February 23 & 24, 2019 – Epiphany 7
Genesis 45:3–8a, 15
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Hoarders is a TV show profiling people with compulsive hoarding disorder. They are people who can’t throw anything away. What about you? Are you a saver, a hoarder, or do you like to get rid of things if you aren’t using them anymore? What about God? What is he? 1 Timothy 2 says that God wants all men to be saved. He is very hesitant to toss someone or something out. Those who like to save things do so for different reasons. The item may be of sentimental value. Or sometimes people save something because they think it will be worth a lot of money someday. God’s purpose in hoarding, as it were, is similar to the person who saves aluminum cans because he can recycle them. As we look at God’s Word for today we will see that principle in practice as we consider: God Loves to Recycle.
The story of Joseph is a good illustration of this. Joseph was not the favorite of the brothers. As a matter of fact, they hated the fact that their father showed favoritism toward Joseph. To them, their brother was a spoiled, arrogant brat. But one day, they had their chance to vent their anger. Tending their flocks far from home, they saw Joseph approaching. Most of them said, “Let’s kill him!” But Reuben, the oldest brother, convinced them to throw him in a cistern instead. However, while Reuben was gone, they decided to sell him to Midianite merchants, who in turn took him to Egypt as a slave. As a result of this one action, Joseph would spend years not only as a slave, but also in an Egyptian prison.
But what did Joseph say about the situation? “God sent me ahead of you to preserve you as survivors on the earth, and to keep you alive by a great act of deliverance.” While Joseph was in prison, the king had a dream that greatly tormented him. Seven thin cows had swallowed seven fat cows. Nobody could interpret this dream, until God gave Joseph the interpretation that there would be seven prosperous years followed by seven lean years. As a result, Joseph was made ruler over all of Egypt. He was able to stockpile all of the extra food that the Egyptians had grown and prepare for the seven lean years. Thus God was able to save many lives, including the lives of Joseph’s brothers. Look at what God did with a messy situation. Instead of giving up and destroying Joseph’s brothers, he used their hatred and their jealousy to fulfill his plan of saving many from starvation. You might compare it to using cow manure to help plants to grow. Who would think that such a disgusting substance could make plants grow. But that’s what God did with their hatred and jealousy.
There are many illustrations of God doing this throughout history. When Elijah was worn out in his ministry, instead of throwing Elijah away, God recycled him and enabled him to continue in ministry. He used the persecutions of Paul to keep him eternally humble after God brought him to faith. But the ultimate example is in the death of Christ. Here God used the greed of Judas, the hatred of the Jews, and the weakness of Pilate to send Christ to the cross. Through anger and hatred Jesus was able to pay for the sins of the world. Look at what God can do with a seemingly hopeless situation. He is able to somehow recycle it and work it out for good.
This all proves that God loves to recycle. The sad thing today is that there are many Christians who don’t love to recycle. They would rather throw things away at the slightest sign of wear. And that can be us too. We want everything in our lives to be brand new. We want our marriages to be like a honeymoon all the time. We want our possessions to always work well. We want to be healthy until the day we die. We want our children to always behave. But then, when we find our husbands snore, when our possessions break down, or when our children have problems, we just act like it’s the worst thing that could ever happen to us. We pray to God, “Lord, why did you let me get sick? Why do you allow evil to continue in the world? Why can’t I be happy in my marriage?” We accuse God of being uncaring and indifferent to evil just because he allows it to continue on.
All the while we fail to recognize the fact that God can use these things for our good. If God could use hatred and jealousy of Joseph’s brothers to save thousands of lives, then why do we complain when trouble enters our lives? There was no way that Joseph could have seen himself being a king while he was rotting in jail. And yet by faith, he knew that God would work it out for good. And God did.
Isn’t it a great thing then, when God, instead of throwing us away, recycles our faith. How often has God patiently put up with our complaining, then had an evil situation work out for good and then fanned our faith into flames. Instead of punishing us for our lack of faith, he throws our sins on Christ and uses Jesus’ righteousness to be our holiness. Again and again God uses the blood of Christ to cover our sins. Thank God he loves to recycle.
When Joseph recognized that God loves to recycle, it completely changed his attitude toward his brothers. Here he was, second in command of Egypt. If you or I had spent our time rotting in that prison, we would have been pretty tempted to get some vengeance on those who sold us into slavery. And at first, it appeared that Joseph was no different. When his brothers first came, they didn’t recognize him. So Joseph appeared to them like a real foreign ruler. He was rude to them. He even threw them in prison and called them spies.
But the more Joseph dealt with them, the more he realized that they were sorry for what they had done. He could hear them talking among themselves, saying that God was punishing them for their evil deed. Finally, after he heard Simeon give a wonderful confession, Joseph could hold back no longer. He broke into tears and said, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be upset or angry with yourselves for selling me to this place, since God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. For two years now the famine has been in the land, and there are still five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me ahead of you to preserve you as survivors on the earth, and to keep you alive by a great act of deliverance. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” He kissed all his brothers and wept over them. After that his brothers talked with him. When Joseph recognized that God had a good purpose in his being sold into slavery, he was able to forgive his brothers for their evil deed. Instead of blaming them and using their sin as an excuse for his misery, he knew that God had a good purpose for their evil and so he was thankful for what they had done.
What an important concept for us to realize. How often do we complicate our lives by worrying about the decisions that we have made and the sins we have committed in the past? We kick ourselves over a sin we did twenty years ago. We act as if the future totally depended on the actions and decisions that we make. We give ourselves way more credit and responsibility than we should. But what we need to ultimately realize is that God can even use our mistakes for a good purpose. He has more control than we would like to give him credit for. When we remember that God can work the mistakes we have done for good, it makes it much easier for us to live with ourselves.
Also, when we realize this, how much easier is it for us then to be forgiving. How many people do you know who are holding grudges over sins committed long ago? We hold onto the times we’ve been wronged and lock them in the vaults of our anger as if they were as precious as gold. But what God wants us to do is to throw it in the garden of experience and let it grow.
Think about the results of this revelation for Joseph. Instead of exterminating his family and remaining at odds over their sin, Joseph thanked God for it and used the occasion to bring his whole family back together. If Joseph had not done this, Jacob and his family could have very well died in Israel under the famine, and the line of the Savior would have died with his anger. But instead, Joseph’s forgiveness led to a huge family reunion, where 70 relatives were able to be reunited under Joseph’s care in the land of Goshen. God was able to recycle this family and bring it together. When Joseph recognized this, he didn’t throw his family away. He grew closer to them than he had ever been before.
Now think about this in your own life. What good will it do for you to hold onto the sins committed against you in the past? What good does it do for your souls if you refuse to forgive those who sinned against you long ago? When we hold grudges it only builds bitterness and hatred in our hearts. But when we realize that God has a good purpose in our lives, that God loves to recycle, even the evil people that plotted against us, it makes life so much more bearable. We don’t get stuck in our past but instead, we say, “What good can God work from this?” Instead of being angry with God, we will thank God for allowing the evil to happen to us because God promises that nothing will happen to us that won’t work ultimately for our good.
Remember that God loves to recycle. If he was able to bring Joseph’s family back together, he can put your life back together. Just give him a chance to recycle you and he’ll work all for you good. Amen.