TRUSTING GOD … WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN WRONGED!
“Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The LORD was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.” (Genesis 39:19–23, NLT)
A college professor answered his telephone at 3:00 A.M. “This is your neighbor, Mr. Smith,” said the voice. “I just want to inform you that your dog is barking and keeping me awake.” The professor thanked him kindly and hung up. The next morning Mr. Smith’s telephone rang at exactly 3 A.M. “This is the professor, from next door” said the caller. “I just wanted to inform you that I don’t have a dog!”
There is something within our human nature that says, ‘Revenge is sweet’. That is what makes us enjoy a story like this! There is something within us that wants to get even particularly when we have been treated unfairly, victimized or accused falsely of doing something. If anyone had a right to feel in this way it was Joseph. Not only had he been treated unfairly by his jealous brothers, not only had he been an innocent victim of the lies of a hormone-charged Egyptian housewife, but in prison he was let down by a friend. If anyone had the right to be bitter it was Joseph and few would have blamed him when he eventually made it to the top if he had extracted every ounce of pleasure out of retaliating. Throwing his brothers into a dungeon as they had thrown him into a pit; shaming Potipher’s wife for shaming him; consigning the chief butler to a fate similar to his baking colleague. Yet, as the Bible shows us, Joseph trusted God and God helped him to heal his pain, allowing him to overcome his bitterness, making him into a man of total forgiveness. What can we learn from this remarkable man?
Over the past few weeks we have learnt much from Joseph’s experience about what it means to trust God. As we scanned Joseph’s entire life, we discovered what it meant to …
TRUST GOD … IN ALL OUR LIVES … You may recall that we a said we can trust God if we …
REMEMBER THAT GOD …
• WORKS SOVEREIGNLY
• WORKS STRANGELY
• WORKS SLOWLY …
IN ALL THAT HAPPENS IN OUR LIVES
Then we looked at the events leading up to Joseph becoming a slave in Potipher’s house and we saw that …
WHEN YOUR DREAMS GO DOWN THE DRAIN …
YOU CAN TRUST GOD IF YOU REMEMBER THAT …
• GOD ENGINEERS THE CIRCUMSTANCES
• GOD ESTABLISHES THE REASON
• GOD ENSURES THE TIMING
Then last week as we considered the rise and fall of Joseph’s tenure in Potipher’s Palace we learnt how to…
TRUST GOD WHEN TEMPTATION CREEPS IN
We saw that Joseph learnt that …
TRUSTING GOD IN TEMPTATION MEANT
• REALISING HIS VULNERABILITY
• RECOGNISING WHAT TEMPTATION IS
• RELYING ON GOD’S ASSISTANCE
So today we move on as we see how Joseph reacted when he had been wronged. As Joseph continued TRUSTING GOD, he teaches us valuable lessons not only on overcoming bitterness but how to honour the Lord and even to be a source of blessing to others WHEN WE HAVE BEEN WRONGED
JOSEPH CHOSE …
• TO LIVE IN THE FUTURE NOT IN THE PAST
• TO SET FREE THOSE WHO HAD INJURED HIM
• TO ALLOW GOD TO BLESS OTHERS THROUGH HIM
We will consider each of these choices Joseph made and learn from what God led him through.
JOSEPH CHOSE TO LIVE IN THE FUTURE NOT IN THE PAST
No one would have blamed Joseph if he became embittered … betrayed by his jealous brothers, sold into slavery, eventually succeeding and becoming overseer of Potipher’s entire estate and then because he did the honorable thing by refusing to betray the trust of his employer, he is falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison.
But the Bible says … “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:15b, NLT)
What an appropriate analogy… ‘a poisonous root of bitterness’! A plant is fed nutrients through its roots. The type of soil into which the roots grow will determine what is produced on the surface. Likewise the product of bitterness will be determined by the soil in which it grows. If the bitterness is fed by past memories of hurts, wrongs and feelings of pain, the flower of bitterness will blossom. But it will not emit a sweet fragrance but will infest the entire environment with the odour of hatred and unpleasantness.
