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Choose Forgiveness

Last week we began looking at the life of Joseph. And while he’s a fairly well-known character of the Bible, he’s not really famous because of anything he did. Not like David who is famous for killing Goliath or Noah who built the ark or Joshua who conquered Jericho. Even though Joseph did some notable things, none of those accomplishments were really his claim to fame. Instead, Joseph’s fame mostly came because of something he owned. Something that he was given.

And of course, you guys remember what that was… the coat of many colours or as some translations put it, a beautiful robe.

Joseph was given this beautiful robe by his father, Jacob, and it wasn’t just so that Joseph could look good. It wasn’t just a fashion statement – but rather it was a symbol of the high position and privilege that Joseph enjoyed in the sight of his father.

You’ll remember that Joseph, while younger than his ten older brothers, was the first-born of Jacob’s second (and favorite) wife, Rachel. 

It’s a pretty messy family tree, but Jacob had married two sisters as well as their two servants. These two sisters lived in perpetual jealousy of one another because Jacob very clearly loved Rachel (the younger sister), and really only married Leah because he had been tricked by his father-in-law. (It’s a really weird story…)

But in order to try to win Jacob’s love now, these two sisters basically competed with each other by having children – both of them giving their servants to Jacob as additional wives in order to have more kids. So between these four wives, Jacob had 12 sons and one daughter. Joseph was child #10, but he was the first child that Jacob had with Rachel. 

Because of this, Jacob loved Joseph far more than any of his other children – and they knew it. It was no secret. In fact, this beautiful robe – the coat of many colours – that Jacob gave to Joseph shouted out just how much higher on the totem pole Joseph was as compared to his brothers.

You see, this robe could be compared to a kingly robe – it wasn’t the sort of clothing that you would wear to go work on the family farm. This was more the clothing of upper management. Jacob gave this to Joseph to elevate him above his brothers – to show the world, really, that Joseph was indeed his favourite and most beloved son.

And of course, this favouritism in the family – evident both with Jacob’s wives as well as their children, couldn’t help but make for some very unpleasant family dynamics. Multiple times we are told that Joseph’s brothers hated him. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.

This hatred was further compounded by Joseph’s dreams. You’ll remember that he had two dreams. In the first dream, he was out in the field with his brothers – gathering up bundles of grain – when suddenly, his bundle of grain stood up and all his brother’s bundles came and bowed dow before his bundle.

If that wasn’t enough to make his brothers upset, in the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars (representing his father, mother, and his eleven brothers) all bowed down to Joseph.

It seemed pretty clear to everyone that these dreams were insinuating, (that Joseph’s family would one day bow down to him) but it was much less clear how, or if, this would actually become reality. 

Joseph’s brothers refused to believe that they would one day bow down to Joseph – and they hated him all the more because of these dreams. Joseph’s father seemed to balk at the idea as well, but he at least considered what these dreams could mean.

And that’s about where we left off last week – with Joseph’s brothers hating him because he was the favorite child, and then hating him more when he got that beautiful robe, and then hating him even more when he had those dreams.

And you know, for a family that would one day grow to be God’s special people – the nation of Israel – this family was pretty messed up. And maybe even that is an encouragement to you this morning. Perhaps you can relate to being in a messed up family – but take heart – if God can do great things with this family – He can do some pretty awesome stuff in yours!

But let’s continue on today see what happens next in this messed up family. We’re going to pick it up in Genesis chapter 37, starting today at verse 12.

12 Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

14 “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.” So Jacob sent him on his way, and Joseph traveled to Shechem from their home in the valley of Hebron.

15 When he arrived there, a man from the area noticed him wandering around the countryside. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

16 “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph replied. “Do you know where they are pasturing their sheep?”

17 “Yes,” the man told him. “They have moved on from here, but I heard them say, ‘Let’s go on to Dothan.’” So Joseph followed his brothers to Dothan and found them there.

Genesis 37:12-17

Now I’d never really made this connection before, but as I read through these verses, I realized that these verses sound very much like what we read last week in the very first verse in the story of Joseph. Remember verse 2:

This is the account of Jacob and his family. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing. Genesis 37:2

I found this to be a curious way to start the story of Joseph, but I think it adds another layer of understanding to what’s going on here. In this first verse, after being out with this half-brothers tending the flocks, Joseph brings back a bad report to his father. We weren’t sure last week as we talked about this, if he was just being a snitch or if he had some supervisory role or what was going on, but based on verse 14 now, it would appear that perhaps Jacob had given him that job of bringing back such a report. Verse 14 says…

14 “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.” Genesis 37:14

Perhaps this was a common role for Joseph. I think that would actually tie in quite well with what we know already. Especially knowing that Jacob had given Joseph that beautiful robe – a robe that you certainly wouldn’t wear if you were out doing manual labor – but certainly the kind of robe you’d wear if you were the guy in charge – supervising everyone else as they did the work. It seems to me that we’re starting to get a much clearer picture of the roles and the relationships within this family.

