It is increasingly observed how people apologise for upsetting others. When there is a bit of a furore about something, very often you will hear the person at the center of the controversy saying that he/she apologises to anyone who has been offended by what they said or did. But is this the right approach?
I reckon there was a bit of a furore when the Lord spoke so firmly and sharply about the Pharisees in Matthew 23. I don’t think the Pharisees would have been too impressed. But we never hear of the Lord apologizing for offending them. Then think about those who went away from Him after hearing his teaching in John 6. We read in John 6:60-66:
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Rather than apologizing for the offence caused, the Lord actually challenges the grumbling disciples as to the cause of their being offended. The heart of the problem was that they would not believe. They were offended because they were in unbelief.
To say that we apologize for “any offence caused” is actually an easy way out. It gets people thinking we are being generous when that is not true at all. In fact we may be harming people. If they are being offended because of sin in their hearts then there is a sense it can be a good thing that they are upset and offended. And their upset should lead them to repentance.
The reality is that if we speak the truth in a godly way, as the Lord himself always did, we are likely to offend people. And in such case we, like the Lord, have no need to apologise.
However, we are not the Lord. And there are times when we speak false things in an ungodly way. In such cases, we can apologize for our words or our manner – or both if necessary. To put it another way; it is sin that needs to be confessed, repented of and apologised for. If we have not sinned in dealing with someone then there is nothing to apologise for.
This of course also applies if we have done something to hurt someone. We do not apologize for causing the hurt. But we should apologise for doing the thing that caused the hurt. And we should be grieved over the fact that our sin has caused such pain.
Let us notice the words of Matthew 18:15 ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” The Lord does not say we should go to seek restoration of the relationship when we have been upset or offended, but rather if someone has sinned.
So let us be careful in these matters. Wrong actions need to be apologized for. If right actions lead to offence and upset, there is nothing to apologize for.