The Cost of Forgiveness

Genesis 43.31, 34
After Joseph had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” […and] they feasted and drank freely with him.

Research on forgiveness has surged, according to a PBS series on mental health. Those who forgive, “are more likely to be happy, serene, empathetic, hopeful, and agreeable,” the series summarizes, adding that forgiving people also experience:

  • Fewer episodes of depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More friends
  • Longer marriages
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Closer relationships
  • Fewer stress-related heath issues
  • Better immune system function
  • Lower rates of disease

It’s important to clarify what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same as (1) reconciliation, (2) forgetting, (3) condoning or excusing, or (4) justice, clarifies Sonja Lyubomirsky in, The How of Happiness.

Forgiveness is an act of faith where the offended party chooses not to be taken captive in a cycle of retribution. It’s a way for the offended to release themselves from the control of the offender. 

Forgiveness always has a cost. The deeper the wound, the higher the cost. We see this in the story of Joseph’s feast with his brothers in Genesis 43. The most significant cost wasn’t financial or social, although Joseph sacrificed in both ways. (Feasts were expensive and ancient Egyptians considered eating with Israelites an abomination).

The greatest cost was the toll forgiveness and restoration took on Joseph. He retreated to his private room to weep after he saw his brother Benjamin. Upon returning Joseph intentionally blessed the brothers who cursed him.

By hosting a feast for his brothers, Joseph was inviting the source of his deepest pain to partake in the fruits of his greatest blessing. 

Forgiveness rarely comes out on top in a cost/benefit analysis. The only sufficient reason to forgive is if we look beyond the parties of the offended and the offender. Forgiveness for the Christian is less about conjuring an emotion and more about praying to God for the ability to extend his forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

In Joseph’s case, being willing to endure the cost of forgiveness laid the groundwork for an entire nation and ultimately for Christ — the suffering servant who would forgive us all.


Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. We see that your calling to forgive others is better for us, yet we struggle in the realities and pains of life. Strengthen and guide us to forgive as you have forgiven. We ask for this in Jesus’ name.

Faith in Forgiveness
Part 2 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 43 (Listen – 5:02)
Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)



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Faith in Forgiveness

Genesis 42.18
On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God.”

Forgiveness is a costly endeavor. Gallup found that just half of American Christians completely agree that, “God’s grace enables me to forgive people who have hurt me.” 

Most people can make allowances for life’s minor grievances. It’s when we face the bigger issues that forgiveness seems impossible or even unrecommended. 

Yet maybe our struggle is not with forgiveness itself, but what we think forgiveness should accomplish. 

Modern thought has fused forgiveness and restoration together. Unlike forgiveness, restoration is bidirectional. In circumstances of on-going abuse, restoration is unhealthy and it is altogether impossible if both parties are unwilling to work together. 

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is always a healthy pursuit. It’s a unidirectional activity where the offended party chooses not to be taken captive in a cycle of retribution. It’s a way for the offended to release themselves from the control of the offender.

Joseph’s life is a prime example of this process.

Every moment in Joseph’s years of suffering, humiliation, and captivity was a direct result of his brothers’ cruelty toward him. After they sold him to human traffickers he lost his family, his homeland, and the future he envisioned. 

It would be easy to see Joseph becoming hardened and bitter. Somehow he remained faithful to God.

It’s fascinating to watch the way Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers removed the pressure to seek retribution. At the same time, Joseph did not rush back into relationship with them. Genesis 42 shows the beginning of a long process of restoration. Joseph’s trust grows as he slowly, cautiously, and intentionally rebuilds his relationship with them.

Joseph’s faith fueled his forgiveness. It would be easy to write off Joseph’s ability to forgive by underestimating the depth of his pain; even easier to assume he was just a good person. But Genesis draws our attention to the real source. Joseph forgave because he trusted God to direct his path even as he suffered from the consequences of others’ sin. 

In his book, Provocations, Kierkegaard concludes, “To forgive sins is divine not only in the sense that no one is able to do it except God, but also because no one can do it without God.”

Lord, we long for the healing of forgiveness when we fail. Yet, when we are wronged, we struggle with how to forgive others. Help us to see and know your radical forgiveness through Christ. Help us to extend your forgiveness to others. We are stunned by your love.

Faith in Forgiveness
Part 1 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 42 (Listen – 5:08)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)



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To Be Known As Great

Mark 9.35
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

–  Emily Dickinson

Our celebrity culture loves somebodies and banishes nobodies. We are obsessed with actors, athletes and, yes, even pastors. As a result, most of us – even if we are not egocentric maniacs – want to be somebodies. It may be for a fleeting moment, a few times a year, or every time we have to wait in line at a restaurant in the West Village. We long for “an admiring bog” to recognize us. Our culture says that we can become somebodies by, for example, having high Klout scores or attending prestigious universities. But what does the gospel say?

Jesus never criticized anyone’s quest for greatness. In fact, God made us in His image, and He wants our lives to be meaningful and significant. Yet something happened that distorted our pursuit of greatness. John Piper says that it has been corrupted into a longing not merely to be great, but “to be known as great” [1].

