Portraits of a Mature Christian
Unconditional Love in All Relationships
“What makes a Christian home different than a worldly one?” I once posed that question to a small group Bible study. One woman said that in a Christian home people respect each other more than in a worldly one. But I know some pagan homes where they respect each other quite well. Another said, “In a Christian home the people follow the Ten Commandments.” That’s true but many worldly people try to follow the Ten Commandments too. One person said that Christians have faith and worldly people don’t. Yes, but lots of people in the world have faith, even though it is the wrong faith. Finally, one mature woman said, “In the Christian home people have God’s unconditional love to share with one another.” She was right. Unconditional love is a defining mark of a Christian’s life. Scripture shares several examples of people who showed unconditional love toward others, including Jesus, the apostle Paul, and David and Jonathan. But one of the most revealing examples of unconditional love appears in the life of Joseph in the last few chapters of Genesis. Joseph had been deeply hurt by many people. His brothers tried to kill him and then sold him into slavery. That would be enough to catapult anyone into lifelong bitterness. Then, Potiphar’s wife framed Joseph for doing the right thing. Add the story of how Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot Joseph in prison. Talk about traumatic stress! Joseph’s life could have been defined by deep sorrow and bitterness over, betrayal and neglect. But it wasn’t. Ultimately, Joseph forgave everyone who hurt him. After his rise to power he showed his true colors. True character shines through in how we handle our successes as much as failures. Study Joseph’s words below when he revealed himself to his brothers after being away for over 20 years. Joseph shows what unconditional love looks like. God enables us to have that same kind of love for those who hurt us. But first, if you do not know Joseph’s story well, read Genesis 37, 39–44. Then, focus your attention on Genesis 45:115 and answer the following questions.
“Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
POINTS TO PONDER 1. Name at least three good reasons Joseph had for nursing a grudge against his brothers? 1. His brothers had robbed him of precious years with family that he could never get back. 2. His brothers had sold him even though he begged them for mercy as their dear brother. 3. Joseph had dreams from God that confirmed that Joseph was supposed to rise to power so he could mistakenly justify a grudge because God was on his side. 4. Joseph’s brothers were still rascals and that fact alone could make him hate them.
2. On whose anger did Joseph focus in verse 5? Why is this odd to human ears? He focused on their anger at themselves for having made such a mess of his life and that of their whole family. This is odd because usually the one who has been hurt spends most of his time focusing on his own pain and anger.
3. Single out Joseph’s words to his brothers in verses 1-15. How did Joseph know God loved him unconditionally? Verse 5: … do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
Verse 7: God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
Verse 8: So then, it was not you who sent me here but God. He made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
Joseph knew God loved him unconditionally because God had guided his whole life through many troubles even though Joseph was a sinner like other sinners. Joseph saw God’s gracious hand using his life for the good of others.
4. What recurring theme in Joseph’s words shows how he received power to forgive his brothers long before they made any apology? God sent me ahead of you.
Joseph knew he could let go of control of his life and emotions because his whole life’s story was not his own but God’s. God was behind the evil acts of his brothers to make something much bigger out it all. How could Joseph be angry about his little dreams now that he saw God’s dream unfolding?
5. What is the secret of forgiveness for a Christian? The secret of forgiveness is to realize that God forgiven you completely in Christ. When you live out your life at the foot of the cross beholding Jesus who died to give you his forgiveness, then you live to share that forgiveness with others. Then you are also free to consider how the hurts others cause you work into God’s plan to make your life a blessing to them and others. The bigger picture provided by the loving God empowers you to forgive them. FRUIT TO BEAR 1. Jesus has given each of us the same power to forgive as he gave Joseph. How has he done that? In the gospel and the sacraments (Baptism and Lord’s Supper) we have received, Jesus has shown us unconditional love, and we were the ones who hurt him. Once we realize that his forgiveness is totally free and that is comes to us in spite of our selfishness (Romans 5:8) then you get it—that forgiveness is something we give others because the forgiving Lord Jesus lives in our hearts and not because we think they deserve it.
2. Who has hurt you the deepest in life? Type that person an e-mail that sounds like Joseph’s words here. Include how God’s love and direction in your life have enabled you to forgive. Have someone you trust check your e-mail for true forgiveness. By writing this e-mail you will be able to rethink how God has taken the hurt this person has caused you and made good things come out of it for you and others. And if you actually send it, you will help this other person get a tangible example of God’s love in Christ is at work in the world around him or her.
3. Share at least three ways forgiveness reveals itself in a Christian home. 1. The people in the home are tender and loving toward each other even after many years of living together. 2. In their ongoing relationship they do not bring up past hurts in order to punish, manipulate, or guilt each other into doing things they want them to do. 3. They look forward to spending time together and provide support and encouragement for each other throughout life. 4. They are good at resolving any conflicts they may have.
4. Explain this statement: Forgiveness is a posture before it is an event. Forgiveness is an attitude that we as Christians have in our hearts because of Jesus Christ. It exists there in our hearts before anyone would dare to hurt us. So, when they happen to hurt us, we share the love and forgiveness that are already there. The event is preceded by the power of God’s love that is already there. You can see this in the life of Joseph. He had been filled with love and forgiveness long before his brothers showed up.
Related Scripture verses Matthew 6:14,15
John 13:35 Romans 12:14-21 1 Corinthians 13 Ephesians 4:32 Colossians 3:13
Contributing editor Donald Patterson is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.
This is the fourth article in a 12-part series on Christian maturity.
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © February 2010 reprinted with permission.