January 28, 2013
I have been convicted by my own challenge to think and work above the line (which is taking action and making progress by God’s grace – no matter what else happens). It is in holding myself accountable for my part in everything that really drives the point home and makes the difference. In light of these thoughts, I have recently finished reading through the book of Genesis in my daily time with God, and have seen the “real life” example of Joseph. He had every “right” to think and respond to his circumstances with “below the line” words and actions!
We all know the story: Joseph was mistreated by his brothers who roughed him up and threw him in an empty well because he was “daddy’s favorite.” He made them angry and jealous when he told them his outlandish dream which insinuated he would rule over his older brothers. He was sold to travelers and taken to Egypt where he was a slave for more than ten years – first in the house of an official and then in the large prison there. He was falsely accused by an immoral woman in the first slave position and was forgotten and not paid in his second position. I can easily imagine how in thirteen years – with any amount of self-focus – he could have had vengeful thoughts due to the pain and imprisonment caused by the wrongdoing of his own brothers.
But in an amazing, God-ordained turn of events, Joseph is elevated to second in command over all of Egypt after he interprets the troubling dreams of the Pharaoh. He administers the collection and distribution of food for all of Egypt during the widespread famine in the Middle East. While in this powerful position, Joseph one day finds himself face to face with those same ten brothers who deliberately sold him into slavery. After a series of events manipulated to test the hearts of his brothers, Joseph decides to reveal his true identity:
“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph,’ but his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence” (Genesis 45:1-3).
What an incredibly emotional scene! Joseph is letting all his pain and anger out, and his brothers are seized with fear and remorse for what they did to the one who now holds the power of life and death! It is truly one of the most explosive scenes in all of Scripture! Notice what happens next: Joseph initiates the practice of forgiveness and grace by calling them to come closer to him (when they all wanted to bolt for the doors and never look back), and he says, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” He begins by affirming what all the brothers were thinking — we did something very bad to you! It is important to realize Joseph did not ignore the wrongdoing; he acknowledges it, rather than trying to explain it away or rationalize a reason it was okay. It was and is wrong – that is what will allow forgiveness and grace to happen!
Here is a life principle: when we explain away the wrongs done to us or by us, we eliminate the need for grace and forgiveness; thus denying God’s provision and empowerment to work in supernatural ways through us and to us! Joseph did not say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to harm me,” rather, he said, “You intended to harm me.” (Genesis 50:20). Facing the reality of sin and pain allows God to step right into our lives and put grace where the pain was. To deny pain only suppresses the cool balm of forgiveness which will heal completely. Denial just “covers up” the pain as if it wasn’t there – leaving one to feel it even more deeply as it spreads beneath the surface.
Joseph deals “head on” with the wrong, and he sees a God bigger than the sin and wrong done to him. He goes on in this emotionally packed encounter to state: “and now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here (clear specific wrong noted again), because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). Yes, they are culpable for the wrong they did, but God has turned their wrong into an incredible right by Joseph’s response of grace and forgiveness. He states three times, “But God sent me here,” once even stating to those who sold him, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5,7,8).
By allowing God to work on his heart and prepare him to forgive his brothers, he shows God’s incredible provision and grace to not only himself as “lord of all Egypt” (v 9), but savior of his own family. Joseph asks about his beloved father and gives orders to bring him down to Egypt to be able to supply abundant grace for Jacob and his entire household during the remaining five years of famine. Joseph has no allowance for self-pity nor does he allow the actions of others (or lack thereof) to dictate his response. Note that he practices “above the line” faith and trust in God amidst the most difficult of situations. To Joseph, that meant trusting God and seeing His plan despite human failings. He didn’t make excuses about why God no longer loved him because his life had “gone south,” like so many of us do. God faithfully worked through this young man.
That is powerful. That is grace. That is forgiveness: having the humility to deal with the really ugly stuff of life – those years of prison, false accusations, and the pain of betrayal by your own family, yet seeing God’s plan to save. Is that how you (or I) respond when others fail and make your (or my) job or life difficult? Take another look at Joseph and realize how God can work through the difficult things. We are called to act for His glory and not to make excuses about another’s actions. Let God’s grace flow through you to others, not ignoring wrongs done. I need to trust God and think and act that way! That kind of grace and forgiveness is powerful.