One of my favorite modern movies is Warrior. It’s the story of two brothers, Tommy and Brendan, who have been estranged since their teenage years. They are separated by their anger, by the feelings of separation that occurred because of their alcoholic and abusive father. And they set out to settle their frustration and pain with each other in the ring of mix martial arts.
I don’t like fighting and I can’t watch boxing, but I find myself drawn to the film periodically because it’s a parable about what carrying a grudge looks like. It reminds me that these two brothers can beat on each other physically – the way we carry grudges, and verbally taunt and periodically emotionally damage our relationships — and yet, ultimately, it leaves both of these men spent, without a winner.
But forgiveness opens up. Forgiveness is a possibility…
“Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” [Ephesians 4:32]
Paul made forgiveness a priority for the churches he planted. Maybe it was the way that that the early disciples heard Jesus say, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they’re doing” [Luke 23:34]. Or maybe Paul understood that no group of people would survive each other if they held onto the hurts they had received from one another.
Maybe to Paul it was common sense. Or maybe Paul got how Christianity was at the root of Christianity. That’s why today, I want to take a look at the first person credited with forgiveness in the Bible: Joseph.
Now, to be clear, Joseph was some kind of precocious, annoying, so irritating-that-you-want-to-smack-him teenager. He kept having dreams where he saw that he was better than his brothers; his father didn’t do anything to disabuse the idea, providing him with a special cloak that made him stand out even more.
In Genesis 37:12-25, we see how his brothers take some verbal and mental irritation and turn it into revenge worse than murder. Like something out of Quentin Tarantino’s works, Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, in an attempt to end the constant annoyance and to put their father in his place.
Joseph serves several people well in the Egyptian hierarchy before ending up as the Pharaoh’s righthand man. [You can read all about that in Genesis chapters 39 through 41.] But then Joseph’s brothers show up because there’s nothing to eat in their lands but because of Joseph’s quick thinking and interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, Egypt has plenty to sell and trade.
Unknown to his brothers, Joseph is powerful in Egypt – and unrecognizable to them. They arrive, begging for food for their family; he provides it, and draws them into a business relationship, but ends up revealing himself. He cares for them; he brings the rest of the family to Egypt where he can care for them. And still, when their father Jacob dies, the brothers assume Joseph is going to get violent.
It says in Genesis 50: 15 that the brothers have a family meeting without Joseph and ask, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us? What if he decides to pay us back for all the evil we did to him?” Maybe it’s because they assume Joseph would do what they would do; maybe they figure it’s only natural that their treachery deserved retribution and punishment.
So the brothers invent something their father supposedly said: “I’m begging you to forgive the crime and the sin your brothers committed against you. What they did to you was very evil. So now, please forgive our crime, because we are servants of your father’s God.” Ironically, all that Jacob asked Joseph in reality was that he not let his body be buried in Egypt.
But Joseph’s response is radical. Impossible even.
Joseph says, “Don’t be afraid! I can’t take God’s place. Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now. Don’t be afraid! I will provide for you and your children.”
One of my favorite lines in the whole Bible: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
God intended it all for good.
God brought me here so that I could make a difference.
It changes the whole perspective of the story, doesn’t it?
Not only does Joseph not put himself in the position to be judge, jury, and executioner; not only does Joseph not worry about carrying the weight of anger and pain; not only does Joseph change the game by being unexpected —
Joseph shows us that forgiveness is possible.
And in the process, he sees that all of his pain, all of his experiences both negative and possible, all of his struggle is actually for God’s glory to be revealed.
You’ve heard “Let go and let God” and “forgiving means forgetting” and a host of other trite sayings that may or may not work for you.
I prefer Romans 8:28 myself: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
Too often, we hear others say and even we say, “but God isn’t talking about me and this situation.”
Sometimes, our perspective of the problem holds to only what we can see or understand.
Consider this: I read a story about a woman who bought a parrot for a pet. All the parrot did was treat her bad.
It insulted her and every time she tried to pick it up, it would peck at her arm. One day she got fed up with the parrot and as it was insulting her she picked it up, it continued with the insults like “you’re ugly! I can’t stand you!” and it pecked at her arm as she carried it. She opened the freezer door and threw him in and closed the door.
From inside, the parrot was still going on for about five seconds and then it was suddenly quiet. She thought, “Oh no, I killed it!”
The woman opened the door and the parrot just looked at her. She picked it up. Then the parrot said: “I’m very sorry. I apologize for my bad behavior and promise you there will be no more of that. From now on, I will be a respectful, obedient parrot.”
“Well, okay,” she said, “apology accepted.”
The parrot said “Thank you. Can I ask you something?”
She said, “Yes, What?”
The parrot looked at the freezer and asked, “What did the Chicken do?”
But have you ever considered that if you forgive people who have hurt you,
that you ultimately set in motion a situation where the bad things can be used by God for good?
I want you to stop and consider who it is that you need to forgive.
Maybe you need to forgive yourself.
Maybe you’ve done something that you think is unforgivable, or maybe you lead a life up until this point that you just know God can’t accept. I want you to know that those thoughts are lies because God forgives us when we repent. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
All unrighteousness — if you repent – if you admit you were wrong, God has forgiven you.
It’s over, done with, demolished, erased. By the death of Jesus on the cross, praise God!
But maybe you need to forgive someone else who has done you wrong, who has hurt you in some way, whether it’s in letting you down emotionally, mentally, or physically, or in having treated you in a way that still clings to you and holds you back.
Maybe it’s someone from a long time ago, a mother, father, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.
Maybe it’s your childhood nemesis, the bully at the bus stop.
Maybe it’s more current, like your neighbor, or your spouse, or your children.
I want you to consider taking a moment right now, to pray that God would help you forgive that person, that God would move in that person’s best interest. I want to encourage you to forgive them because God has forgiven you.
Friends, it might not feel different right away, but it matters.
God forgave you and God forgave them, so we have to let it go.
For them and for us.
Forgiving someone means that we become a bit more like Jesus…every time we do it.
“Father, forgive us, for we do not always know what we are doing.”