One of the most beautiful displays of forgiveness is found in the life of Joseph. Though forgiveness was implied earlier in Genesis, such as when Esau greeted Jacob with a hug, the word “forgive” can be first seen at the end of Joseph’s story as written by his brothers.
In summary, we know that Joseph lost his family; after his younger brother was born, his mother died in childbirth. Seems the only one that loved him was his father, Jacob (Israel). His brothers hated him; not for anything he had done, but because of the great love their father had for him. Once Joseph shared his dream, this gave them more reason to hate him. Jacob even openly rebuked him due to that dream. His brothers conspired to kill him, but instead decided to spare his life and throw him into a waterless pit in the wilderness. They again changed the plan, pulling him out the pit and selling him off as a slave for twenty pieces of silver; basically, he was kidnapped from the father whom loved him most. As if this was not enough, as a slave in Egypt he was accused of rape and thrown in prison. After two years in prison, he gave Pharaoh a good interpretation of his dream, and Pharaoh then placed him to rule over his house and all of Egypt.
Later, when Israel died, his brothers never asked Joseph’s forgiveness. Rather, they said that their father said he ought to forgive them:
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him. So, they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before you father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.”’ Now, please, forgive the trespasses of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” Genesis 50:15-18 (NKJV)
Joseph never did ask forgiveness – instead, he told them that “God meant it for good.” What the enemy intended for evil, God turned around for good. Furthermore, he assured them he would provide for them and their children; he comforted them and instructed them to be unafraid. He knew he need not ask forgiveness, because God was in control. Can you imagine that the very perpetrators that caused so much pain could actually want their victim to ask forgiveness?
What an extreme example of forgiveness within the Bible, and placed within the very first book thereof. When there was a great famine in the land, it was Joseph whom provided food for his father and brothers – even after all his brothers put him through. The complete story is found in chapters 37-50.
Forgiveness is a requirement not asked of us by the Lord, it is exclusively commanded of us. If I have learned anything, it is we had better pay close attention of the things He commands of us. In theory, we want to believe we follow in Jesus’ footsteps regarding forgiveness; yet, we continually place stipulations on forgiving others. We tend to make forgiveness something conditional; within our minds, certain requirements must be met, or we grant it only under certain terms. “If they do this, then I will forgive.” Truth be told, forgiveness is an unconditional matter of the heart. We either forgive, or we do not, but there can be no in between. Ask yourselves, are you a Jesus or Joseph, or do you play the role of “victim” as Joseph’s brothers did?
I believe that the greatest factor causing unforgiveness is summed up in one word – anger. Unresolved anger leads to resentment, which then leads to bitterness, which in turn opens wide the door to hatred, and ultimately vengeance. In Acts 8:23, Simon the sorcerer was rebuked by Peter as a man who’s “heart was not right in the sight of God”, and was “in the gall of bitterness”. Gall in Greek is “chole”, meaning “poison”. Anger turned to bitterness increases the risk of the enemy to poison your heart, giving way for his own characteristics to take root within your soul. Your soul consists of your mind, will, and emotions. Once poison enters the body, it is not easily removed, usually bringing death. In this case, it is a spiritual death that will affect God’s ability to remain actively present in your life. Moreover, you will not stand apart from the rest of the world because poison will cause your fruit – the fruit of God’s Spirit living within you – to become rotten.
The Lord will teach us about His principles through little things in everyday life if you pay attention. Lately, each time I purchase a variety of fruit, it ends up uneaten and thrown in the trash. (I know it is terrible to waste food, but I am being truthful here). More than in times past, I have noticed how quickly the bananas I buy are going bad. Though the outside has a little brown spotting and the color a bit dull, this used to be when the fruit was the sweetest and tastiest. Now, as I take hold of one to eat, the peelings sink inwards leaving only deep indentions of my fingertips. The fruit may have looked good enough to eat on the outside, yet the insides are nothing but diseased mush. There is something to be said in this in relation to unforgiveness. If you allow it to take root within your heart, you may put on a “holy” façade while in the presence of others, but all the while your diseased and decaying insides are causing great spiritual harm. Make no mistake about it; you are NOT fooling God. The stench of your rotting fruit has long reached His nostrils. Even in medical books, unforgiveness is classified as a disease.
What do you presume the outcome for you, given by the Lord, if you refuse to forgive? The answer is simple – God in turn will NOT forgive you. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, you heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15. Directly preceding these verses Jesus gives us The Lord’s Prayer as a guide to use in praying. One of the passages states, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” Matthew 6:12. When does He forgive us? As we first forgive others. This prayer was not given by Jesus to unpretentiously repeat. Again, it is to use as a guide. Line by line we break it down, taking action to pray what it instructs. For example, in verse 6 we are to lift up anyone we need to forgive, and DO IT – releasing it to Him forever.
Forgiveness can be very arduous at times, but it is still commanded of us. It is a choice of the will and we must be obedient to abide by His Word. Forgiveness cannot be independent from love. Is it not through love, forgiveness, and mercy that we are even alive today? He owed us nothing and needs us not. We are the ones who owe Him. However, we will never be able to repay the debt caused by our sin. Though we do not deserve forgiveness, by grace He forgave us anyway. What an awesome extension of His mercy and “agape” love toward man.
It is important to emphasize that forgiveness is limitless. In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how many times a brother that sins against him should be forgiven; “Up to seven times”? In verse 22, Jesus replies, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”. This did not mean we are to forgive up to 490 times; this is not an answer based on simple mathematics! This represents God’s eternal forgiveness. We are to treat others in the same manner that our Father treated us. The disciple’s likely encountered people that trespassed against them, asked forgiveness, and then repeated the same transgression regularly. We all have someone in our lives that repeatedly does this. This may be the very reason that prompted Peter to ask Jesus that question in the first place.
What if someone ‘in the Church’ greatly offends you and does not ask forgiveness? So what if this happens! FORGIVE them. Offenses are certain to come Jesus said in Luke 17:1; you are to expect them even from the Church Body. “But you do not understand; they were WRONG.” Again, so what if they are wrong – FORGIVE anyway. Obey the Lord and let Him deal with them. Is vengeance yours or the Lord’s? Satan loves nothing more than to bring division among the Church Body. What better way to achieve this than through unforgiven offenses.
“And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). This is not only referring to you and your family members within your own home, but encompasses those within the Body of Christ as well, our “spiritual family”.
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32)
“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13)
It is as imperative to forgive yourself. This is a colossal area of struggle for the servant of Christ. Do you find yourself asking the Lord’s forgiveness for your same sin(s) repeatedly? This can even be a transgression that occurred in your past, possibly even before you were saved. You want forgiveness, ask forgiveness, yet the guilt from the former sin(s) continues to plague your mind. Why? Because you are not asking in FAITH. It takes faith to forgive, even in forgiving ourselves.
Luke 17:1-5 contains some of the strongest doctrine in Holy Scripture. Here, Jesus warns of offenses, and gives instruction on forgiving others. For the sake of time, I will refrain from quoting and discussing it in depth. I urge you to turn to these passages upon completing this article due to the strong content and warning. (Note: keep in mind that the approximate weight of a ‘millstone’ is three-fourths a TON!) I only will bring attention to verse 5, which states, “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith”. They understood the austerity of Jesus’ words in the story, and recognized their need of increased faith to be equip in obeying them.
Forgiving yourself is as crucial as forgiving others. “But you do not know what I did; I cannot forgive myself.” What you mean to say is that you will not forgive yourself. Remember, forgiveness is a choice of the will. In choosing to continue condemning yourself, what you are really implying is that the Cross was NOT ENOUGH – that His Blood is NOT ENOUGH. I will leave you to marinate upon those final words.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-2)
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalms 103:12)
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)