The Living Word for Sunday, September 13, 2020 (TLW36A). Three teachings about experiencing the grace of God — forgiven, accepted — and then extending it to others. Joseph shows his brothers that he has forgiven them for selling him into slavery. Jesus uses the story of the unmerciful steward to show that all unforgiveness is sin, with the most serious consequences; and Paul teaches that unconditional love shown to others is like the whole of the law in miniature, because love results in unselfish, godly behaviour.
For this week’s linked article, see One thing that sets us apart
For a really quick introduction to the theme, see this Just a Minute video
Theme: How we show God’s mercy to others
Genesis 50:15-21 (Psalm 103:1-7) — Joseph knows that his misfortune, intended by his brothers for harm, was used by God to save many lives
Matthew 18:21-35 — The story of the unmerciful steward teaches that all unforgiveness is sin but also that we have the capacity of God to forgive
Romans 14:1-12 — Those who are confident in faith and freedom need to give others a bit of leeway
Genesis 50:15-21 (Psalm 103:1-7) — Joseph has forgiven his brothers
He knows his misfortune, intended for harm, was used by God to save many lives
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
“What if Joseph… pays us back” — his brothers’ new fear was that Joseph’s kindness to them might turn to revenge with Jacob dead.
16-17 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
“Your father left… instructions” — in their guilt, they imagine Joseph to be like them and seek to avert his anger.
“Joseph wept” — because his brothers so misjudged him, fearing reprisal.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
“We are your slaves” — his brothers had sold him into slavery.
“Threw themselves down” — fulfilling for the fourth time the dream which started all his trouble, Genesis 37:5-11, 42.6, 43:26, 44:14
19-20 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
“Am I in the place of God?” – Joseph refuses their offer. They were to serve God, not him.
“You intended… harm… but God intended… good” — introduces a foundational truth of Scripture, that God overrules human sin for the good of mankind and His glory. The crucifixion is the outstanding example.
• For further study, read Acts 3:13-26; Romans 8:28.
“The saving of many lives” — God transformed the brothers’ evil act with a higher purpose, providing for the Egyptians and other nations who came to buy food in the famine, Genesis 45:5-8.
21 “So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.
“Praise the Lord” — praise is remembering God is the source of all blessings.
2-3 Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases…
“Praise… praise… praise” — the threefold repetition of praise or bless is the highest form of worship, Isaiah 6:2-3. The psalmist is instructing his soul (thoughts, will and feelings) to turn from anguish to praise, Psalm 6:3-4.
“Heals all your diseases” — emphasises God as the source of all avenues of healing.
4 …who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion…
“Redeems” — or delivers, from the pit, or grave; stops the life in you from failing.
5 …who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
“Like the eagle’s” — symbolising youthful stamina in Isaiah 40:30-31.
• For further study: in the NT, perseverance shows the Lord at work in a believer, Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 4:16-17; James 1:2-12.
6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
“Righteousness and justice” — in many passages, define the Lord’s goodness, Psalm 33:5, 80:14, 97:2; Hosea 2:19.
7 He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel.
SUMMARY Joseph is moved to tears by his brothers acting out of guilt and expecting him to pay them back for selling him into slavery. He has long forgiven them for those wrongs and recognised how God allowed what happened to him, to later accomplish much good and the saving of lives.
APPLICATION Joseph’s harsh treatment by jealous brothers is the classic story of bad things happening to a good person — and how God turned it around. Life brings misfortunes and injustices and we find them hard to accept at the time. But as we learn to forgive, and extend to others the grace we have known from God, we start to see the bigger picture of what God always intended.
QUESTION What unexpected or undeserved event took your life in a different and unplanned direction? What can you now see was God’s purpose in allowing it?
Matthew 18:21-35 — As those who are forgiven, we forgive others
The story of the unmerciful steward teaches that all unforgiveness is sin
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Seventy-seven times” — unlimited. The numbers recall the principle of vengeance, Genesis 4:24, which becomes forgiveness in the kingdom of God.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
24-25 “As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“Ten thousand bags of gold” — a hopeless debt, more money than was circulating in all Palestine.
26-27 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.
“I will pay back” — no one could earn such an astronomical sum.
“Cancelled the debt” — like the inconceivable act of writing off £5 billion.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him ahundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.’
