But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?”
This is one of those verses I’ve heard taught on dozens of times. Most every teaching on it I can remember involves being forgiving and getting the right perspective. In the next verse, Joseph says that what his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good, so that line of teaching works very well for this passage. But there is something else that caught my attention this morning. Joseph’s brothers are asking him to forgive them for having done him a wrong. They’re worried that he will seek retribution now that their father is gone. His answer? Not his place to mete out judgment. I think the modern Christian needs to learn a thing or two from Joseph.
The first thing we need to learn is that it is God’s place to pronounce judgment on people. When Jesus told His disciples about the separation of the sheep from the goats, it was Jesus doing the judging. When John sees the White Throne Judgment in Revelation, it is God sitting on the throne. In any and every passage in The Bible that deals with judging people, God is the One doing the judging. What this means is that we Christians need to stop pronouncing judgment on people. I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist, but I know you’re just the obvious symptom of a not-so-obvious disease in the church. Feel free to picket my blog, by the way, I could use a good laugh. We Christians need to stop with the judging of other people. I do not know the heart of the person next to me. I can barely fathom the shallows of my own heart. If we’re honest with ourselves, we none of us are in a position to be taking over God’s job of judging. Jesus set up the criteria when He said, “Whoever among you is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” Unless any of us believes ourselves to be without sin, there will be no stones lofted. And if any of us does believe him- or herself to be without sin, that person has a rude awakening on the horizon.
The second thing we need to learn is what our place is. If our place is not to be judging others (and it’s not) then we need to know what our place is. This lack of understanding of our place might be part of why places like Westboro crop up. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, to teach those disciples everything Jesus had taught His disciples, and to baptize those new disciples in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. My paraphrase is out of order intentionally. Baptism is great, but it won’t save a person. In order to make disciples, we must be teaching what we want those disciples to learn but we must also be living out those lessons in front of potential disciples and active disciples alike. And Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets in this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That is my place as a Christian. It is my place to love. Some will assert that it is loving to tell a person who is going to Hell that they are going to Hell in order to save them. I reply with, “Sure. So long as the telling is done in love.” Does picketing someone’s funeral show love? Does picketing anything show love? Picketing is, to my mind, one step shy of rioting, because the picket line and mob have much the same mentality. And the mob is not loving. Joseph, by the way, models loving behavior when he tells his brothers that he will take care of them and their little ones then does it.
The application is pretty straightforward today, but I’ll summarize for my own benefit. One: It is God’s place to judge, not mine. If I’m judging someone else then I am wrong and I need to seek God’s forgiveness for trying to take His throne. Two: It is my place to love my God and my fellow human beings. For Joseph, this meant providing for the needs of his brothers and their families. Since I’m not second in command of an empire, that’s not my bag. But I should be meeting those needs I am able to meet. I should be comforting others with the comfort that God has given me (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and loving my brother and sisters in Christ as Christ first loved me and the unbelieving would then know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35). To end this as it should be ended: I may not be holding a picket sign, but my heart can be just as judgmental. It is my judgmental heart that God wants to root out. Once it’s gone, there won’t be any picket signs to worry about.