Without the spirit of forgiveness we cannot imitate our Savior who forgave us of our sins, nor can we be in His eternal presence.
When God, thru Moses, led his people to the Promised Land, he instructed them to drive out all the inhabitants of the land. These people were idol worshipers and God did not want his people mixing with them for fear that the Jews would take on their idol worship and forsake God.
Given a Clean Slate, they could worship and serve the true God as he instructed and remain faithful to Him alone.
King Josiah served God from an early age. One of his first acts in serving God was to tear down the “high places” and destroy the wooden, carved and molded images. He too was creating a Clean Slate for the children of God to begin serving God again without the baggage of the previous evil kings.
The history of the Jewish people reveals that they were repeatedly rejecting God and turning to idols and worship of false gods.
When one is baptized to become a Christian we also are given the opportunity of a Clean Slate.
Psalm 51:7 says “we shall be whiter than snow.” All of our previous sins are forgiven by the grace of God. Yes, we will stumble and fall from time to time, but Christ’s blood continually cleanses us from our sins as we repent of them.
Let us not be like Israel of old. Let’s not turn back to our former lusts of the flesh. Let’s not take up our “idols” and reject God in doing so.
We have a Clean Slate - let’s fill it with good things (Philippians 4:8).
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal to rebuke the Pharisees and scribes for grumbling against Jesus who was eating with tax collectors and sinners. I recognize that in the context the prodigal represents the sinners, the older brother represents the scribes and Pharisees, and the Father represents Jesus or God. He was asking the scribes and Pharisees to rejoice that the sinners were coming to Him. They just couldn’t get it.
However, as we apply this story to us today, I can’t help but ask when the prodigals come seeking help, how do I respond. Am I like the father or like the older brother?
Keep in mind what is happening here. The prodigal son had made all kinds of mistakes. The prodigal’s demise was completely of his own making. He was in dire straits because he had done stupid and sinful things. He hadn’t lived right, but life treated him poorly. He hadn’t just been a victim of circumstance. In the story, notice that he didn’t actually come back to the father seeking forgiveness; he came back seeking help. He didn’t say, “Forgive me and accept me back as one of your sons.” He planned to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Why was he planning to say this? Because he was eating with the pigs and the hired servants in his father’s house were better off than he was. His father could help.
However, he didn’t even get to finish his speech. The father was so excited that the son had realized his errors and was seeking him, he jumped in and said, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him…” You know the rest.
There was a fly in this ointment. The older brother got home and learned about the father’s compassion and mercy. He learned that the father hadn’t simply treated the prodigal like a servant but like a son. That “son of yours” didn’t deserve it. He had brought his misery on himself. He had made his mistakes. The older brother had never made mistakes. He hadn’t wasted his inheritance. He had always done just what the father asked. But the father hadn’t even given him a young goat. It would have been one thing if the younger son had lived like the older brother and life had just mistreated him. If he had ended up with the pigs through no fault of his own, the older brother could potentially see a reason for help. But this was ridiculous. It was perhaps even sinful. This was the wrong response. The right response was punishment. The right response was leaving him to suffer in the natural consequences of his own stupid, sinful mistakes.
Sadly, the older brother was unable to see the grace of his father in his own life. He hadn’t recognized that the clothes on his back came from the father. He didn’t see that every meal he had eaten in that home had come from his father. All he could see was his work and how he had accomplished so much for the father. This celebration should have been his, not the prodigal’s. The father should have declared a feast for him because of his goodness, not a celebration of this prodigal’s profligacy. The father should have shouted from the highest rooftop, “Look at my older son. He is awesome. Look at how well he has managed his life in my service. Let’s have a feast for him.” It was a slap in the face to his good service to watch this younger brother be helped when he hadn’t been as wise as the older. Which shows another struggle. The older brother didn’t understand what the celebration was about. The feast was not a reward for the prodigal’s sins. It was a celebration of the prodigal’s return. The prodigal recognized he had done something wrong and turned to the father for help. That should be celebrated. That should be met with mercy and compassion.
