Think of a time when someone apologized to you, but their confession just didn’t feel right. Maybe it even made you feel more hurt or offended.
Was it the words they said (or didn’t say)? Was it their tone of voice or facial expression? Was it too quick or too slow? Was it the wrong time or wrong place? Did you feel it was it so poorly done that it would have been better if they hadn’t apologized at all?
Many people have told me they have had that experience.
Words from the heart
A good apology is not just a collection of carefully crafted words. If you create what seems like a perfectly worded confession, but your heart motives are not right, the offended person will probably notice your wrong attitude from your timing, your tone of voice, or your body language. That won’t lead you to peace with the offended person.
On the other hand, if your motives and heart attitudes are right, the offended person will sense how sorry you are, even if you don’t say exactly the “right” words in your apology.
As you prepare your confession, ask yourself the three questions below. These three principles will help you check your motives before you apologize.
1. How can I show honesty about what I did (or did not do)?
This is about your offense, whether it’s something you committed or omitted. Be truthful and specific: “…let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25b).
Name your offense for what it really is, no more, no less. If what you did (or did not do) can be described with Bible terms as sin, call it sin. Don’t just say it was a mistake or an accident.
2. How can I humble myself?
This is about you, as the offender. Do you want grace from God and from the one you offended? God promises he will give you grace when you humble yourself: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5b). God will give you grace, even if the offended person doesn’t give you grace.
Humility is different than humiliation. When you confess, I don’t mean for you to humiliate yourself, or to put yourself in a situation where you will be humiliated by the offended person or anyone else.
3. How can I honor the person I offended?
This is about the person you hurt or offended. Take time to think about the emotional and practical effect your offense had on them. Ask God for wisdom how to acknowledge those effects to the one you offended. When you make your apology, choose a time and a place that demonstrate you are thoughtful and honoring to the offended person. Look for ways you could repair the damage you caused them. In short, “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10b).
Some basic elements of a well-rounded confession
Below are some elements you can include in your apology when you apply the principles of honesty, humility, and honor. You can think of these as individual flowers in a bouquet. The more of these flowers you include in your confession, the more fragrant it will likely be to the person you offended.
- Use Bible words, not euphemisms, when you confess sin.
- Take personal responsibility.
- Don’t excuse yourself or blame other people or circumstances.
- Name the specific offense(s).
- Communicate that you have a contrite spirit.
- Demonstrate that you feel, or that you are at least aware of, the pain your offense caused the offended and what it cost them.
- Ask the offended person, “Is there something else I did or did not do that you want to explain to me?”
- Make right any wrongs you can.
Remember, a sincere apology is not about technique. It’s about your heart attitude. If you are humble, honest, and honoring when you say sorry, the offended person will likely understand that you value your relationship and that you truly want to be at peace with them.
Check out the Peace Pursuit QUICK START GUIDE for more tips on how to have a conversation that will lead to appropriate confession and forgiveness.