Life is messy. Conflict is unavoidable and gets complicated. We say harsh words or fail to live up to a commitment we made. Sometimes you need to apologize and ask forgiveness, other times you are the recipient of an apology.

How should we respond to an apology? I’m still not very good at this, but here are three things I’m working to remember.

When someone apologizes to you, don’t:

  1. Downplay or gloss over the event. This is easy to do, because you feel awkward and want to resolve the situation as soon as possible. I did this recently: I said “It’s no problem, don’t worry about it.” If it was not a problem, why did the person feel obligated to apologize? You should acknowledge the wrong they committed and then grant forgiveness. There’s no need to roll them around in the mud or rehearse their error, but don’t ignore it, either. It may have taken quite a bit of nerve for them to even approach you. You can end with encouragement, when you commend them for being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
  2. Argue with them. This is when you say, “You didn’t do anything wrong and I wasn’t upset by it. There’s no need to apologize!” Maybe you don’t believe they did anything wrong, but apparently they did and felt the need to come talk to you about it. We are all walking the Christian life in different stages and in different seasons. You don’t know how the Spirit is working in them, and we shouldn’t judge. Be gracious and accept the apology.

A friend who lives far away was complaining about someone. This person drives her husband crazy and she told me some of the difficulties they face in the relationship. I listened and empathized with her. Some time later she called and apologized for how she had slandered this person. But, I argued with her. First of all, she was venting her understandable frustrations and secondly, I have not met this person and probably never will. How is her conversation with me going to hurt anyone? Why does she need to apologize? She insisted that she had felt conviction over her words and needed to tell me she was sorry.

I thought about that conversation quite a bit. Is it okay to gossip and slander someone just because we are sure they’ll never find out?
During my dark days in the pit of bitterness, I sometimes shared my grievances with out-of-state friends. I reasoned that since they didn’t live in town and didn’t know the person I was speaking of, it was alright.
But the Lord hears every word and knows every thought. And our own words can hurt us and damage our hearts. I did not become less bitter because I only complained to out-of-town friends. My words, in fact, rehearsed and reinforced my own anger and sense of injustice. My bitterness grew because of my own hateful words.
And Proverbs 18:8 tells us that “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” (NIV). The King James version says it this way: “The words of a talebearer are as wounds…”
3. And finally, when someone apologizes, don’t criticize the apology or rehash the incident. This isn’t forgiving them!  I used to do this to my husband. When he would apologize, I would take the opportunity to further explain why what he did was so hurtful. Then I would tell him how he should have apologized. It wasn’t actually accepting the apology at all and did not help our relationship. 
The goal of any apology is the restoration of the relationship. For that to happen, the wrong must be acknowledged and forgiven. By downplaying or preventing the apology, we are putting a roadblock in the way of reconciliation.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Romans 12:18 (NASB).
the word forgive


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