You should never apologize. Why would I say that? Because I'm rude and obnoxious? Perhaps slightly. But beyond that, the reason you should never apologize is that apologizing is wimpy substitute for what the Bible commands us to do: to ask for forgiveness.
Scripture never talks about apologizing. It speaks of forgiveness. Jesus said, "'If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him'" (Luke 17:3-4).
Apologizing and asking for forgiveness are two different things. When you apologize you tell the person you've hurt that you feel bad about what you did: "I'm sorry I punched you in the nose." You are not asking the person you have offended to do anything. You are merely stating how you feel.
In contrast, when you say, "I was wrong to punch you, will you forgive me?" you are asking that person to do something. You are asking him to no longer hold the offense against you.
Jay Adams, a Christian counselor, pictures it in terms of passing a basketball back and forth. When I offend you, I'm holding the basketball. When I say, "I'm sorry" I’m still holding the ball. All you can do is shuffle your feet awkwardly and mumble "don't worry about it."
It is always awkward to respond to an apology because you are not asked to do anything, yet some sort of response is expected. You may say something like "Well, that's okay," but actually, it's not okay.
What I did to you was sinful. It was wrong. At the end of the conversation, I'm still holding the ball.
Now picture forgiveness. I go to you holding the basketball. I say, "I wronged you. Will you forgive me?" In so doing, I toss the ball to you.
Now the burden of response has shifted. Now you are required to do what God commands you to do. You are put in the position where you must forgive. If you don’t, you offend God.
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is a promise. When God forgives us he makes a promise to no longer hold our sins against us. "I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34).
Likewise, when you grant forgiveness, you are promising to no longer hold the offender’s sin against him. When my wife forgives me of some tasteless remark she is promising to strike my sin from her record book. She is saying, in effect, "I give up my right to hurt you for hurting me."
This means, among other things, that if we should get into a heated argument next week about something, she cannot bring up that stupid comment I made. She promised she would not hold my sin against me. She promised to release me from my offense.
Is there someone you've offended? Go to that person. Don't say, "I'm sorry." Call a spade a spade. Say, "I was wrong to do that. I sinned against you. Will you forgive me?" Now the burden of response is on the other person’s shoulders. You've done all you can do.
Teach your kids to ask for forgiveness rather than to apologize. And ask your children for forgiveness when you offend them. That will do wonders to instruct them and will also show that you are not an authority unto yourself, but that you, too, live under the authority of Jesus Christ.
What if you ask someone for forgiveness and that person refuses to forgive you? Romans 12:18 teaches, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." If they refuse to forgive, you've done everything God commands you to do. You can have a clear conscience.
Keep short accounts. Have the guts to ask for forgiveness and the grace to grant it.
Peter Kemeny, Pastor
Good News Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 1051, Frederick, MD 21702