Have you been unintentionally insulted or neglected lately? Has someone forgotten your birthday? Has a friend reminded you of something that you did a long time ago when you were a different person? If you are alive, we imperfect people in your life are doing and saying hurtful things, but not usually because we want to disappoint or insult you. Sometimes we’re in emotional pain and unable to think clearly, or in physical pain that is all-consuming. We may be tied up with anxiety over a work project. Financial challenges, elderly parents in decline, and teenagers who are running amuck may be taking all our mental and emotional coping energy. You can’t control our words or actions, but you can manage your responses (and seek God’s help when you’re the one who is unkind or neglectful). Jacob, renamed Israel by the Lord, had the problem of biased love and hurt at least ten of his sons by his greater affection for one, Joseph. However, Joseph’s brothers responded to their father’s prejudice with anger and envy. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4) As a result of their jealousy and hurt, the brothers were unable to be reasonable with Joseph, according to the passage. They took revenge on him and their father by stripping Joseph of his robe, throwing him into a well, selling him off to Egyptian traders, faking his blood on the robe, and presenting it to their father who was distraught at the thought of losing his beloved son (Genesis 37:25-35). The robe that Jacob made for Joseph, as a token of his love, became a symbol of his sons’ hostility. But Joseph, when meeting up with his brothers much later in life, as the prime minister of Egypt, offered them hospitality and forgiveness. Joseph’s life yielded great fruit for his family and the nation of Israel.
The trials that Joseph endured—his brothers’ hatred, being sold and living as a slave in an Egyptian’s home, being unjustly accused of adultery, and imprisonment—were all part of God’s discipline for him. These hard experiences appear to have had a remarkable impact on Jacob’s eleventh son, who was able to respond to his brothers in peace in Egypt during the famine. Hebrews 12:11 states that “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Joseph’s peaceful fruit of righteousness is captured, in particular, in Genesis 43:30, “Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.” And, again in Genesis 50:19-21 “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Joseph’s merciful and gracious forgiveness points to the truth of 1 Peter 1:6-7 “…though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He was the bridge between the patriarchs and Moses, whom God used to establish his nation, pointing to the Christ, our eternal King over the kingdom of God.
None of us enjoys difficulties, afflictions, or trouble—that would be crazy. But just because we don’t like the idea of things going south for us doesn’t mean that those times are worthless. If God had not taken Joseph through his fire of refinement, would he have been able to offer his brothers so much grace? You and I know many young Christians who have yet to be tested by God and therefore may be unable to respond peacefully to difficult people or circumstances. We don’t expect a car to be safe if it’s never been through safety tests by the manufacturer. We wouldn’t think that medicines are okay if they haven’t been tested in many ways by many people before being approved by the FDA. So why should we expect someone to respond well when they have never been tested? Why do you think you can respond with grace if you’ve never been challenged?
The apostle Paul was challenged by many believers and unbelievers in many ways, many times. Yet he still prayed for the Lord to take away his “thorn,” trusting in God’s grace to help him with a mysterious hindrance to his ministry. But the Lord did not take his problem away; instead, he reminded Paul that it was God’s power that was in play in his difficult circumstances. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9a) And how did Paul respond? He said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs. 9b-10) Paul responded with the gospel, that calls that the weary and weak depend on Christ. Matthew Henry says this about Hebrews 12:11, “God’s correction is not condemnation; the chastening may be born with patience, and greatly promote holiness. Let us then learn to consider the afflictions brought on us by the malice of men, as corrections sent by our wise and gracious Father, for our spiritual good.” (1)
In a recent Sunday School class on the gospel, our pastor taught us that gospel-centered relationships reflect the grace of God in our love, hospitality, and forgiveness for each other. We love others because God first loves us. We invite others to our tables because God has invited us to his. And we forgive others because we recognize and remember how much we have been forgiven by God. (2) How do your responses to certain types of people reflect your need for more gospel-speak, prayer, and perhaps Bible study for yourself? To whom do you need to respond more graciously and peacefully, with the gospel? As Easter approaches, how will you celebrate the forgiveness we have in our risen Savior, Jesus Christ?
(1) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Hebrews 12:11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/proverbs-30.htm
April 10, 2019