August 2, 2015 The Lord’s Supper Genesis 50:15-21
Series: Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families
Today’s Message: “Do You Really Care About Others?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Think about the encounters you had this past week. Consider the conversations you had with your spouse, your neighbor, or a stranger. Here’s an important question: when you were interacting with the other person, were your “antennas” up? That is, were you really listening to them, with your mind, your heart, and your spirit? Were you thinking about how you could love them? Or were you just thinking of what you wanted to say next, or how you could move on to something more interesting to do? Do you really care about others? Do you love others as you love yourself, or as you would want to be loved?
(Try playing back the video or recording of your conversations, and listen hard for what you said and how you said it.)
In Genesis 50:15-21, we observe someone, Joseph, loving the people he was listening to, and then responding to them with God’s grace and mercy. It’s a picture of the love and care that God has for you and for me… and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts in the same way. Would you pray with me, that God the Holy Spirit would teach you, challenge you, and transform you, through the truth of this Scripture?
As I studied this passage of Scripture, I was struck by the way God’s grace was working in Joseph; not only so he could forgive his brothers, but so that he also could love them deeply, in the very ways they needed to be loved and comforted and helped.
So let me ask you: would you like someone to love you that way? (I’m sure you would!)
But here’s another question: Would you like God to help YOU to love others like that?
Here are three things that we need God’s grace and love for, in us, in order to really care for others:
1. We need to listen to, learn from, and feel with others. (v. 17, 19a)
Do you see here how Joseph tries to understand his brothers? Do you see the way he listens to what they are saying, and how they are saying it? Do you see how he processes what he’s hearing, and then in response, he lets them know that he feels with them about their anxiety?
Joseph listens carefully when they send word of what their father Jacob supposedly said. Joseph opens his mind to what they are struggling with. He doesn’t blow off or minimize their fears. He puts himself in their shoes, and because of that, he is able to sympathize with them.
How do we know that? Because of what (1) Joseph does and what (2) Joseph says.
What does Joseph do? First, he weeps. He cries. He is so struck by the implications of their fears, and that they think he’s going to take revenge on them, that he starts sobbing, deeply moved that his brothers don’t yet understand God’s grace and forgiveness. Note that Joseph doesn’t get angry at his brother for their thick-headedness. No, instead he weeps for them, because he loves them, and he’s thinking about how THEY feel; not about HE feels!
Most of us tend to respond to other people’s problems in a way that is similar to how WE deal with those problems. We view their issues through our lens, through our grid. For example, if you are not bothered by someone’s criticism of you, then you think others shouldn’t worry about being criticized either. Or if you crave encouragement and affirmation, you’ll feel that everyone else should crave affirmation as well.
But here we see Joseph learning from his brothers and feeling for them and with them, as they are bothered by something they did to him, that he’s learned to accept, under God’s sovereignty. We might say that he is applying what Paul will later write about in Romans 14, i.e., living graciously with the “weaker brother.”
By the way, this is the seventh time in nine chapters where we read of Joseph crying! Joseph is not embarrassed to show his emotions. He is not afraid that others will think that he is not a real man if he lets his emotions show. As God has been at work in him for decades now, God’s spirit has been softening his heart, and now Joseph is actually more fully reflecting what it means to be made in God’s image, with a full spectrum of emotional responses, in appropriate ways. You’ll remember that David cried; Jesus wept; and Paul shed tears over his churches.
So… real men do cry; real Christian men do show their emotions! Men…how about you?
Second, we know that Joseph listened to, learned from, and felt with his brothers, because of what Joseph said to them: “Don’t be afraid.” He reassured his brothers, twice (vv. 19, 21) with the same words that God the Father and Jesus the Son say to us, over and over: “Fear not! Don’t be afraid!” In fact God tells us over 100 times in the Bible not to be afraid, not to fear! Fear not the storms of life! Don’t be afraid of persecution and suffering! Don’t fear the grave!
Joseph understands where his brothers are coming from. Joseph feels their anxiety over what they think might happen to them, and so he addresses their fear directly and lovingly. He allows their fears, their concerns, to reach his heart, even when he knows that fear is groundless!
By the way, we know that the brothers are worrying about something that wasn’t even going to happen, right? They said to one another, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us?” But Joseph had no intention of getting revenge! They were worrying about nothing!
Think about all the times you worried about something happening, only to later realize how foolish your worrying was. 80% of the things people worry about never happen; and the other 20% are completely in God’s hands anyway.
But like Joseph’s brothers, we too sometimes get worked up about what might happen, when it’s so foolish to do so. Let me ask you: What are you worrying about, unnecessarily? Why are you doubting God’s sovereign power, and His covenant love for you in Christ? Ask His help to turn your “What ifs?” into faith in Him.
Recap: God calls you to listen to others, to learn from others, and to feel with others. But you can’t do it on your own. You need to cry out to God, and ask Him to empty you of yourself, and to fill you with His grace and love and patience. And then you need to practice doing that!
