BE RECONCILED

 

Week of May 27, 2007

 

Bible Verses:  Genesis 50:15-21; Matthew 5:23-24; Colossians 3:12-15.

 

Biblical Truth: Christians are to take the necessary actions to be reconciled to others in a conflict situation.

 

Be Ready to Restore: Genesis 50:15-21.

 

[15]  When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” [16]  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, [17]  ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. [18]  Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” [19]  But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? [20]  And 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. [21]  So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.    [NASU]

 

[15-16]  The death of Jacob had a bearing on the outlook of the brothers, fearing that Joseph held a deep-seated grudge despite his earlier assurance of pardon [45:5-7]. The text does not say “all” of Joseph’s brothers, which exempts Benjamin, who had no reason to fear. The offending brothers strongly word their worries to one another. The brothers continue to fear the consequences of their crimes. Prior to this incident [17] nowhere in the text do the brothers ask for or receive an explicit statement of forgiveness from Joseph. To them it is inconceivable that Joseph would not require some penance on their part. There was no apparent reason for the brothers to be suspicious of a hidden vendetta, but their guilt remained a heavy burden, which probably fueled their misgivings. They admit again to themselves all the wrong they committed against Joseph. The language pay us back in full forcefully expresses the dread of their deserved retaliation. The brothers, probably too frightened to face Joseph, sent a message by an intermediary. That the brothers’ message has your father rather than “our father” draws attention to Joseph’s obligation as a son, not as a brother. As to whether the brothers fabricated this story, we can’t judge other than by Joseph’s apparent acceptance of it.

 

[17-18]  Verse 17 possesses two voices: the postmortem report of Jacob’s message [17a] and the subsequent appeal of the brothers themselves [17b]. The former gives the basis for the latter’s request and provides incentive for Joseph to respond favorably. Their plea essentially imitates the words of their father’s message. The vocabulary of the message draws on the semantic field of sin: transgression, sin, wrong. Transgression translates the noun which generally means an “offense”; here the nuance of the term is that the brothers committed a breach in their relationship with Joseph as siblings. Sin and wrong are terms that occurred together in Jacob’s angry rebuff of Laban’s charges of offense against him [31:36]. Here, however, the brothers cannot so excuse themselves but readily acknowledge their mistreatment of Joseph, hoping for clemency. By calling on Joseph to forgive, Jacob does not treat lightly the reality of their cruelty but exposes its heinous nature. Thus, if they are to have reconciliation, Joseph’s absolution is required since they have no excuse. The brothers add their own emotional plea to their father’s message. They astutely amend the message of Jacob, referring to themselves as the servants of the God of your father [17b]. By elevating the basis for their plea, they hope to take advantage of Joseph’s keen sense of loyalty, not only to Jacob but also to the God that Jacob served. The brothers have duly noted their crimes, and by humbling themselves they exhibit sincere remorse for their deeds. When Joseph heard their fearful pleas, he wept as he had at Jacob’s death. He was brokenhearted, probably realizing that their estrangement was not yet fully healed. Why did his father not trust him? Why did the brothers still fear him? Verse 18 describes the brothers’ contrition who, after the messengers, enter the scene casting themselves at Joseph’s feet and volunteer their servitude. This episode brings to mind the dreams of the young Joseph [37:7,9]. Even in the midst of their anxiety about the future, the brothers’ actions unwittingly testify to the providence of God in the life of their family and descendants.

 

[19-20]  Joseph’s response crystallizes the theology of the Joseph narrative as a whole. First, Joseph acknowledges that he is not in control of history’s measures [19]. Divine purpose prohibits Joseph from exacting personal vengeance [Rom. 12:19], even if he wanted to. Second, Joseph explains that God transformed their evil intention into good, achieving the deliverance of many peoples. His opening words create a parallelism, which heightens the contrast between human and divine intentions. Joseph supports his reasoning by pointing to the many peoples that Egypt’s storehouses have sustained. The good/evil motif that recurs throughout Genesis fittingly makes its last appearance in Joseph’s humble interpretation of his troubles. What became of Joseph in Egypt was the handiwork of God, too great for him to have accomplished alone. Evil succumbs to God’s gracious purposes in behalf of His creation. This theology is exhibited in our passage by Joseph’s assessment of his purpose in Egypt, to preserve many people alive.

 

[21]  Joseph concludes his speech by promising to perpetuate the necessities of life that he had afforded them since Jacob’s arrival in Egypt, noting especially that he himself will see to this. Although the seven-year famine was over, Joseph had continued to ensure the preservation of the tribal families. The acquisition of land (Goshen) by the Israelites appears to have been exceptional at that time. Joseph is saying that the death of his father will not change his benevolence toward them. The ending of the verse confirms Joseph’s calming demeanor (comforted them and spoke kindly).

 

Make Reconciliation a Priority: Matthew 5:23-24.