So following his father’s instructions, Joseph heads out to find his brothers so he can bring back a report as to how everything is going. And his brothers are quite a distance away. From Hebron where they lived to Shechem is about 50 miles, with Dothan another 15 miles from that. So just to put that in our world, that would be like us walking from here to a little further than Rocky Mountain House. So it’s quite a journey – probably taking at least a few days for Joseph to get there – not counting the time he spends wandering around the area looking for them. 

But he does eventually find his brothers – and then in verse 18 we read:

18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!” Genesis 37:18-20

Now I hope you’re shocked when you read that. I know many of us have read this story time and time again – so maybe it’s lost some of that shock value from the first time you read it – but this is appalling stuff!

His brothers are actually plotting and planning to kill him! They’re not just planning to play a cruel practical joke, or to bully him or make fun of him – they are planning to end the life of their brother. They are so consumed by their hatred of him, that they are willing to commit the premeditated murder of their own brother.

This is horrendous and outrageous! How did it ever come to this?! I mean sure, you can understand brothers disliking one another – especially considering the toxic environment that these guys grew up in. Their parents’ favouritism and jealously almost guaranteed their animosity. And you could maybe even understand these brothers wanting to hurt Joseph on some level – to put him in his place as it were – to show him who was really the boss. But to end his life?

How did their hatred ever grow to such evil depths? How did they become so consumed with so much hate?

Well, I think Paul gives us the answer to that – and an earnest warning for us as well. In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul writes:

And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27

Somewhere along the way, likely many years before this all happened, these brothers allowed their anger to give a foothold to the devil. They allowed that bitterness and resentment towards their brother to grow unchecked in their lives and in their heart. And it probably didn’t happen over night, but as time went on, that unchecked anger grew and grew. And now, by this point in our story, these guys were so consumed by their anger and hate that they didn’t care who they hurt – their brother, their father, or anyone.

And what started off as a foothold for the devil, rapidly grew into a stronghold for the devil as their anger controlled them more and more.

And that is such a potent warning for us as well. What can start off as just a minor irritation can quickly grow into bitterness, anger, and resentment if we leave it unchecked. That’s why Paul tells us not to let the sun go down while we are still angry – because leaving anger to fester for even just one day is enough to allow it to start taking control of your life. 

In our kids club we see so many angry kids that it just breaks your heart. They are angry at their parents, angry at their friends, angry at the world, angry at God – And if they don’t deal with that anger – if they let if grow and allow it to consume them, it will destroy them from the inside out (you can see that already happening at this age) and the collateral damage to the people around them will be great. 

So how do we deal with anger? Obviously, things are going to happen in our life that will cause us to get angry. I don’t think we can avoid that. Certainly for Joseph’s brothers, they couldn’t just avoid the fact their father was obviously favouring Joseph over them. They couldn’t avoid the fact that many times, Joseph came across as an arrogant jerk… they couldn’t avoid that and they couldn’t change that.

But they could change how they reacted to it. 

Instead of holding on to that anger, allowing it to grow and express itself in ever more horrendous ways, they could choose instead to eliminate that anger, by choosing to forgive.

After Paul warns us not to allow anger to control us, if we jump down a few verses in Ephesians to verse 31, Paul continues by saying:

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32

If we don’t want to be controlled by bitterness, rage, and anger, then we need to learn to forgive. Forgiveness is the key that releases you from the chains of anger and bitterness. And I know that can seem backwards.

I know there are many people don’t want to forgive the other person for whatever terrible things they’ve done to them because they feel that, by forgiving that person, they’re letting that person off the hook – they’re letting them go free!

But the opposite is true. By hanging on to your anger, you’re the one who is imprisoned. You are the one being controlled and held captive by your own anger. Forgiveness releases you! It lets you go free!

You’ve probably heard the saying that when you refuse to forgive someone, it’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. It doesn’t work that way. Bitterness and anger is far more damaging to you than it is to them. 

As Paul says, anger controls you – it gives a foothold (which quickly becomes a stronghold) for the devil in your life. But forgiveness breaks that hold. It’s absolutely freeing!

Of course, I realize that forgiveness is not easy. I know that some of you have had terrible things done to you. Some of you have suffered physical abuse – some of you have been betrayed and lied to. Some of you have been treated like garbage. And I am so sorry that happened to you. But as hard as it is to forgive that person for whatever it was they did to you, I strongly encourage you to forgive them. 

Your forgiveness may or may not have any impact on them at all, but it will make all the difference for you. You can be freed from the burden of bitterness and anger and resentment. That is such heavy stuff to carry around with you all the time. But you don’t have to carry that – you can have joy and peace instead!

