Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Joyful Life in Jesus' Words

Continuing on with the imagery of Jesus as the true vine and the Father as the vinedresser who prunes us for our joy and his glory, I was drawn to consider our relationship to the words of Christ.[1]

3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. (John 15)

While Judas was about to be cut off, and the other disciples pruned, Jesus assures them they are already clean. For us who keep wondering if we are saved because of our failures, Jesus said these words just before all the disciples failed him. All deserted him, and Peter denied him three times.

Focus: it was “the word I have spoken to you” that made them clean, not the works they were able to accomplish.

Add this:

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10)

It is faith that is our victory, and we do not get faith from good works, but “through the word of Christ”. If we listen up, we grow up.

Add this:

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1)

It is when we “heard the word of truth” that we “believe in him” and received eternal life. When Peter told the Day-of-Pentecost crowd what they were to do, he stated it like this: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Receiving the Holy Spirit is a promise of the gospel that is applied to us when we repent and declare Jesus our Lord and Savior through baptism. My point is that faith comes from hearing the words of Christ, so when we hear the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, we are born again into the life of Jesus Christ.

Add this:

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3)

It is our place to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”. This is no mere nibbling at the words of Christ while longing for a different meal. This is a starving soul (think “blessed are the poor in Spirit”) that is now hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of faith as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Add this:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5)

The simple point is that Paul makes “let the word of Christ dwell in your richly,” and, “be filled with the Spirit” synonymous. Being filled with the word and filled with the Spirit are the same thing, simply identifying different facets of the same gem. If being filled with the Spirit feels nebulous to us and we don’t know how to know if it is real in our lives, then let the word of Christ dwell in you richly and you will know you are filled with the Spirit since the Spirit is the only one who can teach you all things and bring to your remembrance what the word of Christ has already taught you.

And then add this:

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16)

This simply brings out to me that Jesus has “said these things to you,” and that is enough for us to have peace. Even when the world causes us tribulation, as it has, does, and will, we are to take heart in the words of Christ and persevere in faith.

Which, of course, reminds me of what Jesus had said earlier that evening,

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15)

It is what Jesus has spoken to us that leads us into that abiding relationship between vine and branches in which the joy of the vine flows into the branches bringing the joy of the branches to the full. As that joyful fellowship with Christ becomes evident to others, it both builds up the body of Christ, and gives us opportunity to share our testimony with people who wonder why we have such hope as Christ in us.

In conclusion: Because Jesus has “overcome the world”, our faith in him makes us those who overcome the world. We simply must let his word dwell in us richly so we are constantly abiding in him and so bearing much fruit to Father’s glory.

4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4)

4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5)

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Jesus teaches on this in John 15:1-11

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Gardener's Glory in the Branches' Joy

Once again I share like this in the hope that my personal testimony will encourage and help you in your walk with God, and that it will encourage you to have your own daily time with God, prayerfully meditating on his word, so that the Holy Spirit can minister to you all that is on Father’s heart for your place in the body of Christ.

Yesterday, God drew my attention once again to joy. Early in the day the focus was on this verse:

You make known to me the path of life;    in your presence there is fullness of joy;    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.[1]

There is no greater joy than the fullness of joy in God our Father since his fullness of joy is as full as joy can be. There is no more lasting pleasure than the pleasures at his right hand since they are forevermore and there is nothing longer than that!

With that in mind, the joy my soul longs for is found in God the Father. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father,[2] the image of the pleasures of the invisible God, the Word who speaks the pleasures of God into our hearts.[3] Together, they pour their love into our hearts through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit,[4] and so, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[5]

By the end of the day, my attention was drawn to the reminder that the “fruit of the Spirit” includes “joy”.[6] This suddenly hit me in a more personal way than I had ever considered it before. The “fruit of the Spirit” does not speak of some impersonal thing the Holy Spirit does in the background, sneaking into my life at night and producing fruit that has nothing to do with my own attachment to him. Neither does it speak of something that I must do as though God is telling me that, now that I have the Spirit, it is up to me to produce joy in my life.

