By Jake Heppner, Southbrook Baptist Church
Forgiveness is truly a divine characteristic – without God’s help, total forgiveness seems like an impossible task because the hurts and wrongs from others seems to grow roots deep within our hearts and thoughts.
Joseph continues to be a demonstration of total forgiveness in his handling of his brothers, who plotted his death and sold him as a slave in Egypt, only to be forced to come to him for food some years later. Genesis 45 shows Joseph’s factors in practicing total forgiveness. The first of those factors was in recognizing God’s sovereignty in working the brother’s wickedness into His plan for Joseph and for the future nation of Israel.
The second factor of forgiveness Joseph extended to his brothers was to release them from their debt. Author Paul Tripp describes the hurt someone inflicts on us as a moral debt on their behalf, and their debt to us gives us power and entitlement (desiringgod.org, July 6, 2011 blog).
However, at the moment Joseph had the power to extract that debt from his brothers. He released them from their treachery against him: “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 (Gen. 45:4, 5).”
What a bummer! All the time invested in nursing a grudge, or in thinking “If I ever see them again…” And we’re commanded to forgive totally, letting all that go. Forgiveness is so difficult because it feels like you’re giving something valuable away to the person you dislike the most!
Paul Tripp, in his book “Change and Your Relationships,” describes three decisions we make when we choose total forgiveness:
• I promise to never bring up the debt as leverage.
When we forgive, we are saying that we will not make the offender pay by reminding them of what they have done or what they owe in an effort to control them. Joseph permanently released his brothers in such a way.
• I promise to never bring up your offense to others in slander.
Forgiveness includes forgoing the right to damage that person’s reputation in slanderous talk with others.
• I promise not to fixate on the offense.
Forgiveness has accurately been described as both an event and a process. When we make the decision to forgive, it takes time for our emotions to catch up; it’s unlikely that we immediately “forget” the hurt done to us by never remembering the pain. Rather, we must choose over and over to forgive whenever the memories come to our minds.
When we determine to live out the command to forgive in the way God extended forgiveness to us, we see the extreme difficulty of adopting such a divine characteristic through these human experiences. But God desires to help us with His power as we consider fleshing out the teaching of Ephesians 4:32: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”