This week's Bible Study - November 16, 2014
Quotes of the Week:
It is much easier to show compassion to animals. They are never wicked.
The title of this lesson is 'Beyond an Earthly Mindset". Isn't that the goal of all of our lives, especially for believers? We see the decay of morality in our world, and we realize that to align with the mindset of the majority is detrimental, not only to ourselves, but also to those around us. While some may applaud decisions that are being made that impact the moral fabric of our society, is there anyone that does not realize that the moral decay is moving at an alarming rate? There are those that explain any behavior as valid by saying, "that's just how I was born" - goodness, I hope that's not how we justify behavior. We are all born with a bent towards 'self' and none of us have to be taught how to 'sin'. Have you ever thought about how different your life would be if you gave into every base instinct you've ever had? You could reason away all sorts of behavior, becoming very self- focused. We all have an innately selfish desire. Just think about one of the first words that most kids learn - it's MINE!!!!. But as we mature, we realize that we can't be entirely motivated by our own selfish desires. You can't always be first in everything you attempt. You can't always have more than what others do; you shouldn't ignore rules and laws that others must obey. In many ways, we realize that it isn't always 'all about me'.
Compassion can be thought of as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune. It is more than just a feeling, as it is often accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering (even if in just some small way). I am sure that there are exceptions to this rule, as some people seem to show little to no compassion for others. You may have heard of Compassion International which is a Christian child sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty around the world. When we see the innocent children that are in the midst of such a situation, our hearts go out to them (and there is a corresponding desire among many to want to help). However, things change when the reports you see or read have an 'innocent' child holding a gun with a shoot to kill intent. We still feel sorry for the situation that they are in, but perhaps our compassion and the willingness to send money, shifts just a bit. Suddenly we find our compassion is challenged.
When we think of the church, I often wonder how compassionate people on the outside (or even on the inside) would say the church is. Churches get involved in things like Operation Shoebox, and many have food pantries and ministries geared to helping those less fortunate or in difficult circumstances. But what I'm really asking is this - does the church appear to have compassion on those whom are 'fallen believers'? I've heard my wife describe the church, at times, as 'cannibalizing their own'. I think that can be pretty spot on. We are willing to overlook a multitude of sins a person committed before they were saved, but if they do them as a mature, adult believer….watch out! This is not always the case and I want to be clear that I am not condoning sin or the consequences of them. But sometimes we can forget we are to hate the sin and love the sinner - and instead we end up judging, berating and belittling the person and the sin. We aren't able to separate the two. Yet, when asked, Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and next was to love your neighbor as yourself. It's a tricky combination - loving a sinner while not condoning what they did. How often have you heard someone say, "Well….if I were them, I would've ______". Yeah…..well….here's the truth of that situation. You can think you know what you'd do in a particular case, but until you are in that situation, you really don't have a clue as to what you would do. You can say you hope you'd do a certain thing, or not do something else. But you can't say with 100% certainty what you would do - because, my friend, you are simply speculating and speculations aren't facts - and between the two lies a difference the size of the Grand Canyon. What I'm getting at is this - we have to pray to have compassion on others and try to leave the judging and the "I'd have done's" alone. We don't know all the details of any given situation and in all likelihood, we never will. But we do know is tha
t every single sin grieves the heart of God, and that grace is offered to all who accept it. God's compassion for me doesn't stop. He still longs to have a relationship with me and He longs to see me restored. The question is - do we as a church offer the same compassionate heart to those who have fallen in our midst? Certainly, the church must take a stance on God's ideals and standards, but what often gets lost is the 'person' in the middle of the situation. That unfortunate soul may already be dealing with much more than we are aware of, and by pouring heaping buckets of judgment on them, we do little to help them deal with their situation. Are we guilty of trampling over them in our fervent desire to get them to align to what we think their life should be (based on God's standards)? In doing so, are we losing the fact that God loves all sinners, even in the midst of their funk? If they choose against what we think to be right, does this mean that we should no longer show compassion to them and effectively ostracize them? When we engage in this madness, what is it that the people on the outside are seeing?
