"Building Better Relationships" part 3
How to Make Good When You've Done Wrong
by Greg Hanson

We took Nate and Noah to the theatre yesterday to see the Wiggles. For those of you who don’t have kids, the Wiggles are a famous group out of Australia in the world of children’s entertainment. They’ve had TV shows, dozens of videos, and a live stage act which Nate got to see last year.

This time, it was a big screen release of them in a live concert singing their greatest hits. Now, if you go to the movies on any regularity, you know that before the movie begins they flash some rules on the screen. What are they? No talking, no texting, turn your phone off, and put your garbage in the garbage can. Those are the standard rules when you go to the theatre.

But try that with a theatre full of preschoolers. Those rules--especially the one about no talking--go out the window. And everybody understands it. Just by virtue of the nature of the show, I went in expecting there to be lost of noise, jumping around, and singing. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I seriously doubt anyone was upset. Everyone understood that this was a kids’ show and that sometimes three and four year olds aren’t that great at following rules. So in this case, an exception to the rule was allowed.

Now, when you come to church, there are some pretty basic rules, too. I mean, we’re a pretty casual church here at Sunrise, but even we have rules... mostly unspoken.

Like no playing frisbee during the sermon. That would probably not be a good thing. Or yodelling. We don’t do yodelling here. And we have a hard and fast rule against cats. No cats allowed. Oh, but a friend of mine did post an interesting picture of a cat on Facebook this week...

[PowerPoint - Photo of a cat with his head stuck through a slice of bread.]

Now that’s an inbred cat. Okay, my friend has a sick sense of humor.

There’s one more kind of unspoken rule that we have here at Sunrise, and you’ll find it at most places you go. It’s just a common courtesy thing, and it’s this: you stay to the end. We don’t have that displayed on a plaque anywhere, but most people just understand that’s the rule.

Which makes what Jesus said in Matthew 6 all the more poignant. Take a look...

Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

What’s Jesus saying? He’s saying, “You might be at church, you might be singing along, you might be worshipping, you might be listening to the best sermon you’ve ever heard... when all of a sudden you remember someone you’ve hurt. When that happens, drop everything and go. Forget the rule about staying to the end; go and make things right.”

So kind of like kids being allowed to make noise during a kids show at the theatre, Jesus says there’s an exception to the rule. It shouldn’t be the norm, but under certain circumstances it’s appropriate. Reconciling and restoring a relationship takes precedence over a single church service.

We’re in the midst of a series of messages right now about Building Better Relationships. The first week we talked about how the best relationships are founded on love. We saw this in the words of Jesus when He said...

Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)
“The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

That’s the backdrop for this entire series. Whether you’re talking about a relationship with God or with anyone else, the best relationships are founded on love.

Last week, we talked about how our love for others should motivate us to forgive them when they commit offenses against us. If we don’t forgive, the consequences are dire. Not only will it destroy our relationship with that person, but it will destroy our relationship with God, it will destroy our relationships with other people, and eventually it will destroy ourselves by turning us into bitter, lonely people. So we talked about how we forgive by deciding to forgive. We choose to let it go, leave it behind us, and move on. It’s not always easy and sometimes it can be a process, but it is always worth it.

But that was about when other people do something against us. When someone else offends us, we take the initiative to extend forgiveness whether the offender seeks forgiveness or not.

Today, we’re talking about when the shoe’s on the other foot... when we’re the ones in the wrong. What do you do when you’ve hurt someone else?

Why Should You Seek Forgiveness?

A.    You are responsible for your actions.

You’ve hurt someone; it’s up to you to make it right. You are responsible for your own actions. We’ve already looked at the verse where Jesus said that on par with the greatest commandment to love God is the commandment to love others like ourselves. Jesus expressed a similar thought in Matthew chapter 7...

Matthew 7:12 (NLT)
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

So basically, when you violate that and do to others as you would never want them to do to you, you’re sinning against them. And since you are responsible, you must seek forgiveness.

B.    Fractured relationships cause you harm.

When you have relational problems, what happens? You lie awake at night, you lose sleep over it, you stress about it, you become consumed by it, you expend a lot of time and energy thinking about it. When you’ve offended someone you feel guilty about it, you worry about what they’re thinking and what they’re saying about you, you might even start avoiding that person.