No, this was a realization that everything to do with the calling on the church to “be filled with the Spirit”,[7] to “serve in the new way of the Spirit”,[8] to “walk by the Spirit”,[9] and “keep in step with the Spirit”,[10] is an invitation into a personal fellowship with the Holy Spirit in which hearts that are filled with the Spirit bear a certain kind of fruit as a result.[11]

For me, this was already an extremely personal comfort as I could see how Father was ministering things into my soul. For a long time I have seen this, that God wants me to know his desire to have an intimate love relationship with me unlike anything I could have ever conceived.[12] This reminder that joy is the fruit of fellowship with the Holy Spirit, not something I have to try to do or be, gave me such hope and encouragement as I realized that this was a work God was doing in me, and it was his will and desire that I experience joy that is “inexpressible and filled with glory.”[13]

As I met with God this morning, talking to him about where these things were taking me, the call to joy became all the more encouraging as I understood this as something I could work out with fear and trembling because of the way God was already working in me to will and to work for his good pleasure.[14] By the time I moved into my downstairs prayer time I discovered that Father had a very special lesson for me that was more of a personal encounter than a mere intellectual understanding of something that is true.

For a long time I have understood that Jesus is the vine, I am one of his branches, and when the church abides in Jesus we bear much fruit.[15] However, my good-boy propensities often seek to sabotage this by putting the focus on me trying to bear much fruit rather than me resting in the abiding relationship with Jesus that would naturally bear much fruit simply because the life of Jesus is flowing to and through my life.

The special and gracious gift God had waiting for me was when I received the reminder that, “my Father is the vinedresser”,[16] or, “my Father is the gardener.”[17] I suddenly saw a connection between the Father as the gardener, and Jesus’ declaration that, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”[18]

Part of yesterday’s ministry to my soul was John Piper’s summary statement that, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”[19] It has been a long journey for me to accept this deeply, that God is not glorified because I do such a good job of serving him, but because I find such satisfaction in him that everyone knows he is the most glorious person we could ever know.

When I came to this declaration of Jesus that our Father is glorified in our bearing of fruit, I suddenly “got it”. Father is not glorified because I do such a good job of serving him that people see that because I’m such a good guy I must surely have a good Father. No, the gospel is quite different than that.

Instead, when I look at the whole picture, that Father is the gardener, the pruner of the vineyard, and Jesus is the perfect vine, with us prune-needy believers as his branches, when Jesus says that his Father is glorified when we bear much fruit it is similar to what people think of me as a gardener when they walk into my garden!

In other words, in the same way as people feel impressed with a gardener’s abilities simply because they see how fruitful his garden is, so Jesus used this simple and basic metaphor to show us how our lives show people around us that our Father is the most glorious person in the whole wide world. When we go around showing how good we are, like the religious hypocrites of Jesus’ day, people only see how good we are, and we receive whatever limited reward we get from their pats on the back.[20]

But when we bear much fruit, it glorifies our Father since he is the gardener who prunes the branches to that end. As people see that my son is a good pruner when they know that he pruned my trees and they are loaded with fruit, so people look at the good fruit in our lives and see that the gardener has done an amazing job. He has taken branches from a wild vine that was rebellious and sinful in every way, and grafted us into his Son so that the life of Jesus now flows through us, and when these grafted in branches bear much fruit, people will see what a glorious gardener we have over the household of God.[21] The fact that he is our Father makes it all the more glorious as we add in all the great truths of redemption so it includes the great cost of our salvation through the death of Jesus Christ.

I know that emotionalism is not automatically evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work. However, I also know that we cannot understand the things of God without the direct ministry of the Holy Spirit.[22] So, to some extent the Holy Spirit taught me these things today, and reminded me of things I had already been taught,[23] causing a sudden burst of tears of joy that God was releasing me from trying to bear fruit, from the curse of poisoning thoughts of fruit-bearing with the wrong beliefs of self-effort, and assuring me that I would bear much fruit through abiding in Jesus by grace through faith, not by trying to add my good works to his.

It is very interesting that Jesus concluded this section on the vine and branches by telling his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[24]

Do you see that? Jesus has told us about the Father’s work in us, and our relationship to Jesus, and how we give God glory through our own bearing of fruit, and then he tells us that his own joy would be in us through our attachment to him in his words (the vine sending his own joy into the branches), and our joy would be filled to the full through our experience of these things (the joy of the branches maximized), so that whatever pruning Father must do in order to make us to bear much fruit would give him exceptional glory through our lives since the fact that he could cause people like us to bear much fruit magnifies the superior skills of the gardener.

