How to Forgive Someone

Genesis 37-50
One of our Inspirational Devotions

photo courtesy of Godo-Godaj


Learning How to Forgive Someone

In his book, In the Grip of Grace, Max Lucado tells the story of a 17 year-old boy named Kevin Tunell. On January 1, 1982 Kevin hit and killed 18 year-old Susan Herzog. The case went to Juvenile Court where Kevin was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. After serving his sentence, Kevin spent seven years campaigning against drunken driving - six years more than the court required.

The victim's family sued him for $1.5 million, but settled for $936. This settlement was to be paid back $1.00 each Friday, for 936 weeks - from 1982 to 2000 - eighteen years (the age of their daughter). If Kevin forgot to pay, and sometimes he did, the family took him to court for failure to comply. Kevin was willing to pay an extra year's worth, if he could have permission to write out one check. The victim's family said, "No." Quoting the mother, "We want to receive the check every week on time. He must understand that we are going to pursue this until August of the year 2000. We will go back to court every month if we have to."

Max Lucado writes, "Few would question the anger of the family, but I do have one concern. Are 936 payments enough for the family to demand? When they receive the final payment, will they be at peace? Is eighteen years of restitution sufficient? How much is enough?"

What is Christian forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not cancelling the consequences of another person's actions, nor is it forgetting what they did. Forgiving is refusing to hold it against them. Forgiving is choosing to stop keeping score. But who has the strength? Followers of Jesus have found the strength through the presence of God's Spirit. Without God's help, the natural human tendency is always to look for a creative way to make the other person pay.

The Bible teaches that God has totally forgiven us. He is willing to let the past be past. Believing this truth is the only way you will have the ability to forgive others and yourself. Learning what Christian forgiveness means and how to forgive are probably the most difficult lessons for a follower of Jesus to grasp.

Joseph and his brothers

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 is a classic story about forgiveness. At age seventeen, Joseph's brothers sold him as a slave into Egypt. In Egypt Joseph was unfairly sent to prison for several years. But God protected Joseph and enabled him to interpret Pharaoh's dreams. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he made him Prime Minister of Egypt right on the spot.

Joseph learned how to forgive someone

planting trees

After twenty-two years had passed, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt looking for grain. When the time was right, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and forgave them. He held no grudges. He told them that what they intended for evil, God meant for good. In his excellent book Total Forgiveness, R. T. Kendall teaches us several lessons from the life of Joseph and his brothers:

photo courtesy of usfs region 5

  • Keep quiet about what they did
  • To ensure privacy, Joseph had everyone leave the room (Genesis 45:1). Why? No one in Egypt needed to know what happened. It isn't necessary to tell people who aren't a part of either the problem or the solution. People often tell negative things about others only to punish and get even with their offenders. When you've been wronged, you have to decide who to tell. Tell the people that can help with the problem or solution.

  • Put them at ease
  • Joseph could have made his brothers acknowledge his power. He could have reminded them of his dreams and their disbelief. But Joseph did not want them to be afraid of him (Genesis 45:3).

  • Let them save face
  • Saving face means preserving one's dignity. To ease their minds, Joseph gave an explanation for his suffering. It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. . .so then it was not you that sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:5-8).

  • Continue the commitment to forgive year after year
  • After Jacob died Joseph reassured his brothers of his kindness (Genesis 50:19-21). The commitment to forgive is a choice that we will have to renew tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. Satan's favorite strategy is to get into our thought life and tempt us to be bitter. Love pursues a lifestyle of forgiveness.

    It's a two-way street

    C.S. Lewis once said, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." For those of us who follow Jesus this is a challenging statement. In theory, we agree with it because we know what the Bible teaches: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). Selfishly, we want forgiveness to be a one-way street. We want God to let us off the hook for what we've done, but we aren't that excited about letting others off the hook for what they have done to us. The truth is that our sins put Jesus on the cross. When we grasp what our sins cost Jesus, we will be much more forgiving of the wrongs that others have done to us.

    Can you see the face of someone Jesus wants you to forgive? Grace is treating people better than they deserve. While hanging on the cross, Jesus forgave his murderers on the spot. This fact confirms that he understands the pain we feel. It's time to ask Jesus to help you forgive. Nothing would please him more. If you are not asking Jesus to help you forgive, it doesn't mean you're not a Christian. But when you do, Jesus sets you free and others can see it by the look on your face. In the words of Max Lucado, "Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing that you were the prisoner."

    God often works through our pain.

    Discussion questions for your Sunday School class or small group

    1. Why is it hard to forgive others?

    2. Does forgiveness eliminate consequences for sinful behavior?

    3. When is it appropriate or inappropriate to talk about a person who has sinned against you?

    4. What lessons did you learn from Joseph's forgiveness?

    5. How does Joseph's attitude of God meant it for good help you deal with sin in the world?

    6. How does knowing that God has forgiven you help you forgive others?

    We have a whole chapter devoted to the subject of Christian forgiveness in What's Missing Inside You?

    Listen to two sermons to continue thinking about forgiveness: Imitating Christ's Acceptance and Becoming like Jesus.

    Author: Paul Schlieker

    Permission to reprint "How to Forgive Someone" in its totality is granted. For any reuse or distribution of our free Bible study materials author credit and web address is required.

    Paul Schlieker, Platinum Author

    Return from How to Forgive Someone to Inspirational Devotions

    Home - Bible Study Lesson Plans

    Share this page:
    Enjoy this page? Send it to a friend. Here's how...

    Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

    1. Click on the HTML link code below.
    2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.