Sadly, the impact of bitterness fed by the past hurts not only affects the individual harbouring it but also overflows souring the lives of all those in the world of the bitter person. This happens either by seeking allies to affirm ones miserable plight or by overflowing into passive-aggressive behaviour towards loved ones wounding children and marriages. A bitter person can infect whole families, churches or communities. Such bitterness is fed and fuelled by living in the past, allowing the past to be the prism through which we view life coloring and in fact smudging all of life.
Joseph escaped such bondage; he never let the pain of the past embitter and cloud how he lived in the present and went forward into the future. We don’t find Joseph bemoaning the raw deal brought about by a less than honest woman. The Bible tells us … “But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The LORD was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.” (Genesis 39:21–23, NLT)
But that is not all, eventually when Joseph gets out of prison and lands the position of 2IC to Pharaoh, the Bible tells us that he married a beautiful young princess named Asenath and eventually fathered two sons. Nice story, but what does that tell us? Look at what he named his sons … “During this time, before the first of the famine years, two sons were born to Joseph and his wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.”” (Genesis 41:50–52, NLT)
Notice two things …
Firstly, GOD HAD ALLOWED JOSEPH TO WORK THROUGH THE BITTERNESS and pain of rejection and had given him victory over the hurts of the past! Did Joseph write off his family? Obviously not, just read the rest of the story. What he did learn to forget was the pain and hurts that had been caused him; not allowing them to get in the way of what God was intending to do in and through him.
That brings us to the second thing, Joseph began to realise what he would later articulate for his fearful brothers expecting revenge … “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20, NLT)
Beloved GOD CAN TAKE THE PAIN OF BEING WRONGED AND if we allow Him, He CAN MAKE US FRUITFUL IN THE LAND OF OUR GRIEF.
Perhaps you have more memories than dreams; perhaps you are allowing what others did to you in the past to dictate how you live in the present and destroy any hope that you could have for the future. Won’t you allow God to help you walk away from the power of past bitter memories and make you fruitful in your future using the very things that embittered you?
He wants to … Will you let Him?
JOSEPH CHOSE TO SET FREE THOSE WHO HAD INJURED HIM
Do you recall the cartoon character Andy Capp? In one of the comic strips, Andy is up to his old tricks, dodging the minister because he is in the pub and not in church. Andy’s wife Flo has decided to take him back after one of his periodic expulsions from home. The minster marvels at this and says “Flo, I’m so glad you took him back again.” Flo answers, “There’s something about me; I just have to forgive and forget.” Andy replies, “There’s something about her, all right. She never forgets that she forgives.”
“Forgive and forget” says the old adage. But is this realistic, is it practical? No matter how hard I try, there are just some hurt I can’t forget. The hurt is too deep. The pain is too real. What is more, even when I do forget, something happens and those old painful memories of the wrong done are dredged up. Forgive, maybe; but forget … that’s almost impossible.
A further problem is … what if I forgive the other person but the person carries on regardless and does nothing at all to change or correct the behaviour that is causing the hurt. What then? Or what if the person’s behaviour toward me or someone I hold dear is so awful that I feel that they don’t deserve my forgiveness? What then?
These are very real problems that we encounter as we wrestle with the hurt and pain of forgiveness. Corrie ten Boom understood the difficulty of forgiveness and also the incredible spiritual blessing that comes to those who do truly forgive. In her book ‘Tramp for the Lord’ she wrote
“Forgiveness is not an emotion…Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” (Corrie ten Boom – “Tramp for the Lord”)
It is a choice that we have to make. She not only said it but by God’s grace also did it!
Corrie and her sister Betsie were interred during the 2nd World War in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. During this time they were subjected to inhumane, humiliating and degrading treatment by their Nazi captors culminating in the cruel execution of Betsie.
By God’s grace Corrie made it through the hell of the concentration camp. In time she felt she had eventually, by God’s grace, forgiven all those who had so cruelly treated her and her loved ones.
