Forgiving Others

Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride”

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

For over 20 years, Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride, 1987) was in the revenge business. His father was a great sword-maker who worked for the king. When a six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, Inigo’s father took the job. He worked on the sword for over a year before it was done. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at one tenth his promised price, so his father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. At the age of 11, Inigo challenged his murderer to a duel, but failed. The six-fingered man left him alive, but gave him two scars on his face. When old enough and strong enough, Inigo dedicated his life to the study of fencing so the next time they met, he would not fail. He vowed to go up to the six-fingered man and say, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Another man who had a “right” to be in the revenge business for personal wrongs, family injustice, and just plain evil was Joseph (Genesis 37-50). His brothers had badly mistreated him for a dream that turned out to be exactly right. Their selfish hatred and jealous actions had led to years of enslavement in Egypt, unjust accusations by Potiphar’s wife, the hardships of prison,  and untold loneliness for Joseph. He had every right to get even with his brothers… but he didn’t.

Years later, when Joseph’s brothers stood before him in Egypt, things changed dramatically. Both his words and his actions demonstrated his heart of forgiveness based on God’s sovereign plan:

Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. – Genesis 45:4–5

Even with Joseph’s assurance, the brothers were overcome with feelings of paranoia when their father died. They knew of his deep love for their father and, therefore, assumed that Joseph would have done nothing to grieve their father any more while he was still living. Joseph previously assured them upon their reunion during the time of famine that he had no hostility in his heart toward them. Now that Jacob was gone, they braced themselves for the worst! They feared there was no one to protect them from their brother’s wrath.

This nagging question kept going through their minds: “’What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’” (Genesis 50:15). What if Joseph is still in the revenge business?

Their problem was that they didn’t comprehend God’s sovereignty or understand His grace. They believed the only reason Joseph took care of them was for their father’s sake, but now that he’s gone, Joseph would now seek revenge.

What was Joseph’s response? He wept. Not because of their sin this time, but because the forgiveness he had already extended to them had not been fully accepted. So, Joseph reiterated what he had said the day he had revealed his identity to them 17 years earlier. At that time, he told them not to “be worried” or “angry at themselves” because God had a sovereign plan that incorporated their human failures.

What we learn from Joseph is a key principle that can transform our relationships, too, if we are willing and rely on God’s Spirit for the enabling: Our ability to forgive others is directly related to how we trust God’s sovereignty and experience His grace personally. Joseph’s reply to his brothers is a model to help us bring restoration to our relationships by completely forgiving others who have hurt us deeply. His forgiveness is also a kind of the forgiveness and grace we receive through Jesus Christ by faith.

1. Forgiveness refuses to replace God by retaliation of others. Joseph quickly reiterated why he would never retaliate. He made this divine point of view very clear when he asked his brothers a revealing rhetorical question: “’Am I in the place of God?’” (Genesis 50:19). Even more than his gentle spirit and compassionate heart, Joseph’s faith in God affected his attitudes and actions. Because he had a divine perspective, He could not and would not retaliate. Joseph understood God’s perspective regarding what had happened.

Joseph was also modeling what Paul wrote hundreds of years later. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath” (12:19). Joseph may have been tempted to use his position of power to deliberately get even, but his divine perspective and God’s power in his life enabled him to overcome that temptation just as it had helped him overcome temptation with Potiphar’s wife – “how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

For us today, does that mean we don’t press charges when a law has been broken or a crime has been committed? NO! Not at all! Romans 13 affirms that the government and its legal system is God’s servant for justice because God cares about justice. Forgiveness rejects personal retaliation – whether actively or passively. So, guard your heart when you have the power to place guilt on someone else. Refuse to take the place of God by trusting Him to be just and deal with the sin of others.

2. Forgiveness requires a realistic appraisal of sin. Joseph’s brothers had sinned terribly when they sold him into Egypt as a slave. They had also sinned exceedingly when they lied to their father and put Jacob through such terrible suffering. His brothers needed to hear him acknowledge that what they had done was indeed wrong. Their attitudes of sin and eventual actions of sin had to be clearly acknowledged and exposed for what they were. And so he did!  “You planned evil against me,” Joseph said (Genesis 50:17-20a). Joseph didn’t go into detail about their sin, but for complete forgiveness to take place, the evil in their hearts (you planned) and their evil actions had to be addressed for what it was: sin.

3. Forgiveness requires complete reliance on God’s sovereignty.  Joseph revealed his trust by saying to his brothers, “God planned it for good to bring about the present result.” (Genesis 50:20b) Jacob’s sons were responsible for their sins against Joseph and their father, but God took their evil deeds and used them to accomplish His purposes.

God’s display of His sovereignty is scary sometimes, isn’t it? In our need for control, we want circumstances and relationships we can manage, so we prefer a god who is manageable. So during times when we question His management of our lives, we want to take over. Ok, Jesus, that’s enough, it’s my time to drive – Jesus, let me take the wheel. But the great hope we find in the truth of God’s Word is that God is not like us, and we can’t manipulate Him. Over and over throughout the pages of Scripture God says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” God controls His desired ends regardless of the choices we make. His total sovereignty blows the circuits of our finite minds. God took the evil of Joseph’s brothers, turned it around, and made something good come from it. It takes a mighty God who is nothing like us to accomplish something like that. Joseph understood that God is sovereign, so nothing happens to us without Him knowing it. He is in control, even when things seem completely messed up.

“God’s sovereignty is first painful, then slowly powerful, and only over much times is seen to be profitable, if in this life at all.” – James MacDonald, Gripped by the Greatness of God

God was so much a part of Joseph’s life and breath that he saw and trusted the LORD in every circumstance, and through every difficulty. Everything that happened to Joseph, both bad and good, he viewed through the lens of God’s control. By faith, Joseph was able to move beyond his pain to see God’s power, and eventually how His sovereignty was profitable for everyone. The reason Joseph was able to forgive had nothing to do with his brothers’ apology and everything to do with his trust in God’s sovereignty. Let that sink in: Our ability to forgive others has nothing to do with their apology and everything to do with our trust in God’s sovereignty.

4. Forgiveness results in the personal application of God’s grace. It’s easy to use words of forgiveness, but impossible, apart from the sovereign work of God’s Holy Spirit, to forgive with a heart of grace. Joseph said to his brothers, “‘I will take care of you…’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (vs. 21) Joseph’s forgiving spirit was the result of a heart that had been emptied through all the troubles of his life only to be filled to overflowing with the sovereign grace of God. You must first experience God’s grace before you can extend His grace to others.

To Joseph’s brothers, grace was counter-intuitive. It’s the same for us. Grace feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. It’s not rational. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness because it wrestles control out of our hands and destroys our safe, conditional world.

The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our selfishness with His goodness. The overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not just a recipe book for Christian living but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our un-Christ-like living.  Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.

Joseph was led by God’s grace. He spoke by grace. He forgave by grace. He remembered by grace. He forgot by grace. He loved by grace. Because of grace, when his brothers bowed before him in fear, he could say, “don’t be afraid. I will take care of you.”

“Don’t be afraid” is Christ’s word to us just as it was Joseph’s word to his brothers. In their blindness, they wanted to work for his forgiveness (“We are your slaves” v. 18), but Joseph had completely forgiven them through grace. Some of us face the same problem when we learn that God forgives our sins—not because of any works we’ve done, but only because of His grace. This is why some go through life trying to compensate for their sins as a slave to guilt, rather than accepting God’s forgiveness as a free gift—an act of His grace. Grace is God’s gift for us to freely enjoy and personally experience.

Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and experience of His grace.

This is the power of the Gospel: while we were still sinning, Jesus, God’s Eternal Son, died for us when we deserved to die (Romans 5:8). What we deserve for the sin in our hearts and the sin we have done is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Before you and I could possibly forgive others completely, we must first believe that Jesus has forgiven our sin completely through His death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. Then, by trusting in God’s sovereignty, we can be kind and compassionate to others, forgiving just as God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ by His grace.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:32

As God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. – Colossians 3:12–13

Joseph challenges us to make a difference in our world by being different in our lives—by God’s grace and for God’s glory. Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and our experience of His grace.

Inigo’s Revenge

At the end of The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya finally gets his revenge. Inigo corners Count Rugen, the six-fingered man, knocks his sword aside, and slashes his cheek, giving him a scar just like Inigo’s. He runs him through with a sword and shoves him back against the table. The six-fingered man falls to the floor, dead. When it was all over, he said to the Man in Black, “I’ve been in the revenge business for so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with my life.”

That’s the point – the purpose of revenge is completely pointless whereas our ability to forgive others by trusting God’s sovereignty in all things fills our lives with purpose.

Are you still in the revenge business? Have you truly forgiven those who have wronged you, ignored you, or been insensitive to you? How do you handle forgiveness, particularly when it comes to forgiving someone who has sinned against you and has not admitted it or sought forgiveness?Are there circumstances in your life where you’re tempted to take the place of God? Is there someone who you need to forgive that you’re afraid that if you do they will have control over you?

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

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