But what about us? When prodigals seek help, how do we respond? Are we like the father, responding with compassion and mercy? Or are we like the older brother, responding with self-righteous indignation? When the drug addict comes forward for the 100th time, do we turn up our nose or are we willing to embrace him and compassionately help him in this decision to return to the Father? “Why do the elders keep putting up with that man? Haven’t they noticed me? I’ve never done drugs.” When someone’s child goes astray spiritually, are we willing to weep with the parents who weep or do we remain aloof asking, “What did they expect with the way they raised that child?” Do we think to ourselves, “Why does everyone rush around to support them? I’m the one who raised good kids”? When poor stewards of money come to say they are in dire straits and they need advice and help, do we embrace them for recognizing their problem and offer compassion or do we judge them saying, “You made your bed, go lie in it. Nobody ever gave me any handouts. I’m doing so well because I’ve worked at it”? Do we grumble, thinking, “It just isn’t fair. It’s all these people who mess up their lives that get help. Nobody ever helps me”? When the adulterer whose family is falling apart asks the congregation to pray for her, do we not only pray for her but with her or do we walk passed with eyes askance, avoiding her look because we just can’t understand how anyone could do such a thing and then have the nerve to ask us to pray for her. Do we think, “How dare she come here asking for this after what she’s done. She should be more like me. I’ve never committed adultery”?
Of course, we are certain we are like the father because if folks from the world come to us with these awful stories but are willing to become a Christian, we race to them, embracing them, forgiving their past, and offering to help. However, keep in mind in the context of this story, the sinners and tax collectors were not “alien sinners” coming to God. They were children of the covenant who hadn’t kept the covenant. The Pharisees and scribes were lawyers of the covenant, spending their days and nights studying it to the nth degree. Yes, we’ll often be the father to folks from the world coming in, but what about to our younger or older brethren who have made different mistakes from us? Are we the father to them? Or are we the grumbling older brother, complaining, resting in self-righteousness?
Finally, at the heart of this story is the fact that the older brother did not recognize his own prodigality. It is utterly ridiculous for him to claim, “I never disobeyed your command.” He may not have gone off into the far country. He may not have been as vile and rebellious as the prodigal. However, there is not a son alive and never has been (except Jesus) who never disobeyed his father. He didn’t realize how much he needed the father’s mercy and compassion himself. He thought he had earned what he had and that the father hadn’t actually given him what he deserved. Perhaps if we can all recognize how prodigal we’ve been, how much we need mercy and compassion, we’ll be more like the father to our brethren.
Walk into a doctor’s office and look around. Why is everyone there? Because they’re sick and they need a physician to get better. Walk into a Toastmasters club and look around you. Why is everyone there? Because they want to get better at speaking in front of people and they need help. Walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and look around you? Why is everyone there? Because they are struggling with alcohol and they need help overcoming.
Here is what is interesting about the above organizations. No one tries to hide their sickness in a doctor’s office. No one tries to hide their fear of public speaking in Toastmasters. No one tries to hide their struggles in an A.A. meeting. Why? Because in these settings they all know everyone is there for the same reason and they are all too desperate for help to hide it.
Now, walk into a church’s assembly and look around you? Why is everyone there? The reality is everyone is there because they are all sinners and need a Savior (Romans 3:23-24). They are all there because they’ve learned without God they can’t make it and they need Him to help them win the victory over sin in their lives (Romans 7:14-25).
This is where we start having trouble. Even though that is where every single one of us is. When we come into a church’s assembly, we often perceive something different. Instead of seeing a group of people who are struggling with sin and have gathered to get some help, most of us see ourselves as struggling with sin but see everyone else as really good people who are just coming together because they are so spiritual. When we’re at a doctor’s office, we don’t care if everyone knows we’re sick, but when we’re “at church” we try to cover up any spiritual sickness we have going on. We don’t want others to see. We’re afraid they’ll look down on us.
Sadly, some Christians are like that. Some are like Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50 who actually don’t realize how sick they are. If asked why they are there, they really might say, “Because I’m so spiritual,” while in their mind adding, “Too bad everyone is not as spiritual as I am.” Having met too many of these Christians, many of the rest of us put a lid on our real struggles and try to fight them alone until they become too big to hide. Sadly, in those situations some folks just give up the spiritual fight entirely.
In this situation, the ones who should really be ashamed are not the ones who have continued struggles. Rather, the ones who should be ashamed are the ones who think they’ve got their lives under control on their own and aren’t being honest about how sinful they really are, how much they need a Savior, and how humble they really ought to be as they’re dealing with people whose sins are different. Remember, in the parable of the prodigal son, it wasn’t the prodigal son who was the bad guy. It was the older brother who was too good to go in and celebrate with the returning prodigal and the father.
Please, take a good long look at yourself. Why are you here?
1. You don’t have to cover up the sins to forgive.
2. Remember your place.
Now we’ll learn two more keys from Joseph that will help us grow in forgiveness.
