How Do You Treat Those Who Mistreat You?
August 17, 2014
Have you ever felt that people were mistreating you? Have you ever been hurt by someone and had the feeling that the way they are treating you, or the things that they were saying about you, were just not fair? Or have you ever thought that someone was mistreating you by their words or actions, even if they were not?
How does feeling that someone is mistreating you make you feel?
What do you want to do to someone who you feel in mistreating you?
Do you want to retaliate and mistreat them? Do you want to hurt them as much as they have hurt you, or worse? Do you want to “get even” with them? These are indeed human emotions and may be our natural inclinations towards those who mistreat us.
Get even. Get revenge. An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I wonder if that’s the best way to treat those who mistreat you. That may be our first inclination, but I am not sure it’s our best. Not only might it put a lot of dentists, optometrists and ophthalmologists out of business due to the number of toothless and eyeless people in the world, but I wonder if it would really solve anything, and I really wonder if it’s the way God would have us act.
I wonder — is there another way to treat those who mistreat us?
Chapters 37 – 45 of Genesis tell us the story of Joseph, Jacob’s youngest son. You are familiar with the story. Joseph is sold to some traders by his jealous brothers and taken to Egypt, where he is fvalsely accused of taking advantage of his master’s wife and thrown into prison. In prison he befriends others who promise to work for his release, but they forget about him after their freedom. Joseph seems to be accumulating a long list of names on his list of people who have mistreated him. A long list of folks to “get back at” or “get even with” once given a chance to do so. You can picture Joseph in prison just plotting his revenge against his brothers, Potiphar, those who forgot about him, and everyone else who had mistreated him, can’t you?
But God had a different plan for Joseph than his extracting revenge on those who had wronged him. After his release from prison he becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt as he gets the people ready for the coming famine For the next seven years he did his job well, storing enough food to help the entire nation prepare for the years of famine. And sure enough, after seven years, famine struck – but the country of Egypt was ready. But Joseph’s family in Canaan was not ready. – Jacob sent his sons to purchase grain in Egypt, and who do they stand before to ask for grain? None other than Joseph, the younger brother they had beaten and sold and thought they would never have to bother with again. Now, Joseph was the governor of the Egypt, the one who sold grain to the people. We can only imagine what Joseph is thinking as his brothers, who do not recognize him stand before him. What would you be thinking if you were in Joseph’s position in our passage for today? I know myself well enough to know that I would probably at lease entertain thoughts of how to extract revenge on these brothers who had mistreated me. They had their laughs at my expense, now it would be my turn! But when the opportunity came for him get revenge, he instead reconciled with his brothers and received them with open arms instead of trying to punish them for what they had done to him.
Yea – how do you treat those who mistreat you? You know – our stories may not be as sensational as Joseph’s, but we share something in common with him. We are all, at some time or another, treated unfairly. We all know what it’s like to be given worse than we deserve. We’ve all been mistreated at some time in our lives. Maybe it was by a parent, or sibling, or employer, or coach, or spouse, or child, or friend — regardless of who it was – we all have had times we have been mistreated – and will probably continue to have these times in our lives. I believe we can all learn from Joseph’s story a better way to treat those who mistreat us.
What can we learn from Joseph about how to treat those who mistreat us?
First of all, if you’ve been mistreated, recognize how God has adapted the situation for good.
Notice what Joseph said to his brothers…
(v. 5) “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”
Even though the events of his life had been challenging, to say the least, Joseph recognized God’s hand in the details. Listen to what he says in verse 8:
(v. 8) “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Regardless of where you may feel you are in your story you can know that God has not abandoned you. Do you remember how the Bible said that the Lord was with Joseph when he was a slave, and the Lord was with Joseph when he was in prison, and the Lord was with Joseph when he served before the Pharaoh? In the very same way, the Lord is with you, whatever your situation in life may be. Maybe today you can see how God has worked out negative events in your life for good, or maybe that yet hasn’t been made clear to you. Either way, God is at work in your life just as He was in Joseph’s.
Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. Learn to recognize God’s “good work”, even in “bad times”.
Obviously, Joseph’s brothers didn’t have his best interests in mind when they sold him into slavery. They didn’t mistreat him with the idea that it would help him become a high-ranking official in Egypt. They intended to hurt him, but their intentions backfired, because God was with Joseph. For you, God can and will turn your curse into a blessing. He can turn the times people mistreat you into times of blessings. blessings for you and others.
