II Corinthians 2:11…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
Two weeks ago, I talked with you about Satan’s main scheme which is to lure us into loving the things of the world which are obviously in conflict with the things of God. Last week we talked about the trap of doubt, how Satan wants us to doubt God’s Word and to doubt God’s character of love and goodness toward us. I want to conclude this series today by exposing one more scheme of the devil and that is to get us to embrace offense, to get us hurt and offended to the point where we are trapped in bitterness and unforgiveness.
The Bible says that you and I are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, Colossians 3:13. I wonder why that was stated in the form of a command. Could it be because God is looking out for us? I think so. God knows forgiveness is critical because it keeps the ground of our hearts soft and responsive towards God and other people.
If we forgive, we keep the ground of our hearts soft and responsive towards God and others. If we don’t, we allow roots of bitterness to take place in our hearts. Bitterness and love are complete opposites. We can’t love God and others correctly with un-forgiveness in our hearts.
When someone hurts us, when they “vaguebook” about us on Facebook, when they talk poorly of us behind our back, when they use us for personal gain, when someone sabotages something we think is rightfully ours, when someone deceives us or lies about us, what would happen IF we would get alone with God first? If we would pour out our hurts and anger, our disappointment and frustration before Him FIRST and immediately then asked Him for help to love and forgive the person who hurt us? How would that change the way we recover from those painful moments? What if we committed ourselves to God in those moments of personal pain and said, “God, can you do anything with this? Can you use my pain? Can you grow me up in Jesus? Can you give me a testimony? Can you turn this around?” Could we commit every moment of offense to Jesus WHEN it happens? Hear me…God will always do the right thing on our behalf and on the behalf of the person who hurt us. We can expect Him to deal with both of us justly.
I Peter 2:21-23 says, 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
We have a choice regarding how we will handle offense. One way leads to being trapped in our pain by the devil, and the other leads to victory. We have to get to the place where we trust God and not the flesh; where we live by faith and not our feelings. What if there is a victory for you to win that could impact other people for their benefit that is contingent on you being able to forgive?
“Although you may have a reason to be offended, as a believer you don’t have a good reason to hold a grudge.” Grudge-holding isn’t Jesus-like, and isn’t good for us. It short-circuits what God wants to do in and through us. We can learn how to avoid the trap of grudge-keeping by looking at the life of Joseph. His story is chronicled in Genesis 37-48.
Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob. He was the favorite son which caused issues in the family dynamics. The twelve sons of Jacob were the people who became the leaders of the 12 Tribes of Israel. God had chosen this family. Their great grandpa, Abraham had been the one that God made a covenant with. He had told him that through his offspring all the nations on earth would be blessed.
Through this family the Lord Jesus Christ would eventually descend, yet they performed terrible evil and horribly betrayed Joseph. So, as you think about your own family and challenges you have had to work through or are working through, know you are in good company. God can still work in and through families where grudges have been held and mean-spirited actions have taken place.
Joseph had some God-given dreams about how he was going to become a leader, a ruler and how he would rule over his brothers. Well, he shared his dreams with his brothers, and they weren’t interested in celebrating that future with him. They weren’t exactly thrilled with the thought of bowing down to Joseph, a spoiled brat in their eyes.
They were jealous of him and the special relationship he had with his father. Jealousy led to hatred; Joseph’s brothers hated him. They hated him so much that they wanted to kill him, but rather than kill him, they decided to get rid of him by selling him to slave traders. They faked his death, telling their dad he had been killed by a wild animal. Imagine hating someone so much that you are willing to put someone else you love through incredible grief at the same time just so you don’t have to deal with the person you hate. That is messed up. That is what the traps of Satan will produce in people, turning them into people who are capable of great evil.
The brothers were nauseated by Joseph’s dreams of success. They were disgusted by their father’s special love for Joseph. Joseph ticked them off by sharing his dreams and by being his father’s favorite so because they were offended and mad they betrayed him. Once they fell for Satan’s scheme, their behavior escalated.
