“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
After spending years first as a slave and then in prison because of his wicked brothers, God honored Joseph’s faithfulness by lifting him up out of the pit and placing him on the highest rung of Egyptian society. From a stony jail cell to a plush seat next to the Pharaoh. So, when his brothers showed up in need, the roles were suddenly reversed. Now, they were at his mercy and he had full authority to do whatever he wanted to them. But Joseph didn’t use it as an opportunity to ‘get even.’ He didn’t avenge himself for the blatant wrong they had committed. Now, that’s not to say that he let them off easy, but his heart wasn’t filled with thoughts of hate or blood-lust. Instead, God’s compassion and love so overflowed in Joseph’s heart that he saw their wickedness in a completely different light. He wasn’t concerned with the wrong they had done him, but rather with the “many people” saved by God through their sin.
When others attack us or oppose us, our flesh will naturally desire to retaliate. We will want to get back at them. The sinful nature desires to inflict the same pain that it’s felt. But this instinct isn’t one that flows from a heart of love. In Luke 6, Jesus exhorted his disciples:
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Jesus has called us to a new way of living: One that denies self. It’s a road that has no room for self-will, self-righteousness, self-vengeance, or anything else that flows from a heart centered on self. Instead, Christ’s Spirit empowers us to deny self to the uttermost. When we deny self, we no longer see the abuses we face as personal affronts to be avenged. The insults hurled our way are no longer arrows that we must deflect and return. The persecutions cease being a cause for retaliation and strife in our lives. As we deny self, we see all of these things in the light of Christ. We realize that each of these is a symptom of the sin-sickness that infects those around us. The only retaliation that we’ll deem appropriate is concerned prayer for the persecutor. And we’ll realize that God may have a larger plan that he’s working out through our pain.
As we see the wrongs done us through Christ’s eyes, we can be confident that God will turn around even the worst that people throw at us for our benefit. For God uses the trials that we face to refine us and purify His image in our lives.
In closing, I’d like to quote something Thomas More wrote (while locked up in the Tower of London) concerning this story of Joseph and his brothers.
“Grant me Thy grace, good Lord… To think my most enemies my best friends; for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favour as they did him with their malice and hatred.”
Let us pray that God would grant us all such grace!