Why is saying “I’m sorry” so difficult? Those few words can mean the difference between a restored and broken relationship. I remember once in the 5th grade when another boy and I started fighting the teacher made us apologize and hold hands while the other students passed by during lunch. We really didn’t mean we were sorry about the fight but we truly were sorry about the consequences and shame it had caused.
The phrase “I’m Sorry” literally means “I am a wretched, worthless, and poor individual” and dates back several centuries. People would say this to debase themselves in hope to receive mercy and favor. It really means “Because of my terrible character, I cannot help what I’ve done.” It’s original meaning didn’t seek to change one’s character but just hoped stating one’s bad character would bring about understanding and mercy. I’m not sure this is the best approach when you’ve done something wrong. Calling yourself wretched, worthless, and poor doesn’t seem to be a Biblical approach towards seeking forgiveness.
What about, “I apologize”? Now that phrase seems better considering the meaning of “I’m sorry. The word “apologize” comes from the Greek word “apologia” and means “to give a reason or answer”. Literally “I apologize” means to defend oneself by giving an answer, excuse, or defense. This too seems incomplete. Giving the reason for offense doesn’t indicate sincere regret. Someone’s reason or excuse may be “I did that because you deserve it” or “everyone makes mistakes.” This way only seeks to show why it’s right.
Now, I’m not saying every time you or someone else has said, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” they didn’t mean it. I’ve said both when my heart truly regretted what I’ve done. My point here is to help you see the Biblical approach of seeking forgiveness. “Forgive me” has a more Biblical foundation and clearly communicates one’s desire to right a wrong and change one’s character. Seeking forgiveness is expressing repentance. If we sin against someone by what we say, do, or neglect to do, there is a debt owed to that person. Jesus told Peter we should forgive a debt seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). This phrase means to forgive someone completely and as frequently as necessary. There should be a mutual sincerity when it comes to forgiveness from the one seeking and giving it. Matthew 6:12 says, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The qualifying phrase here is “as we also have.” If you want forgiveness then you must give it. If you truly want to give it, you must be willing to seek it when you are wrong. Why do giving and receiving forgiveness go hand-in-hand? Because Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive others your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you.”
Now, it’s ok to use the words “I’m sorry”, “I apologize”, or “please forgive me”. Just make sure your motives are right. Don’t defend your wrong actions. That’s pride. Don’t just confess or state the sin, own up to it. Take responsibility for it and do whatever necessary to correct it so you don’t do it again. That’s true repentance. Humbly approach the one you’ve offended by confessing your sin, seeking forgiveness, taking responsibility, being willing to do whatever it takes to make it right, and desiring true character change. These steps will lead to your relationship being healed.