One of the hardest things to do is to forgive. Many people will say that they have forgiven someone, but the next time things get difficult with that person, all the things that they allegedly forgave them for are brought back up for argument. The following three Bible stories about forgiveness will demonstrate what forgiveness is all about.
Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37-50)
Most people know the story of Joseph who was one of the sons of Jacob, who made it a point to show that Joseph was his favorite. This made Joseph hated by his brothers. When Joseph was 17, he shared dreams he had that were interpreted to mean that everyone in the family would bow down to him one day. This made his brothers furious and did not sit well with his father.
One day Jacob sent Joseph to check up on his brothers who were away feeding the flocks. When he found them, his brothers plotted to kill him. Through a series of events, his brothers faked his death and sold Joseph into slavery. They showed their father Joseph’s animal bloodstained coat and he mourned greatly and went into depression.
Over the years, Joseph was made to work as a slave in Egypt. He suffered imprisonment, false accusations, and abandonment. Yet he never abandoned God. Eventually Joseph rose to a position of authority second only to Pharaoh. Because of Joseph’s faithfulness, God blessed him with wisdom in dealing with a coming famine.
When a famine hit, Jacob sent his sons to buy grain in Egypt. Joseph recognized them as his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Through a series of decisions, Joseph was able get his brothers to confess their sin concerning what they had done. Joseph then revealed himself to his brothers and while they were weeping in joy, he encouraged them in that what they had done had resulted in the salvation of the family from starvation.
Pharaoh provided land for Joseph’s family to live in Egypt so they moved to the land and lived there. About two years later, Jacob died, which brought fear to Joseph’s brothers that he would execute vengeance on them for what they had done. They came and bowed themselves to him, fulfilling the dream, and asked for forgiveness. However, Joseph reassured them by telling them that he was not God and what they meant for evil, God made for good. He continued by telling them not to fear because he would take care of them and their children.
The denial of Jesus by Peter (Matthew 26:26-69, John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 3:8-9, 4:8)
After Jesus was taken into custody in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter followed secretly to see what would happen. Three times, Peter was identified as someone who knew Jesus. However, Peter denied knowing Jesus all three times, even cursing during the last denial. At that moment Peter and Jesus’ eyes met and silent acknowledgement was made that Peter had denied Jesus three times. Jesus had told him that would happen when Peter pridefully said he would never deny Jesus. After the acknowledgement, Peter went outside and wept bitterly.
After the resurrection, Jesus, Peter, and others were sitting on a beach and Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Peter acknowledged twice that he did and the third time He stated directly that he loved Jesus. Peter taught of love and forgiveness later in 1 Peter 3:8-9 and 1 Peter 4:8.
The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)
Jesus was teaching on the Mount of Olives. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman to Him that had been caught in act of adultery. They confronted Him with what the law says should be done and asked his opinion, hoping he would deny the law. When they pressed Him for an answer he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
After saying this, one by one, they dropped their stones and left until no one was left, but Jesus and the woman. Jesus asked the woman where her accusers were that condemned her. She replied that no man was left. He then told her that neither did He condemn her and followed by telling her to go and sin no more.
What can we learn from these stories?
In the story of Joseph and his brothers, we learn that sometimes the opportunity for forgiveness takes a long time. If we have been offended, we must always stand ready to forgive and live our life as if forgiveness has already taken place. Focusing on how God uses our tribulations to grow our faith must be our motivation. If the offending party does ask for forgiveness, we should immediately give it and share how God used the incident for good.
In the story of Peter and Jesus, we learn that Godly repentance often comes at a moment of acknowledgement of our sin without any words being said. Peter’s intense weeping after Jesus and Peter’s eyes met communicated more than words ever could. After the resurrection when Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him, it offered Peter an opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus three times in opposition to his three denials. Sometimes forgiveness may not be asked for directly, but outward behaviors and affirmation can demonstrate a repentant heart. Opportunity should be given to the offending party to reaffirm their willingness to make the relationship right.
In the story of the woman caught in adultery, we learn that sometimes forgiveness is not needed because no offense is taken. Jesus deliberately took time to think about His answer to the religious authorities (James 1:19). He then said what was needed to deliver the woman from a terrible fate. Once delivered, He demonstrated His love by not condemning her. This motivated the woman to take to heart the words Jesus to go and sin no more. We must always ask ourselves when an offense has taken place if love can cover it (1 Peter 4:8) and if there is anything we can do that would keep the situation from escalating. This can provide an opportunity later to encourage the other person to listen to Biblical correction and encouragement.
Finally, we learn that when forgiveness is granted, a transaction takes place. The offender humbles themselves in repentance before the offended and forgiveness is offered. This is exactly what God does for us (1 John 1:9). Like God, who does not bring our sins back up again, we too must never bring back up sins that have been forgiven (Psalms 103:12). We must stand ready to forgive again if needed (Matthew 18:21-22).
On the other hand, many people may offer an apology by saying they are sorry instead of asking to be forgiven. Apologies do not provide an opportunity for the forgiveness transaction to take place. The word apology comes from a Greek word “apologos”, which means without the Word. It should only be used in cases where no sin has occurred, such as in the case of an accident where no one was at fault. Forgiveness communicates that the offended person is giving up their right to use force to obtain justice for the wrongs or sins that have been committed by the offender.
All three stories demonstrate that forgiveness applies in a variety of situations, which may or may not immediately take place. They demonstrate that forgiveness should involve the humbling before the offended party and seeking their forgiveness. The person offended should offer forgiveness and never has the right to bring back up the issue once forgiveness has been granted. Most importantly, love in forgiveness can be demonstrated by not only granting forgiveness, but overlooking minor infractions.
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version
Another Patheos Reading: How Does The Bible Define True Beauty?
Dr. Michael L. Williams is a pastor, author, Christian educator and Biblical counselor who has served in ministry since March of 2000. Dr. Mike holds under-graduate through post graduate degrees in Christian Education and formerly worked as a nurse. Dr. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Selah Mountain Ministries, which he founded in March of 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA (selahmountain.org). In addition to counseling, he teaches how to overcome life issues Biblically on topics such as anger management, marriage, addictions, and other subjects typically referred to as mental illnesses. Dr. Mike is also a writer at What Christians Want To Know. Dr. Mike lives with his wife Pamela Rose and adult daughter Hollie Rose. He and Pamela have other adult children and several grandchildren as well. Learn more about Dr. Mike at his personal ministry web site Wisdom4Today