When it came to the life of Joseph, we see a man who was wronged in more ways than we can imagine, by people who were never held accountable, and yet, when given the opportunity - he had and showed great compassion to them. Let's take a quick look back before we move forward with the remainder of this lesson.
Lesson Background - We have been looking at the life of Joseph, and in the last lesson, we saw a reunion between Joseph, second in command in Egypt, and his brothers, who had sold him into slavery years earlier. They had certainly thought (and perhaps hoped) that he was dead and no longer a problem. We know that out of sight does not mean out of mind, especially if this is how we deal with relationship issues. It is hard to imagine how the brothers must have felt, seeing Joseph, whom they had treated so badly. They had gotten to the point of not even caring if he lived or died. However, Joseph accepted them and forgave them. We know that this is difficult to do, and in some cases, it seems almost impossible. In fact, I think most of us would have a hard time being as forgiving as Joseph was. Wouldn't you want to make the brothers pay for what they had done first? I mean, you might ultimately offer forgiveness, but for a time (ok - maybe for a good long time), wouldn't most of us like to see them twirl in the wind, hanging by their own rope? It's closer to normal than most of us want to admit. We desire to be compassionate, but in truth, we really are pretty self - absorbed, and when we are hurt by others, we want them to hurt too. When we think we have the upper hand, we will at least be tempted to use it. Yet, Joseph sets an example of one who was able to look past the hurt and focus on the healing. Yes, time, and a lot of it, had passed since the brother's committed their evil against Joseph, and perhaps that played a role in how Joseph was able to be so forgiving.
From my own personal experience (this is Berkley), I've learned that when I try to punish another person for hurting me, and I withhold love or forgiveness, I am punishing myself just as much as I think I am punishing the other - and the longer I hold out, the worse it is. I do think taking some time and creating some space can be a good thing, but I also feel it's healthy to let the other person know that you do desire to see things healed and restored, but for now, you need some space. It doesn't mean you don't love that person and that you don't want to see or talk with them at all, but that there needs to be some passage of time for you to heal to the point of being able to be kind instead of hateful when you are with them. I'm a very verbal person and when I'm mad, I can unleash a torrent of angry words that are sharpened and aimed right at the heart of the one I'm angry with. So I've learned to keep my mouth shut until that anger has passed. I say all of that to say this - Joseph had time to be silent, to think and to pray. And in the end - I think he truly missed his brothers. I think over time the anger passed and what he held onto was love. And the love was able to overshadow his desire for revenge. Who knows how the story would have gone if this opportunity had occurred three years after Joseph had been sold into slavery. There are a lot of what if's we could speculate on. What if Joseph had been given the chance to forgive and offer compassion sooner but chose not to. Think of all the things that could have transpired over that time he was nursing his hurt. Some of his brother's could have died and opportunities for relationships could have been lost forever. It's not always easy to push past hurt and anger, but it's in our best interest if we can find a way to do that sooner than later.
It will certainly take time, but a true believer should find it within them (with God's help) to forgive others and perhaps even to have compassion upon them in the future. In your own life, have you forgiven and do you show compassion? Or, are you plotting and scheming another's demise? It is very difficult for a plotter and schemer to show true compassion.
Think for a minute about Jacob in this scenario. He is a father to twelve, has had one son die (or so he believed) and has been lied to by 10 of his other sons. Now he finds out his one dead son is alive and that his other sons are the reason behind Joseph's disappearance. Can you imagine how he felt? How angry he must have been. How stupid and betrayed he must have felt? The jealousy of 10 of his sons had cost him an enormous amount of time with Joseph. He had basically lost a lifetime with Joseph. He had every right to be bitter and to seethe with anger towards his other sons. Yet, it doesn't appear that happened, or at least we aren't told that part of the story.
