Loving Our Neighbor Through Forgiveness

Loving Our Neighbor Through Forgiveness

Text: Genesis 45:1-15 

  1. Forgiving required Joseph to forbear
  2. Forgiving required Joseph to have faith
  3. Forgiving required Joseph to forget
  4. Forgiving set Joseph free

Introduction: Over the past three decades I have had the privilege of serving in full-time Christian ministry. Through the years I have collected a few thought-provoking statements, each of which has challenged me to lead well. These have included sayings like: Don’t believe everything you think; An opposing opinion might help me arrive at the right one; Talk less, listen more; Give until it hurts; You’re not a servant until someone treats you like one; There is no right way to do a wrong thing; and Move toward, not away–build a bridge, not a wall. I suspect I could preach a sermon on any one of them, but this morning, I want to look at the last statement with you … move toward, not away–build a bridge not a wall. This is a reminder for me to think about what to do when I have been mistreated by someone else. At the risk of a little bit of self-disclosure, this has been a challenge for me because I’ve found that it is much easier and safer to put some distance between me and the person who has hurt or angered me. I do it by erecting an emotional wall in the space between us to protect from me any future attacks. Now, as a Christian and pastor, I know this isn’t how God wants me to respond, so in an attempt to continue to give the outward impression that I’m still a nice guy, I usually try to wrap it in a superficial, even kind, demeanor. I greet these people with a wave and a smile, maybe even ask how they’re doing, but I also work hard to keep them at arm’s length lest I risk being hurt again. Knowing that this is my tendency, I need to be reminded that the Lord has something else in mind for His followers when it comes to broken relationships. He says that we’re to …be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). Did you notice that the standard for forgiveness is no less than God Himself who has forgiven us for every evil thing we’ve done that offends His holiness? (By the way, every sin is ultimately against God. That’s what King David confessed after repenting of adultery with Bathsheba — “Against you, and you only have I sinned” — Psalm 51:4.) When Christ shed His blood on the cross He paid the penalty for all our sins. Through His sacrifice, He has become the bridge over which Christians pass as we make our way back to God. And now, as believers who desire to walk in a manner worthy of our Lord, we’re told to forgive the offenses of others so that we can build a bridge back to them in the same way that God built one back to us. But forgiveness has to be for the right reasons, doesn’t it? It’s entirely possible that we can go through the motions of forgiving someone but without being sincere. Listen to this story: An elderly man was walking along a beach one day when he found a magic lamp. He picked it up, wiped some of the mud and grime away, and as he did, lo and behold, a genie appeared. Astonished the man stood staring at the scene in disbelief. “Because you have freed me,” the genie said, “I will grant you one wish.” Realizing that this was a rare opportunity, the man thought long and hard before finally responding. “My brother and I had a fight 30 years ago and he hasn’t spoken to me since. I wish that he would finally forgive me.” With a loud thunderclap the genie declared, “Your wish has been granted. Then the genie continued, having been genuinely touched by the request. “You know, all the others have asked for wealth or fame, but you only wanted the love of your brother. That’s really beautiful. Please tell me why. Is it because you are old and nearing the end of life?” “No,” the man responded, “but my brother is, and I just found out that he’s worth about $60 million.

