We’ve answered the questions on how to forgive yourself and God. This week we’re going to look at forgiveness when we mess up with others. Messing up is done in two ways. First, there is the accidental kind. These kind of mistakes are usually easier to forgive. The second type is just outright doing someone wrong. These never go well and there are probably more steps in forgiveness for these type things than the accidental kind.
Wrong has been done to people all the way back to Genesis. We’ve shared the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers and how he was reconciled to them after many years (Genesis 35-50). Even unto the end, his brothers were worried that Joseph would not forgive them. At their father’s death, the brothers sent word to Joseph some final instructions starting in Genesis 50:16, “So they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died: This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly. Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
When their message arrived, Joseph wept. The brothers even offered themselves as his slaves in verse 18. In verse 19, here is Joseph’s response. “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
Let’s be honest. Joseph is a better man than most of us. Being handed into slavery because your brothers didn’t like you probably wasn’t very easy to get over. I can sit here and say that time passes and so did the pain, but I think it was Joseph’s keen sense of perspective that had more to do with forgiveness. He saw the end result. He helped save a nation and his family. He also probably remembered the dream he had that said his brothers would bow down to him.
Forgiveness isn’t always that easy. Sometimes the complete picture doesn’t have time to develop like it did for Joseph. Let’s think about Stephen in the book of Acts chapter 7. Stephen had just finished preaching to the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin did not receive the message, or at the very least, didn’t receive it well. They began to stone Stephen to death. The soldier handling coat check duty that afternoon at the stoning was a young man named Saul.
Saul will probably never forget Stephen’s last words in verses 59-60. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he (Stephen) fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” That was Luke’s nice way of saying that poor Stephen had met his demise. Saul would move on to continue persecuting the church until that fine day in the desert on the road to Damascus where he was blinded, led into the city, baptized and renamed our hero of the faith, Paul. Stephen’s forgiveness did not go lost on Paul, it just took a while. Again, I’m not sure any of us would really want to forgive people that are throwing boulders and rocks at our person, especially in an effort to kill us.
I think that we tend to think of forgiveness as a one time act. That may have been true for Stephen, but probably not for Joseph. We know that the thought of being dropped in a hole and sold off into slavery had to go through Joseph’s mind once in a while. Like every minute while he was being taken to be sold. Every day he spent in jail for wrong accusation by Potiphar’s wife. Every minute while his brothers were off getting Jonathan to bring him back to see.
It was years later and I’m sure the hurt returned over and over. Isn’t that how it is with us sometimes? The pain of the wrong keeps coming back like a bad movie every time you see that person. A boss that fired you for no reason. A friend that did something wrong to where your friendship isn’t ever the same. Spouses where one spouse cheats on the other. We could give many examples.
I think a real answer to forgiveness comes as Jesus talks to his disciples at the end of Matthew 18. Peter asked Jesus in verse 21, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” I’m sure Peter had thought seven was a good number. C’mon, how many times can a person mess up before you write them off, right?
But Jesus was not impressed with Peter’s thought process. Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Now that ladies and gentlemen is a lot of messing up. I don’t know if I have a friend that’s messed up to anybody that many times. Some versions even say that sentence with “seventy times seven times,” or 490. Know anyone that’s that messed up?
I might be taking liberty here, but I think Jesus meant that not just that a person had that many times to mess up, but that in our memories, we would still have to forgive that many times. Jesus knew how the brain worked. He wasn’t a doctor, nor did he play one on TV, but He is The Great Physician. He knew that every time we have a down moment that we’re going to mull over and think about what that person did. And we’re going to have to end that thought process the same way every time, “I Forgive.”
Need encouragement to know why? Here are a few verses that tell us to forgive.
Matthew 6:12 “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Yes, that is us asking God in the Lord’s prayer to forgive as we do.
Matthew 6:14 “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Jesus is speaking here telling us that if we want forgiven, we must forgive too.
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ forgave you.” Paul is speaking here leading into how we should be children of light.
But Frank, you don’t know what that person did to me! It was wrong, evil, mean, hateful and it shows how lousy a person they are. You’re right. I don’t have a clue. But God does. His Gospel tells us to forgive so that he’ll forgive us. I don’t think he would mention it if he wasn’t serious about it.
OK, I forgive. But what if the person that needs to be forgiven is me? What do I do? I’m glad you asked. On Thursday, we’ll investigate what the Bible says and we’ll close out this series on forgiveness.
I love you guys!