Does that pretty much sum it up? Fractured relationships cause you harm in ways you can’t even measure. But the damage is real, and the only way to resolve it is to seek forgiveness.

C.    Your reputation is at risk.

When you’ve been a jerk to someone, it’s going to reflect on your reputation. It could do irreparable harm. Your best chance to preserve your reputation and minimize the harm is to admit the offense, take responsibility for your actions, and seek forgiveness.

Of course, that can be pretty humbling. It’s inconvenient and its embarrassing. So is it worth it? You bet it is.

Proverbs 22:1 (NLT)
Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

A good reputation is worth any expense. So if you need to seek forgiveness, get over your fears and get rid of your pride and seek it. And whenever possible, do it before gossip starts to spread.

D.    You can’t authentically worship God without seeking reconciliation.

I think that’s what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5. If you’re at the Temple offering a sacrifice... if you’re in church worshipping God... and you remember someone’s holding a grudge against you, it’s going to affect your worship. So go and make things right so that you can come back and worship authentically.

[Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”]

Have you ever been in a worship service that was really dry and boring? Not here, of course, but another church? Have you ever felt like the music was off and you just weren’t connecting with God? Like there was something missing?

Don’t be too quick to blame the church. Jesus says that broken relationships affect our worship. So if something feels off, it might not be the worship service. It might be you.

E.    Your witness can be destroyed by offending others.

If you are a Christ-follower, your actions reflect on Jesus. People are basing their opinion of Him on their opinion of you. That’s what I mean by your “witness.” Just like a witness in court is to give an accurate description of some event, you are to give an accurate portrayal of who Jesus is.

Colossians 3:17 (NLT)
And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Whatever you say and do, you say and do as a representative of Jesus. So when you mess up and hurt others in ways Jesus would never approve of, it’s then you need to seek forgiveness.

Listen, you don’t have to be perfect. Most people understand that we all fail from time to time. What they won’t accept is when you won’t admit it. Your witness can be destroyed when you offend someone and refuse to take responsibility for it by seeking forgiveness. On the other hand, your witness can actually become stronger when you go to the person and say, “Look, I messed up. I hurt you, and I was wrong. That’s not who I want to be, it’s goes against how I should be acting as a Christ-follower, and I’m sorry.” When you humbly go to someone like that, instead of pushing people away from Jesus you can actually point them toward Him.

So there are all kinds of reasons why you and I should seek forgiveness whenever we’re at fault. But how?

Five Steps to Relational Healing:

1.    Take the initiative.

Because you are responsible for your own actions, you are also responsible to take the initiative. If you really want the relationship to be reconciled, you are going to be motivated to take the first step by going to the person yourself. Let’s take another look at what Jesus said in Matthew 5...

Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

Circle the word “Go.” You don’t wait for the other person to come to you; you go to him or her. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But catch what Jesus says here...

Matthew 18:15 (NLT)
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”

There’s that word again: “Go.” Circle it. I think this is interesting: according to those verses, whether you are the offender or the victim, it’s up to you to initiate the process of forgiveness and get the ball rolling. Don’t wait for the other person to come to you because you might be waiting forever.

Now let me make something clear. Taking the initiative is your responsibility; how the other person responds is not your responsibility. You do what you can, but if your efforts are rejected that’s not your decision. You will have done everything you could, your conscience can be clear, and you can worship authentically again.

2.    Admit and apologize for your offense.

If you’ve done something wrong, admit it. Don’t try to hid it or deny it or sugar-coat it... and certainly don’t try to rationalize it. Just admit it. “I did this and I shouldn’t have. I offended you, and I’m sorry.”

To give you a couple examples, take a look at these verses. First, this is an apology from the Old Testament offered by David to God. David had sinned against God, and when he realized what He had done he expressed his regret this way...

Psalm 41:4 (NLT)
“O Lord,” I prayed, “have mercy on me. Heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

Yes, that’s David apologizing to God. But I think it’s a pretty good example of what we can say when we apologize to God or to anyone else.