I wonder too how the brothers felt. Could they even look their father in the eye, knowing the hurt and heartache they had caused him? And they didn't just keep their story for a few years - they stuck to it for over ten years. I have to wonder how they felt each year when Joseph's birthday came and went and they watched their father grieve that loss again. How were they able to keep silent? I am not sure I could have held to that pact for so long; watching someone I love hurt for a relationship that I knew I had severed. Do you think they ever had moments of conviction? Did they ever think, "This has gone too far? We were mad at Joseph, but in our anger towards him, we have broken our dad's heart. We have to stop this madness and come clean. I can't take it anymore!" I don't know what went through each of their minds and how they continued to hold to their scheme for so long. I don't know how they could stand to watch someone they loved so much, in such pain. Perhaps they had told the lie for so long it became real to them. I don't know how they did it or how they felt when their lie was discovered. I don't know how everyone around them viewed them after the truth came out. But I do know this - the truth did ultimately come out and they had to deal with the hurt they had caused to so many. It may have been forgiven, but the egg was scrambled and time didn't rewind. What was lost was lost and couldn't be gained back - no amount of forgiveness could replace the time Joseph lost with his dad. That's the ugly part of life. Grace is given, and compassion is offered, but when people hurt each other, the time that lapses before the healing takes place is gone and if we are the ones responsible for that lost time, we are the ones who live with that hurt. It is our heart that is permanently scarred and no amount of time will ever take that pain away.
We still see situations like this today. People are hurt and they use other people as a way to get back at someone else. We use relationships like weapons. We punish someone by refusing to be a part of their life, or we ask other's to break off a relationship because someone hurt us. In the long run, no one wins and everyone ends up losing something. If you find that you are the one who is coming between people, I hope you will stop. I hope you will see the hurt that is being caused and have the courage to step up, say you were wrong, and allow restoration and healing to begin.
Once that Jacob was no longer in the picture, the brothers began to fear for their own situation. They wondered if Joseph still held a grudge and if he had only held back from acting out of respect for his father. Joseph had cared for them and had promised protection for them, yet the brothers were still afraid of what he could do and they did not trust him. In essence, they never really accepted forgiveness nor had they released themselves of their self imposed penalty. Many people can relate to this feeling, as they have never been truly forgiven by another. Sometimes, people will tell others that they have forgiven a person, but they maintain a 'hidden' dagger in the other's back, so that they can slowly turn it at a later day. It can be instructive to personally recall our own past mistakes so that our behavior is in line with avoiding those same mistakes. However, if you have been forgiven, the guilt and shame that others heap on you should be removed. In this situation, the problem can be on the forgiver's side, by refusing to let the other person move forward. There are other times where forgiveness may truly have been granted, but the one who has been forgiven does not feel as if they can be truly released from their guilt. The brothers saw a change in Joseph, as he had a desire to provide for them, but they seemed to believe it was only temporary amnesty. The problem can be on the side of the one who has been forgiven.
Joseph's brothers decided to take matters in their own hands once again (consistent with their pattern of plotting) and to try to use the current situation to get the forgiveness that they truly desired. They believed that once Jacob was gone, Joseph would pay them back for what they had done. The brothers sent word to Joseph saying that Jacob had asked them to say that he needed to forgive the sins and wrongs committed by his brothers in treating him so badly. Although they lied about the words of Jacob, they did show that they wanted peace. They acknowledged their own sins and admitted their guilt. They didn't sugar coat what had happened. They didn't give excuses. They weren't flippant. When we have sinned against another, do we acknowledge what we have done, or do we say the words followed by other words that invalidate what we just stated, saying there was an excuse. How much would change in relationships today if each of us acknowledged when we have sinned against another? Many people show a desire to re-establish a relationship, but in doing so, they want to sweep any apology under the rug to be forgotten. If the brothers had said that Jacob had said that Joseph should leave them alone without including acknowledgment of sin, would it have had the same result?
The brothers were willing to do whatever Joseph wanted them to do. They showed true sorrow and were willing to change; even they lied in the manner they approached Joseph. Can you imagine what Joseph could have done to them? We don't know how things would have been, but if they would have continued to be antagonistic towards Joseph, would you blame him if he imprisoned them? Just punishment would have involved an eye for an eye, but Joseph modeled grace and forgiveness. If, after you have you forgiven someone, you still want a proverbial pound of flesh from them, you cannot say that you have forgiven them as you have been forgiven by Christ.