Part of this ministry to me today was simply the fact that Father would add so much comfort to my life by making something clear to me that I needed to know. The other part of this was the specific encounter with God in which his Spirit taught me more of what it means to abide in the vine, or to rest in the Lord Jesus Christ, so Father is free to make us so fruitful that it reveals his glory to all. The fact that he would include me in this at all is also to his glory!

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Psalm 16:11
[3] Jesus is the image of God (Colossians 1:15), the Word of God (John 1:1-3), the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3), all showing that Jesus is the one through whom we come to know the Father (John 14:8-11).
[4] Romans 5:5
[5] Romans 14:17
[6] Galatians 5:22-23
[7] Ephesians 5:18
[8] Romans 7:6
[9] Galatians 5:16
[10] Galatians 5:25
[11] It is the apostle Paul who wrote down the breathed-out words of God, pronouncing his desire on the church that all of us experience “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (II Corinthians 13:14).
[12] John 17:3 speaks of eternal life as “knowing” God; Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1:15-23, Ephesians 3:14-21, and Colossians 1:9-14, all aim towards us knowing God in a deeply personal relationship.
[13] I Peter 1:8
[14] Philippians 2:12-13
[15] John 15:11
[16] John 15:1
[17] John 15:1 ~ NIV
[18] John 15:8
[19] John Piper, Desiring God Ministries:
[20] In Matthew 6 Jesus addressed different ways the religious elite did their good deeds in hypocrisy, and each time concluded that, “they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:2, 16). Whatever applause or recognition they received was the only reward they would get since God would never reward such false expressions of goodness.
[21] Paul uses the imagery of wild branches grafted in (Romans 11:17-24)/
[22] I Corinthians 2:10-16
[23] The Spirit’s work of teaching and reminding is expressed by Jesus in John 14:26.
[24] John 15:11

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

God's Surprises For Doubting Hearts

Once we know that the Bible is the living and active word of God,[1] and that it is the sword of the Spirit[2] that the Holy Spirit speaks into our hearts to teach us the mind of Christ and remind us of things we have already been taught,[3] we receive the nudgings, and convictions, and Aha! Moments, as the gracious work of God to relate to us as a Father to his beloved children.

This morning was one of those times when I was both overtired and overanxious and found myself in the stupid and childish belief that my Deeper could never be met by God’s Higher. I don’t know if God smiles when he sees his beloved child believe such nonsense because he knows he is about to bless me with a Higher I couldn’t have imagined (his word does talk about him doing things like that), or whether he feels sad that I would doubt him once again even though he has proven himself so many times. I dare not impose my own human reactions onto the divine heart of my heavenly Father, but I do wonder nonetheless.

The Deeper that consumed me this morning had to do with fear. God was addressing a layer of fear deep within me that obviously required his special care and attention. He had already reminded me that, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”,[4] so I knew he wanted me to trust him while I was afraid, not after my fear-issues were fixed.

However, because I share with my home church the things God teaches me each day I was in a quandary. How much does a man share his personal struggles before it becomes a burden to his family in Christ? There are times when relationships are like a parent with a child where the parent knows that the child would be traumatized by knowing the depths of worries, and concerns, and fears, and doubts, that adults carry as they try to guide their little ones safely through life.

And so, in the personal way that has been familiar for a long time, I knew the Holy Spirit was reminding me of a key life-lesson he had taught me a long time ago. A man named Asaph was going through a hard time because he just couldn’t get over the way sinners seemed to prosper and God’s children seemed to suffer. He was so upset by this that he came close to slipping away from his faith in God. However, before he gave up completely he came to this much-needed conclusion: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children”.[5]

What the Holy Spirit taught me years ago, and reminded me of today, was that leaders must never speak such things as Asaph had been thinking because it would be a betrayal of the children of God. If Asaph as some kind of leader among God’s people began telling everyone that it was a waste of time to believe in God, or to deny oneself the pleasures of sin, it would have put such thoughts in the hearts and minds of others who may not have had the same capacity to take all the struggles and troubles to God in prayer, and so they would have swallowed the bait of his lying beliefs perhaps even to their eternal harm.

