Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:3
Ouch! Is God really saying in order to be lovingly (tenderhearted) kind, I must forgive? Yep, that is exactly what God is saying!
But, don’t most of us associate kindness with familiar etiquette rules like saying “Please” and “Thank you?” Do you think like me, “If I mind my manners I am being kind and that’s good enough?”
And I would dare say that few of us consider ourselves to be an unkind, unloving person just because we haven’t forgiven the co-worker who stole our idea and gained the promotion we deserved. After all we have every right to be upset about that. And besides I would never let that soured relationship spill over into my other relationships and attitudes.
This “love one another puzzle” is getting more complex the more I study Jesus’ expectations and example and we move through the alphabet. And quite frankly, I don’t think I have put these particular puzzle pieces together in my life which explains the fragmentation in my relationships new and old.
According to Jesus there is no way I can harbor bitterness or resentment toward one person and expect to flourish in my other relationships, including my relationship with Him.
In fact Jesus felt so strongly about this He tells us to put our offering to Him down, go back to the someone who we are at odds with and make that connection right. Only then can we come to Jesus with our offering and have a fully restored and meaningful relationship with Him.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:23-24
There is a famous line in the old 1970 movie, Love Story, which in an unintentional way very astutely elaborates on these verses. You’ll have to stay with me here.
Are you old enough to know the move and line I am speaking of?
Jennifer Cavilleri (Ali McGraw) is dying. Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neil) is at her bedside. He wants to make something right before she dies and tries to say he is sorry. She stops him and with an imploring gaze tells him…
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
This obviously impacts the husband because after his wife dies, Oliver bumps into his estranged dad (Ray Miland) who also wants to clear the air and make things right. He tries to say he is sorry, but the son rebuffs him and repeats his late wife’s timeless words…
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
As I recall the movie ends with the father and son embracing and the movie goer is left with a feeling of sadness yet hope that everything in the end will be alright because they will never have to say they are sorry again.
I am quite sure the writer’s intended meaning was if you really love someone you won’t expect them to apologize; in fact with true love apologies just aren’t necessary.
I concur. Are you surprised?
It isn’t that I don’t think apologies are necessary. I think apologies are not biblical! A mere apology has nothing to do with kindness or love. Telling someone, “I’m sorry” doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting God’s standard for “making things right.”
Now are you surprised?
Let’s look at the definition of apology.
“A written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.”
Do you see anything in this definition about seeking the forgiveness from the one who has been insulted, failed, injured or wronged? Is there anything in this definition that even remotely implies the intent to restore the relationship to a better position than where it is currently?
The answer to the above questions is a resounding, “No!” The only thing an apology does is admit that the one apologizing has regret, remorse or sorrow. It does not inherently mean the person seeks forgiveness or wants the relationship restored.
We all know this is true. Some of us still cuddle the bitterness toward a sibling that was told “Go tell your sister you’re sorry” or “You apologize to your brother right now.” She did what she was told. He said the words. He may even have meant them, but he never sought our forgiveness.
We may have said the obligatory, “It’s alright.” Our parents probably made us shake hands or hug to “make up.” But little if anything was restored. She was sorry she got caught. He may have even been sorry he made us cry. But whatever the core issue was that exploded into a sibling “fight” was never addressed.
So, decades later some of us still cringe, still cry or still pound our fist when we think about the jealousy or the gossip or the distrust that was at the heart of the “fight.”
How much better it would’ve been to follow Jesus’ example, even as children, to seek forgiveness and to extend forgiveness. This is true kindness. This is true love.
There is nothing easy or simple about it. If it were, everyone would be seeking and extending and the world really would be a better place. We all know it isn’t. The world is ugly and petty. That’s not God’s fault. The fault lies squarely on man’s and woman’s shoulders.
The kindest words we can utter, according to Jesus, are; “Please forgive me” and “Yes, I will forgive you.”
Have we uttered either of those phrases lately? If not, why not?
How we answer the second question will tell us a lot about ourselves. Are we courageous enough to listen?