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Seventy Times Seven

September 12, 2017

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done . . .” (Genesis 50:20)

Can you remember a time in your life when someone committed a great wrong against you–defamed you, lied about you, or hurt you in some way for his or her personal gain that was very difficult to handle at the time, but that led you to a place that ultimately proved to be a blessing? That’s what happened to Joseph. His brothers were so threatened and jealous of him that they threw him into a pit too deep to escape from, and left him for dead—going home and lying to their father about what really happened.   He was rescued from the pit, sold into slavery, barely escaped with his life after his owner’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape, imprisoned, and ultimately ended up being the equivalent of the Prime Minister of Egypt. That’s what Joseph meant when he told his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Genesis 50:20).

David was chased for years by Saul, and yet he echoes this truth and praises God: “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit.” (Psalm 103:2-4).[1]

Paul also tells us “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In the midst of life’s most difficult challenges, we are assured that if we love God, he will make something beautiful of it. Paul was no stranger to challenges and difficulties. He was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, and persecuted by Jews and Gentiles alike (2 Corinthians 11: 23-25). He adds: “And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of all my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11: 26-28).

After all of that, he was still able to say “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty . . . I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Excerpts Philippians 4: 11b-13).

Even though we must deal with difficult people in our lives, Paul warns us that are not to judge others, but to keep the faith: “Why do you judge your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat“ (Romans 14:10). Peter asked Jesus “‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22).  After President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky became public, Hilary Clinton famously said “In the Bible it says you have to forgive seventy times seven. I want you all to know, I’m keeping a chart.” She said it tongue-in-cheek, because Jesus’ point was that you don’t keep score—even in forgiving as many wrongs as seventy times seven, or 490.

Is there someone who has been making your life a living hell for years? The examples of Joseph, David, Paul, and others help get us through the most difficult circumstances of our lives, and teach us the importance of forgiveness. If we can get past the slings and arrows that are thrown our way, we will be open for the wonderful path that God has set before us. God’s blessed assurance will help keep us calm and reassured that Jesus will come through—that he will make good on his promises.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost are Genesis 50: 15-21; Psalm 103: 1-12; Romans 14: 1-12; Matthew 18: 21-35.

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