Preaching God’s love and forgiveness, on one occasion she was greeting the people after her talk when she saw someone. One moment she saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a cap with skull and crossbones. It all came back with a rush—the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. She could see her sister’s frail form ahead of her, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. The man who was making his way forward had been a guard—one of the most cruel guards. He stood in front of her, hand thrust out: "A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!" She fumbled in her pocketbook rather than take that hand. She thought “He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?” But she remembered him. She was face-to-face with one of her captors and her blood seemed to freeze.
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard there. But since that time, I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,"—again his hand came out—"will you forgive me?" Corrie stood there—she whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and now she could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to Corrie it seemed hours as she wrestled with the most difficult thing she had ever had to do. She knew she had to do it. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. And still she stood there with the coldness clutching her heart. "Jesus, help me!" she prayed silently. "I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling." And so woodenly, mechanically, she thrust out her hand into the one stretched out to her. And as she did, an incredible thing took place. She writes “The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. "I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!" For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.”
[Holocaust Victim Forgives Captor - Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord (Berkley, 1978), pp. 53-55]
Until we forgive those who wrong us, we imprison ourselves in the bitter fortress of our own unforgiveness. Only through God’s grace can we forgive. You and I can never manufacture forgiveness; it is contrary to our human nature. Philip Yancey calls it ‘an unnatural act’, saying that “You don’t find dolphins forgiving sharks for eating their playmates. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, not dog-forgive-dog.”
To harbor a grudge, to hold onto a spirit of unforgiveness, to bear hatred towards someone who has harmed or hurt us is easy. To forgive is not natural … it is supernatural and can only come about as you ask God, the Holy Spirit to pour His grace and forgiveness into your life. Forgiveness is something God must do within us as we yield to Him.
As we yield to Him, He reminds us of His mercy towards us. Remember Jesus issues a stern warning at the conclusion of his sobering parable on forgiveness told in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness.
"“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”" (Matthew 18:35, NLT)
The problem of the unforgiving servant was to balance the magnitude of the debt He owed and was forgiven with the debt of his fellow servant whom he refused to have mercy on. His failure was to recognize the extent of God’s mercy!
But you say, ”I can forgive but I just can’t forget.” If I forget I can remember!” Nowhere in Scripture does God say He forgets our sins rather He chooses to remember them no more. He treats us just as if we had not sinned. "And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”" (Hebrews 8:12, NLT) The word Jesus uses ‘to forgive’ means literally ‘to cast or hurl away’. God treats us just as if we had not sinned against Him; He requires that we do it for one another.
William Sangster was addressing Christmas Cards when a friend commented on one name of a person who had slighted Sangster. “Don’t you remember what He did to you?” “Oh yes I do but I have remembered to forget!”
Only when we choose to set the person who has injured us free, are we freed from the prison of unforgiveness. Notice Joseph does not seek retaliation or retribution from those who had harmed him. He seeks no apology first from his brothers before he will forgive them. Indeed, as he extends his forgiveness to them, he releases them from the hurt they caused … “But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” (Genesis 45:5, NLT)
Only God can help us to do this, but do it we must if we are to be free from the pain and hurt. But it does not end there.
JOSEPH CHOSE TO ALLOW GOD TO BLESS OTHERS THROUGH HIM
The Bible says … “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.” (Romans 12:17, NLT) or as Eugene Petersen paraphrases it … “Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.” (Romans 12:17, The Message)
When we are wronged, Paul says absorb them passively. As I say this, within all of us the hackles rise and we say… NO WAY! “YOU BUMPA MY CAR I SMASHA YOUR FACE” … Tit for tat, repaying in kind, or giving someone what they deserve. To this our human nature cries ‘YES! YES!
But this delight in retaliation has no place in the lives of those who have been redeemed, those whom God as the Psalmist reminds us "doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs." (Psalm 103:10, The Message) Indeed if we want blessing in our lives says Peter in his first epistle …
"Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and He will bless you for it." (1 Peter 3:9, NLT)
• His brothers had planned to kill Him; Joseph offered them life in a new land.
• His brothers threw him in a pit; he gave them choice real estate in Egypt.
