Joseph, who graciously forgave his brothers who had sold him into slavery, is sometimes used as an example of how we should forgive anyone and everyone who sins against us, regardless of whether or not forgiveness is requested. But is that what Joseph’s story teaches us?
No, it does not.
Joseph put his brothers through at least a year of successive trials and tests in order to bring them to a place of repentance. He even had one of his brothers incarcerated for many months in Egypt (see Gen. 42:24). When his brothers were all finally able to acknowledge their guilt (see Gen. 42:21; 44:16), and when one of them offered himself as a ransom for their father’s current favored son (see Gen. 44:33), Joseph knew they were not the same jealous and selfish men who had sold him into slavery. Then and only then did Joseph reveal his identity and speak gracious words to those who had sinned against him. Had Joseph immediately “forgiven” them, they would never have repented. And that is one of the flaws of the “instant forgiveness to everyone” message that is sometimes taught today. Forgiving our brothers who have sinned against us without confronting them results in two things: (1) A false forgiveness that brings no reconciliation, and (2) offenders who don’t repent and thus grow spiritually.