Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
One of the hardest things to do as a human is to forgive. One of the biggest robbers of joy in a believer's life is either not forgiving or the inability to accept forgiveness. Often, “forgiveness” is just a word that we use that has no sincere attachment to us personally.
We habitually say to someone “I forgive you”- yet do we really mean it? Some offensives are easy to forgive. Some are not.
Maybe you’ve seen the courtroom scenarios where parents vocalize that they forgive the person who murdered their child. How does that sort of forgiveness happen?
In the text from Ephesians, we read that we are to forgive “as God in Christ forgave you.” How do we forgive like Christ?
Jesus himself said in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So, we are commanded to forgive and forgive as Christ forgave us. But when I become a believer is forgiveness just a natural thing that happens? Hmm...NO.
We battle the flesh daily, yet as believers, we have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to help us grow in our sanctification (becoming more like Christ). The closer we draw to God and His Word, the more in tune we become to the Holy Spirit’s leadership and His power at work in us as we take the steps to conquer sin.
So, what are the requirements of Christ-like forgiveness? A great place to look is in the Old Testament book of Genesis.
Genesis 37 tells of the brutality that Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers. The physical and emotional abuse and the callousness with which his brothers treated him are obvious in that text, and are made even clearer in Genesis 42:21:
“Then they said one to another, “In truth, we are guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.”
How can someone truly forgive such an affront as this?
Genesis 45 is where we see four requirements of true forgiveness as emulated by Joseph.
1. Christ-like forgiveness requires vulnerability: Gen. 45:1
Joseph made himself vulnerable, placing himself at the mercy of those he desired to forgive. He removed everyone from the room, just himself and his brothers. Repeating the scenario that happened over 20 years ago. How would his brothers respond? Would they shun him, and hate him even more.
2. Christ-like forgiveness Requires humility: Gen. 45:2
Joseph was not worried about who would hear him crying and weeping. The second in command of all of Egypt was more concerned with forgiving than being seen as in control of himself.
3. Requires an understanding and acceptance of the Sovereignty of God. Genesis 45:4-9
Joseph makes the statement “God sent me” three times and “God made me” once. Four times Joseph acknowledged and accepted the sovereignty of God in his life leading up to this moment.
4. Provides for reconciliation (a change in relationship): Gen 45:9-15
Not only was Joseph desiring to reconcile with his brothers, he also provided for them and their future generations in the best of the land of Egypt, the land of Goshen.
“Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that, his brothers talked with him.” Genesis 45:14-15
These four elements of forgiveness are not only on display in the Joseph narrative but in how we were forgiven by Christ. What did it take for us to be forgiven?
Those same four things:
- Jesus made himself vulnerable: leaving the halls of heaven to be born as a baby, to be ridiculed, mocked, beaten, and brutally murdered by those he came to save. "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3).
- Jesus made himself humble: As fully God and fully man he humbled himself and was obedient to die on a cross that was meant for criminals. "And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8).
- Jesus understood and accepted the Sovereignty of God: Jesus knew fully well that it was God’s sovereign will that he should die a substitutionary death on the cross so that mankind could be forgiven. “And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw and knelt down and prayed, saying, 'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.'” (Luke 22:42)
- Jesus provided forgiveness and reconciliation: Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross provided the costly means whereby we can be forgiven and reconciled to God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
As we read this verse in Ephesians again perhaps, we can have a clearer idea of how we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.