So, instead, Asaph got alone with God in what he called “the sanctuary” where everything became clear to him, and so he could later share his testimony that he indeed was close to succumbing to the lies of his discouraged mind, but he presented it all to God in the secret place of prayer and came to the glorious experience he described like this:

“Whom have I in heaven but you?    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”[6]

Now, this was all just the prelude to what God wanted to speak the deepest into my soul (about my very tired fears). It just seemed like he needed to remind me that part of what he was dealing with had to be kept just between him and I, while the testimony of how he ministered to me in my fear and despondency could be shared for the building up of others who might be struggling with the same things.

Part of my reason for sharing this today is that I’m quite sure there must be other people out there who are facing things that tear their hearts out because they think they must choose between sharing nothing of their struggles or sharing everything they are struggling with. I have been learning something about how to share our worst and most painful thoughts in fellowship with our heavenly Father, standing in Jesus Christ before the throne of grace, telling him everything because we know we can’t hurt or demoralize him with any of our inner burdens, and then share with our church families the testimonies of both our struggles and God’s ministry to our souls. As we do this, we will also see how God unites believers to share together in the part where we are indeed to “bear one another’s burdens”,[7] but without betraying our brothers and sisters with things we were supposed to keep between ourselves and Father.

Because I am processing this as a man (sisters in Christ, please feel free to share how God does this for you), I have a special interest in encouraging men who are elders, pastors, husbands, and dads, to consider how God invites us to come into the sanctuary of the throne of grace to pour out all our needs before him in order to receive the mercy and grace we need for whatever we are going through,[8] and then share with others the testimony of how God made himself known to us exactly (and more) as we needed through his word and his Spirit. We may wrestle with God about how much to keep private between us and him, and how much to share so people know us as men who have real feelings about life, I believe that even this God will teach us if we stay with him until he makes it clear.

I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 73 to see how Asaph gave a testimony after the fact that showed people what God helped him with, but without destroying their faith when he was at his lowest point. Here is a link to that Psalm. Pray your way through it and see who God invites you to share it with for the blessing of you both.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Hebrews 4:12
[2] Ephesians 6:17
[3] John 14:26
[4] Psalm 56:3
[5] Psalm 73:15
[6] Psalm 73:25-26
[7] Galatians 6:2
[8] Hebrews 4:14-16

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Praying For the Life of Love

My last couple of mornings in God’s word have been like a tapestry weaving before my eyes, bringing together threads of truth in all their distinctively brilliant colors, and forming them into a picture that declares loud and clear that God is working all things together for good in the lives of those who love him and have been called according to his good purposes in Jesus Christ.[1] Here’s a few of those threads that were prominently displayed today.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.[2]

Meditating on this verse, and seeing how it is the gift of God in the gospel, that Jesus came to give us eternal life,[3] makes me hunger and thirst for the certain experience of feeling like the light of life has shone into my heart and all the death and darkness are eradicated so I can live in the newness of life.[4]

and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[5]

Jesus’ life is the light of men, and that is expressed into our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This verse makes me hunger and thirst to know the hope that comes not just from believing certain information, but from having the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, the most personal expression of God’s love being poured into my heart. I want to have the genuine feeling and experience that the Holy Spirit is presently within me, crying out within me, “Abba! Father!”[6] so that I can know God in his love in the innermost places.

Which brings me to the way Paul taught us to pray. In that very familiar prayer of Ephesians 3, it is very significant that Paul begins with a focus on experiencing “the Spirit in your inner being,” and, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”[7] With that in mind, knowing that we are already “rooted and grounded in love”,[8] what he asks for is that we “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”[9]

What’s the point? That to whatever extend our innermost being does not feel like it is filled with light and life, and does not feel like the Holy Spirit is in there crying, “Abba! Father!” and does not feel like the Holy Spirit is pouring the love of God into our hearts, and does not feel like the Holy Spirit is filling our inner being and Jesus is dwelling in our hearts, we are called to pray for what we lack of this experience (the blessing of hungering and thirsting for the experience of righteousness we do not yet enjoy).

