Is Apology a Sign of Weakness?
SHARP differences of opinion exist as to the matter of apology. Some persons view it as weakness, as did the writer who said: “No sensible person ever made an apology.” Another writer takes this view: “It elevates the whole tone of one’s being to apologize.” What is the Christian view of apology?
Apology, according to Webster’s New International Dictionary, is “an acknowledgment intended as an atonement for some improper or injurious remark or act; an admission to another of a wrong or discourtesy done him, accompanied by an expression of regret.”
Now, how does God view this matter of admitting that one has been in the wrong, when it comes to human relations? What God approves is the right course.
First, we should note that when the Christian prays to God for forgiveness, he is, in effect, apologizing to God. When it comes to human relations, Christians follow the guiding principles set forth by Jesus Christ, who declared: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matt. 7:12) When we have been wronged, how much we appreciate the offender’s coming to us and apologizing! How such apology restores peaceful relations! How often we feel even more friendly toward the repentant person than before the offense or transgression took place!
Seeing, then, what course of action we appreciate, should we not extend this same kindness to others? It is a matter of love and humility. If we love our neighbor, we will do to him what we want done to ourselves. If one is in the wrong, his love should prompt him to take the course Jesus recommended as the right one. Humility is also involved. It takes humility to apologize. Pride is a barrier; the proud person finds it difficult or impossible to apologize, even when he knows he has been in the wrong.
In other scriptures Jesus indicated that apology on the part of the offender is the proper course: “If your brother commits a sin give him a reproof, and if he repents forgive him. Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3, 4) When one is in the wrong and comes to his offended brother and apologizes, as indicated by the words “I repent,” he is to be forgiven. Just as the offender should be forgiven out of love and for the sake of peace and unity in the Christian congregation, so for these very reasons also should apology be made.
The Most High God places great importance on peace and unity. We can be certain of that from Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:23, 24: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”
Jesus was referring here to the Jewish practice of bringing one’s sacrifice to the court of the temple, awaiting the moment when the priest would approach to receive it. The one with the gift waited until his offering was taken, slain by the priest and then presented upon the altar of sacrifice. It was at this solemn moment, when the Israelite was about to cast himself upon God’s mercy and seek in that offering a seal of divine forgiveness, that he must be sure he was at peace with his brothers. If he remembered that he had wronged a brother in some way, what then? Was he to say: ‘As soon as I have offered up this gift to God I will go straight to my brother and apologize’? No, but before another step was taken—even before the offering was presented—this reconciliation was to be sought, though the gift would have to be left unoffered before the altar. Jesus indicated, then, that a Christian cannot be at peace with God, no matter what his sacrifice, if he is not at peace with his brothers.
What does the Christian learn from this? That to be at peace with God we must be at peace with the members of his visible organization, one’s Christian brothers. So the Christian’s relations with his Christian brothers represent his relationship with Almighty God himself. Before we can make peace with God, we must make it with his organization on earth. So Jesus’ counsel is emphatically clear: Be at peace with the organization of Jehovah God and with the members thereof, one’s Christian brothers. To be at peace with one’s brothers, and hence with God, one may at times need to straighten out difficulties; and this, in turn, may require an apology.
How, then, can apology be viewed as a sign of weakness? It cannot, if one has the spirit of God and an understanding of what God requires in regard to love, humility, peace and unity.
Far from being weakness, sincere apology is a power. God’s Word declares: “A brother transgressed against is more than a strong town, and there are contentions that are like the bar of a dwelling tower.” (Prov. 18:19) What will remove these formidable barriers to peace and unity and friendly relations? Will pride and its manifestations rectify matters? No! But there is something powerful enough to remove barriers to the restoration of friendly relations as formidable as the iron bars to be found in a fortress, and that is apology!
There is also the matter of justice and righteousness. Sincere apology shows regard for righteousness. Just as sacrifice to God without keeping peace with one’s brothers is valueless in God’s eyes, so also is sacrifice without the carrying on of righteousness. The divine rule is: “To carry on righteousness and judgment is more preferable to Jehovah than sacrifice.” (Prov. 21:3) The person who apologizes for what wrongs he may have committed shows due regard for righteousness.
Contrary to the opinion of many worldlings, apology is not a sign of weakness. It is a power that can shatter barriers to unity. It is a sign of the practicing of righteousness. The heart filled with love and humility benefits from the power of apology.