Summary: Joseph shows us how to forgive others in the same way God forgives us.
(Video – From the movie “Hope Floats” [Sandra Bullock] Birdee’s interview with Dot).
We hear a lot in church about the need to seek forgiveness and how to seek forgiveness. But I want to talk today about how to give it. How should we receive and apology?
People change. And Christians should change dramatically as they grow in their relationship with God. Too many believers hang on to their old ways. But the longer we pursue God the more we should resemble him. One key area of change that needs to occur in the life of a Christian, is how to forgive others when they have hurt us. And Joseph’s experience teaches us some very helpful lessons about that.
The very first thing we need to remember about receiving an apology is that it has nothing to do with the person who has offended us (Do they actually mean it – do they realize just how much they have hurt me?”). However, it has everything to do with you! And it’s this. We need to remember just who we are in light of the existence of an Almighty God. We see it in Joseph’s response to his brother’s appeal for forgiveness.
“Am I in the place of God?” (v19) Joseph asks.
Joseph saw that it was not his place to judge.
But Joseph’s brothers panicked when their father died. Because in their eyes, without his restraining presence there was nothing to stop Joseph seeking his revenge for all the wrongs they had done to him.
Do you remember? They hated him so much as a young boy that they threw him down a well. And when a caravan of slave traders came by they sold Joseph and then gave him up for dead.
But now the power was in Joseph’s favour.
And it had never occurred to Joseph’s brothers that he could have forgiven them. They were ready to do anything to pacify him. But Joseph wasn’t interested in that.
In his high-ranking position as Prime-minister of Egypt, Joseph could have become an overbearing tyrant. Getting his own back would have been easy. It’s likely that his brothers would have got him back if they had been in his position. But Joseph was different. He lived by a different standard. And he knew his place in the scheme of life.
“Am I in the place of God?” he asked – knowing full well that he wasn’t.
It reminds us of some other directions from the Bible:
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord (Rom 12:19).
In other words to repay evil for evil is to live in the old life. Joseph understood that as a follower of God, judgment is God’s territory. And he was obviously confident that God would be fair. He trusted him to take care of the situation and not to botch it up. Joseph trusted that God’s judgement would be not too heavy and not too light – it would be just right (Kind of like a balanced breakfast).
This is an important point because all of us are umpires at heart. We all like to call a “no ball” on someone else sometimes. It’s just how we are
But the truth is we have all hurt someone else at some time and had the need to apologize. We are no better than the person who has offended us. We need to remember that when someone has hurt us and we are receiving their apology, it’s not our place to judge –that’s God’s responsibility – and he’s big enough to handle it properly and fairly and in the right time.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to lie down and be walked over by everyone either. We need to be realistic about the hurt that’s been done. It’s not our place to judge, but by the same token, we can’t ignore injustice either.
We learn from Joseph’s experience that we need to be real – real about the hurt that has been done and real about the forgiveness that is offered.
Joseph doesn’t try to gloss over the injustice that has been done to him – he faces up to it – and he helps his brothers to face up to it. In v 20 he says: “You intended to harm me…” (v20)
We often try to cover it up when other people hurt us – sometimes out of false sense of needing to be polite or heroic or because we’re afraid to harm the relationship.
We hear it all the time don’t we? “Forget about it,” we say. Which usually means, “You forget about it, I’ll save it up for ammunition next time.”