Paul’s prayer gives us the very words that we know for certain are the will of God for the messed-up condition of our inner beings. What happens when the people living in darkness have seen the great light of Jesus’ life?[10] They cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”[11]

A very important explanation of why we so desperately need to spend time in God’s word is revealed like this: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”[12] As God draws us into his word, the breathed-out words of Christ, our faith grows and matures through the hearing of his truth. It is for that reason that brother John would write:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

This is too wonderful for words, and I hope that tapestry is weaving itself around your heart and mind, and that you see how you are woven into the picture of God’s gracious activity for your new-hearted freedom in Jesus’ life and light. God’s Book is written so that we will believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and that through believing in him we will KNOW that we have eternal life.

Since this is why the Book is written, and because faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the words of this Book (the words of God breathed-out by Jesus), the more we meditate on the words of life, and pray for whatever we do not yet experience of life in Christ, the more we will see ourselves walking in the light of life, and rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God even in our suffering since God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.

Let us not be despondent about the poverty-of-spirit things God shows us we are missing in our relationship with him. Let us rejoice in the Beatitudinal Valley that graciously shows us these things in order to bring us to the genuine hunger and thirst for what we do not have in our experience of Christ, joining together to pray the prayers given to us in God’s word, so God can then do things in our lives because we have honored him by coming to him in faith.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[13] Jesus is the life that is the light of men. The world, the flesh/sark, and the devil, all conspire to steal, kill, and destroy whatever we could experience of the love and life and light of Jesus. Jesus came to give us life abundantly.

Today, the tapestry of God’s glorious revelation in his Book wove this together into my heart in ways I truly needed to hear.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Romans 8:28-30
[2] John 1:4
[3] John 3:16; John 10:10
[4] This is beautifully described in Ephesians 2:1-10. The hunger and thirst for these things is founded in Jesus’ description of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 in which the blessing of seeing our poverty of spirit leads to a hunger and thirst for the righteousness we do not have, which God can then satisfy by grace through faith (his grace being the reason we have hungered and thirsted in the first place!).
[5] Romans 5:5
[6] Romans 8:15 (context: Romans 8:12-17; and Romans 8:1-39)
[7] Ephesians 3:14-21 for the whole prayer; Ephesians 3:16-17 for the focus on the Holy Spirit and Jesus living in the innermost places of our inner being.
[8] Ephesians 3:17
[9] Ephesians 3:18-19
[10] Matthew 4:16
[11] Mark 10:47
[12] Romans 10:17
[13] John 10:10

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Freedom of God’s Sovereign Goodness

The following is a response to a video message on the topic of forgiveness that drew my concern because of the teaching that God wants us to forgive everyone of everything all the time.[1] The belief is that this kind of all-encompassing forgiveness is the only way we can avoid bitterness. And, since God clearly commands us to, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice”,[2] people conclude that forgiving unrepentant people must be required by God as the only means of doing his will.

I listened to the message because it came up as part of a discussion in which I had already shared how God never tells us to forgive unrepentant people, but does give us freedom from bitterness by a different means, which is our personal faith in God’s sovereign goodness.

This is a serious matter for me partly because so many preachers assume forgiveness where God has not stated it, and because teaching traumatized people that the only means of being free of bitterness is to forgive unrepentant abusers is adding trauma to trauma. The real liberation from bitterness, including the healing of the trauma, comes by knowing God as sovereign and good. When we know him like that, we can find the healing and freedom we long for even if no one ever comes to us in repentance.

The rest of this is what I had tried to post in response to the video but could not do so because of the length of my response. However, for those who have been hurt by the unbiblical demand to forgive unrepentant people, and yet truly want freedom from the bitterness their wounds have caused, here is encouragement to take a closer look at what God’s word really does say (rather than what is added), and see how your freedom is within reach because it is all about what you do in relationship with your heavenly Father, not what you do in relationship to anyone who has wronged you.[3]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Because this is such an important issue, whether the Bible teaches us to forgive everyone of everything all the time, or to forgive those who repent and trust God’s sovereign goodness for the rest, and because the video is by a prominent pastor who makes it sound like the Bible clearly teaches forgiving everyone of everything all the time, here are some points of clarification that I make very cautiously. I do not make these as though I would challenge a respected pastor about anything at all, but only because this issue of forgiveness is consistently presented by many preachers with unbiblical and unwarranted interpretations that hide the better thing God’s word teaches. These “beyond what is written”[4] interpretations make it sound like the Bible says something it does not, putting many wounded brothers and sisters into unnecessary difficulty by suggesting only two choices when there are really three.

