The slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before [the king], saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.”
–Matthew 18:26

Once you have set up a meeting with the person you have wronged, then you need to ask for the other person’s forgiveness.

There is a right way to do this, and there is a disastrous way to do this. When our girls were little, we tried to teach them how to ask forgiveness. A typical scenario would go like this: One daughter would slug the other daughter. We would hear hysterical crying. My wife and I would go to the room to figure out what had happened and who was the guilty culprit. Once we had identified the offender, we would say, “You need to ask forgiveness from your sister.” Usually, the offender would look at the sister who was crying and say with no emotion, “Sorry.” And then she would run out of the room. Needless to say, the offended party was unmoved by such an act of contrition. Children have to learn how to ask forgiveness, but children aren’t the only ones. Adults need some help with that as well.

We need to understand the difference between making an apology and asking forgiveness. Asking forgiveness is not the same thing as offering an apology. An apology is the coward’s way out. An apology is a one-sided, unilateral decision that you make. Now, an apology can be very remorseful and filled with sorrow: “Oh, words can never express how truly sorry I am for running over your dog.” You can be very, very remorseful when you make an apology. Or your apology can be void of any real remorse. Somebody who is talking to a mate he has offended deeply might say something like, “Well, I admit that mistakes were made in our marriage.” That is about as cold as you can get. That is a unilateral, half-hearted apology. That is different from asking forgiveness. When we ask forgiveness from somebody, we are also asking the other person to do something. When we ask forgiveness, we are asking the other person to release us from a very real obligation that we owe him.

In Matthew 18, Jesus told a parable about a slave who owed his master $16 billion. What did the slave do? Did he stroll into the palace; say, “Hey, I got a letter saying I owe you $16 billion bucks. Sorry about that”; and then walk out? No, when the slave understood the massive debt he owed, he fell prostrate before the king and begged for mercy. He was asking the king to do something: “Forgive me. Release me.” That’s what forgiveness is. Now, you don’t have to go to that extreme necessarily, but never forget that when you are asking forgiveness, you are asking the person you have offended to do something, to release you from your obligation.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “The Right Way to Ask Forgiveness from Someone You’ve Wronged” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2015.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.