Friday, December 09, 2005

“SORRY . . . The Hardest Word?”

It's sad, so sad
It's a sad, sad situation
And it's getting more and more absurd
It's sad, so sad
Why can't we talk it over
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word
(Elton John/Bernie Taupin 1976)

I am not generally given to quoting secular artists to make spiritual points, something that seems to be a growing practice these days. I am not necessarily opposed to the idea, as long as it is occasional and does not take the place of Scripture in forming our viewpoints. I will share several Scriptures in a moment. However, Bernie Taupin’s lyrics to this old hit seem to sum up a problem we have in the Christian world, specifically in relationships with those we are SUPPOSED to love. How often do we hear people bemoan the state of the culture, specifically the way it seems to be coarsening ever worse as the days go by. Often, young adults are the targets of the complaints. So rude, so proud, so arrogant, so selfish, so uncaring, so hardhearted, so vulgar, so promiscuous, so immodest (and these are CHRISTIAN young people) The list goes on. But it’s not just young people. Those a bit longer in the tooth act the same way. I expect it with unbelievers. But in a Christian, it’s unconscionable. And before I begin this, I am not referring to “offenses” that occur when false teachers are corrected. Let’s get that out right now. Okay.

One thing I have seen over and over again is that one brother or sister in Christ will say or do something to offend or hurt another. The one who has been offended does the right thing in confronting the issue. But rather than say that they are sorry for offending the one they are supposed to love in Christ, they come out swinging with a host of defense mechanisms and excuses. They go on the attack and try to berate the other person into silence. Often, they try to twist the issue around to somehow make the issue the offended party’s fault. They’d rather be tortured to death than humble themselves to apologize for causing offense. Their pride is too great. Still others play the ignorant card. “I just don’t understand why I should say I am sorry. I didn’t mean to offend, so you shouldn’t be offended.” And they dig their heels in, no matter how much pain it causes their brother or sister, who then begin to question whether the oft-expressed love of the other is genuine or meaningless. To put it more clearly, the offended party is hurt even more deeply because they can see the other person doesn’t appear to love them enough to even be sorry for causing hurt or offense, even unintentionally. This spiritual problem goes a lot deeper in a refusal to take responsibility for our actions and admit fault where fault is due.

What does God’s Word say about what our attitude should be? And does something done unintentionally get us off the hook?

If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them . . . then let him offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed (Leviticus 4:2-3).

Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and becomes guilty, if his sin which he has committed is made known to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without defect, for his sin which he has committed (Leviticus 4:27-28).

We can see from these passages that the person was still held accountable even if the offense to the Lord was unintentional. And if you study Scripture and take God’s Word as a whole into account, it is clear that when we sin against (or offend) a brother or sister in Christ and refuse to make it right, the Lord Himself is the ultimate offended party. Matthew 18 is often quoted by those who are offended. It’s the steps to be taken when someone who feels they have been wronged go to another brother to address the problem. But there is another side to the coin where the offender is the one responsible.

Therefore if you are presenting something 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 5:24).

As you can see, the Lord doesn’t even want your offering or worship until you straighten things out with your brother or sister whom you have wounded, EVEN UNINTENTIONALLY.

And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:21).

In the immediate context of this verse, it is dealing with causing sin in another whose conscience might not allow them to eat meat to idols etc. However, that is not the only application and it does not always involve a “weaker” brother (a Scriptural idea often abused by using it to look down on others from our own superiority). There are numerous other passages about how when we offend a brother or sister, we offend the Lord. All the more so when we refuse to do what it takes to make it right.

To paraphrase King Solomon, I have seen a great evil in my lifetime, more so lately than ever. It goes hand in hand with this prideful refusal to say “I’m sorry” in love to one another. Even dare that someone has offended you, or God forbid that you use the term, “hurt,” the one you are confronting will often mock you in tones and terms of derision. “Ohhhh…did poor wittle baby get his feelings hurt? Awwww.” And then laugh. It’s not funny. There are people who have tender hearts and along with that tender heart, tender feelings. I am not talking of those who look for excuses to be offended. We all know people like that. What I am talking of here is a general hardness, classlessness, ungraciousness, ingratitude, and selfish contempt for the feelings of others.

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth I hate (Proverbs 8:13).

Is it incumbent on the wronged party to forgive and not hold a grudge? Of course it is. The Bible is clear there too. However, there does come a time when a line gets crossed and for a Christian relationship to go on, there has to be an accounting. Being reconciled is a command, not an option, and a little loving humility will go a long way with both sides. In some cases, reconciliation is not possible until the offender recognizes and makes his/her offense right. All the more so when the refusal to apologize is an ingrained pattern of behavior.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). And also, love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).

So what will we do? Obey the Lord or disobey him? Be reconciled to one another, or continue to nurse our pride and arrogance? We have a world watching us. May we all remember Who it is that we are supposed to be representing. And that when we wrong each other, we wrong Him.


crownring said...

A well written piece, Sola, and rather apt as well. I think the problem reflects the gradual hardening of hearts and attitudes that I've observed for years. The "Me" generation ethics seriously infected the church as well as the secular world and I see it as another sign of the end times being upon us. :(

SolaMeanie said...

Very true, Crownring. It is a wonder with all that the Bible has to say regarding having tender hearts instead of having hearts of stone. I can't help but think of what Scripture also says about love growing cold in the last days because lawlessness is increased. You know, that "lawlessness" can apply to our lives as Christians as well as the lawlessness that is in the world. The theological term for it is antinomianism. I see a lot of it, sadly.