Keys for Effective Christian Leadership

Forgiveness: A mystery of effective leadership (Part 1)

The themes of justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation are burning issues in my heart; I believe that forgiveness is the core of Christian leadership. The Lord’s enabling power to forgive accounts for my success in leading Christian education in Africa. The Christian life should be a life beyond forgiveness, beyond the cross – to living in God’s presence.

The burden of unforgiveness

The desire for justice, the burden of unforgiveness, the need for reconciliation, guilt, and shame are responsible for many emotional, physical, and spiritual problems. The head of a large mental hospital once said, “I could dismiss half of my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness”. Most of our leadership problems revolve around the spirit of unforgiveness. The necessity to find and give forgiveness is not a matter only for celebrities alone; all of us suffer personal grudges and animosities in life. Everyone, therefore, must decide how to respond to such a challenge. Colossians 3:13: says “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another”. This expresses the Biblical option that you should “forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

The story of Joseph and his brothers

No character in the book of Genesis better illustrates the fundamentals of forgiveness than the story of Joseph. No chapter more clearly defines and describes the essentials of forgiveness than Genesis Chapter 45. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his gifts and his special relationship with their father. His brothers acted when he was 17 by throwing him into a well, selling him to passing slave traders and reporting his “death” to their father.

Joseph found favour and power in Egypt after much further suffering when at 30 he interpreted a dream for Pharaoh. Robbed of those precious years by the betrayal of his brothers, if anyone had just cause to bear a grudge, Joseph did. Those years which Joseph spent in slavery and prison could have been the occasion for a slow burn that might have ignited into an explosion of anger at the sight of his brothers. Joseph endured all the odds he went through and did not get angry with God because of the Spirit of God and the teachings that he had received. Most of all, Joseph could have been angry with his brothers, who had coldheartedly sold him into slavery.  Joseph recognized God’s purpose for him in his sufferings. He saw them as being from the loving hand of a sovereign God.

The high point of Joseph’s relationship with his brothers comes in Chapter 45. It is here that we see the reality and meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation. Joseph’s sincere and total forgiveness of his brothers for the evil they had committed helped him achieve his part of the reconciliation.

God does not want his story to end in tragedy.

The moment of truth was the time when Joseph could not control himself. Before all those who stood by him, he cried,

Have everyone go out from me.” So, there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it (Genesis 45:1-2).

 The story reached a point of an intimate reality when he revealed himself to his brothers. 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer.

And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

The brothers await a verdict

It is at this point that Chapter 45 begins. Judah and his brothers anxiously await a verdict from Joseph, one that will affect the course of their lives. They wondered if there would be forgiveness and reconciliation or if they would receive due punishment for their deeds. The brothers saw this emperor send everyone out of the room without realising how he was. They could perhaps see the tears flowing down his cheeks and his chest heaving with emotion. But what was the source of this great emotion? Was it anger, which would lead to further trouble? How could it be otherwise?

If they thought the worst had come, it had not. Not until the Egyptian blurted out in their own tongue, “I am Joseph!” That was the worst news they could ever have hoped to hear. It brought them no relief, but only new avenues of anxiety.   Now their judge must surely be their enemy, whom they had unjustly condemned.

Their ashen faces showed fear, guilt and shame, and their silence confirmed this to Joseph. They had nothing more to say, no more appeals left, no hope for mercy. Joseph spoke every word recorded in the first 15 verses of Chapter 45 because his brothers were speechless. Not until Joseph had demonstrated that he had forgiven them and loved them did they speak in verse 15. He focused on forgiveness and reconciliation and not justice.

The full weight of sin

He did not minimize his brothers’ sin in this chapter. At the very outset, Joseph identified the treatment they had given him as sinful. Forgiveness, you see, does not seek to minimize sin, but to neutralize it. We must remember, though, that they have already come to the point of recognizing their actions as sin (cf. 42:21) and repenting of it (Chapter 44). The stress, instead, falls upon the totality of the forgiveness he has given them. Hope and encouragement were evident in Joseph’s words. Verses 5-8 assure these men that their sin had not thwarted the purposes of God. “You sold me,” Joseph said, “but God sent me” (verse 5). Their purpose was to destroy, but God’s was to save.

Men may sin by doing what is unacceptable to God but still accomplish what God has purposed. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God assures us that while men may do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, God can cause good things to come out of wrong things. Think of what came out of the cruelty of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Seeing God’s hand in it all

In the final analysis, it was not his brothers who were responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt, but God, to bring about their salvation. In the process, Joseph attained a position of power and prominence, advisor to Pharaoh and ruler over all of Egypt. We have a saying, “All’s well that ends well”, which finds a measure of truth in these words of Joseph. After Joseph explained all that had happened and God’s reason for it, he gave an exhortation to them to return quickly to the land of Canaan, get their father, their families, and their flocks and return to Egypt (verses 9-13).

Joseph’s new glory in Egypt encouraged his guilt-ridden brothers. Joseph would thus be reminding them that his humiliation and suffering were the means to his promotion and exaltation. Look at what their sin had brought about in Joseph’s life! Secondly, it would comfort Jacob and assure him of Joseph’s ability to provide for the entire family during the famine. Finally, Joseph desired to share his glory unselfishly with his brothers.

Next in series 2

We struggle to forgive even though we are aware that God instructs us to do so. Yet we know that there are benefits in doing so.  Why do we struggle? Answers to this question and more will be discussed in Part 2 of this series on forgiveness and reconciliation.