1.  Nowhere in Genesis 45, or the rest of the Bible, does it say that Joseph was expressing forgiveness to his brothers in this encounter. Whether or not he did, that is never stated, so it is unfair to say that this is an expression of forgiveness when the Bible never once says so. I’m not saying Joseph didn’t forgive his brothers, again, because it isn’t stated. I’m only saying that making the issue of Genesis 45 about forgiveness when it is never stated that way in the Bible is an unfair addition that makes it appear that those who disagree that this is about forgiveness are against forgiveness itself. No, we’re only against using such texts as this to teach on forgiveness when that isn’t ever stated as the topic. There is something better here than making this about forgiveness.

Sadly, by setting up the dominoes so the audience is convinced the first one is about forgiveness gives the appearance that all the dominoes fall down on the side of forgiving everyone of everything all the time. Once we see that forgiveness is not even mentioned in the text, or in any Scriptural references to this time and event, we can step back and ask ourselves what it is Joseph was really doing, and what example does that set for us today in light of what else we are taught about dealing with the harmful things people have done to us.

2.  The real issue of Genesis 45 is Joseph’s belief in God’s sovereign goodness. What Joseph did state, which we can all agree on, is that his brothers were not to “be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”[5] Without calling this forgiveness (never stated), we should be able to agree that Joseph’s declaration to his brothers was that he knew that the harm they had perpetrated against him was used by God to send him ahead of them on a life-saving mission. That Joseph could do this is nothing short of merciful, but it is still an issue of what he believed about God and his sovereign goodness.

I just want to make clear that Joseph was not consoling his brothers by telling them he forgave them. He was consoling them by directing their hearts to the same understanding of God’s sovereign and gracious goodness that he had learned himself somewhere along the way (we are never told when Joseph learned this lesson). If it was they who had sent him there, Joseph was in a position to carry out justice against their crime. If it was God who sent him there, and it was for the purpose of, “to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors,”[6] the thing that had already consoled Joseph, and was now to console his brothers (in view of their sudden discovery that their brother had the very authority over them he had once spoken of in relation to his dreams), was that God had a much greater intention in good than everything that had planned against him.

Since these are the stated words of Scripture, that this was about Joseph telling his brothers that it was God who sent him to Egypt, not them in their wrong-doing, the lesson we must give to ourselves has to be the same. When we are dealing with harm done to us by others, the thing we must learn is that God has purposes in his sovereign goodness that far exceed whatever harm anyone inflicts against us, and we will find our freedom when we get to know our Father in his sovereign goodness over every harmful thing we have ever experienced. When we know him in this way, we will have freedom to love our enemies, pray for our abusers, bless our persecutors, and return good for whatever evils are done against us, even while leaving forgiveness in God’s hands as he determines whether that is going to be part of the picture.

3.  It is in chapter 50 of Genesis that we come to the wonderful and gracious and merciful and liberating expression of Joseph that, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”[7] This is very important for the simple reason that this is not in chapter 45! Something else was happening at this time, and so we must receive this in context.

Joseph’s point was that what his brothers intended for harm, God intended for good, for the saving of many people. This is clearly what gave him his freedom, the belief that God worked all things together for good. It is also a reiteration of what he had told them at the very beginning (chapter 45), but was now required again because of a significant change of circumstances. It is my contention that it is this belief in the sovereign goodness of God that is the issue, believing that God takes what people intend for harm and turns them all into things that are for our good. Since those are the words Joseph spoke, and Paul expressed as a universal truth in Romans 8:28-30, we can tell all Christians that we will be liberated from the bitterness of all the harmful things people have done to us when we are able to relate to God our Father as taking whatever people intended for harm and turning it for good. As we look for that good instead of carrying the grudge we will find freedom in Christ.

