JOSEPH AND THE FEATURES OF FORGIVENESS
Joseph had every reason, humanly speaking, to be bitter toward his brothers. They were at his mercy and based on what these men did to him the brothers deserved punishment. Most of us have heard lessons on forgiving others and even how to do it. Our purpose here is to consider what forgiveness looks like when it is truly biblical. There are four features of forgiveness.
I. FORGIVENESS RECOGNIZES THE PROBLEM v. 1-4 “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.”
Some think forgiveness is minimizing the offense or even telling yourself that nothing happened. There are people who are so afraid of feeling the pain that they refuse to believe that anyone wronged them. There are dozens of ways we may try to escape from pain. Everything from drugs to alcohol to work can be a way of attempting to avoid remembering. This is not to say that we have to blow a gasket trying to conger up a problem. However, we must be willing to ask the Lord, “Is there any offense in the past which I am avoiding?”
Joseph has not swept it under the rug or watered down what happened to him. Joseph is straight forward about the offense. He does not accuse or condemn, but just states facts.
II. FORGIVENESS REFUSES ANY PUNISHMENT v. 5 “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves,…”
When one has not forgiven, vengeance is always on his mind. Seeking revenge is not always something to induce physical pain. It may be that one will secretly rejoice when the offender has trouble in his life. Others may use subtle pay backs to get even. For example, one might avoid the person, hoping he will get the message that an offense has occurred. Telling others to build a coalition against the offender is another revenge ploy. Some may use emotional abuse of sarcasm, gossiping, or a critical comment to induce pain.
Joseph refuses any revenge. Instead he encourages his brothers to not be sad or mad over the past. What Joseph is saying to them is, “Guys I am not holding anything against you, so do not be upset at yourself.” Verbally, Joseph communicates that he has torn up the debt sheet. In offending Joseph they had taken some things from him. He had been violated in terms of losing his relationship with his father, going through one difficulty after another, and experiencing loss of reputation. They owed him, but Joseph canceled the debt. Forgiveness is canceling the debt, no longer looking for ways to punish or reclaim what was taken from you.
III FORGIVENESS RELINQUISHES TO GOD’S PURPOSES v. 5-8
It is one thing to agree mentally that all things work together for good, and another thing to yield one’s will to this truth. One may say that because Joseph experienced being a ruler and seeing his dream come true, it was easy for him to yield to God’s sovereignty. As we examine this truth it will be significant to see the same purposes unfolding in our life that Joseph saw become a reality.
Joseph says three times, “God sent me…” He acknowledges that the Lord was responsible for his journey over the last 20 or so years. In verse 8 Joseph even says, “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God;” what Joseph affirms is that God simply used those brothers as instruments in His hand to accomplish His purposes. If Joseph had been angry at the brothers, he would have been angry with God. Whether I see the purposes or not, it is promised that all things are working together for good. It is essential for one to forgive to yield to this truth. God has His purposes that may not be in line with mine, but I must adjust, not Him. There are three purposes for Joseph and for us.
A. To Preserve Life Physically v. 5 “God sent me before you to preserve life.”
If the famine had occurred in the whole world with no Joseph in Egypt, the nation of Israel would have died. God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have been a farce. The nation had to be preserved physically for the purposes God had for His people. Maybe that strict, intolerant father was used by God to keep you from doing things that could have ended your life physically.
B. To Preserve Life Spiritually
Things had been happening to Joseph’s brothers as recorded in chapter 38. Immorality and idolatry were all around them. The world was affecting them. In order to keep His people pure, God had to move them to Egypt. The Lord chose to send Joseph to Egypt, and allow a famine in order to move Israel.
God will do what is necessary to protect us from sin. Sometimes the offenses may come because this is the only way He can bring us to Christ. Other times the Lord uses offenses to teach us spiritual truths that we could not otherwise learn. It may be that the only way I can learn to walk in the Spirit is through a rejection. God always uses all things to produce spiritual life.
C. To Preserve Life Eternally
If the nation had died of starvation, we would have no Messiah. The eternal purpose of God was at stake. Our eternal salvation would have been ruined had not God spared His people. Every event, both good or bad, works toward God’s eternal purpose. Even rejection is used by the Lord to fulfill His eternal purpose. God’s eternal purpose is that we be conformed to the image of Christ. Every person is ordained in our life to accomplish that eternal goal.
The way to verbalize to God our relinquishment to His purposes is by saying thank you for every offense that has come into our life. (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is accepting what God has done and is doing with us.
IV. FORGIVENESS RESTORES THE PERPETRATOR v. 9-15
Notice that Joseph, in verse 11, promises to provide for his brothers. He is reaching out to them, doing good to them in spite of the evil done by them. This is turning the other cheek that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5. In verse 15 Joseph weeps and kisses his brothers. He is showing love to them, the opposite of what one would expect from a man who had been treated like Joseph. True forgiveness will look for ways to restore the relationship. The offending party may not always be receptive to this, but an attempt must be made for true freedom.
Is there anyone you need to forgive? If a person comes to mind, then apply these truths to that situation and experience freedom.