That’s the first step on the road to really caring about other people.
Next, to really care for others…
2. We need to point people towards God and away from people. (vv. 19b-20)
The second thing Joseph did with his brothers was that he directed them towards God, and away from himself. He said to them: “Am I in the place of God?” If the brothers looked only at Joseph, they could imagine that he would take revenge. But Joseph has them look away from himself, and instead to look to God. He points them to a correct understanding of who God is. [A. W. Tozer said that a correct view of God will solve 1,000 lesser problems.] Joseph reminds them that he himself is under God’s authority. We see in Joseph the truth of 1 Peter 4:19 being lived out: “Those who suffer according to God’s will should (1) commit themselves to their faithful Creator and (2) continue to do good.” That’s what Joseph did.
Joseph’s had no desire to usurp God’s place and to punish them. If God was satisfied, so was he.
Now pointing people to God is also reminding them of God’s gracious sovereignty over evil! That’s what Joseph did here, in v. 20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
In Margaret Clarkson’s hymn, “O Father You Are Sovereign,” there’s a line that says, “O Father, You are sovereign, the Lord of human pain; transmuting earthly sorrows to gold of heavenly gain. All evil overruling, as none but Conqueror could, your love pursues its purpose – our souls’ eternal good.”
Consider that word transmuting. It means to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature, and especially to a higher form. Centuries ago, some people went to great lengths to try to transmute baser rocks into gold, without success. But God does it. He transmutes our sorrows and our sins and our hurts into a gold of heavenly gain! That’s what Joseph was telling his brothers: You meant it for evil, but God turned it into something very good! He invites them to consider what God has done and is doing.
Joseph is pointing them away from himself and towards the God who accomplishes His purposes even through the sins of men and women! His infinite wisdom and sovereign power overrule the plans of man (see Prov. 16:1-9). We see that in the death of Christ, as Peter comments in Acts 2:23-24: “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” God transmuted the evil done to His Son at the crucifixion and turned it into the gold of the glorious resurrection and our salvation!
Therefore, let me ask you: in your struggles with sin and being sinned against, where are you looking? At yourself? At the one who sinned against you? Or at Jesus Christ, the One who covered your sins with his blood; the One who transmutes your sorrows and pain into the gold of heavenly gain? And as you listen to other people’s hurts, ask God to help you point them away from themselves and others, and to focus on our great redeemer, Jesus Christ our Lord. He will transmute us and transform us, into His image.
3. We need to give others a continuous and generous assurance of forgiveness, peace, practical care, and tenderhearted comfort. (v. 21)
Joseph loves his anxious brothers in four ways in v. 21:
First, he again calms their anxious spirits with the words, “Don’t be afraid.” When you understand where others are hurting, make sure you repeatedly remind them of God’s promises for that hurt. Use analogies, stories, illustrations… anything that will reinforce the truth! (Think of using the imagery of Ps. 23 or of Isa. 49:16.)
Second, he assures his brothers of his care/ provision for them: “I will provide for you and your children.” Joseph promises not only to forgive them, but also to give them practical help! As Jesus would tell us, in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” Help in practical ways. Don’t just say, “If there’s anything I can do.” Look around and do what needs to be done. Do their dishes. Buy them food and cook it. Clean their house. Give them a gift card. Take care of them.
Third, Joseph, knowing the weakness of their hearts on this matter, reassured them, yet again, with emotional affection: “And he reassured/ comforted them.” What does it look like to really comfort a person in distress? A hug? Praying with them? An encouraging smile, with tears? Ask God to put into your heart the right emotional response.
Finally, he spoke to their hearts: “and (he) spoke kindly to them.” Lit: to their hearts. We find similar language in Ruth 2:13 “For you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant…” (Ruth to Boaz), and in 2 Cor. 1:4, 6 “Who comforts us in all our affliction….so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort ……” Feel how their hearts have been broken and wounded, and speak to that need. For example, after a miscarriage, a death, or a loss. Don’t give trite answers; ask God to help you speak deeply into their hearts.
So…Do you really want to care about others? If so, then ask God to humble you, and then to fill you with His Spirit, so that you will begin to give others a continuous and generous assurance of forgiveness, peace, practical care, and tenderhearted comfort. It’s what they really need.
One last question: Do you really feel cared for by God? Some of you may feel unworthy to be loved by Jesus. Others may feel that God has given you a tough life, so you feel He doesn’t care about you. If that’s where you are, I encourage you to take a fresh look at what God did for you at the cross of Jesus. For there we see evil being judged in the only innocent person who ever lived. But we also see evil being turned around for good, for through His terrible death, we are set free from God’s wrath, and wrapped in His favor and blessing. And if that’s not enough, remember that He’s also given us everything we need for life and godliness! (Romans 8:28-39; 2 Peter 1:3-4)
Do you really care about others? God really cares about you!