So, the first thing you can do when you are mistreated by others is recognize. the “good’ God has brought out of a bad situation.
Here’s the second thing you can learn about how to treat those who mistreat you — Release the Offender . Joseph reveals his spiritual depth in the words he speaks to his brothers…
(v. 5) “And now, do not be distressed, and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here…”
Joseph could have given his brothers a long speech about the terrible things they had done to him. He could have said, “Now it’s your turn; you will suffer as I have suffered.” But Joseph wasn’t interested in revenge. He just wanted to let the offense go. Joseph understood that when you release the offender, you release yourself. As long as you hang on to your bitterness and resentment, you will never be free, no matter how much success you achieve.
God is willing to turn the curses of your life into a blessing. Don’t waste it by clinging to the past. Let it go. Release the offender.
Augustine said, “If you are suffering from a bad person’s injustice, forgive him, lest there be two bad people.” When you are mistreated, don’t hang on to the hurt. Don’t cling to the past. Forgive whoever you have to forgive. Release the offender. In fact, more than just forgiving the offender, you need to go to the third step — Repay Them With Kindness. This is what Joseph did for his brothers. He said…
(v. 9-11) “Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me…I will provide for you there…”
In spite of the fact that he had been sold as a slave for 20 shekels many years before, when he had the opportunity, he repaid his brothers with kindness. It may seem outrageous to do good to someone who has gone out of their way to do harm to you, but that is exactly what God has called us to do. And remember that God leads by example — Jesus was beaten, mocked, and spat upon, though he had done nothing to justify such treatment – but while he was hanging on a cross he didn’t deserve to bear, he said, “Father, forgive them.”
If you’ve been mistreated, look for an opportunity to repay the person who has mistreated you with kindness.
When Norman Vincent Peale wrote The Power of Positive Thinking, he was lambasted by many theologians and religious leaders. One leader, the Methodist Bishop of New York State, was particularly outspoken in his criticism of Peale, to the point of publishing mean-spirited articles about him. Dr. Peale was also a featured book reviewer for a national magazine, and a book by this hostile Bishop came across his desk. Here was his chance to get even, to say everything back to this man that had been said about him. So, how did Peale review the book? Peale said, “It was a fine piece; accordingly I wrote a favorable review.”
Repay those who mistreat you with kindness. .
For example, your parents may have mistreated you as a child, but don’t withhold your kindness from them now. Your brother or sister may have made life difficult for you in the past, but if you have the ability to do good for them now, do it. Your neighbor may have offended you or taken advantage of you, but if you now have the opportunity to do them a favor, take advantage of it. Repay them with kindness.
Jesus teaches us to repay people who mistreat us with kindness in Matthew 5:43 when He talks about returning persecution and mistreatments with love.
The fourth way respond to those who mistreat you is to re-invent the relationship. Listen to how Joseph reinvented the relationship with his brothers:
(v. 14-15) Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterwards his brothers talked with him.
It’s as if Joseph was saying, “Let’s start over, and let’s do it right this time.”
Some of you are probably asking, “Does this mean I should let my abusive husband back in the house, as if nothing has happened? Are you saying I should re-hire a dishonest employee and make my business vulnerable again?”
No. I didn’t say “resume the relationship”, I said “re-invent” it. Make it the way it should have been all along, with the proper boundaries and the proper understanding of each other.
Reconciling with someone who has hurt you in the past doesn’t mean that you’re setting yourself up to be hurt all over again. Change the terms of the relationship. Make it the way it should have been all along. This is what Joseph did with his brothers.
It’s inevitable that you will be mistreated. Maybe in big ways, maybe in small ways, but it’s sure to happen.
The thing is that mistreatment can be the catalyst for God doing something great in your life, or it can be the catalyst of your undoing. How you respond to mistreatment will determine whether or not you experience God’s peace and joy in your life.
Here are 4 tings you can learn from Joseph – and apply to your own life – so so you can learn how to treat those who mistreat you:
1. Recognize God’s hand in your life and trust him to turn the curse into a blessing;
2. Release the offender, because in doing so you release yourself;
3. Repay them with kindness when the opportunity presents itself;
4. Re-invent the relationship to make it what it should have been all along.
Good advice – no – make that God’s advice – for how to treat those who mistreat you. Amen.