That’s not what God has in mind when He commands us to forgive! As believers, our understanding of forgiveness is based on the teaching of God’s Word. And we know that it is absolutely foundational to the Christian faith for at least two reasons: (1) Our relationship with God is made possible as we receive forgiveness of our sins through Christ (See Acts 13:38-39). (2) Our fellowship with God is dependent on our willingness to forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15 — For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,   but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses). Why? Because the person who refuses to forgive the sin of others remains entrenched in sin himself! So the failure to forgive breaks our fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:2 — …but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear) and those closest to us (Colossians 3:13-14 — Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity). THE SIMPLICITY OF THIS TEACHING IS OBVIOUS: YOU CANNOT LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, FRIEND, FAMILY MEMBER, CO-WORKER, FELLOW CHRISTIAN UNTIL YOU FORGIVE HIM. That makes this a very important matter for us all and one that we are going to take a closer look at together this morning. I am guessing that at least some of us here have been deeply and wrongly injured by the people we interact with every day. It is therefore a very big deal that we understand what it is going to take to forgive them. Otherwise, how will we be able to love your neighbor as God commands? With this thought in mind, I invite you now to turn in your Bible to Genesis, chapter forty-five and let’s consider from the story of Joseph and his brothers three requirements and one result of forgiveness. Here’s some background to this story that will help set the context for our messageYou may remember that Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery. His father did not bother searching for him because his brothers told Jacob that the boy had been killed by beasts. He eventually found himself living far from his family in the land of Egypt and serving one of Pharaoh’s officials. Through no fault of his own, he was accused of sexual misconduct and thrown into prison. While in jail, He was promised by his cellmate, the cupbearer to Pharaoh, that when he was released he would attempt to help Joseph. This did not happen, however, as the man quickly forgot about him, leaving the lonely Hebrew to languish there in prison. Now we pick up the story many years later. Joseph has been released from prison and recruited by Pharaoh to deal with an impending crisis — a seven year famine — about which God gave the king a dream that Joseph  interpreted for him. Because the Lord gave him favor, Joseph was charged with storing up food and distributing it in the lean years to keep the people alive and prosper Pharaoh in the process. In the providence of God, the remaining sons of Jacob eventually made their way down to Egypt and asked to buy grain from Joseph. Though they did not recognize him, he mostly certainly recognized them and put his brothers to the test before choosing the most opportune time to reveal himself. And that’s where we pick things up … Joseph is about to make himself known, and, in the process, demonstrate for us what it takes to be able to forgive those who hurt you. So let’s start with this:

Forgiving required Joseph to forbear (Genesis 45:1-4 — Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt). I mentioned the word “forbear” and I want to say that it is a good word that means to “restrain” or to “relax or loosen.” Here in this text we discover that Joseph was a man that acquired a forbearing spirit after having attended for many years the school of hard knocks. Given all that he had suffered, we would be hard-pressed to think of someone who had more of a right to seek revenge over those who had wronged him than Joseph. That’s why his brothers prepared for the worst! Did you notice their reaction in verse three when they realized who they were dealing with? It says, “They were dismayed at his presence.” The word means to tremble. Now that makes a lot of sense because Joseph had the power to do anything he wanted to them. Having been appointed second in command in all of Egypt, Joseph could merely have spoken a word and his brothers would have suffered and perished for their sins against him. Yet when finally presented with the perfect opportunity to exact vengeance, he did nothing of the sort! Instead, he demonstrated restraint and chose to respond with grace and kindness. Application: Fortunately for his siblings, it turns out that Joseph was not the same man he was some twenty or more years before, when he received such harsh treatment from them. His character over time had continually conformed to that of the God he served, whom, we’re told, is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. And so he didn’t become consumed with thoughts of retribution, but chose to show restraint because it was the godly thing to do. Application: What can we learn from this? IF WE ARE GOING TO FORGIVE THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED US, WE MUST, LIKE JOSEPH, LEAVE ANY VENGEANCE TO THE ONE WHO JUDGES RIGHTEOUSLY (Hebrews 10:30 — For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God). This is why Christians are expected to turn the other cheek. The Lord is far more capable of administering justice than we are. Illustration: There once was a four-year-old who was playing with his younger sister when all of a sudden and out of nowhere, she grabbed his hair and pulled as hard as she could. The boy screamed and within 15 seconds his mother was at the door. “What happened?” she asked. “She pulled my hair,” he said between sobs. “There, there. She didn’t mean it. Why she’s so young she doesn’t even know that it hurts to pull someone’s hair.” Without a word the little boy reached over and jerked the hair on his little sister’s head as hard as he could. She immediately burst into tears. Before his mother could say a word, he looked at her and said, “Does now!” Revenge may feel sweet, but it is never our place. We’re called to forbear (Philippians 4:5 — Let your forbearance be known to all men). In doing so we build a bridge, not a wall and move toward not away from someone who has hurt us.