Now, since this declaration is in Genesis 50 instead of 45, what has changed in both the circumstances and the context to lead Joseph to declare himself so succinctly? After the interaction of chapter 45, enough time has passed that Joseph’s brothers had gone to bring their father and household to Egypt, specifically to the land of Goshen. More time had passed for them all to settle into their new home under the blessing and provision of Pharaoh. Jacob’s age caught up with him, he knew it was his time to die, so he blessed his sons and prepared for his death. After his death, and after the couple of months of time passed for embalming and mourning, and the journey to bury Jacob in the same cave as his ancestors, we now come to how Joseph’s brothers felt about Dad being out of the way and Joseph Prime Minister of their land.

The significant thing to what prepares the way for Joseph’s expression of mercy, and his reminder that he believed in God’s sovereign goodness in what had happened to him, was the brothers sending a letter in which they plead for Joseph to forgive them their transgression and their sin. This is so important that we add this to the context. Even if we think this was Joseph forgiving his brothers, for that certainly is the sense of what takes place here, we are dealing with men who are pleading for forgiveness. There is no doubt that, if this is Joseph forgiving his brothers, he is forgiving brothers who are in a state of repentance, confessing that they had sinned, and done evil, and transgressed. In other words, Joseph said what he said because his brothers did what they did.

So, when Joseph declares what he did, that the evil they meant for his harm God intended it for good, it reiterates what he had said quite some time earlier, that his view of everything was what God meant for the situation, not what they meant for it.

From this I would say that, chapter 45 shows Joseph’s relationship with God (not just his doctrine). He related to God as his Lord and King who worked all things together for good, specifically the saving of many people through the terrible famine, including his own family. This was something necessary since the Messiah promised in Genesis 3 had to necessarily come through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so one of Jacob’s sons (we now know was referring to Judah) had to be kept alive through the famine in order for the lineage to stay alive. The example to us is that we also view all our life-experiences, including the harm people inflict on us, as fully woven into the sovereign goodness of God in which he now has an even greater life-saving work going on than what we saw during that seven years of famine. When we can believe that the harm done to us could become a testimony that would be used by God to save people out of the domain of darkness and transfer them into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son,[8] we will then be able to rejoice in the sufferings we endure rather than live in constant bitterness and grief that life has been so hard on us.[9]

We can also see how chapter 50 shows us men who were overcome with the circumstances they were then facing, that the father of the family was gone and fears of repercussions from little brother were rising in their hearts, and the one they had abused and mistreated was now comforting them and speaking kindly to them.[10] The lesson for us is that, for us to do the same, sometimes seen in loving our enemies, or blessing our persecutors, or doing good to those who wrong us, we must have this all-encompassing knowledge of God that he is always working our life-experiences for good. It is this faith in God’s sovereign goodness that gives us freedom, including the freedom to forgive when required to do so.

4.  It is false to state that it is a myth that we can wait to forgive people until they repent since the Bible clearly shows God waiting for repentance in order for him to forgive, and teaching the church the same. While we can get stuck in an “always” or “never” focus that may be too difficult to prove either way, there are clear indications that God’s response to unrepentant people is not to forgive them, and his teaching to the church in relation to unrepentant people is also never met by a call to forgiveness, but with other things that we must do for our freedom. If we do the things that are taught, we will find freedom in Christ even while never forgiving someone who is living in unrepentant sin towards us.

In Matthew 18, when Jesus addresses the specific issue of what to do if a brother has sinned against us and does not repent, he never once says that we are to forgive the person. In each case that there is no repentance, Jesus describes the next level of confronting the sin, all the way to treating the person as an outsider.[11] When people who know that fellow believers are continuing in their sin, and are protected by other churches that will not address the wrong-doing, the biblical answer for our freedom is not that we suddenly just give in and forgive them because we don’t want to be bitter against the injustice. Rather, we hide our hearts in the love of God and seek to know his goodness in what we are going through so that we have the same peace and rest as Joseph. As we look and pray for how God is going to work even such injustices for good, we will find freedom in God’s sovereign goodness even though we are not choosing between bitterness and forgiveness. Faith in God’s sovereign goodness is what gives the freedom we need in such cases.

