Sunday School Lessons

What Do You Fear When You Hurt Someone?

Here’s a question for you: Why do we apologize and make amends when we have hurt someone else?  Sure, there’s the stereotype of the celebrity, businessman, or politician who seems to apologize just to remain famous, rich, or in office (although I’m not qualified to judge someone’s heart).  But there are other reasons, too: Children sometimes apologize because they are compelled to.  Employees may apologize because they are concerned for their jobs.  Those still seem like “transactional” apologies, though.  On the other hand, when we’ve hurt loved ones, restoration is often about our relationship: we seek and desire their presence in our lives, and without them, we’d be a little sad and a little empty (or a lot).

In our study of Psalm 51, let’s skip to verses 16-17 (coming back to verses 14-15 in the next article).

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Psalms 51:16‭-‬17 NIV

A commentary says that, “The law of sacrifice did not include any offerings for sins of this nature [i.e., deliberate and consciously rebellious]”  (Tesh & Zorn, p.367, 373, citing Numbers 15:22-31)  This was something that I hadn’t thought of: Numbers 15:30-31 makes it clear that – in the law of Moses – defiance was grounds for being “cut off”, and doesn’t offer any sort of sacrifice to make up for that.  (I appreciate God being gracious to me for all of my sins, though.  If you haven’t yet accepted His forgiveness, He still offers the same to you today through the ultimate sacrifice: Jesus Christ’s choice to exchange His perfect life for what our sinful choices deserved.)

I wonder if David was thinking back to when Saul (the king of Israel at the time) got impatient waiting for Samuel (a prophet), and Saul offered a sacrifice on his own, rather than waiting for Samuel to arrive (see 1 Samuel 13:5-14).  Even though a sacrifice was a good thing in the right context, doing so in violation of God’s instructions (see 1 Samuel 13:13) resulted in Saul being condemned to lose the kingdom of Israel (to David, no less).

In the same way that getting baptized without accepting Jesus is just getting wet, David understands that offering a sacrifice of atonement without having a heart of repentance would have been (in my own words) just a “cookout”.

I’ve said it before (and will probably say it again), but Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us an excellent lesson on the importance of having our heart right before God.  When our heart is right, our actions follow.  On the other hand, if we have good actions (i.e., putting on a show externally) without truly having our hearts aligned with God, our actions don’t get us any closer to Him.

We are to worship God in spirit – or the Spirit – and in truth (see John 4:23-24), and not just call upon Him selfishly when we want something for ourselves, nor should we do “good things” only to try and compel Him to give us what we want.

Just to clarify, though, verses 18-19 confirms that sacrifices were still appropriate in the right circumstances.  What differentiates these sacrifices from those in verse 16 appears to be the heart of the one giving the sacrifice, either a heart that is rebellious or a heart that is righteous; one that is resisting or one that is repenting.

Some interpreters think that verses 18-19 were added later, at a time when the walls of Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt, and the people found hope in David’s psalm here.  That may be true (although it doesn’t preclude the entire thing from being inspired by God).  However, if these verses were written by David, it sounds to me like he is also showing his heart for the people and the city of Israel.  He is the leader of the people, and if he can’t get right with God, his sin is likely to result in consequences to the people for whom he is responsible.

In the end, the key here (as Jesus taught us – see Matthew 5:21-48, for instance) is that worshipers of God must get their heart right, so that our actions can better glorify God.  Doing the right thing with a corrupt heart – maybe trying to gain popularity or fame – just makes things worse in the end, especially when those who thought that you were righteous eventually learn that you were just being selfish.  (And, by the way, God already knows the truth.)  On the other hand, when we repent of our sins, accept Jesus’ salvation and lordship, and follow God, the result should be righteous behavior that brings glory to God.

So, don’t just offer up sacrifices (whether of your time, skills, money, or possessions).  Instead, seek out a heart that is right with God again, and enjoy living in the family of God, enjoying His glory and blessings while you make Him happy with your actions.  In the same way, don’t just pile on good things for a fellow person who you have hurt, in order to try and “make” them forgive you.  Instead, work to make things right in the relationship first; then, kindness should be the natural result, and – I suspect – will be much more welcome.

From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 16, 2022


  • The Lookout, October 16, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms, Volume 1, S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn, © 1999, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, MO.

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