Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Current Study: People Who Made a Difference
Today’s Topic: Forgiveness Makes A Difference
Today’s Scripture: Genesis 50:15-21 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
What an incredible story. After all that Joseph had been subjected to as a result of his brothers’ sins against him, he forgave them. He didn’t hold a grudge. He didn’t seek revenge. He didn’t try to get even. Instead, he restored them and cared for them, providing for their every need. He built them back up through reassuring and kind words. He truly made a difference.
Forgiveness makes all the difference. We can make a significant difference in the lives of others if we will forgive them. But how is that really possible, given the hurts and sufferings they have caused us. We have been given a standard of forgiveness in Scripture. The Apostle Paul says to the church at Colosse, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Whoa! That’s a pretty high standard. I’m supposed to forgive others the way Jesus forgave me? Yes! I’ll let you in on a key principle that I discovered just this morning – forgiveness is possible when we consider the purpose of God ahead of our own hurts. Let’s go back and look at the story of Joseph. One of the greatest statements about forgiveness in all of Scripture is made by Joseph when he says, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Joseph made it very clear that his choices were not dictated by the choices of others, but by the purpose of God. He was not influenced by the hurts he had suffered, but by the things God was accomplishing through those hurts. As we said yesterday, he had his eyes clearly focused on the bigger picture.
When we learn to get our eyes off of ourselves and focused on what God is doing, we will be willing to endure any suffering for the sake of God’s purpose. That’s how Jesus was able to forgive us. Was he hurt by our sin? Did he suffer because of our sin? Yet he forgave us, because he was focused on the purpose of God rather than what He was suffering. And He did it before we even felt bad about it.
It would be appropriate to point out that there was a proper spirit in the lives of the brothers when they came to Joseph to ask for forgiveness. In fact, there are some great lessons to be learned from the brothers about what our attitudes and actions should be when we have wronged another person. First, they came with a full admission of their guilt. They knew they had wronged him. They admitted their sin. Second, they came with fear, which was an indication of their acknowledgment of their own guilt and the right of their brother to enforce any consequence. Third, they humbled themselves before Joseph. They were willing to receive whatever consequences were coming to them. They even suggested what an appropriate consequence would be. They were willing to be lowered to the position of slave to their younger brother. These elements should all be present in the life of a person who is truly repentant for their sin.
But I want you to notice something incredibly significant, not only about Joseph’s story, but about Christ’s as well. There was no need for those attitudes to be present for love to be expressed. Joseph said, Am I in the place of God? In other words, What right do I have to condemn you and hold a grudge when it is God’s place alone to judge the hearts of men? This was Joseph’s heart before he even knew what his brothers were thinking. Joseph did not allow his own hurts to come before his acknowledgment of God. God’s love had so permeated his heart that his hurts had been long before dissolved into forgiveness. God did the same thing for us. God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8)
Our hearts are like gardens. We choose what seeds to plant. We can plant seeds that will bear a harvest of righteousness, or we can plant seeds that will produce a harvest of bitterness. If we allow the weeds that have grown up around our good crop to remain, we will diminish our harvest. But if we will pull them up and discard them, we will increase our harvest of righteousness. Here’s a hint. When you’re pulling up the weeds, stop asking where they came from. We are truly not responsible for how the weeds of hurt and pain got into our lives. We are only responsible to use those weeds as a motivation to cultivate the good seeds so they produce a bountiful harvest. That’s what love does. That’s how forgiveness happens.
You can make a difference in someone else’s life today. Forgive them. Pull the hurts from your heart and look at the purpose of God. He’s saving people’s lives by forgiving them. Let’s join Him in that mission.