Practical Forgiveness

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result–the survival of many people. Therefore, Don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” – Genesis 50:19-21 (Christian Standard Bible)

People use the phrase, “Forgive and forget.” It’s a phrase, though, that we can’t uphold. We might find ourselves being willing to forgive someone who has wronged us or hurt us, but we have a hard time “forgetting.” We can’t even control when a memory decides to pop into our thoughts.

In the life of Joseph, we see a more practical example of forgiveness. Growing up with ten older brothers, he irritated them and made them angry. Some of the brothers had the extreme reaction of wanting to kill Joseph. In the end, though, they sold him to traveling traders who took him to Egypt and sold him as a servant there.

As if this were not enough, Joseph faced false accusation and ended up in prison for several years. When finally released, however, he proved useful to Pharaoh by interpreting a dream and showing wisdom. The result?–though Joseph came to Egypt as a lowly servant, he rose into high ranks of political success.

Then, the day came, where he encountered his brothers again. From the time he first recognized them, he treated them with kindness, and he eventually moved his father, his brothers, and their families to Egypt with him. After their father died, his brothers grew afraid, thinking that Joseph might rise up to harm or kill them and their families in retribution for what they had done to him.

Joseph’s response to his brothers’ concerns shows a heart that had been walking in forgiveness. He still may have hurt because of what they had done to him all those years ago, but bitterness did not rule the day. The way that Joseph came to forgive is a good example for us.

First, he placed ultimate judgment into the hands of God. He assured his brothers that he was not in God’s place. This was his way of saying, “I’ll let God sort out anything that remains between you and me in the end.” Paul said something similar in Romans 12 when he told us to treat even our enemies with kindness and leave vengeance to God. God is the great Judge. Every wrong that we have done and every wrong that others have done, including against us, will either be covered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross where he bore God’s wrath for us, or it will be penalized by God’s wrath in eternity to come. When we keep this truth in mind, we can offer others forgiveness and not seek our own retribution.

Second, he chose to focus on the good, not the bad. Joseph recognized they had done evil to him, yet he saw God having a greater purpose in the situation to bring about good. Again, in Romans, Paul wrote that God works all things for the good of those who love him (8:28). If another person chooses to harm us and do evil against us, God, by his sovereign grace, can bring good from the situation instead. In Acts 2, Peter spoke about this reality on ultimate display in Jesus’ cross. Jesus suffered and died because of the false accusations and the evil of sinful men. Yet, it was also part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the world. It might take days, weeks, and sometimes even years to see the good; but look for it, resting assured that God is bringing good.

Third, he chose to repay their evil with kindness. Having risen to a position of power, Joseph easily could have imprisoned or executed his brothers. He chose something better; he chose to love them and show them kindness. If we are truly walking in forgiveness, this is the choice we will make. Again, we see this attitude in Christ who extends his grace and love to us, even though our sin is responsible for his cross.

Following these examples, we can practice true forgiveness. It’s not always easy, but it is the best route. It is part of how we overcome evil in the world by doing good.

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