There are so many things we do not understand—ideas like God’s sovereignty, how he created the intricate and magnificent beauty of the universe, and certain difficult theological issues. However, some of the hardest things to grasp in the Christian faith are emotional issues. Have you ever noticed? Most people may seem like they oppose Christianity because it does not seem rational or intellectually compatible or whatnot, but actually at the root of it, many times, they have a deeper reason for rejecting it, such as, “why do bad things happen to good people?” And most of the time, the things we struggle with are emotional, like, “how do I love God?” or “how do I submit my will wholly to God?” or…
“How do I forgive?”
In the story of Joseph, we learn about forgiving by offering hope and encouragement when Joseph told his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” (Gen. 45:4, ESV). And at the same time, he did not minimize his brothers’ sin but admitted that that they meant it for evil, admitting that what they had done was sinful. Forgiveness does not seek to minimize sin, but it does include giving hope and encouragement. Today, we will look at exact, practical principles we should take note of when trying to forgive someone. I like to call it forgiving “Promptly, Privately, and Permanently.”
Here they are:
- Promptly forgive
A mark of true, godly forgiveness is granting it quickly. In Chapter 45 of Genesis, Joseph says, “Come near to me!” almost immediately after he reveals his identity. Forgiving quickly reveals the purity of heart and the fact that we are not holding on to any more bitterness or hatred by hesitating. God did not hesitate to sacrifice his very own Son for the sin we committed. Jesus did not hesitate to say, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, ESV). So, let us promptly forgive.
- Privately forgive
We saw this in Genesis 45:1 when Joseph sent away the Egyptians in the household before he revealed himself and forgave his brothers. He did so as not to shame his brothers because despite their attempt to even kill and then sell him, he still cared for them. There is an inspiring wisdom in Joseph’s decision. Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12, ESV). Declaring your forgiveness publicly may just stir up more hurt and bitter feelings, as the other person may feel scarred, taken advantage of, and vulnerable. Matthew 18:15 also tells us, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Let us be prudent and discreet by forgiving privately.
- Permanently forgive
Real, unconditional forgiveness is not circumstantial, wavering, and ever-changing. It is permanent. There is no time limit for forgiveness and neither does it depend on the person’s current treatment of us. In Genesis 50, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that he would terminate his forgiveness as a result of their father’s death. However, Joseph strongly reassures them of his unconditional, unending forgiveness, saying, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Gen. 50:19-21, ESV).
I am amazed at the intensity of unfailing love Joseph was able to show his brothers, showing them that he did not forgive them because of their father but out of the true kindness of his heart. I pray that we will be able to forgive just like Joseph did—just like Jesus did. The essence of forgiveness is not thinking about ourselves, but thinking about God‘s sovereign plan in the grand scheme of things and caring for the offender. Notice that Jesus added, “For they do not know what they are doing.” He was not even thinking about Himself as He hung there, nailed to a cross meant only for the worst of Rome’s criminals, struggling to take just one breath, not to mention speak. He was thinking about us—making an excuse for us. Wow, if only God would give us the spiritual strength to forgive in such a powerful way. If Jesus could forgive us unconditionally, by His grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in us, we can too.