“A hundred silver coins” — like four months’ earnings, a sizeable sum but not unmanageable. The first servant’s debt was about a million times greater than this.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“I will pay it back” — this time, a sincere offer to repay a reasonable debt.
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
31 “When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32-33 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
“Shouldn’t you have had mercy” — this verse restates the Bible principle of extending the grace we receive from God, to others — especially forgiveness.
• For further study, see Isaiah 40:2; Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37;1 John 4:20.
34-35 “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
“Unless you forgive” — not legalism but cause and effect. Unforgiveness is a common (but often unrecognised) sin that opens us to spiritual oppression from the nagging thoughts of demonic ‘torturers’. There is a clear allusion to the eternal punishment of hell here.
SUMMARY Jesus teaches that forgiveness of a wrong or a hurt should be extended infinitely — as God forgives us without limit when we come to Him. He then relates the story of a king who called in a massive amount owed by his steward. There was no way he could earn enough to make repayment and he pleaded for mercy, whereupon the merciful king wrote off the entire amount. Then the steward began to call in smaller accounts owed to him, and a man asked for time. to pay. The sum was tiny by comparison with the amount he had owed, but he treated him harshly and had him tortured in prison. This, Jesus said, is what comes us if we do not extend to others God’s grace of forgiveness that we have received.
APPLICATION No amount of good works or charitable effort can touch the debt we owe God. What Jesus has done for us in redeeming us from penalty is beyond calculation — yet resentment and unforgiveness of others is common in the church. We are not to hold on to anger against another; doing so is sin that gives the devil legal rights and opportunity to oppress us, Ephesians 4:26-27, like Jesus’ story of being handed over to the torturers. The way to be free from anxieties and nagging fears is by keeping short accounts — with God and with each other — forgiving offences done to us regardless of whether the person deserves it. This how our Father in heaven treats our offences to Him.
QUESTION Who have you had to forgive for causing you injustice? Who do you still need to forgive?
Romans 14:1-12 — Instead of judging others, extend grace to them
Some in the fellowship are confident in faith and freedom; others are not so strong
1-2 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarrelling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
“Disputable matters” — where differences of opinion are allowed. Believers in multicultural Rome might have Jewish roots, and be used to Jewish dietary restrictions and special days, or pagan backgrounds, see foods sold in the markets as tainted, or certain cults which were vegetarian. Paul urges tolerance and love in these secondary issues.
3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
“God has accepted them” — those following certain practices were, in their way, honouring God.
4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
“To their own master” — Believers practising their faith in different ways are fellow servants of the Lord.
5-6 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
“One day more sacred” — like still keeping OT holy days.
7-8 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
“None of us lives for ourselves… we live for the Lord” — for believers, the lordship of Jesus is key, and everything else secondary.
9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
“Why do you judge?” — the weak (v.3) must not judge the strong and the strong must not judge by contempt.
11-12 It is written: ” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘Every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
“Give an account” — justification is by faith alone, but all believers will face evaluation of their lives and service to God.
SUMMARY The young church in Rome drew on its mixture of customs and beliefs and races — and experienced the tensions. Those of Jewish background came from an old life of holy days and dietary regulations. Those from a pagan background wanted to avoid food that had been offered to idols. These personal preferences became judgmental, forgetting that every believer will be accountable to the Lord one day. His lordship of our lives and priorities is what matters.
APPLICATION What divides the Christian church is not, by and large, primary doctrines but secondary things and styles of worship. God sees just one church and many different congregations. Our excluding those God has called to pursue His ministry in a way that doesn’t follow our rules, grieves the Holy Spirit and sets back the witness of God’s church. It is the same lesson that Paul teaches here.
QUESTION What worship practice or congregation custom do you find provokes you to judgment? How will you change that?
PRAYER Lord God Almighty, You are holy and cannot countenance sin — yet when we come to You having chosen the lordship of Jesus, you count us as justified. We are part of mankind’s rebellion yet you cancel the penalty because of Jesus. We let You down, yet You love us as a Father and are enduringly gracious and forgiving. Help us to relate to others with that same grace. May people see Your kindness and forbearance in us when hurts and injustices are done to us — and give us the grace to forgive without condition. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The print edition copies as an A4 sheet to create a 4pp A5 Bible-sized folder