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Forgiveness (text)

November 27, 2011 Series: Genesis

Topic: Relationships Passage: Genesis 50:15–50:21

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**Unfortunately the recording of this message was lost due to technical problems. We apologize for the inconvenience.

When we left off last week, Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers. After testing them and seeing that they had changed he finally couldn’t take it anymore and they wept together. He sent them back to get his father and all that they owned to live with him in Egypt. Then at the end of chapter 49, after Israel blessed his sons, he died and chapter 50 begins with Joseph and his brothers burying their father together. 

The overall theme of this book has been the faithfulness and blessing of God in the lives of His servants in spite of their sin. We have learned much about faith and righteous, grace and His patience, His covenant faithfulness; and the vertical nature of this book is vital to our spiritual health. Now, the life of Joseph has continued to highlight our relationship with God but has given us a much closer look at the horizontal aspect of our lives-our relationships with one another. And our passage today is distinctly horizontal. 

Let’s begin reading in 50:15-they have now returned to Egypt. There is much for us to learn from the example of Joseph about forgiveness, more than we can cover today. But thankfully we have this story preserved in the word and a lifetime to learn it. 

Neil Anderson wrote: “Most of the ground that Satan gains in the life of Christians is due to unforgiveness.” This statement isn’t hard to agree with when we consider the characteristics associated with unforgiveness such as self-righteousness, pride, anger, bitterness, retaliation, unkindness, resentment, even despair. All things that drive us away from our God. 

The very idea and implication of forgiveness is that there is something that needs to be forgiven-a wrong has been committed. I doubt that any of us have been sold into slavery for the last 20 years. But without a doubt we have all been sinned against and lived with the effects of being sinned against. And the effects are real and painful. We heard Tony’s testimony last week and we were amazed by the grace and kindness of God in his life, but we were also outraged when we heard of the ways he was abused and mistreated. And I know in this room there are many other stories of the same. So this morning as we talk about forgiveness I want you to know that it is not my aim nor is it the heart of God to minimize your pain or trivialize the sins that have been committed against you. But I believe through the story of Joseph, which reflects the story of our Savior, there is hope, peace and relief from the pain of being sinned against. 

So the question is not have you been sinned against; the question is, have you forgiven those who have sinned against you and continue to wrong you? If not, are you aware of the prison that you’re living in; the chains that bind you; do you realize that the effects of withholding forgiveness drive you away from God and each other? Nancy Leigh DeMoss says that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping someone else would die”.  But let’s be honest, when we are sinned against, it feels so right to hold a grudge, it seems justified to withhold forgiveness. 

So how do we truly forgive? And how do we know when our forgiveness is true? Let’s look at 3 simple lessons from the example of Joseph: 

Know Who You Are

Vs. 19 “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” First, we have to know who we are. Have you ever heard the saying “don’t forget where you came from…or your roots”? People typically say this to people who have come from humble beginnings and made it big in life. The athletic superstar who grew up in the Harlem projects as a latch-key kid; the popular movie star or politician who came from the sticks of Kentucky. What they’re saying is: “now that you have what you need/want, now that you’re successful, now that made it big-don’t let it change you, don’t forget us. In other words “don’t forget who you are just because circumstances have changed.” 

In order to be able to genuinely forgive we have to know who we are. And in order to accurately know who we are we have to know who God is. So follow me on this brief segue into 1 John 4:

  • Vs. 7,8-God is love and love is from God so we are commanded to love one another.
  • Vs. 10-This is what love is: Jesus took the punishment for your sins so that you could be forgiven.
  • Vs. 11-If this is you, you also (in the same way) ought to love one another.
  • Vs. 20-If you don’t “love” your brother (in the same way that God loved you) you don’t love God.
  • Vs. 21-To say it a different way: Whoever loves God must love his brother.
  • Vs. 18-Fear of punishment=not experiencing love (forgiveness), Forgiveness=no fear of punishment 

Now turn back to Genesis 50:19 and notice what Joseph says to his brothers: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?”  You see, at its root unforgiveness is all about punishment due or payment owed. And Joseph is aware that it is not his place to pay back. God is the one who holds the scales of justice and God is the one who will settle every account. It is God and God alone who is rightly justified in giving punishment to those who sin. Listen to Romans 12:19 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

The brothers feared. And in reality, they should have feared. Think about Joseph and Jesus for a minute. Joseph had the authority and position to be able to rightly punish his brothers for a legitimate and heinous crime against himself. And Jesus, the perfect Son of God, certainly would have been justified in punishing all those who sinned against him. But Joseph saw that he was not in the place of God and Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped; no, both humbled themselves and entrusted themselves to the one who judges justly. And yet, even after being exalted and receiving authority, they chose mercy and forgiveness.   

