Text: Luke 17:3-4; Genesis 45:1-8 July 7, 2013.
1) A command in the New Testament: ¡°So watch yourself. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, I repent. Forgive him.¡± (Luke 17:3-4) There are 138 times in the Bible talks about forgiveness. The quote above is a command by the Lord Jesus Christ on the limitless to forgive. But most times, we are either unable or unwilling to forgive or forgive with reluctance or grudges. King Solomon said it is your glory to forgive an offence. (Pro. 19:11)
2) An example in the Old Testament: The story of Joseph forgiving his brothers for the sin and crime they had committed against him is a supreme example of forgiveness. (Genesis 45:1-8) The Hebrew word for forgive is the same word used for ¡°passover¡± in Exodus which means ¡°to pass and to overlook.¡± To forgive doesn¡¯t erase the facts of sin, but to pass sin and look over and beyond to the sinners. This is how God forgives us our sins the same way.
IMPORTANT ELEMENTS ON FORGIVENESS: (Luke 17:3-4)
1) Begin with dealing of sin: ¡°If your brother sins against you.¡± (Luke 17:3) Often times when we discuss on the subject of forgiveness, we mostly focus on the offended as the forgiver. But as Jesus pointed out, the whole matter of forgiveness begins with the offender, not the offended. Jesus used ¡°sin¡± to describe offence one inflicts on another. As much as we love to see the offended to forgive, we cannot ignore the sin and the responsibility of the offender. To inflict offence on someone is very serious the Lord sees it as sin. We should not turn a blind eye on sins we committed against a brother only to ask him to forgive us. This can only encourage more sins to occur.
2) Not holding grudges of sin: ¡°Go and rebuke him.¡± (17:3b) Most people will hold grudges on offence inflicted on them without direct confrontation particularly people from the East. This can only perpetuate grievances and even hatred on the offender. The Lord showed us the proper way to do this in Matthew 18:15, ¡°If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listen to you, you have won your brother.¡± To confront is not to embarrass the offender but to restore a relationship. This is very important in marriage and family relationship. But this needs to be done with wisdom.
3) Repentance and forgiveness: ¡°If he repents, forgive him.¡± (17:3c) Repentance is the key to meaningful forgiveness. True forgiveness requires the offender to acknowledge his sin with sincere repentance. True repentance requires more than feeling sorry or regret but to produce heartfelt apology and remorse. To forgive doesn¡¯t mean to forget sin but to cover sin with love. Forgiveness given without true repentance from the offender never brings desirable results. (A young church staff tried to forgive an elderly and powerful deacon backfired.)
4) Forgiveness and restoration: ¡°If he listen to you, you have won your brother.¡± (Matthew 18:15) When repentance is shown, forgiveness is given then reconciliation is earned. So, forgive-ness cancels possible retribution, revenge and other undesirable consequences. We all try hard to build sweet and cordial relationship with people we live, work and serve together at home, in school, at work and in community and church. Using forgiveness to restore broken relationship is a beautiful thing we all need to try. Any broken relationship not restored brings mental injury on both sides.
FORGIVE THE UNFORGIVABLE: (Genesis 45:1-8)
How many of us could forgive someone who wanted us dead? How could anyone forgive someone who caused him so much suffering and pain like Joseph¡¯s brothers? What motivated Joseph to forgive his brother with honest love and genuine spirit? From the record of his interaction, we may find some possible reasons of his acts of great character and lessons we may learn from:
1) They are his family: ¡°Then Joseph said to his brothers: Come closer to me, I am your brother Joseph.¡± (45:4) Too often than we want to admit, pain and suffering come to us from people who are so close to us, our family. Conflicts of personality, a selfish interest, jealousy and pride, self-seeking or simply hatred among members of our family who brings us pain we can never forget. But the sense of family enabled Joseph to overlook the pain his brothers had caused him to suffer. God has a purpose to place us in our family, physical or spiritual, the church. No matter how much we may have been hurt by family members, we are to forgive them because they are our family.
2) Did not forget but forgive: ¡°I am your brother Joseph the one you sold into Egypt.¡± (45:4b) Many people had tried to ¡°forgive and forget¡± and failed. To forgive doesn¡¯t have to go hand in hand with to forget. Joseph did not forget what his brothers had done to him caused him all the terrible experience in his life. But he was able to look over their sins against him and forgave them in spite of what they had done him. This is both biblical and logical for all people. Few people could forget terrible things others inflicted on them and the pain they had gone through. But we can look on our offenders with a higher and better attitude beyond their sins. With vivid memory of sins our family or anyone else had caused us, we can and need to do what God wants us to do: forgive.
