Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Escaping Bitterness
Pastor Steve Schell
Genesis 50:15-21
Forgiveness is an obedient act of the will. I make a choice to no longer demand justice. I release someone who has harmed me from the moral debt they owe because of what they have done. Instead of calling on God to punish them I pray that He bless them and draw them to Himself. As Christians we do this for at least two reasons: First, we forgive others because God has freely forgiven us. How can we demand justice from someone else when we’ve received such mercy? But there’s also another reason. We soon discover that unforgiveness has the power to dry out our spiritual life. It makes God seem far away and silences His voice. It becomes hard to receive answers to prayer. Jesus warns us about this danger in the most unmistakable terms. He says bluntly, “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Mt 6:15; Mk 11:24-26). So not only must I forgive because I have been forgiven, I also forgive to stay spiritually healthy and, frankly, to preserve my own peace of mind.

But when the injury runs deep, and that’s especially true when my love and trust have been betrayed—or when the offenses are persistent, ongoing, inescapable—I find I have to choose to forgive over and over again. Against my will my mind keeps returning to the offense, then my emotions are stirred and I grow angry all over again, even though I already forgave that person as genuinely as I know how. I find myself trapped in a cycle. I forgive, and then something stirs the memory of the offense, or the person hurts me again and I’m back having to restart the process. And if this cycle goes on long enough I grow weary and discouraged. I question whether I really ever forgave at all, because if I did then why does it keep coming back? I desperately look for a way to be released from these recurring feelings, so I can go on with my life. Thankfully, there is a way and no one shows us how better than Joseph.

Listen to Jesus
But before we learn how Joseph escaped this cycle of forgiveness let’s let Jesus show us how essential this lesson is to us:
• Matthew 6:12 “…as we have forgiven…” (Mt 5:23, 24)
• Matthew 6:14, 15 “…if you do not forgive…”
• Matthew 18:21-35 - The Unmerciful Slave
• Mark 11:24-26 - never pray with bitterness

Jesus is teaching us that forgiveness enables us to receive God’s grace, but unforgiveness hinders us from receiving it.

Joseph and his brothers (Ge 50:15-23)
When Jacob dies Joseph’s brothers fear that he will finally take revenge on them for what they did to him so many years before (Ge 37:18-36). They beg him to enslave them rather than kill them, because after all, they had sold him into slavery rather than kill him. He weeps at their fear and distrust, and then explains to them why he doesn’t want revenge. God has done a deep work in his heart and he’s free from bitterness and has found peace. He doesn’t have to keep forgiving. And there are three reasons for this:
1) v19: I’m not your judge. God is. He who knows your hearts will do what’s right.
• Romans 11:9, 10 — Retributive justice
• If a person doesn’t repent then the justice God will bring in both this life and eternity is far more severe than anything you can do. And if they have truly repented then who wants them punished?
2) v20: Though your intentions were evil, no human can overrule God’s plan for my life.
• I don’t have to stay angry to protect myself.
• I don’t despair that you ruined me forever.
• Nothing you can do can stop God from blessing me.
3) v21: The devil is trying to destroy our family and our destiny. There is a spiritual attack that goes beyond you and me, to the nation of Israel and the coming Messiah… so rather than starve you as you once tried to do to me, I will feed you.
• Romans 12:21 “…overcome evil with good”

The root that stirs up the need to perpetually forgive is often fear that you have stolen my blessing and ruined me or that I must remain angry and vigilant to protect myself. If I drop my guard you’ll hurt me again. (There are situations where I must protect myself and others by physically separating or cutting off communication from a dangerous person.)

Joseph’s faith
Joseph’s faith in God set him completely free from fear. He was at peace because he had faith that:
1) God will judge
• There’s a wonderful and terrible justice awaiting at the end of history (Rev 20:11-13; Ps 73:16-20)
2) God can overrule in human affairs
• No one can change God’s plan for my life, no one can steal my blessing, unless of course I believe the lie and let my heart sink into bitterness rather than stand in faith
3) Our warfare is not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12) but against a spiritual enemy bent on destroying the ministry God has planned for me and my household.

To be free from the “cycle of forgiveness” these truths become promises upon which I stand.

Now let’s apply this to our own lives:
• Is there someone you have forgiven over and over to the point that you doubt whether you really ever forgave at all (something in the past)?
• Is there someone who persistently offends you? No sooner have you forgiven than they wound you again (family, workplace, spouse…)? (Something continuing in the present).

The answer is more than to just forgive again. Freedom comes by walking at a deeper level of faith in a God: who’s just and powerful, whose plans for me are for good and not for evil, and whose sovereign call on me and my family is to participate in His great saving work, and it’s this call that is the ultimate target of the devil. You and I are just soldiers in a much larger war.

Like a healing ointment, such faith takes the infection out of the wound and lets the heart finally heal.

1) Has God healed an old wound in you? How did He do this? When did you know you were free?
2) Which of Joseph’s three statements did you need to hear today? Why?

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