When they betrayed him they stole his inheritance. They altered his life. They took him from his father. They cut themselves off from him. They removed him from his home and all that was familiar. He hadn’t married or had children which was super important back then. The idea of carrying on a legacy through marriage and having kids was critical. When they sold Joseph into slavery, they believed they were erasing any chances of that ever happening because when people were sold as slaves, they remained slaves until they died, and if they married, their wife and children would be slaves. How many times would Joseph have wished that his brothers had just killed him instead? But God.
Joseph was sold an officer to the Pharaoh of Egypt. He served him for ten years. That’s a long time. For all he knew his dad was dead. How do you hold your mind together when all you can do is wonder about things? Joseph did a good job in Potiphar’s employ and was put in charge of his household and all he had. Well, Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Joseph and tried to seduce him, but he refused. Day after day he refused her. He had great integrity and character. He could have reasoned to himself that he deserved to have his master’s wife, but he didn’t go there. And finally, when he refused her for the last time, she got angry, and she accused him of rape.
Doing the right thing landed him in prison. Naturally that make a person bitter. Being wrongfully imprisoned? What could be worse? He had gone as low as a person could go without being dead. How could God have allowed these things to happen to him? Did his brothers have the ability to steal his promise from God out from under him after all?
People can take a lot from us, but there are two things they can never take away:
- Our choice to trust God in the midst of every circumstance
- Our choice to not carry offense
You can absolutely follow God and do what is right and still be hurt by people. How did Joseph view his brothers? How do we view people who hurt us? “If it wasn’t for so and so, I would have gotten the promotion.” “If it wasn’t for the circumstances into which I was born, I would have what I always dreamed of.” “If it wasn’t for so and so, I would be with that guy and not her.” “If it wasn’t for so and so I wouldn’t be in the financial mess I am in.” “If it wasn’t for so and so, I would still _________________.”
In the end it isn’t up to anyone else or their influence when God has purposed something in our lives, He will bring it to pass. He opens doors no man can shut (Rev. 3:8). No person can thwart the will of God for your life except you!
Well, Joseph’s brothers may have thought they had taken him out. Joseph may have felt taken out, but God! His brothers tried to destroy him, but God was working all along to employ him in His service.
Even though Joseph suffered even more betrayal and hurt while in prison by a guy who said he would talk to the Pharaoh about him to help him get paroled and the guy forgot about Joseph for a long time, eventually God had his way. The truth is, God had his way all along! He wasn’t working in spite of Joseph’s hateful brothers, but he was working through them even though they thought they were in control.
God didn’t look down from heaven as Joseph was being sold as a slave and say, “Now what am I going to do? His brothers have messed everything up. My plan for Joseph is ruined. I better think of something quick.” No! If God doesn’t panic, why should we if we believe we are in His hands?
If Joseph had been like most of us, what do you think he would be doing while he was in prison? Probably plotting revenge. Probably talking to the other prisoners about how awful his family was. No one would blame him either. But guess what? There was coming a day when Joseph’s brothers would need his help. Had he harbored bitterness in his heart he would have had them tortured and killed rather than shown them kindness.
Here’s the bottom line today: If Joseph had let bitterness grow in his heart, the God-given dreams he had as a child would not have been able to come to pass. Holding grudges and harboring bitterness will rob you of your dreams.
You know what was happening as Joseph was in prison? He was being refined like gold. There were impurities being brought to the surface of his heart so that they could be removed. God was developing him into the leader who could become the person Joseph had dreamed about as a boy. Look at I Peter 1:6-7: In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
What if, when you are hurt by someone’s words or actions, you not only take it to Jesus so that bitterness doesn’t set in, and what if you not only trust God to make things right at some point, but what if you also view it as an opportunity to be refined and to be made ready for a wonderful future that God has waiting for you?
When Pharaoh had a dream he didn’t understand he asked for someone to interpret the dream. The guy who was supposed to previously have helped Joseph remembered Joseph could interpret dreams. He told the Pharaoh about him. Long story short, through Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams Joseph was not only sprung from prison, but he was elevated to like the Czar of Egypt. Amazing, right?
The dream he had interpreted was about a time of plenty in Egypt followed by a time of famine. Joseph was to be in charge of storing enough food during the time of plenty to see the whole country through the time of famine. And guess how far the famine reached? And guess who was hungry and came to Egypt looking for food? Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt for help.