Even the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them. Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” He then showed them that being the “servant of all” meant serving the biggest nobodies of all – children: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Why children? Because children do not care about Klout scores or universities. They care about getting what they want and, when they do, they must be taught to give thanks. Therefore, as Piper concludes, “Children prove, more clearly than any other kind of people, whether you are truly great or not – whether you live to serve or live to be praised.” [2]

Lord, we often do not pursue true greatness by being servants of all. Instead, we long for “an admiring bog” to praise us. Forgive us and crucify our impulse of self-exaltation. For we know that the greatest Somebody who ever lived came to serve, not be served. Therefore, since we want to become somebodies in your kingdom, we long to become servants of all. Amen.

Christian Identity
Part 5 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 39 (Listen – 3:08)
Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)


This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Genesis 40 (Listen – 2:10); Mark 10 (Listen – 6:42)
Sunday: Genesis 41 (Listen – 7:30); Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)



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[1] John Piper. “Receiving Children in Jesus’ Name.” Desiring God. 23 February 1992. | [2] Scripture referenced: Mark 9.37

TBT: Of Christ’s Humiliation

Mark 8.36
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

TBT: Of Christ’s Humiliation | by John Meriton (c. 1659-1689)

Christ humbling himself should teach us to highly prize our souls. By the price that was paid we conceive at what a rate God values them. If God said concerning any soul, “I so esteem it that, rather than it shall perish, I will dissolve and unpin the whole fabric of heaven and earth,” that, you will say, evidently demonstrated a high valuation of souls. But the course which God has taken, shows an even higher esteem of them. 

Now let this dear-bought ware be precious. Ah! Let none of us adventure a soul for the satisfying of a base lust; let not any sin steal that away upon easy terms, which put the Lord of glory to such expenses. Christ best knows the worth of souls, for he paid for them. Christ so values them that he tells us that the gain of the world were no sufficient or satisfactory compensation for the loss of but one of them.

Did Christ thus humble himself to death for us? Let us prize him exceedingly and raise him in our esteem above riches, honor, pleasure, father, mother, husband, wife, friend, yea, life itself — or any other thing that we are apt to account precious. How ought he to be prized and preferred above all things, that prized such inconsiderable nothings as we are at so high rates as his own blood! 

If you put Christ into one end of the scale be sure he out-balances every thing that can be laid in the other: “Unto you that believe he is precious.” To a carnal heart, nothing is so low-prized and undervalued as Christ; but with believers, that have an interest in him, and know the worth of him, he is in highest esteem.  [1]

Prayers from the Past
Who can sufficiently praise
the mystery of your grace?
We have been enabled
to take our share of the gift;
may we keep it save to the end,
that so we may come to hear
the blessed voice,
the sweet, the holy, saying:
Come, you that have received
a blessing from my Father;
take possession of the kingdom
that awaits you.

— From the prayer “For Holy Saturday,” c. 200-400 C.E. 

Christian Identity
Part 4 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 38 (Listen – 4:34)
Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)



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[1] Abridged and language updated from Rev. John Meriton’s sermon on Philippines 2.8 in Nichols, J. (1981). Puritan Sermons (Vol. 5, p. 229). Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers.

The Idolatry of Tradition

Mark 7.8
[Jesus said,] “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

A large percentage of the traditions Jesus faulted were instituted or significantly amended during the 400 years between the end of the composition of the Old Testament and the events which fill the first pages of the New Testament.

During this time, referred to by theologians as the intertestamental period, volumes were written to explain and develop spiritual concepts. Systems for temple worship were reestablished and cemented into daily life. Theological orders were instituted under various groups, including the Sadducees and Pharisees.

When the Messiah arrived, despite all their traditions, many of the faithful missed him.

Christianity has had five times as many years since the composition of the New Testament as ancient Judaism had during the intertestamental period. We have largely invested in the same things. 

Volumes have been written—NPR reported Christian publishing is a 1.4 billion dollar market. Daily worship rhythms have been developed and practiced, formally through the Daily Office or informally through a ‘quiet time’. Theological orders have been established. 

Like the faithful before Jesus’ birth, we too expect our traditions to help us see God better. But even the ideal tradition can be used to veil Christ rather than reveal him.

At their best, traditions give historic root to modern practice. Jesus doesn’t condemn tradition in Mark 7. Instead, Jesus rebukes the sin of leveraging tradition to replace the hard work of active faith. When a tradition replaces faith the tradition itself becomes the object of worship.

When the book of Deuteronomy denounces idolatry it says, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.” It’s possible to worship God through our idols. An idol isn’t just a token representing another god, it’s anything we exploit to soften the grace and truth of Christ in our lives.

The Pharisees in this passage wield their traditions to justify less grace toward others. We may manipulate ours to foster less trust in God. Either way, the idolatry of tradition causes the faithful to fall short of intimacy with Christ.

Father, thank you for the traditions of the faithful who have walked before us. Help us to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Search our hearts and reveal everything they do to remove faith in you and replace it with faith in ourselves. Cultivate our souls to know, trust, and love you.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 37 (Listen – 4:56)
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

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