There’s lots of battles you will face in life. Let me tell you what I think is the greatest.
To do it, I’ll turn to one of my greatest Biblical heroes. Joseph faced a cavalcade of terrible circumstances. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly imprisoned for a long period of time, and then forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler who should have appealed for his freedom. Yet his greatest battle was not the fight for freedom, it was the fight for a right response to the injustice done to him.
Joseph had lost a lot. He had no freedom, no money, no wife, no family, no job. When we are denied what we want out of life – job, money, relationship, health and so on – we often become bitter, either at those who have stood in our way, cheated us or treated us wrongly, or at God himself.
From a human perspective, Joseph had reason to be angry with God. It was God who had got him into this mess by giving him these dreams. It was God who got his hopes up. Where was God when his brothers sold him into slavery? Even after that, he continued to honour God by refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife – and where did that get him? He had that incredible prophetic word over the butler and it led to nothing. Even if Joseph got over those hurdles by acknowledging that the God who had twice saved his life should not be blamed for his circumstances, there were still his brothers, Potiphar’s wife and the butler. He had every reason in the world to hate them.
The greatest battle you’ll ever face is the battle against bitterness. The presence of bitterness means the absence of forgiveness. Why is forgiveness such an issue? Because it stands at the heart of the Gospel. The cross is all about forgiveness. Salvation is all about forgiveness. The Christian life is all about forgiveness. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of everything we have in Christ. If we refuse to walk in the mercy that Jesus has showered on us, we will find ourselves back in prison. That’s what the story of the two debtors in Matthew 18 is all about.
The bitterness of unforgiveness is a deadly virus which captures our thoughts and infects our attitudes. It so warps our bow of intercession that we even find ourselves praying that negative things will happen to others. It magnifies the faults of others and minimizes our own weaknesses. Worst of all, it separates us from the God who is the source of all forgiveness. It makes us toxic to the body of Christ, which is why Scripture warns us to let no “root of bitterness” spring up in our midst. Bitter people pollute the church. Whatever anyone has done to you, the harm you do to yourself through the bitterness of unforgiveness will damage you more than what they did, no matter how awful it was.
But Joseph did not fall into this trap. How do we know? Bitter people have no interest in serving others, or in the fact that there is a bigger reality out there than the world of their own suffering. But Joseph, even in his dungeon, so impressed the prison warden with his serving spirit that he put him in charge of the prison. Bitter people could not care less about the needs of others, but when his two fellow prisoners had a need, Joseph was immediately sensitive to it: “Why are your faces so sad?” he said to them. Bitter people do not have a healthy relationship with the God they blame for their troubles, but Joseph immediately reached out to God to find an answer for his friends. In the midst of hardship most of us cannot imagine, Joseph fought and won a battle which saved him from spiritual, and probably physical death, and made him a source of life to others. His attitude enabled God to turn suffering into blessing.
Some people wind up in a spiritual prison of their own making. Joseph turned his literal prison into a place of freedom. Joseph’s biggest battle was not won the day he was brought from jail to the highest office in the land. His battle was won in the depths of that dungeon when he chose the way of forgiveness and found peace.
You too, by God’s grace, can win that battle. It’s a battle worth fighting -- your life depends on it.