Forgiving required Joseph to have faith (Genesis 45:5-9 — And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry). Faith as we learned in our last preaching series is the choice to cling to what is promised (by God) and hoped for (by us), because we know with certainty that it will come to pass, though for a time it remains unseen. If we are going to be able to forgive others, we must somehow learn to see the sovereign hand of God working in all of our circumstances despite the hurts and pains we suffer. People, as we know, tend to find security in a lot of things. Wealth, status and knowledge are but a few. Believers, however, have learned not to look to any worldly offering, but to God Himself for protection from the storms of life (Psalm 46:1-3 — God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling). We put our faith in God and that’s what Joseph did. Four times in this paragraph we find phrases that indicate to us how he found the ability to forgive his brothers. It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you (Verse 5);” “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance (Verse 7);” “…it was not you who sent me here, but God (Verse 8);” “God has made me Lord of all Egypt…(Verse 9).” Did you hear it? Joseph put in His trust in the Lord and nothing else. Despite his brothers intention to harm him, he knew God was there all along working in and through every circumstance to accomplish His good, perfect and acceptable will. Over time, Joseph came to see what the Lord was doing and it changed his entire outlook on everything that had happened. That’s the benefit of looking at life through the lens of faith! Application: Listen…when we refuse to forgive, it is because we see ourselves solely as victims. But that’s never true. Did you know that God first filters every event in our lives through His loving will for us before it ever takes place? How much less a victim would we think ourselves to be if we acknowledged the sovereign hand of God at work in each and every circumstance? We may not understand at the moment of our pain and suffering what He is doing or why He is doing it, but to know that nothing comes to us apart from the One who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will should comfort and encourage us. Listen to this verse from Ephesians 1:11 — In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. “All things” includes even the negative stuff that others do to us. If we walk by faith in the Lord then we can build a bridge, not a wall–move toward not away from those who have caused us pain knowing that He is always working it out for our good.

 Forgiving required Joseph to forget (Genesis 45:10-13 — You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here). Joseph was able to forget in the same way that God does. He chose not to hold his brothers’ sins against them (Hebrews 10:17 — Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more against them). This isn’t to say that Joseph forgot all that happened to him. Just a few short chapters later, after his father Jacob had died, he referred to the former events again and reminded his brothers that God intended all of it for good. It was no longer necessary for him to dwell on their betrayal. Once he’d forgiven what happened in the past, he was able to assign it to the past. Application: If we are truly going to forgive those who have wronged us, we must commit ourselves to forget what they did. This is not to say that we have the ability to remove a hurtful memory from our conscious minds, but we can, like Joseph and our Lord, choose to never again hold it against someone again. Or to put it another way, those who continually bring up past offenses still need to forgive them. If you want to build a bridge, not a wall–move toward, not away then you’re going to have to forgive an offense and choose to put it forever behind you.

 Forgiving set Joseph free (Genesis 45:14-15 — Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him). Joseph forgave his brothers and his relationship with them was transformed in the process. Having laid down any hurt, resentment or anger, and recognized how God used it all for the benefit of his extended family, he was free to love. That same thing can happen for us as well. There is great freedom to restore a broken relationship when you finally forgive the one who hurt you.

A question: So is there anything you still need to forgive your neighbor for? Have you been wronged and unable to let it go? You can if you want to but it will require that you forbear, have faith and forget. Then you’ll have the freedom to love the offender again.

Conclusion: As we think about loving our neighbors, I know that some of us have some forgiving to do before we can open up our lives once again to the people living across the street. If we desire to be used by God to bless them, this is the only pathway that we can expect Him to bless. This past September (2017), a man who lives in the tiny central California town of Twain Harte got so steamed by the gospel music his neighbors constantly blasted (some call this evangelism rather than evangelism) that he retaliated — with pornography. Mr. Payback, who didn’t want to give his name to a local television station, moved his big-screen TV to his back deck, put on an X-rated movie and turned up the volume as high as it would go, CBS Sacramento reported. “It was just to kind of give them a taste of offensive play there, just a little payback,” he told the TV station. “One day it [the gospel music] went on for 12 hours, and my dog was howling and it was bad.” The TV station says that the gospel lovers then called county sheriff’s deputies to complain. The neighbor hasn’t faced any charges so far, and he says he won’t be living in the neighborhood much longer anyway. What a shame! Do you think the Christian neighbor should have taken a different course of action? Suppose he had decided to move toward, not away–build a bridge, not a wall to the man?  Perhaps, rather than run him out of the neighborhood, he could have reached out to the fellow with love and forgiveness and, in doing so, provided a much different picture of the Christian faith.