 

[23]  “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24]  leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”    [NASU]

 

Jesus appears to be concerned with two things: overthrowing erroneous traditions, and indicating authoritatively the real direction toward which the Old Testament Scriptures point. Note the pattern Jesus uses in the section, Matthew 5:21-30. Before each of the six illustrations, Jesus uses the pattern: You have heard … but I say to you. Here the emphasis is on Jesus’ authority. He alone has the authority to give the final explanation of God’s law. The basic principle that Jesus is laying down in this section is that the Law includes positive actions and not just refraining from doing certain things. The scribes and Pharisees were evidently seeking to restrict the application of the sixth commandment to the deed of murder alone. Jesus maintained that the true application was much wider. It included thoughts and words as well as deeds; anger and insult as well as murder. Not all anger is evil, as is evident from the wrath of God, which is always holy and pure. The reference of Jesus, then, is to unrighteous anger, the anger of pride, vanity, hatred, malice and revenge. In both cases Jesus was extending the nature of the penalty as well as of the crime. Not only are anger and insult equivalent to murder but the punishment to which they render us liable is nothing less than the divine judgment of hell. How seldom do we heed Christ’s call for immediacy of action. If murder is a horrible crime, malicious anger and insult are horrible too. And so is every deed, word, look or thought by which we hurt or offend a fellow human being. We need to be more sensitive about these evils. But immediately, as soon as we are conscious of a broken relationship, we must take the initiative to mend it, to apologize for the grievance we have caused, to pay the debt we have left unpaid, to make amends. Jesus is not saying we must be perfect but that we need to deal with any known sin that has caused a broken relationship. We should pray that God will show and convict us of sin in our lives since it will interfere with our worship of Him.

 

Forgiving Completely: Colossians 3:12-15.

 

[12]  And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; [13]  bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. [14]  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. [15]  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.   [NASU]

 

Continuing the metaphor of changing clothes, Paul turned to the new look of the believer. Paul had said the believers had put on the new self. Now he said they were to put on specific characteristics of the Christian; presumably these are characteristics of the new self. This represents the tension between the position and practice of the believer. The Christian is a new self, but he must learn to act like it. Three commands form the structural backbone of this text. The first [12] is clothe yourselves with Christian characteristics. The second [15] commands the church to let the peace of Christ rule in it. The third [16] urges the church to let the word of Christ dwell in its midst. Paul moved from the individual and personal characteristics to corporate commands.

 

[12-14]  Paul began with individual qualities [12], moved to interpersonal qualities [13], and concluded with one indispensable quality [14]. The new clothing of the Christian begins with personal attributes; compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Their inclusion suggests the need for long-suffering with others in the group. The entire context is slanted toward harmony in the church. Significantly, Paul focused on the individual who is to have patience, rather than the one who caused a problem. The place to begin in any group tension is with oneself rather than others. These five attributes are followed by two others of the same type: enduring and forgiving. Enduring is putting up with others even when they fail or act differently from what is expected. Forgiving is based on the root word for grace. It carries the idea of a free forgiveness. These two qualities are especially appropriate when one is offended. It obviously speaks to the offended party, not the offending one. The offended should take initiative in enduring and forgiving, rather than waiting for the offending one to apologize. By enduring and forgiving, the conscience is cleansed and the matter forgotten. Harboring resentment and ill will toward another does little good, and to do so is beneath Christians. Paul singled out one characteristic above all others: love. Paul advocated love as the fulfillment of the Mosaic law. It contrasts with the immorality of 3:5, which characterizes blatant lawbreakers. Two qualifications reveal the primacy of love. First, Paul urged the Colossians to put on love above all these other things. It was uniquely important to their social well-being. Second, Paul stated that love uniquely tied them together. The expression means that mutual love would bring the group to perfection. Paul expressed his conviction that the many dimensions of love could be understood only by observing its operation in the group. By this expression (perfect bond of unity) Paul meant that the love would bind them together unto completeness. The word completeness or perfect in Greek has the basic idea of bringing things to an appropriate and logical end.

 

[15]  The second command called the church to harmony. The peace of Christ was to rule in the believers’ hearts. It is the quiet disposition which arises when people are committed to the lordship of Christ in their midst. Paul advocated that peace guide all the church’s collective activities. Thus, rather than a command for personal peace, this one stresses harmony in the group, as the rest of the verse demands. The basis of this peace was the work of Christ, as Paul made clear in Eph 2:1-10. The peace is to rule in the congregation. The fact is, the congregation was to do nothing without the peace of Christ as the environment which overshadowed the action. The specific place of rule was in the believers’ hearts. It is the decision-making and valuing aspect of persons. The individual hearts had to be at peace for the congregation to be at peace. The spiritual environment of each believer is the one body which they all share. Paul ended this exhortation with the command to become thankful. The Colossians were to become thankful persons. The combination of thankfulness and peace is a logical one. Generally a lack of peace results from self-seeking or dissatisfaction with things as they are. Thankfulness points one to the realization that all things are provided in Christ. There is no room for ill will or bitterness if thankfulness prevails. 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      How did Joseph’s theology [see verses 19-20] impact his behavior towards his brothers? What does that tell us about how we are to deal with practical situations in life?

 

2.      Why is an act of worship worthless if we are harboring sin? Is Jesus saying we must be perfect before we can worship God? What does this tell us we must do before entering into worship?

 

3.      Note how Paul combines position (those who have been chosen) and practice (put on) in verse 12. What is Paul teaching us by showing that our actions flow out of who we are in Christ?

 

4.      How are love and peace to control and guide our interpersonal relationships with other believers? Why are these two Spiritual fruit essential for Christian unity? How can you put these into practice this week?

 

 

References:

 

Genesis 11:27-50:26, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman Press.

Genesis, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, D.A. Carson, Global.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, InterVarsity.

Colossians, Richard Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman.