I love the story of Joseph. In Joseph we see someone who was prepared by God for a mighty task: saving Egypt. Joseph went through some tough, tough times. He was sold into slavery by his brothers (which is better than being killed, which is what they were intending to do), he was falsely accused of a crime by someone who wanted to commit the very same crime, and he was forgotten about by someone he counted as a friend. Granted, Joseph wasn’t pure as the driven snow. The dreams God showed him he boasted about to his brothers and it even got back to his father (no wonder his brothers hated him). And when you look at how Joseph turned the food surplus gathered during the years of abundant harvest into gain for Pharaoh by essentially converting all but the priests into slaves during the famine (Genesis 47), one cannot conclude that Joseph is a perfect role model. However, one thing he did do well is forgive. Forgiveness is important. After all, Jesus’ own words are:
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” – Mark 11:25, NIV
God takes forgiveness seriously. As He has forgiven us of our sins, He expects us to forgive those who have wronged us. Note that Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on the seriousness of the offense. He simply says, “If you hold anything against anyone,” which doesn’t leave us any wiggle room. Any grudge or misgiving we hold in our heart we need to let go of because it simply is a sin to hold on to it. Now back to Joseph:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. – Genesis 50:15-21, NIV
It is absolutely remarkable that Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. We see from the first encounter with them he is prepared to do so. After all, if he held a grudge, he could simply have found out where his dad was and then had them killed. Only Pharaoh was greater in all of Egypt. We know he didn’t have qualms with executions. Joseph could have come up with a convenient story of how they were spies, if need be. Therefore, if he had wanted to take revenge against his brothers, he very well could have at any time. But he didn’t.
His brothers wrongly assumed that the whole reason he hadn’t was because dad was still alive. Joseph didn’t want to break dad’s heart so he didn’t raise his hand against his brothers. There’s some logic to this. After all, King David had a hit list he wouldn’t take care of himself, whether because he swore an oath or because he didn’t get around to it, so he asked his son, Solomon, to take care of it for him (see 1 Kings 2). People are like that. But Joseph wasn’t. Joseph had truly forgiven his brothers. After all, through the years he had come to understand the events that took place were allowed for a reason. He needed to go to Potiphar’s home. He needed to learn how to run a large household. The next step would be to run a large organization… such as a prison. So it was logical he ended up there next. And after he had gotten experience running the prison under his belt, he was called to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and there he was, second in command of all Egypt. He understood that the evil he had to go through had a purpose: to prepare Joseph to save many, many lives which would have been lost in the famine. Given that perspective, it becomes a little easier to forgive. But we’re still talking about them wanting to kill him!
In our Christian walk we’re going to have to deal with people who will wrong us. We will have to face folks who hurt us, or take advantage of us, or abuse us, or cheat us, just because they can. The natural response is to become angry. Truth be told, we should bridle that anger so we do not sin. The Bible commands us on that one (Ephesians 4:26-27). But once we’ve overcome our anger, we must purposefully seek to forgive.
A mentor of mine, Pastor Tom Fillinger, and I have talked often about the need for forgiveness within the Church and by church members. One of the points he brings out so well is that when we don’t forgive, we’re the ones who are typically hurt the most by it. Many times the person we hold a grudge against either has no idea we’re upset or doesn’t realize the extent of our misery. That’s something to think about. We’re losing sleep, not them. And it all goes back to us not being willing to forgive.
As we begin a fresh, new year, let’s search our hearts. Let’s look for the grudges we haven’t let go of, for the situations where we’ve felt wronged and we cling tight to, and all the hurt and pain we hold within ourselves. And let’s let all of that go. Let’s forgive those who have wronged us. Let’s put the hurt aside and let it trouble us no longer. Let us begin fresh, seeing that a sovereign God has allowed these situations for a reason. Maybe we don’t understand why, but we don’t have to. We just have to trust. And forgive. If Father God can forgive those who wrongly accused, sentenced, and then crucified His Son, we can forgive any wrongs against us, too.