Here’s another example. Jesus told a story about a son who chose to take his rather big inheritance early and basically abandon his family. This son went away with the money and wasted it all on his own pleasures. Finally he realized that he was wrong, that he had hurt his father by taking off like he did, and that he had squandered away the wealth that his father had worked so hard to provide. So this son decided to go back to seek forgiveness from his father.

Luke 15:21 (NLT)
“His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’“

If you know the story, then you know the father forgave his son and welcomed him home with open arms. But again, you see a good example in how this son humbly went to his father, admitted that he was wrong, and apologized for what he had done.

3.    Do your best to make up for it.

No, I’m not talking about penance here. I’m talking about making things right with the person you wronged. If you’ve cost someone money, pay them back. If you’ve spread a lie about someone, go back to the people you told and do your absolute best to clear it up. If you made someone feel unappreciated, do something to show appreciation.

Sometimes there’s absolutely nothing you can do, like when you say something hurtful. Words are like that. Once they come out of your mouth, you can’t take them back. A sincere apology is about the best you can do in those instances. Or maybe a gift as an express of remorse can help.

But in cases where you do have a realistic opportunity to make up for what you’ve done... in whole or in part... do it. And if you can do more than just make up for it, go above and beyond.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector in the city of Jericho. We read about him earlier. And boy, did he have a bad reputation. He was notorious for cheating people on their taxes and pocketing the profit for himself. He had become rich at the expense of the tax payers. Then along came Jesus.

Jesus entered into Jericho, and everyone in town came out to see Him. They had heard about this great teacher and miracle worker, so they lined both sides of the street trying to get a glimpse.

Well, Zacchaeus wasn’t just rich; he was also short--so shore that he couldn’t see Jesus through the crowd. So he looked down the street a ways and saw the solution. Running ahead of Jesus, he went down the street and climbed up in a tree in order to be able to see over the crowd.

So from his new vantage point, he watched as Jesus came down the street. And what a view it was... no basketball players to peek around, no women with big hats... just a clear, unobstructed view of Jesus coming down the street.

Then something interesting happened. Jesus walked up to the tree, looked up, and basically said, “Hey Zack, come on down... let’s do lunch.”

Remember, the crowd hated Zacchaeus. So they ticked off that Jesus... this great moral teacher... was going to hang out with such a terrible person. But Jesus went with Zacchaeus anyway. Zacchaeus hosted Jesus for a meal, and then look what he told Jesus...

Luke 19:8 (NLT)
Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Zacchaeus had done wrong, but he was going to make it right. He was going to repay everyone what he had cheated them of and then some.

Whatever you have done to hurt someone, do whatever you can to make for it.

4.    Avoid repeating the offense in the future.

Apologizing for your mistakes is good, but not making the mistake again is even better. Can I show you what may be the most practical verse in the entire Bible?

Proverbs 21:23 (NLT)
Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.

If you have a habit of saying the wrong thing and offending people, then either learn to control what you say or just keep your mouth shut.

And remember: “That’s just the way I am” is no excuse. Don’t keep repeating the same offense, even if you are willing to continually go back to apologize. If you’re really sorry, stop doing it. You say you don’t have the self-discipline to stop? Then ask God for it.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

But when He gives it to you, you’ve got to use it. Two more passages:

Isaiah 1:16-17 (NLT)
Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good.

1 Corinthians 15:34 (NLT)
Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning.

Time and time again the Bible emphasizes the importance of changing your ways. Stop committing the same offenses over and over again. Admit and apologize for them now, but then stop doing them.

5.    Seek forgiveness without delay.

In other words, do it now. Again, Jesus said that even if you’re in the middle of a worship service, get up and walk out in order to make things right. Don’t delay, do it now.

[Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”]

Why. Because anger can quickly turn to resentment and bitterness, and those can be much harder to deal with than just anger. Your best chance of saving your relationship and experiencing reconciliation is to go to the person immediately... before the anger turns to bitterness. Wounds can become infected. So you’ve got to treat them before the infection sets in and spreads.

So what’s going on in your life? Do you have a fractured relationship that needs mending? Have you caused an offense that you need to apologize for and make restitution for? If so, are you humble enough to go to the person, admit it, and seek forgiveness? Do it today and without delay.


Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson