Forgiveness: Are You Joseph or Peter?

In Genesis 50 and Matthew 18 we have two dramatically different approaches to forgiveness.

In Genesis 50:15-20 Joseph assures his brothers that he had forgiven them for all the evil they had done against him. Joseph did not hesitate. He assured them he had forgiven them and spoke kindly to them.

But he did not stop there. He pointed out that even though his brothers had meant evil against him, God had meant it for good: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20, ESV)

Joseph’s brothers had not changed.  Even though they came and fell down before him, they were asking Joseph for forgiveness under false pretenses. They made up a story that, before he died, their father said he wanted Joseph to forgive his brothers. They were willing to lie to get what they wanted.

But it didn’t matter to Joseph. He forgave them. So that’s the Joseph approach to forgiveness.

Peter’s approach to forgiveness is different. Peter is willing to forgive but he wants to limit the number of times he forgives. In Matthew 18 he asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” He probably thought he was being generous saying he would be willing to forgive seven times. Most people in the world would think so.

But not Jesus. Jesus tells Peter he wants his followers to forgive seventy times seven. Then he tells a parable to illustrate his point:

[23] “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18: 23-35, ESV)

So in your life, are you Joseph or are you Peter? As you ponder this question keep in mind three vital facts: In Christ God has forgiven every one of your countless sins. Even when others sin against us, God uses it for our good, just as he did with Joseph. And finally, in view of God’s mercy to us, he wants us to forgive others and if we don’t, the forgiveness he has given us will be withdrawn.

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