Joseph had every earthly reason to hate his brothers. They had sold him into slavery. But he chose a more heavenly path: forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not overlooking sin
Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers did not mean he overlooked their sin. He doesn’t excuse it. He doesn’t minimize it. He fully acknowledges what they did. Later on, when the issue came up again, he would say that they “meant it for evil.”
Likewise, God does not overlook sin when He forgives it. Romans 1:18 says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness” [emphasis added]. No sin goes unnoticed by God. And no sin will go unpunished.
And we, too, are not to overlook sin. But then what does it mean to forgive sin? It means that we leave it to God to pass judgment on sin. Ultimately sin is against God, and it’s not our responsibility to judge.
That does not mean that we ignore sin. It is right for us to discern sin in the life of another. It is also right for us to address that sin, in an effort to see repentance and restoration in the life our brothers and sisters. What is prohibited is condemnation.
Understanding God’s sovereignty leads to forgiving
Even while acknowledging the sin of his brothers, Joseph maintained that it was God who had sent him to Egypt. He recognized that God is in control of all things, and that he had no right to blame his brothers. When we have a right view of God’s sovereignty, we, too, will learn to forgive anything.
When we do not forgive, we commit two errors. First, we give the person who has wronged us too much credit for our current circumstances. And second, we complain about something that God has ordained.
You cannot forgive and yet seek any kind of retribution
Joseph treated his brothers just as he would have if they had never wronged him. He brought them to Egypt and took care of them and their families. He did not limit his relationship with them. And he did not deny them anything.