Have you ever been hurt or betrayed by someone close to you? Are you holding onto that pain, with sorrow or bitterness, or have you been working on extending grace? Our wounds may never fully heal, but we have to forgive. Even if the person never repents or apologizes. Even if you have been rejected, cast out of the family, abused, lied about. You have to forgive. I have to forgive. For our sakes. With God’s help. Because He has forgiven us. Because Jesus tells us to in Matthew 18. And because it is necessary for the very well-being of our souls and bodies.
My trusty old 1950’s Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word forgive as follows: “1. To give up claim to requital from (an offender); to pardon; as, to forgive one’s enemies. 2. To give up resentment or claim to requital on account of (an offense); to remit the penalty of; as, to forgive a wrong.” I like this definition. To give up resentment or claim, to pardon. Not because they deserve it, but because God’s grace showered upon me requires me to return the favor to my fellow man and give them grace ~ unearned, undeserved mercy and love and forgiveness and kindness.
I read this morning in Genesis 42-45 the account of Joseph, as the second in command over Egypt, forgiving his ten older brothers. I am astounded and humbled, every time I read this passage. Twenty-two years before, they had treated him unspeakably. They had hatefully sold him as a slave and lied to their father about him. His own brothers! Joseph could have burned with hatred and bitterness, unforgiving and angry all those years. Why didn’t he?
We are given clues throughout those previous years.
“The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian…the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field…But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison…the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.” ~ Genesis 39:2, 5b, 21, 23b
The LORD was with Joseph. All through the crazy, awful years as a slave, and then as a prisoner, the LORD was with Joseph. And guess what? If we have accepted Jesus as our Saviour, then He is with us, as well. No matter what valley you may walk through, no matter what hardships or pain you face, the LORD is with you. Always.
“And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him…And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing…So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them…So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, saying, ‘Why do you look so sad today?’ And they said to him, ‘We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.’ So Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.’…And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.’ So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.’…So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?’ ”
~ Genesis 39:3-4a, 22; 40:3-4a, 7-8; 41:15-16, 37-38
Look at the testimony of Joseph’s life! He was a faithful and trustworthy servant, and he had an unwavering faith in the One True God. His master Potiphar, the keeper of the prison, the prisoners, Pharaoh and his servants – they all saw the hand of the LORD in Joseph’s life. The Egyptians worshiped hundreds, even thousands, of gods – Pharaoh was considered one – yet Pharaoh himself could see the power of the One True God in Joseph. “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?”
Even after Joseph was elevated to second in command of all the land of Egypt, rich and powerful beyond measure, he still remained faithful to the One True God. His testimony was so great to his household that his steward even proclaimed God as LORD (Genesis 43:23). But perhaps the greatest testimony of all is the grace he heaped upon those brothers of his.
“Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it…Then he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God…So you shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen; and you shall hurry and bring my father down here.’ Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.” ~ Genesis 45:1-2, 4b-8a, 13-15
Joseph wailed so loudly that all those nearby could hear him! Giving grace to his brothers cost Joseph. He had to surrender his own selfish desires and admit that God had worked through the terrible things done to him by his brothers and used it to save their world! His weeping, I suspect, came from the relief of seeing his brothers again and knowing his father lived, but also out of sorrow, and then joy, of lost relationships being restored! That is what forgiveness does for us. It releases the sorrow and oftentimes restores relationships, but it also gives us relief and God’s joy in our hearts, no matter what the ultimate outcome.
Sometimes the agony of the offenders doesn’t go away, even after grace is given. I find at times that it is nearly impossible for me to grant forgiveness to myself. Yet God has forgiven me, so I must accept His grace and give some to myself, and extend it to others.
“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.’…Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” ~ Genesis 50:15, 19-21
Joseph understood that God had allowed it all, in an orchestration of His ultimate plan to save the nations of Egypt and of Israel. And Joseph comforted his brothers and spoke kindly to them. More grace.
Sometimes the act of forgiveness is continual. We must rely upon the strength of the Holy Spirit to work in and through us, so that we may continue to extend our hands in grace and not snatch it back away.
Remember, God never snatches His gift of grace away from us. Once we have accepted it, it is ours, forever. Hallelujah!