand that our sins make us poor witnesses for God in the eyes of the world, especially if they do not reflect a character that is motivated by God’s perfect love

(This is a big one, as one of the most common criticisms against Christianity is that we are hypocritical because we do not hold ourselves to standards that even non-Christians know about)

5) Be prepared to have an apology not solve the issue, but not let it affect our behavior afterward

(This may sound odd, but we must be prepared for our attempts to make peace be rejected, but just know it takes character and strength to apologize, and maintain our sincerity, no matter how they are received)

1 Peter 3:8-9
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing

I love Paul’s closing point in the passage below, and will just add it is a beautiful thing when people repair relationships both with God, and with each other, as there is nothing standing between a smooth apology except the enemy and their ability to manipulate us, but the end result should not be about anyone being right or wrong, it is about maturely dealing with issues with love and wisdom, for the encouragement of all–bringing glory to God’s kingdom both now, and for eternity!

2 Corinthians 7:8-13
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged

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