• His brothers sold him into slavery; he gave them freedom
Notice what Joseph said to his brothers … “God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.” (Genesis 45:7, NLT)
The Bible does not tell us what happened to Potipher, his wife or the butler but how Joseph dealt with his brothers is surely an indication that Joseph neither retaliated nor sort retribution from them. Based on his track record, he would most certainly have honoured God by freeing them and himself from the injustices done and allowing God to use him to bless them.
The world says get even, seek revenge, extract retribution … God says … “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:19–21, NLT)
Jesus instructs us in A NEW WAY TO RESPOND when we are wronged… He says "You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow." (Matthew 5:38-42, NLT)
He underscores this with 4 simple illustrations of what this means…
• INSULT …
“If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also”
Yes, we say but beware when you have also slapped my left cheek! Surely there is a limit … Jesus says no, if your brother insults you not just seven times but seventy times seven you are to forgive and not to retaliate.
A NEW WAY TO RESPOND - NO RETALIATION
”If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too”
A NEW WAY TO RESPOND - YIELD PERSONAL RIGHTS
“If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles”
A NEW WAY TO RESPOND - BEYOND DUTY TO DELIGHT
“Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow”
A NEW WAY TO RESPOND - GENEROSITY
HATE MULTIPLIES HATE IN A SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE
LOVE IS THE ONLY FORCE THAT WILL TRANSFORM AN ENEMY INTO A FRIEND
Erwin Lutzer tells of a missionary friend who evangelized Muslims. One day he received a letter from an angry Muslim. It read, “Cursed be you, cursed be your wife and cursed be your children. Cursed be the home in which you live, cursed is the car you drive!” The missionary wrote back … “This is my prayer for you. Blessed be you, blessed be your wife and blessed be your children. Blessed be the home in which you live, blessed is the car you drive!”
He blessed Him, just as Jesus said he should; just as Joseph did those who had wronged him and just as you and I with God’s grace should bless not curse those who harm us!
HOW WE RESPOND WHEN WE HAVE BEEN WRONGED IS OUR CHOICE!
We can allow bitterness to take root in our lives and wallow in our hurts whilst planning our revenge but be warned as someone said “Bitterness is like swallowing a poison yourself and hoping our enemy will die!”
Or like Joseph, depending not on our own frailty but on divine strength …
WE CAN TRUST GOD AND CHOOSE
• TO LIVE IN THE FUTURE NOT IN THE PAST
• TO SET FREE THOSE WHO HAD INJURED US
• TO ALLOW GOD TO BLESS OTHERS THROUGH US
IT IS A DECISION YOU HAVE TO MAKE!
(Next time … TRUSTING GOD … WHEN GOD PUTS YOUR LIFE ON HOLD)
Our Heavenly Father God, the thought of Your infinite wisdom has often cheered us; for in this life as our dear Saviour warned us we will encounter hurts, hardships and hassles, but Father we are comforted by the reminder to take heart for you have overcome the world.
Your Plans and Purposes stand fast as the eternal hills and you will carry them out. Your power knows no bounds, Your goodness no end. You bring order out of confusion, and our defeats are but Your victories. We sow in tears, but You enable us to reap in joy. Our eternal wellbeing is safely in Your Hands, even while we groan and mourn at our present lot. Our hearts rejoice to know that the Lord our God reigns.
Father we come to you throne this morning bearing the pain and hurt of being wronged and we unburden ourselves before you this morning. Forgive us for harbouring bitterness against those who hurt us, forgive us for forgetting how much and how frequently we hurt you by going our own way, doing our own thing, we rebel against Your will and consequently sin. We forget how much and what it cost for You to have mercy on us and yet we withhold mercy from others. Help us to forgive those who sin against us as you have forgiven us. Take away all the bitterness that is poisoning our lives and the lives of those around us and help us to bless and not curse those who hurt us. Help us to love and to pray for those who have wronged us.
We have trusted You for many years, and Your faithfulness has never been under suspicion, nor Your love a matter of question. We leave every concern about our families, about ourselves, about our business, or about our souls, entirely with our God and lay all our hurts, pain and heartaches at the foot of the Cross. AMEN