Chapter OneLESSON ONE
Forgive and Forget?
We've all heard the horror stories about hurting people who've been given advice by well-meaning but gravely misguided believers.
"I understand that he hit you last night, but God says you are to turn the other cheek and submit to your husband."
"Yes, you were abused, but that was twenty years ago. Get over it! Besides, he is your father, and the Bible says we're supposed to honor our parents."
"Forgiveness is simply a decision made in obedience to Jesus' command. Just do it. If her offense still bothers you after that, then you must not have been sincere."
"If you've really forgiven her, then you'll forget what she did and carry on the relationship as before. It doesn't matter whether or not she's sorry; the Bible says you are to love her and forgive her seventy times seven!"
Perhaps you've gotten some similar direction yourself-or you've given it in your earnest desire to offer biblical counsel. As believers we want to imitate God, as Scripture commands (Eph. 5:1). We know we are to love one another as he has loved us, so sometimes we harness ourselves to the heaviest yoke within reach and trudge forward in our valiant attempt to obey his toughest commandments.
But is that what he expects? Then what did he mean when he told us to come to him for rest because his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30)? Perhaps we make his commands to love and forgive more rigorous than he meant them to be. Perhaps in our sincere desire to please him, we've perverted part of his intent.
In this lesson we'll explore what biblical forgiveness is and what it is not. You may find that you've been pulling a load you need to leave on God's shoulders.
Love is the power behind forgiveness. But it does not work the way a lot of people suppose. Love is not a soft and fuzzy sentiment that lets people get away with almost everything, no matter what they do to us. Love forgives, but only because love is powerful. Lewis B. Smedes
A Moment for Quiet Reflection
1. Make room for at least fifteen minutes of private time and settle in to ask yourself some questions. What do you think forgiveness is? How does it look? Reflect on your personal definitions and write them down.
2. In what specific ways has your perspective on what it means to forgive been influenced by what your family or religion has taught you?
3. Do you see these influences as positive or negative or both? Why?
Knowing God's Heart
1. As a group, discuss what you feel and believe about the following common conceptions of forgiveness. Do you agree with them or not? Why?
Forgiveness means forgetting about the offense.
Forgiveness involves excusing the offender.
Forgiveness requires giving up the desire for vengeance.
Forgiveness is about freeing oneself from the past.
Forgiveness means "letting bygones be bygones."
Forgiveness requires accepting the offender just as he is.
Forgiveness results in reconciliation of a broken relationship.
2. Are any of the definitions from Question 1 on the list you made in "A Moment for Quiet Reflection"? Share with the group some of your personal conceptions that are the same or different.
3. Besides Jesus himself, few people in Scripture teach us more about forgiveness than Joseph does. One of two sons born to Jacob and Rachel, Joseph was the envy of his brothers, the other eleven sons of Jacob. Joseph was Jacob's favorite, and a bit spoiled and full of himself, so out of jealousy and spite his brothers sold him to some merchants they met along a road. "He's been killed by wild beasts," they lied to their father-(and good riddance, they thought). Little did they know that their little brother was sold again, this time to an Egyptian official named Potiphar.
God's favor was on Joseph, a handsome and intelligent seventeen-year-old, and in no time he was put in charge of everything Potiphar owned. After Potiphar's wife double-crossed Joseph, he spent over a decade in prison. But through a series of divine events the young Hebrew slave got the favorable attention of Pharaoh and eventually became the ruler of all of Egypt.
Enter Joseph's brothers stage left. Hoping to avoid starvation during the famine at home, the ten oldest trekked to Egypt to buy food from the guy in charge. Joseph recognized them instantly, but they didn't know him. After testing their character through a few tricky schemes, Joseph revealed his identity.
Read Genesis 45:1-15 aloud together. When Joseph came clean, how did his brothers respond? Why?
4. Compare Joseph's actions in verses 3 and 4. What is significant about the way he relates to his brothers in verse 4?
5. Joseph feels and expresses a great deal of emotion right before he reveals his identity. What does this intensity suggest about the consequences of withholding forgiveness and the probable results of finally extending it?
6. In verse 4 we are given one more key insight into the nature of forgiveness. What do the last five words of this verse imply?
7. In spite of the fact that Joseph had suffered and had spent a good part of his life in captivity because of his brothers' actions, he looked at his entire experience in a positive light. What do verses 5-8 suggest about how he did this? (Also take a moment to read Genesis 50:19-21, which reaffirms Joseph's perspective.)
8. Because of his perspective on his suffering, Joseph was able to let his cruel brothers "off the hook." What do you think is the specific lesson here about the nature of forgiveness?
9. Joseph not only reassured his brothers of his goodwill, but he invited them to bring all their relatives and flocks to live in Egypt at his expense so they would not starve during the famine. Before sending them back to Canaan to fetch his father, Jacob, and all their stuff, Joseph demonstrated his complete forgiveness once more by embracing and kissing the men who had once shown no regard whatsoever for his life. What do verses 14 and 15 suggest about how a fully reconciled relationship might look and feel?
10. It is critical to understand that the reconciliation between the victim and perpetrators in this story did not come as easily as these few verses might suggest. Before Joseph revealed his identity and welcomed his brothers back into his life, he put them through the paces to discern just who he was dealing with. Had the boys who sold him off for a few pieces of silver become men whose hearts were just as dark? Or had his brothers changed? Would they be capable of engaging in a "safe" relationship with him in the future? During your own Bible reading time in the week ahead, you might want to read the entire account in Genesis 42-44 of how Joseph tested his brothers. For now, what do you think Genesis 44:33-34 indicates about the heart of at least one of his brothers?
11. Of all the people who have harmed you, consider who is hardest for you to forgive. What, specifically, has made it so hard? Try to answer the question, "If I forgive, then ..."