Do you struggle to forgive?
The life of Joseph as told in the book of Genesis is one of my favorite parts of Scripture. God used Joseph mightily, but as often is the case, that comes with great suffering. Joseph was mistreated, slandered, and betrayed by his own family. As a result, he had to learn how to forgive others.
And if you follow Christ, you’ll have to do the same.
Joseph and Forgiveness: 5 Reflections on Forgiveness from the Life of Joseph
Let’s recap a few verses from Genesis chapter 50 and allow me to point you to five observations on forgiveness:
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’ So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, ‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.'” (Genesis 50:16-17)
1. Put yourself in the shoes of others.
Joseph’s brothers failed him big time. And they knew it. They sold him into slavery out of jealousy, and they wondered if Joseph would seek revenge. His brothers were so afraid that they sent a messenger ahead to beg for forgiveness before any actual face-to-face contact (Genesis 50: 17). It must be an uncomfortable reality to fear your own family member.
No, it’s not okay for someone to sin against you. That sin is an affront to God and painful to you. But if someone who commits wrong against you genuinely asks for forgiveness, at least consider their boldness and vulnerability in doing so. That’s exactly what Joseph did: “Joseph wept when they spoke to him (v. 17b).”
Which brings us to our next point.
2.Weep with those who weep.
The Apostle Paul says to “weep with those who weep” (Romans. 12:15). Of course, you can’t manufacture tears. You shouldn’t try to fake it or act like someone you’re not. But there is a sense in the Christian life that we should feel such a love, such a care for our brothers and sisters in Christ that even when they’re in the wrong, we weep with them when they’re hurting. That’s what Joseph did.
We move on in the story: “His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.'” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:18-19)
3. Those who refuse to forgive are saying, “I’m above God.”
“Ignorance of our own faults is the only cause that renders us unwilling to forgive our brethren,” says John Calvin.
It’s difficult to withhold forgiveness to others when we ponder how much we’ve been forgiven in Christ.
But these sorts of situations aren’t always that easy, are they? There are various means that can help: prayer, Bible reading, Christian community, counseling, etc. We should never overlook the simple means of grace that can bring transformation. And if you belong to Christ, I’m confident that the Holy Spirit will help you as you cry out to him for help.
Perhaps the most famous verse in this text is verse 20: “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” (Genesis 50:20).
4. God has a purpose behind your hardships.
Notice Joseph says this toward the end of his life and not the beginning. Why? Usually, the purpose of your hardships are only partly understood after you’ve gone through them. During a hard season you may ask, “God, why am I going through this?” But later when it passes, you might get to see God’s intention. Painful providences are often best observed in hindsight.
Nevertheless, this is not always the case. Some questions to your sufferings will not be answered in this life. But for Joseph — toward the end of his life — he was able to see that God used his suffering to provide for others. There was a purpose in it. And when you trust that God is using the evil in your life for good even if you don’t presently understand it, you won’t grow bitter toward God and others.
Let’s look at one more verse from this section: “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” ‘Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’” (Genesis 50:21)
5. Speak kindly to others.
Words matter. Life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). You are not entitled to verbally abuse, mistreat, and lash out at others because they’ve caused you harm. Like Joseph, you’re called to speak kindly to everyone —even those who hurt you.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be their best friend, respond to their text messages, or even see them regularly. They don’t have to be in your inner circle. But if they cross your paths, the Apostle Paul will remind you to let “your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)
Forgiveness is not easy. I know from first-hand experience that it can be tough and tricky. But we must never lose sight of the gospel, a story that we have more knowledge of than Joseph. The more you reflect on the canceling of your sins, the more readily you’ll be able to forgive others for their sins against you. As C.S. Lewis once said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
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