If this is the example of the Son of God then who are we to demand more? The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 illustrates this for us clearly: 

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

            “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 

Are we perfect; are we holy, do we deserve to be treated as King? Who are we? Who are we to hold a grudge? We are sinners saved by grace; offenders pursued by the one we offended; we know the active love of God extended to us through the humiliation and death of Jesus. Who am I to stand up and demand just treatment? Who am I? Joseph has already answered this question for himself-“don’t fear me, I’m not in the place of God”. 

How do we forgive and love the ones who have caused us pain and sinned against us? First, as those who have been forgiven much freely by God, we recognize that we are not God and not in a position to play God. Second… 

Trust That God Uses Evil for Good

Trust that God uses even evil for good. He is sovereignly in control and uses even evil for good to position us to accomplish His plan for our lives. Vs. 20- Joseph tells his brothers: “what you meant for evil God used for good.” Joseph saw the hand of God-in the pit, on the road the Egypt, in Potifers house, being wrongly accused, in jail-weave His plan to prepare and position Joseph so that, at the right time he could be used to save many. 

This is one of the many mysteries of God-that in the midst of trial, pain, suffering, sin and heartache God is at work transforming us from the inside out; refining us as through the fire, so that we would be prepared and positioned to accomplish His work and will for our lives. But if we have adopted an Americanized expectation of the Christian life, being sinned against will not be tolerated. Instead, opportunities to grow in Christ and to extend forgiveness and the grace that we have been given will be replaced with disillusionment, suspicion and mistrust of fellow Christians, the church and ultimately God himself. Because, ultimately, if we don’t trust the sovereignty and providence of God as good then we have made ourselves God as the Judge of what is good. 

Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered-and he suffered at the hands of men. If God saw fit to grow and develop Jesus through suffering I think it’s safe to say that, even though it was evil, it was for good; and even safer to say that if Jesus experienced this, so will His followers. Sometimes I think we just need to get over ourselves and understand that our life is bigger than me, right here, right now, getting what I want, doing what I want, having you treat me like I want. We need to live like we belong to someone else; like we don’t have rights. And we need to trust that God is in control using all things for the good of those who love Him, even when we are sinned against and miss treated. How else is a lost world going to see Christ in this generation? 

Look for the Fruit

The 3rd lesson from Joseph is not from what he says but what he does. Vs. 21, “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” We need to look for the fruit of forgiveness-2 aspects. 

First fruit: how we treat our offenders. Joseph’s forgiveness led to action, as it always does. He spoke to them with kindness, comfort and encouragement; he promised to provide for them. This is the opposite of what you’d expect. But Joseph held nothing against them and withheld nothing from them. Jesus died on the cross to forgive sins. We have been “died” for…it should be a privilege for a sinner saved by grace to extend the same patience, kindness, mercy and forgiveness that we have received. Who am I to withhold forgiveness when Jesus Christ is extending it at the same time? 

The result of knowing who we are (as sinners saved by grace) coupled with trusting that God is using all things for our good and his glory leads us to act a certain way when we are sinned against. And that way looks like Jesus. Which leads to the second fruit of forgiveness… 

Second fruit: our witness to the world. The world doesn’t know forgiveness or mercy. But John 13:35-“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Again, this is the love of Christ, love that dies, love that forgives. If we don’t forgive what Jesus will they see? But when we forgive-truly forgive-they see Christ and the gospel at work. The fruit of our forgiveness will be a demonstration on display for the world to see and it will communicate one thing: 

In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

All of us need to grow in being forgiving to varying degrees. For some of us, it’s just pride, self-righteousness and arrogance. You have a wrong understanding of who you are and this is a daily struggle in the little things-but they do add up. You need to repent.

But some of you are living with unforgiveness over signifigant issues. It may feel right, you may feel trapped in it, you may not want to even think about it because the pain and memories are more than you think you can handle. But I have good news for you-Jesus understands, he was sinned against, betrayed, he suffered at the hands of men; He is able to sympathize with you. And His death has provided the atonement that you need to be forgiven of your sin. And His Spirit will comfort you and encourage you and heal you. And he is using even this to prepare you for future use in his kingdom. 

But you will be of little use if you are sitting in a cell like the unforgiving servant. I want to gently but firmly encourage you to do whatever it takes to forgive. Trust your God. I understand it could be complicated-there is no cookie-cutter method for dealing with person offences and unforgiveness. If you need help please ask. There is freedom and forgiveness for you on the other side of this. 

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."

Thessalonians 3:5

 

More in Genesis

November 20, 2011

Grace for Change, Mercy for Reconciliation

November 13, 2011

The Right Ambition for the Right Promotion

November 6, 2011

Divine Disappointments