It’s a weird title for a lesson, but there is definitely such a thing as ‘being a good victim’. I want to begin by saying that, clearly, being a bully and treating others like they are less valuable than yourself is clearly wrong. I don’t think anyone needs a youth minister telling them that. Tonight I’m not talking to the bullies because I’m assuming everyone at youth already knows they shouldn’t bully other people. What we are going to talk about is how we should react when we are faced with those ‘bully’ moments and how we can come out of our trials with joy in our hearts.
Picture of a Victim
Joseph was a man who was born into a family of 12 sons. Being the youngest, he found favor with his father as many younger children do. His brothers became extremely jealous of the favor their father showed Joseph.
Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe. But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him. (Genesis 37:3-4)
That’s some pretty extreme jealousy if it caused Joseph’s brothers to not even speak kindly to him. Sadly, that’s the situation many teens find themselves in today. The world is cruel. There’s no denying it. When we are forced to interact with this world, there are always going to be people who are jealous of all kinds of things: your possessions, your looks, your family….. your faith. We live in a jealous world because the world lives for earthly things. It’s no wonder that they are are so hostile towards people who live for something much, much greater.
Dumping Fuel on the Fire
As we continue reading about Joseph, we see that he didn’t necessarily do himself any favors. His brothers were already jealous of the favor his father showed him. What do you think is the worst thing you could do in this situation? How about tell your brothers that they will “serve” you? That would probably really dump fuel on the fires of jealousy.
One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. “Listen to this dream,” he said. 7 “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”
His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them. (Genesis 37:5-8)
Joseph had the gift of being able to have and interpret dreams and that’s great. God gave him that gift so that he could do a lot of good for a lot of people. Unfortunately, Joseph let his gift turn into something to hold over the heads of his siblings. You can almost hear him saying “nana-nana-boo-boo!”
When he had a dream that his brothers would bow down to him, maybe he should have kept that to himself or approached someone with a sense of humility. Instead, this ‘victim’ made matters worse by doing things he knew would be antagonistic. With all that said, he made a mistake and his brothers ridiculed him for it. Surely he’d learn from his mistake, right? Wrong.
Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”
This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant. (Genesis 37:9-11)
He did it again! He ran his mouth to his brothers and parents telling them that he would dominate over the family. Once again, Joseph received a lot of ridicule and criticism from his brothers and a tongue lashing from his father.
The thing is, we all have a tendency to react this way toward bullies. We want to ‘make them pay’ for making us a victim. The problem is that when we take this approach, we are taking control away from God. It’s like we’re saying that God’s timing for justice isn’t “good enough” so we need to do it on our own. When you put it that way, doesn’t it seem silly? God is the source of all good, all righteousness, and all justice. Leave justice in his hands and He will deliver.
Graciousness in Redemption
The story of Joseph continues for several chapters describing the life of a man who was sold into slavery by his brothers, rises through the ranks to lead a household, then gets thrown in prison, then finds favor of Pharaoh eventually becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt. What a journey. The entire time, he lived apart from his family due to the jealousy and ill-will of his brothers. How do you forgive someone like that? We see how Joseph forgave in Genesis 45.
“I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt. (Genesis 45:3-8)
There is something very important to note in Joseph’s reaction to his brothers. Rather than pitting the blame on them or trying to act like he was somehow being magnanimous, or overly gracious, to his brothers, he credits everything that occurred to God. He says, “So it was God who sent me here, not you!”
It’s important to note that Joseph wasn’t saying that his brothers didn’t do anything bad. That’s not at all what he’s saying. What he is saying is that God’s plan was working through the circumstances and that he views everything that happened to him as God preparing a pathway for good. This is what happens when we find our peace in God; we begin to see the world, including our life circumstances, through different eyes that don’t crave revenge or hold grudges. Joseph’s reaction is a clear example of this when he is able to look past being left for dead and sold as a slave and instead focus on the good God was able to accomplish.
God’s kingdom is glorified when we spread the grace of Christ. A part of that is reflecting the grace that Christ first showed us so that others may be encouraged and see Christ through us. When we find ourselves in those ‘victim’ situations, let’s stand on our own two feet and acknowledge that God is in control. Easier said than done, but always more fulfilling than going it alone.