Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
A thorny question I am often asked about forgiveness is this: “Should I ask forgiveness from people I have wronged if they are unaware that I have wronged them?” Maybe that person is an employer; maybe it’s a friend; maybe it’s your mate. If you have wronged somebody who is unaware of the offense, should you ask forgiveness anyway? The forgiveness experts are divided on this. Some say, “If you have done something against somebody, whether that person is aware of it or not, then you need to make things right.” Others say, “If the other person is not aware of the offense, then you could make things worse by telling that person what you have done.”
There are three questions you ought to ask yourself before you confess a sin to somebody who is not aware of your sin.
First, is restitution necessary and possible? For example, if you have stolen money from an employer, then to have a clear conscience you need to make restitution, which means you have to make your employer aware of what you have done. Many times we have to make restitution to have a clear conscience.
Second, what are the chances the offense will be discovered? Quite frankly, an affair that happened 40 years ago, which you have already confessed to God and received His forgiveness for, is probably less likely to come to light than something that happened six months ago. So you have to ask yourself, “What if the person I have wronged hears this from somebody else? How is that going to make that person feel?”
Third, will your confession help or hurt the other party? That is what really matters. Sometimes our desire to confess our sins is very self-centered. We want to relieve ourselves of guilt, so we dump our garbage on somebody else. Afterward, we feel great–but the other person feels devastated. So you have to ask, “Will asking forgiveness help or hurt the other party?” Sometimes in a situation, we have to shoulder the guilt and deal with God about it.
Paul suggested a great filter in Ephesians 4:29 to guide us in every decision about what we say. He said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Before you confess a hidden offense to somebody you have wronged, ask yourself, “Is this going to help the relationship, or is it going to hurt it?” These questions will help you know whether to confess a sin to somebody who is not aware of your sin.
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.