Joseph's response to them must have relieved his brothers. He said "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God?" This is a good thing for us to consider, as none of us are in the place of God (even though we seem to act that way at times). Joseph didn't ignore what they had done, as he said that their intent was wrong and evil, but God used it for good. Certainly, throughout the story, we see that this led to the position that Joseph held which was good for Joseph and his family, as well as the lives of Egyptians and all of civilization. If Joseph had not been there to ensure that resources were stored, it could have had a devastating impact on civilization as a whole, so he recognized how God's hand had been on him.
When you have forgiven others, do you reassure them that they have been forgiven or are you expecting to hold it over their heads, making them walk lightly around you? While it may seem appropriate to bring out the penalty card referencing issues of the past, are we truly showing forgiveness? There are some people that are living under a sense of tyranny, worried about doing the slightest thing that would set off those around them. When we are not forgiven, we are always worried about retribution rearing its head once again.
Joseph offered his brothers more than simple forgiveness, as he showed compassion for them. He was genuinely good to them and he showed tangibly that he cared for them. What could the brothers have done to "buy" forgiveness? Realizing that Joseph had a very high position in Egypt, there was nothing that they could provide that he needed.
In the rest of the chapter, we can read that Joseph stayed with them for a long time. I would imagine that, over time, their fears were diminished. We often see broken relationships as beyond fixable. It does take both sides to want to restore a relationship. That work may be neither pleasant nor comfortable. When people are willing to yield to one another, relationships can be unified and that can even extend beyond family. Joseph made it clear to his brothers that God would provide for their needs even after he was dead and gone. The link that God had provided in the person of Joseph would be gone, but God would still be working.
We may understand the story of Joseph and see how everyone seemed to live happily ever after, even though it was quite a mess getting to that point. Perhaps your particular circumstance bears little resemblance to this outcome. Situations can get better or they can get worse based on how we handle them. If you have offended someone, ask for forgiveness. Acknowledge what you have done and if forgiveness is granted, it can be put behind you. We need to be willing to take ownership of the things that we have done. If you are in the wrong of something you did in the past, you cannot go back and change it, but you can take ownership of it and ask for forgiveness. If you have offended someone, let them know that you are sorry. The brothers were honestly wrong. They honestly admitted their guilt. When you are wrong, don't make excuses. When you are wrong, don't act as if you have never done anything that has been hurtful to others. In some cases, a person may hold something over another's head, of which they are totally unaware of what they did. If you are expecting an apology from someone, are you even sure that they know what they did?
When no changes are made and behaviors continue, a relationship will not magically get better. In fact it may get worse. If a peaceful relationship is sought, apologize for what you have done. If someone asks you for forgiveness, grant it. It may not restore the relationship to the desired level sought, but it can be a start, meaning that antagonism can be stopped.
When we think of God's perspective, we realize that we all fall short of His plan. Each of us is guilty on a daily basis, in our words, thoughts and deeds. God forgives us on an ongoing basis, not because of our own perceived goodness, but because of the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. You cannot purchase forgiveness from God. There is nothing that we have that God is looking at and saying that He needs. He wants our hearts and for us to give of ourselves to Him, completely.
Lastly, it can never be overstated how important forgiveness is in life. You don't have to look very far to find story after story of regret. Perhaps you have your own story. A good friend of mine from work shared that his siblings (and their kids) never made up with his dad to the bitter end. He stated that the sad thing is that they are left dealing with that in life, even after their father passed away. While they may not have been able to make their father do what they wanted, they could have resolved some issues. You can find many people that have had estranged relationships with parents, children, siblings, friends and others, all because of their unwillingness to forgive and move forward. How many benefits of life are missed due to a desire to hold on to past wrongs? Certainly, in some cases that involve dangerous physical or sexual abuse, care must be taken so that an unsafe situation is not enabled. But, I would venture to say that the vast majority of issues between people do not involve these types of things. What will it take for you to forgive and move forward? What will it take for you to admit your own part in a relationship problem?
There may be times when we may know that we are right and others are wrong, or when we may want very hard for someone to change. We can never change anyone else. Don't be one who regrets not being able to say something to a loved one that has passed away. When it is all said and done, people can agree to disagree and still treat others with respect.