When Paul confronted the sinful man of I Corinthians 5, he never once told the church to just forgive him.[12] Instead, he called for church discipline. In fact, he was offended that they would treat the man as if he was forgiven instead of holding him accountable for his sin. In his second letter, when the man showed godly sorrow over what he had done, the church was then taught to fully welcome him back into the fellowship of the church.[13]

When Peter told about handling unjust suffering,[14] he again never mentioned forgiving the people causing the suffering, but stated, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”[15] This is the way we find our freedom even when suffering unjustly. We entrust our souls to God as our faithful Creator, and continue doing good, even to those who are doing us harm. These are wonderful things we can do even when it would be wrong to declare someone’s forgiveness because they are still walking in their sin.

5.  It is wrong to take Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”[16] as proof that Jesus forgave unrepentant people since Jesus did not say he forgave them (read it again if you need to). Instead, Jesus taught us to pray for people who wronged us,[17] and that is what he was doing. His words are not a declaration of forgiveness, but a prayer for his enemies. When we come to the place of trusting Jesus with what people have done to us, even to the point of praying that he would forgive them, we can have peace because we know that we are trusting Father with the situation, and God will only answer that prayer in ways that line up with his perfect justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

6.  It is false to say that our only choices are bitterness or forgiveness. Again, since the Bible never once tells us to forgive unrepentant people, and it also tells us to put off all bitterness, rage, and anger, its solution to bitterness in every instance is faith in God’s sovereign goodness. This is why Paul writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”[18] When believers feel there is something that needs to be avenged, Paul did not tell them to forgive, but to “leave it to the wrath of God”.

This is the real problem, not that we won’t forgive, but that we have not trusted God enough to leave it to his wrath to decide what happens. It is not because we can’t forgive that we keep harboring vengeance and judgement and grudges, but because we don’t trust that God will carry out his vengeance however he sees fit. Again, since this goes back to Joseph’s example, we leave things to the wrath of God because we know that he takes everything that happens to us and works it for good. When seeing God glorified in doing good is greater than our fleshly desire to get immediate justice according to our limited view of our situations we will know that we will always have what we desire since God always works all things together for good.

7.  The real issue with our bitterness towards people who have harmed us is not that we haven’t forgiven them, but that we haven’t trusted God to work all things in our lives together for good. It is not what we are holding against wrongful people that is our bondage, but what we are holding against God. As soon as our justice-issues with God are settled, and we can trust him to take every instance of harm and turn it for good (the thing Joseph really did say), we will find our hearts experiencing rest because someone greater than ourselves is handling the situation and we are now free to love our enemies, pray for our abusers, bless our persecutors, return evil with good, even asking God to please forgive the people who have wronged us. It is trusting God to do what is right while we entrust ourselves to him and continue to do good that gives us freedom from carrying grudges that are based solely on the thoughts of the flesh and nothing on the mind of the Spirit.

How do we apply this to discipling people who struggle with bitterness over the harmful things that have happened to them? We direct their attention to prayerful interaction with God in his word focusing on the transforming faith that knows God is taking those hurtful and harmful circumstances and working them for good. As we unite in our congregations to help people get to know God like this, helping them hear God’s word on the matter and pray through whatever wounds need healing, their coming to know God in his sovereign goodness will free them from the old wounds so they can share their testimony of healing with others, perhaps even including some who did them harm.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[2] Ephesians 4:31
[3] I just want to note that this is specifically addressing the false notion that we are to forgive unrepentant people. Everything the Bible teaches about forgiveness towards repentant people must be carried out even when our wounds would still cry against it. I am not endorsing the idea that we can hold off forgiving a repentant person until our wounds no longer hurt us. We may need a miraculous dose of God’s grace to obey him in faith (I think all grace is miraculous, by the way), but my contention that the Bible nowhere tells us to forgive unrepentant people is partnered with my belief that we must always forgive repentant people as taught in God’s word.
[4] I Corinthians 4:6
[5] Genesis 45:5
[6] Genesis 45:7
[7] Genesis 50:20
[8] Colossians 1:13-14
[9] Romans 5:1-5
[10] Genesis 50:21
[11] Matthew 18:15-20
[12] I Corinthians 5:1-13
[13] II Corinthians 2:1-11
[14] I Peter 3:13-17; 4:12-19
[15] I Peter 4:19
[16] Luke 23:34
[17] Matthew 5:44
[18] Romans 12:19