Introduction: An elderly man was walking along a beach one day when he found a magic lamp. He picked it up, wiped some of the mud and grime away, and as he did, lo and behold, a genie appeared. Astonished the man stood staring at the scene in disbelief. “Because you have freed me,” the genie said, “I will grant you one wish.” Realizing that this was a rare opportunity the man thought long and hard before finally responding, “My brother and I had a fight 30 years ago and he hasn’t spoken to me since. I wish that he would finally forgive me.” With a loud thunderclap the genie declared, “Your wish has been granted. You know,” the genie continued genuinely touched by the request, “all the others have asked for wealth or fame, but you only wanted the love of your brother. Please tell me why. Is it because you are old and nearing the end of life?” “Oh no,” the man responded,“but my brother is, and he’s worth about $60 million.”
Ahhhh, the blessings of forgiveness! I suspect that people seek and offer it for a variety of reasons, don’t you think? We as Christians, of course, have come to grasp the importance of forgiveness based on the teaching of God’s Word. We know that it is absolutely foundational to the Christian faith for at least two reasons: (1)our relationship with God as His children is made possible as we receive forgiveness of our sins through Christ(Acts 13:38-39 — Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses). (2)Our fellowship with God and therefore others is dependent on our willingness to forgive those who sin against us(Matthew 6:14-15 — For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses). Why? Because the person who refuses to forgive the sin of others is walking in sin himself! So the failure to forgive breaks our fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:2 — …but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear) and other believers (1 John 1:7 — But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin). So, any sin has serious repercussions in our relationships with God and man and the sin of unforgiveness as much as any because we usually feel justified in our position and don’t believe we’ve sinned at all!It is, then, an issue of primary importance and one that we are going to take a closer look at together this morning as we continue in our preaching series, Seven Habits of a Healthy and Holy Christian. I am guessing that most of us have at one time or another been deeply injured by the sinful actions of others. It is therefore paramount that we understand what it is going to take to forgive them. I invite you now to turn in your Bible to Genesis, chapter forty-five and let’s consider three requirements and one result of forgiveness.
- Forgiving others requires forbearance(Genesis 45:1-4 — Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt). Forbearance is a good word. It can mean to “restrain” or to “relax or loosen.” It’s used in Ephesians 6:9by Paul in his exhortation to masters to refrain from threats to slaves. Here in this text we discover that Joseph was a man that acquired a forbearing spirit while attending the school of hard knocks. What am I referring to? Let me quickly summarize some of the difficulties that he faced as a result of the sinful actions of his brothers.
- You may remember that Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery to the MIdianites.
- His father did not bother searching for him because his brothers told Jacob that the boy had been killed by beasts.
- The Midianites eventually sold Joseph to one of Pharaoh’s officials, a man named He eventually found himself living far from his family in the land of Egypt and serving one of Pharaoh’s officials, a man named Potiphar.
- The Lord prospered Joseph and eventually he was put in charge of his master’s household and things were looking up for him. That is until he was accused of sexual misconduct by Potiphar’s wife (a charge of which he was innocent of) and thrown into prison.
- He made a friend in jail, the cupbearer to Pharaoh, and interpreted his dream explaining that eventually he would be restored to his position. The man promised that when he was he would make mention of Joseph. It happened just as Joseph said, but the cupbearer quickly forgot about him, leaving the lonely Hebrew to languish in prison.
We would be hard-pressed to think of someone who was more deserving of taking revenge against those who had wronged him than Joseph. (His brothers would have agreed with us. Note that verse three says,“They were terrified at his presence.”) Yet when finally presented with the perfect opportunity to exact vengeance, Joseph did nothing of the sort! Having been appointed second in command in all of Egypt, he had thousands who were ready to obey his every order. Had he wanted his brothers to suffer and perish for their sins against him, they most certainly would have. Yet what do we find here in chapter forty-five? Joseph demonstrates forbearance (restraint) and chooses to show grace and kindness to his brothers. Application: And here’s why.Joseph was not the same man he was some twenty or more years before when he received such harsh treatment from his brothers. His character was slowly conforming to that of His God’s; whom we’re told is equally forbearing with us. He withholds His anger and extends kindness in order that men and women might repent (Romans 2:4 — Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?). We find Joseph doing the same thing here in Genesis 45. What should we learn from this? IF WE ARE GOING TO FORGIVE THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED US, WE MUST FOLLOW JOSEPH’S EXAMPLE AND LEAVE REVENGE TO THE ONE WHO JUDGES RIGHTEOUSLY (Hebrews 10:30-31 — … or we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God). Illustration: There once was a four-year-old who was playing with his younger sister when all of a sudden and out of nowhere, she grabbed his hair and pulled as hard as she could. The boy screamed and within 15 seconds his mother was at the door. “What happened?” she asked. “She pulled my hair,” came his reply between sobs. “There, there. She didn’t mean it,” his mother said. “Why she’s so young she doesn’t even know that it hurts to pull someone’s hair.” Without a word the little pull reached over and jerked the hair on his little sister’s head as hard as he could. She immediately erupted in tears. Before his mother could say a word, he looked at her and said, “Does now!” Revenge may feel sweet, but it is never our place. We’re called to forbear (See Philippians 4:5).
- Forgiving others requires faith(Genesis 45:5-9 — And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry). This is how forgiveness works. If we are going to be able to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply, we must somehow learn to see the sovereign hand of God working in all of our circumstances despitethe intent of others. People tend to find security in a lot of things…wealth, status and knowledge are but a few examples. Believers, however, have learned not to look to these things which are passing away, but to God Himself for protection from the storms of life (Psalm 46:1-3 — God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling). Four times in this paragraph from Genesis 45we find phrases that indicate to us how Joseph found the faith to persevere through extreme hardship. “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you(Verse 5);” “God sent me ahead of youto preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance(Verse 7);” “…it was not you who sent me here, but God(Verse 8);” “God has made me Lord of all Egypt…(Verse 9).” It is clear beyond all doubt that Joseph put in His confidence in the Lord and nothing else. Though his brothers intended to harm him, God was there all along working in and through every circumstance to accomplish His good, perfect and acceptable will. Application:Now consider our own lives for a moment. How much less a victim do we think ourselves to be when we can plainly see the hand of God guiding us even in our suffering. We may not understand at that moment whatHe is doing or whyHe is doing it. But to know that nothing comes to us apart from the One who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11 — … In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will), brings peace and confidence to the believer that trusts in Him.
- Forgiving others requires forgetting(Genesis 45:10-13 — You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here”). Joseph was able to forget in the same way that God does. He chose not to hold his brothers sins against them(Hebrews 10:17 — “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more”). This isn’t to say that Joseph could no longer remember all that had happened to him. Just a few short chapters later, after Jacob had died, he referred to the former events again and reminded his brothers that God intended if for good. The point is that Joseph no longer dwelt on their betrayal and the pain he suffered as a result. Instead he forgave their offenses and then figured out how to bless his brothers. And so, just as he had done while his father was alive, Joseph continued to speak kindly to his brothers and promised to care for their needs (Genesis 50:19-21 — But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them). Application:If we are truly going to forgive those who have wronged us, we must choose to forget. This is not to say that we can remove a hurtful memory from our conscious minds, but we can, like Joseph and our Lord, choose to never again hold it against the offender. Remember this: Those who continually bring up past offenses have likely not forgiven them. Is there any offense that you are unable to let go of even though the person who injured you has sought forgiveness? I suspect part of the problem is your unwillingness to release that sin to the Lord. The longer you hang onto hurts the more your anger will increase.
- Forgiving others results in freedom(Genesis 45:14-15 — Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him).OnceJoseph forgave his brothers and decided that he would no longer hold their offenses against them, he was once again free to pursue a relationship with them. Having laid down any resentment and resulting anger, the former slave released them from slavery to guilt and set them on a course to true reconciliation. Isn’t this what Jesus does for us? In his death He paved the way for our sin and the resulting guilt to be removed so that we could be reconciled to God (Colossians 1:22 — But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation). There are no accusations when forgiveness abounds! Everyone is set free from hostility. But to get there we must demonstrate forbearance, have faith and learn to forget.
- Identify the person and the offense that you need to forgive. If you’ve been wronged by a person, then your forgiveness must be directed at that person. And the more you can unpack the pain you’ve suffered, the more you can ultimately forgive the offender. This may take some time and help from a counselor.
- Recognize that forgiveness is a spiritual, supernatural exercise. Itis impossible to truly forgive others without God’s help. It is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in you. Just remember: He only helps those who admit their helplessness. You might say a simple prayer like this: God I admit I can’t forgive this person with my own power. Please help me. Help me to understand how much You have forgiven me, so I can forgive the one who has hurt me.
- Make the decision to surrender and forgive. Let go of your deep desire to get even with the person who has violated you. Come up with a prayer or statement announcing your decision. Here’s an example: By an act of my will, and God’s power, I give up my rights to get even with (insert name). I make a commitment that when those sordid feelings come over me again, I will release them. I won’t babysit them. I admit the feelings are real, but I choose not to be controlled by them any longer. Instead I will dwell on the good things I have learned from this experience.
- Decide to show compassion to the offender. Think about him or her as a victim or sin and not just as a perpetrator of it. This will help you demonstrate a little more sensitivity in the matter. One way to show compassion is to pray for the person who has hurt you. Jesus said, “Pray for your enemies.” He knows it is impossible to continue to pray for someone, and still hate them. Then, while you’re praying for this person, ask for a blessing in their life. Pray that good things come to them. Wish them well.
- Move on. Stop dwelling on what happened. Remember: by forgiving someone you’re promising not to bring it up again to use against him or her. If you are going to talk to someone about how the other person has hurt you, make sure this person is a professional or a wise person you can trust.
Conclusion: The book “Will Daylight Come?” by Richard Hoefler, illustrates the truth that forgiveness sets us free. A little boy named Johnny, while visiting his grandparents, was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let it fly. The stone hit its target. The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So, Johnny did the dishes. Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of, Johnny wants to do it.” Again, she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed her duck. “I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgive you! I wondered how long you would let Sally make you her slave.” There are probably some people in your life who are still enslaved to their guilt for how they have mistreated you. And guess what. You have the ability to set them free by offering your forgiveness.