3) God was in control of our life: ¡°Now do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you¡So it was not you sent me here but God.¡± (45:5, 8)Three times Joseph brought God into his explanation of the painful memory. He did not forget what his brothers had done, but he believed that nothing happened in his life was only by plans of evil of his brothers but God was in control of all things. Nothing may slip through his fingers without God¡¯s knowledge and power in control.
4) God could bring good out of evil: ¡°It was to save lives that God sent me here ahead of you. But God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth to save your lives. God also made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.¡± (45:5-8) Joseph did not whitewash the evil intend of his brother in selling him to Egypt. But he focused on the power and wisdom of God that he changed something so evil into something so good: to save the remnant the house of Jacob, the roots of the nation of Israel. Joseph had the spiritual insight to see God was in control of all things and the power to turn evil acts of man into something glorious. Thousands of years later, Paul echoed this by saying: ¡°For all things God works for the good of those who love him.¡± (Romans 8:28)
HARVEST THE FRUITS OF FORGIVING: (Proverbs 19:11)
Many cultures glorify and promote revenge instead of forgiving. Some ancient Chinese classics placed acts of vengeance as duties of the good. Books were written, movies were made to promote the lower nature of mankind: fight back, get even. But God wants us to take an opposite stand on vengeance to forgiveness. Proverbs 19:11 brings us some wholesome reasons that forgiveness is better.
1) To forgive is a sign of wisdom: ¡°A man¡¯s wisdom gives him patience.¡± (19:11a) To forgive is not a sign of being weak or stupid but is an act of wisdom, a decision after thorough deliberation and consideration of all options. Many acts of vengeance were done in hasty, emotional anger. People who choose the path to forgive are wiser than those to revenge. It doesn¡¯t take much brain to inflict wounds on others in a split of second. But it takes much more to control oneself and his anger so he can forgive.
2) To forgive takes lots of patience: ¡°A man¡¯s wisdom gives him patience.¡± (19:11b)Too often we react to people either in words or actions in a hurry cause us lots of trouble later on. This is particularly true when we react swiftly to offence others assail on us. Swift actions to others may escalate some insignificant mistake to begin with into some huge trouble you never want to face. I know patience is in short supply for many people, me first. But slow down, take a deep breath, bite our tongues for a few seconds, allow us to clear our mind, to calm down our emotion so we are in better condition to respond. With a clear head and a calm emotion, we are more likely to forgive words and deeds of others we deem as evil-intend.
3) To forgive is a crown of glory: ¡°It is to his glory to overlook an offence.¡± (19:11c) Joseph didn¡¯t seek glory when he forgave his brothers. But God crowned him with glory way beyond anyone may imagine. God elevated him to position of glory and power because of what was in his heart. After he forgave his brothers, Pharaoh granted him and his family honor and riches no one had foreseen. No one may count how many people were blessed with his forgiving heart and gracious acts. God made Joseph a supreme model in history on the greatness of forgiveness.
4) To forgive brings blessings: One of the reasons people don¡¯t want to forgive is they think it is too easy for the offender to get off the hook. But to forgive is not for the offender but for the forgiver. No one may count how many blessings God will bestow on the forgiver. Here is a short list of blessings:
a) Forgive others brings God to forgive you. (Luke 6:37)
b) Forgive others brings back the offender to you. (Gen 45:15)
c) Forgive others brings peace in your heart. (Prov 3:2)
d) Forgive others glorify God. (John 15:8)
e) Forgive others bring God¡¯s extra blessing on you. (Job 42:10)
APPLICATION OF TRUTH:
1) Unforgiving is deadly: Unforgiving escalates small conflicts to larger damages. It can push up higher level of stress-related disorder, cardiovascular disease clinical depression and lower immune system. Unforgiving results in more abuse, violence and divorce rate. Unforgiving hurts the offended lot more than the offender. So, forgive for your own good.
2) Seek the ultimate forgiving: When the prodigal son came home, the moment he saw his father, he confessed: ¡°Father, I have sinned against God and against you.¡± (Luke 15:21) In reality, all our offences against people in fact we offend God. It is our duty to confess our sins first to God, then to the offended. While it is important to seek forgiveness from those we have offended, but it is more important we acknowledge our sins to God and ask him to forgive us. The Bible says: ¡°If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.¡± (1 John 1:9)