And that’s really what forgiveness is. It doesn’t mean you forget what happened. It doesn’t mean you ignore the hurt that it caused. It just means you choose to not to carry that bitterness, anger, and resentment anymore.

I can’t help but think of Jesus as he was being nailed to the cross. It was the ultimate injustice. I mean, he had never done wrong to anyone – he was the perfect, sinless Son of God – and yet these men had plotted and conspired to have him falsely arrested, put through a sham of a trail, and then condemned him to die. But even after he had been mocked, whipped, beaten, and nailed to cross for a slow and agonizing death – do you know what Jesus said?

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” 

Luke 23:34

Jesus refused to pick up the burden of bitterness, anger, or resentment. He forgave them and asked His Heavenly Father to do the same.

It certainly didn’t make the hurt go away – and I’m sure that Jesus never forgot the terrible things that happened to Him. But he chose not to hate those men. He chose not to be bitter and resentful towards them. He chose not to be controlled by anger. He chose to forgive.

And I wonder how differently life would have been for Joseph’s brothers if they had done likewise? I know we’ve only just begun the story, but as we keep reading, we’re going to see all kinds of heartache and hurt and troubles these guys will have to go through because they allowed anger and bitterness to control them. I wonder how much misery they could have avoided if they had chosen instead, like Jesus, to forgive?

This week our kids discovered a new song – I think they learned it at one of their school chapels. But the chorus of the song lists off all the fruit of the spirit as found in Galatians 5:22…

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a

And as I was listening to this song, I noticed that all of those fruits are pretty much the opposite of anger, bitterness and resentment. These fruits are all things that we do not see in lives of Joseph’s brothers.

We do not see love. We certainly don’t see any joy or peace. There is no patience. Certainly no kindness or goodness. Not even faithfulness. Absolutely no gentleness and no self-control.

These things are all lacking. And as I thought about it, it made perfect sense.

When you hold on to anger and bitterness and resentment, of course you’re going to be lacking those things. You can’t have bitterness and joy at the same time! There’s no peace to be had when you’re angry. Resentment is the complete opposite of love.

And this probably seems pretty obvious to all of you – but it was like a brand new revelation to me this week that we cannot experience the fruit of Spirit – we will not see those things produced in our lives if we refuse to forgive. We just cannot experience the fullness of God’s love, God’s joy, God’s peace, His patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control – if we hold on to anger and bitterness. They just can’t co-exist with each other.

So this morning, I’d encourage you just to take a few moments to look at your own life. Have you allowed a root of bitterness or anger or resentment to begin growing in your life? Maybe it’s not full-blown rage at anyone yet, but maybe its just a little resentment over some little comment or some little thing that someone did that bothered you a bit. And perhaps it seems like a really small issue right now – but as Paul warns us, don’t let that small issue give a foothold to the devil because that foothold will quickly become a stronghold. Anger quickly grows and begins to take control of your

 life – choking out the joy, peace, and love, and all those other good things that God wants to produce in your life.

Stop carrying the burden of bitterness, anger, and resentment. Choose to forgive instead. As we read in Ephesians 4:31…

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32

And I think that’s a great reminder to end on – “just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” We can forgive others because Christ has forgiven us.

We saw earlier how Jesus forgave those men who nailed him to the cross and put him to death. Well, in a large way, we were those men. Maybe we weren’t the one’s swinging the hammer, but it was our sin that lead to his death on the cross. It was our offences against God that caused Jesus to go to the cross to take the punishment for our sin.

We were the guilty ones – and Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

If you’ve never accepted that forgiveness, I would sure encourage you to consider doing that today. God is fully prepared to forgive you for every sin – big or small – that you’ve ever committed. 1 John 1:9 says…

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 1 John 1:9

God wants to relieve you from the burden of guilt and to restore your joy and your peace and a right relationship with Him. I would urge you to accept his forgiveness today.

And if you have already accepted that forgiveness, I’d also encourage you to offer that same forgiveness to the people who have wronged you. Hanging on to that anger, bitterness, and resentment only hurts yourself – it steals your joy and keeps you from having peace. Don’t let anger control and destroy your life. Choose forgiveness instead.

And by the way, that’s what exactly Joseph ended up doing. I know we didn’t get very far in our story today – we’ll try to get a little further next week – but at the end of Joseph’s story, forgiveness is exactly what Joseph offered to his brothers – despite the fact that they had plotted to murder him. It’s just an incredible story – and I can’t wait to share it with you in the weeks to come.

But for today, I’d encourage you – be like Joseph – be like Jesus – and choose forgiveness. Don’t let anger, bitterness, and resentment get a foothold in your life.

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