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.