What was Joseph’s response when he saw his brothers? Another long story short, he gave them food for no charge, and they were given the best land for their families. They had done the worst possible thing to Joseph, but he gave them the best possible thing he had to offer in return. Joseph wasn’t bitter. He was a blesser.
Joseph did Matthew 5:44. He blessed those who cursed him. He did good to those who hated him. Listen, God knew what Joseph’s brothers would do before they did it. He knew it before he gave the dreams to Joseph. He knows what people will say about you and do to you before those things happen, and somehow those offenses can’t alter God’s plans for your life one bit. Somehow, in the economy of God, they will work out to your favor.
Listen to what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 45:3-11 “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. (And rightfully so. I can’t imagine the terror that struck them in that moment.) 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” (Can you fathom how fast their hearts had to be beating as they inched their way to Joseph?)
When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
Would they believe it? Could they believe it? Had they ever had any regret? Did they feel bad for what they had done to him? Did they ever long for an opportunity to ask for forgiveness or to try to make it right? Did the passing of time help them see how evil they were? Did they marvel that Joseph could just say, “It’s all good!?”
6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
God had sent Joseph to Egypt. His brothers weren’t in control of anything after all. Joseph chose to look at every hurt and every pain as somehow being strategic in the plan of a Sovereign God. The Dream-Giver was the Dream-Maker, and everything in Joseph’s life, the good, the bad and the ugly was all working according to His plan. People who hurt you cannot steal from you what God has for you. What God has for you is secure, no matter what. The only person who can remove you from the will of God is yourself.
Did Joseph deal with hurt, pain, and rejection? No doubt! But he didn’t allow it to make him bitter and hateful towards the ones who had hated him, and when they were desperate for help, he could bless them.
Everyone in this room has been hurt by someone else. We can either fall into the trap of bitterness and hatred and miss the beautiful thing God is working in the midst of our pain or we can forgive and be a supernatural answer to someone else’s need, maybe even the person who wronged us. The devil wants you hurt by and mad at other people to limit how God might be able to use you in their lives.
Let me show you something else that Joseph did that was very strategic.
9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me–you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
Joseph was future-focused. He didn’t rehash everything he had been through so that they would understand the depth of his suffering. Maybe that happened at a later date, but in that moment, he was focused on the future. Another way to get out of this kind of Satanic trap is to get focused on the future God has for you. Forgiveness makes room in our hearts for the notion that people might change. The future can look different from the past.
We all have family-of-origin issues. There are always things we can point to with parents or siblings that didn’t seem fair or weren’t fair. Do we want to live offended, bitter, and distant or do we want our God-given future? This is more than the power of positive thinking. This is a choice we have to exercise faith and let God have not just the final say, but where we let Him have the all-say about all things.
Take a moment to review the people pains in your life. Go to that close relationship whether it was with family or friends. Did you let God work it all out in your life and in your heart or is there some extra stuff in your heart that has been on the journey with you? Have you looked back on your life and said, “If only so and so hadn’t ______” I would be in a different place today and you have held them responsible for your lot in life rather than trusted God to continue to lead you forward? Are you stuck in the past through unforgiveness? Are you still holding out hope with your bitterness that one day that person who hurt you will know just had bad they wronged you?
I’m not saying we should never have a conversation or express our hurt. That would be the first and best thing to do, shortly after things go sideways. That is the smartest thing to do. That is the Christian thing to do. If we did that every time we were hurt, and we sought to have a God-honoring conversation with the person we would all live with better blood pressure numbers, now wouldn’t we? But that isn’t typically how we roll.
If we trust God to deal with every wrong, we can forgive people and let Him handle them. The longer we hold on to un-forgiveness, the more we water the root of bitterness. As bitterness is watered, it increases in depth and strength, and bitterness changes us and not for the better. The sooner we forgive, perhaps the easier it is to forgive. The longer we hold on to anger, the harder it is to let it go. Ephesians 4:26 tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. In other words, we are to deal with it as quickly as possible. Un-forgiveness is a Satanic trap to keep us imprisoned to our pain. Today is the day to walk free. Today is the day to forgive.
***Some message concepts were received from the book, “The Bait of Satan,” by John Bevere