COVID-19 Circuit Breaker “BE AT HOME” Series #2: To Forgive

COVID-19 Circuit Breaker “BE AT HOME” Series #2: To Forgive

“To Forgive”, Written by Rev. Zheng Biqing (22 May 2020)

The boy Jesus said to his parents, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? “ or “I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). To be at home here means to concern yourself with your household. In the Life Bible Study this month, we have come together to learn to lead our family to live in unity, to fill our home with God’s love and to make our home a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ during the Circuit Breaker period. 

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Mat 6:14,15)

What is forgiveness? Some people think that to forgive is to accept an apology; some think that forgiveness must be accompanied by a full restoration of the relationship. Some think that forgiveness can only come after an apology, others think that forgiveness should be given with or without receiving an apology.

What kind of forgiveness does God want of us?

Joseph’s forgiveness for his brothers is the exemplary biblical forgiveness because he is a type of Christ. Let us turn to Genesis 50:15-21.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

When Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers attacked him out of jealousy and sold him for twenty pieces of silver. He was brought to Egypt and lived as a slave. After thirteen years of hardship, he became the Prime Minister of Egypt under the Providence of God. Nine years later when the whole land was inflicted with a great famine, Joseph took his father’s household to Egypt and provided for them. After living in Egypt for seventeen years Jacob died of a ripe old age. This is the backdrop of the passage.

It had been forty years since Joseph’s brothers sold him away, and they had been living in harmony for the past seventeen years. Why would they worry about payback from Joseph?  Because they had not apologised to Joseph yet.

Joseph Was Willing to Listen

16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘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.’…

Jacob knew that for harmony to last in his household, his sons must confess their wrongs to Joseph and ask for his forgiveness. Jacob himself did that when he returned to Canaan from Haran many decades ago to secure harmony between his people and Esau’s people. He left a very wise will to his sons, not to Joseph, so that his brothers could bring their apology to Joseph with the father’s patriarchal intercession.    

Praise be to God that the sons of Jacob did as he advised. I personally believe that they did not forget the scene of their father making an appeal of reconciliation to Esau in an extraordinary way. Jacob was walking in front of them by himself towards Esau and his four hundred men. As Jacob walked, he bowed down to the ground seven times, showing his utmost sincerity (Gen 33).

Parents, do not be afraid to do what the Bible teaches before our children, for the parents’ obedience to God has an impact on their children that often transcends our understanding.

17…Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

The chance to apologise should not be taken for granted. Joseph was willing to hear them out. He was greatly comforted by their confession. His was the heart of Christ, who cherishes a broken spirit and a contrite heart. (Ps 51:17)

O Lord Jesus, You came to seek me and your Spirit constantly intercedes for my sins. Yes, I am willing to give others a chance to apologise and to share the joy of their repentance.

Joseph Was Willing to Forgive

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Joseph was willing to give them a chance to right the wrong. To us the struggle to forgive an intentional offence is often a hard one. How did Joseph overcome it? The answer is in verses 19 and 20.

When Joseph was suffering from kinship betrayal in the pit, the humiliation of slavery and the injustice of a false charge, he had no idea at all what God’s purpose could be. But knowing that he could trust God for His promises was sufficient for him to press on. Now God’s will has been revealed. He had been sent to Egypt in advance to save his family from the severe famine, thereby fulfilling God’s promises for his great-grandfather Abraham,

for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there… In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (Ge 15:13,16)

When we believe in God, we ought to believe in God’s attributes and Providence. We ought to believe that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) and that we are His masterpiece in the Providence that overarches history (Eph 2:10). In other words, we believe every event that befalls us is divinely approved for a good and higher end. It is with the spiritual insight of Providence that Joseph said, am I in a position to change God’s course? — Am I in the place of God?

If we do not believe in God’s Providence, we can’t say that we believe in God. In the same way, if we do not believe in God’s attributes, we do not believe in God either, for He has revealed himself in the Bible as the God Almighty, perfect in His goodness, absolute is His justice and steadfast is His faithfulness. Not believing in God’s attributes is a very dangerous thing. We will end up choosing disobedience, as our ancestors did in the Garden of Eden. They believed in God, but they doubted God’s good intent in the prohibition on the chosen fruit and they decided to break it. Joseph, on the other hand, believed in God’s attributes and He said, you intended to harm me but God intended it for good.

O my Saviour Lord, You condescended into the world by taking the form of a man, and died in my place for my sins. How dear is the forgiveness of sin! Yet you have given it to me freely! Lord, I want to forgive. Please help me forgive!

Joseph Was Willing to Embrace

21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph added an embrace of loving kindness on His forgiveness. Can you see Christ in this beautiful scene? Listen to the loving words our Lord speaks to us each time when we read the Bible:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mat 11:28)

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!(2 Cor 5:17)

And many more…

No doubt the brothers were relieved, and probably ashamed of themselves too, for Joseph has heaped burning coals on their heads (Romans 12:20)

Joseph’s embrace dissolved all residual jealousy in his brothers’ hearts, and certainly helped them reciprocate his love, preventing them from falling into the sin of jealousy again.

When we cannot embrace those we forgive, it is often because we care too much for our own feelings. We ought to be careful not to yoke others in their mistakes and deprive them of the chance to start anew, for this is against God’s way of forgiveness.

Heavenly Father, I have been hostile towards You and yet You are willing to blot out my transgressions completely. Not only so, You adopted me into the divine household and granted me access to all kinds of spiritual blessings. You even gave me the bible and the Holy Spirit to help me reform my thoughts and my deeds. Yes, I am willing to forgive my brother, to embrace him and to help him start anew, as You did with me.

After examining the exemplary model of forgiveness, let us address two common issues that we encounter in the practice of forgiveness.

Why should I forgive if he doesn’t even think he is wrong?

“Forgive” in NT Greek is aphiémi, which means to let go or to write off a debt. When a person aphiémi, he no longer bears grudges or harbours anger, and he usually has no difficulty accepting reconciliation.

Grudges beget the root of bitterness, which begets vengeance. That’s why God told us to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger within us. (Eph 4:31)

Let us look at how Joseph dealt with this issue. After he became the Prime Minister of Egypt and before the great famine, he married the daughter of Pharaoh and gave his son the name Manasseh which means “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” Joseph was saying that he had put aside his grievances and moved on with the new life in Egypt. He had written off his brothers’ debt. Otherwise, with the military power of Egypt in his hands, Joseph could have easily wreaked vengeance on his brothers. But he did not, for he has let it go. Joseph has forgiven his brothers way before they came to Egypt to buy food from him!

Therefore, when your family member offends you without recognizing his/her wrongs, do not bear grudges or seek vengeance because that is what God wants of us.

Should I still forgive if the wrong is repeated?

Generation and generation of Christians have asked this question repeatedly even though our Lord has already given a clear answer:

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:4)

It is not that we have not read this verse but that we are not ready to submit to this instruction.

When Joseph’s brothers first came to Egypt, Joseph did not offer reconciliation with them immediately. He only did so after he had ascertained that they had repented of their evil ways by putting them through two tests which he meticulously devised for the purpose (Gen 42:21). And it was nearly forty before Joseph could embrace the brothers with a complete reconciliation.

The precondition of forgiveness is repentance which includes confession. And God assured us His unreserved forgiveness whenever we confess our sin and repent of it (1 John 1:9).  He knows that it will not be taken as a license to sin. How can one who died to sin still live in it? (Ro 6:2)


Our family is a gift of God and we ought to love them. They may repeat their offence, or fail to see their wrongdoings. Even so, we are not to bear grudges nor harbour anger nor wreak vengeance. Instead, pray for their repentance and be prepared to embrace them and help them reform whenever they turn back and say “I repent”. This is brotherhood. This is family.

Joseph did it. So can we, because God’s love is in us.

So, let us remember the words of one who believed in Divine Providence and Divine attributes: Am I in the place of God? God intended it for good.

And do not forget the warning of the One who died in exchange for Divine forgiveness for our sins,

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Mat 6:14,15)


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