3. See God’s work through it.
Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). I don’t believe Joseph means God directly caused this sin in order to preserve people. No, the sin came because Joseph’s brothers meant evil. However, God, in His awesome power used it to accomplish good. That is how amazing our God is.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God works all things together for good. That doesn’t mean God directly caused all things. It simply means God uses all things. He even uses the sins of others for our good.
I’m not saying we should be excited about the sins of others with some kind of masochistic glee. However, as we look back and look at how we have been impacted, look for how God used these sins for our good just as He used the sins of Joseph’s brothers for their (and our) good.
4. Keep the relationship the primary thing.
I certainly realize that Joseph didn’t simply welcome his brothers with open arms right from the beginning. I know he tested them. However, I can’t read passages like Genesis 43:30; 45:1-5 without seeing that Joseph was thinking about the relationship. These were his brothers. He wanted that relationship restored more than he wanted them punished.
I can’t help but notice that not once does Joseph say, “Hey guys, remember that I told you that you would bow before me? Guess I was right.” The relationship was more important to Joseph than being right.
If we can keep the importance of the relationship in the forefront, we can much more easily forgive.
I know forgiveness is not easy. I know having a forgiving spirit is especially hard if the one who wronged us won’t even seek forgiveness. However, keeping these four principles in mind will definitely help us grow in forgiveness.
One of the hardest things God has asked us to do is forgive. When Jesus taught the apostles to forgive, their response was, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:3-5). They knew forgiving was hard. I wish I could give you a perfect formula for easy forgiveness. I can’t. However, the story of Joseph provides four keys to make forgiveness easier and grow in your ability to forgive others even when they’ve badly mistreated you.
First, keep in mind that Joseph’s brothers did not just mistreat him. They sold him into slavery. Almost every bad thing that happened in his life came from what they did to him. If anyone had a right to a grudge or to sulk in misery because of his dysfunctional family, Joseph is the one. Yet, he forgave his brothers. Notice two of the keys from Joseph to help us forgive.
1. You don’t have to cover up the sins to forgive.
Some folks act like forgiveness means pretending the person never did anything wrong. That’s not the way Joseph dealt with it. When Joseph’s brothers came to him seeking forgiveness in Genesis 50:20, he didn’t cover up what his brothers did. He called a spade a spade. “You meant evil against me.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you go around touting and reminding of the sins. I’m simply pointing out that forgiveness doesn’t mean acting like nothing ever happened, tiptoeing around some issue because we are afraid it might ruffle feathers. If someone sinned, they sinned. Call it that.
2. Remember your place.
When Joseph’s brothers feared Joseph would not forgive them, he set their minds at ease by saying, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). He understood his place. He was just a man. He was not God.
For me, this means two things. First, it is not my place to seek vengeance. Nor is it my place to punish. That is God’s domain. (Clearly, I’m not dealing with the issue of family or congregational discipline.) My biggest hindrance to forgiveness is wanting the violator to be punished. But Romans 12:19 is pretty clear. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Second, since I am not God, I am also a sinner. I can get in a competition with others if I want about who is the worse sinner. However, that isn’t going to help me in eternity and it isn’t going to help any of my relationships. The fact is, there was one perfect person who had a right to hold all others in contempt for their sins. However, instead of doing so, He died so all others could be forgiven. I need to remember that I need forgiveness as much as anyone. Therefore, I should be as willing to offer it to others as Jesus was willing to offer it to me.
Joseph is a great example for us in many ways. Hopefully we can learn to grow in his forgiving spirit. Look forward to next week when we’ll learn two more keys to having a forgiving spirit.
I have heard many people say, “I could never make heaven my home because of the terrible life I have lived. I have done so many bad and sinful things in my life, God would never forgive me of my sins.” The individuals that make this claim have not studied God’s word enough. Some of the leading characters in the Bible engaged in some very sinful activites.
Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of a great nation and bless all the families of the earth in him. In Genesis 12:12-13 Abraham went down into Egypt. He was afraid Pharaoh would kill him to get his beautiful wife Sarah, so he said Sarah was his sister. He lied. We also see in Genesis 20:1-2 that Abraham went to Gerar where there was a king named Abimelech. Abraham again feared for his life and told King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister. He had a habit of not telling the truth.
Abraham and Sarah had a child in their old age, the child was named Isaac. Isaac also married a beautiful woman named Rebekah. In Genesis 26:6-7, Isaac, like his father, told the men in Gerar that Rebekah was his sister. He also was a liar.
Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons named Esau and Jacob. Esau was the oldest twin and therefore was supposed to receive the birthright and his father’s blessing. Jacob took advantage of Esau and was able to get Esau’s birthright for a bowl of pottage. Rebekah loved Jacob more that Esau. She overheard Isaac, her husband, telling Esau to go into the field and get some venison to make him a savory meat dish, and he would give him his blessing before he died. Rebekah devised a plan to deceive her aged husband who had lost most of his eye sight. She had Jacob get a kid from the flock and kill it so she could make a savory meat dish. Because Esau was a hairy man, she took the animal’s skin and put it on Jacob’s arms so Isaac would think Jacob was Esau. When Jacob took the meat to Isaac, he asked are you Esau, and Jacob said yes he was and received his father blessing. This family continues to lie and deceive.
Another great Bible character was King David. In II Samuel 11 there is an account of David walking on the roof and saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, taking a bath. He lusted after her and sent one of his messengers to bring her to him. The Bible said he “lay with her” and the woman conceived and was with child. David tried to hide his sin by bringing her husband Uriah home from fighting the King’s battles. Uriah was a very loyal soldier and would not sleep with his wife because his fellow soldiers were sleeping in the fields. David then tried to get Uriah intoxicated thinking he would then go into his wife, this also failed. He sent Uriah back to the battle. David then sent word to Joab, his commander, to put Uriah on the front line and withdraw the troops. Joab followed David’s command resulting in Uriah’s death. David committed adultery and had a brave and loyal soldier murdered. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David about his sin. Nathan did that and David, deeply grieved because of his sin, repented. In Psalm 32:5, David said, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity, I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sins. In Acts 13:22, Stephen quoted the Lord saying “I have found David the son of Jesse a man after my own heart.”
The great apostle Paul said in I Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthily of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” In Romans 7:7-25, Paul was very frustrated and says over and over when he tried to do right he kept sinning and doing carnal things.
From these examples, it is quite apparent that many of the outstanding Bible characters did many sinful things, including lying, deceitful acts, adultery, and murder. When they repented God forgave and forgot their sins. If you think you have lived too sinful of a life for God to forgive you, realize you cannot limit the power of God to forgive. If God’s forgiveness was powerful enough to forgive these folks, it is powerful enough to forgive even you.
Recently, someone introduced me to a video clip entitled “Four Yorkshiremen.” The video is of four apparently wealthy Englishmen reminiscing about the good ol’ days when they were poor. For a little over three minutes these men humorously one-up each other about how poor and miserable they were as children. They didn’t argue about who was wealthier. Rather, the point was seemingly that the one who had to overcome the most was really the best of the lot.
This video is played for laughs and it is very funny. However, it reminds me of a similar competition I’ve heard among Christians. We all know it would be bad to compete over who is the better Christian or who is spiritually the strongest. Instead, Christians sometimes get together and start talking about what they were like when they were sinners.
Don’t misunderstand me. I think it is great to lead with our weaknesses and be open and honest about where we’ve been and why we need a Savior in Jesus Christ. However, sometimes I’ve seen these conversations seemingly get off into a competition about who had to overcome the worst enslavement to sin. The problem is these penitent Christians almost sound proud of how sinful they had been. Have you ever heard folks get into that kind of conversation? Have you ever been involved in that kind of conversation? It is almost as if we have to prove to everybody that we were the worst and not in the humble way with which Paul claimed to be the chief of sinners (I Timothy 1:15). In that passage, Paul was actually giving glory to God about how much forgiveness God had. He was not bragging about how bad he had been and how much he had to overcome.
If you’ve never been in on this kind of conversation, you can ignore this article. However, if you have, allow me to offer you something to think about. When we are truly penitent of our sins, mourning for what we’ve done (II Corinthians 7:10), there will be no part of us that wants to brag or prove we were the greater sinner. The fact is, just like those four Yorkshiremen, all this does is give us some kind of backdoor pass to bragging about our spirituality. We aren’t bragging about how spiritual we are now, but we are bragging about how we had to overcome more and therefore are more spiritual.
As we share the gospel with others, we may share the sins from which God set us free. As we strive to overcome sin, we will most certainly confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). As we glorify God, we may admit the sins over which we were powerless and from which God freed us. However, we’ll never have the desire to prove we are the best because we were the worst. We’ll never take pride in how awful we were. We’ll never purposefully try to one-up each other in our past sinfulness. We won’t feel the need to prove anything about our spirituality. We’ll simply be thankful God forgave us. Let’s keep it there.