The Call of Conscience
Text: Genesis 42
Proposition: Conscience is the ability to use judgment and the capability to know truth, these two combined are what God uses to draw us to do what is good.
Introduction: This morning we are going to look at something that we use everyday, we are either bothered by it or coached by it. Some have even said that it is the greatest evidence for the existence of God and without it working in us there would be an increasing void of good in the world. What I’m talking about is ‘Conscience’, a composite word made up of two parts, ‘Con’ meaning ‘With’ and ‘Science’ meaning ‘Knowledge’. At it’s most basic expression that is what conscience means, ‘with knowledge’. It’s seen as the most compelling evidence for the existence of God because it points to an ability to recognize truth, which means that truth exists. Our conscience recognizes moral truth, right from wrong, even children at a very early age evidence a conscience. Truth exists because it originated in the moral communication between the members of the Trinity. Truth is a trait of who God is. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie, it’s what Jesus was referring to when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He not only pointed to the truth of the character of God but to the very fact that truth is what characterizes all God’s relationships, even within the Trinity. Conscience is the ability to use judgment and the capability to know truth, these two combined are what God uses to draw us to what is good. Today’s account in Genesis 42 is really a story about conscience, it shows what happens when our conscience is open to God’s direction and it shows what happens when our conscience has been ignored. Let’s read Genesis 42.
I. God Uses Conscience to Guard That Which Belongs to Him Alone.
Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt, keeping back Benjamin for fear that he might loose him as he had lost Joseph. Remember that both Joseph and Benjamin were the only sons of Rachel, Jacob’s first love. As the brothers come before Joseph they don’t recognize him, his head was shaved and likely he wore the bright makeup of an Egyptian high official. But look at the way that Joseph treats his brothers in verse 9. It first says that he remembered his dreams from long ago, the dreams that pictured the sheaves of grain of his brothers bowing down to his sheaf, the dream that pictured the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Perhaps it was God’s way of reminding Joseph that this was not just irony, this was destiny, God’s predestined plan. It was perhaps a warning to Joseph that revenge belongs to God alone, it is not ours to reach out and judge in that way. When you think about it God uses conscience to guard a number of things that belong to Him alone. Our conscience tells us it is wrong to worship false gods, worship belongs to Him alone. It is wrong covet, He will provide our needs, it’s wrong to murder, life belongs to Him, He created it and so on. And yet Joseph’s response to his brothers does look like revenge, he accuses them of being spies, he throws them into jail for three days. His conscience tells him it would be wrong to kill them but his conscience also tells him it would be wrong to reveal himself and to treat them to easily. Conscience remembers history and then uses judgment as to how to move towards the truth. Joseph needed to know if Benjamin was still alive, he needed to see if the jealous treachery was still alive within his brothers. Conscience invites us to do what is right as an expression of God’s justice but grace and mercy are the gown and mace that show His court is in session.
II. God Uses Our Conscience to Provoke Others to Conscience.
Three days later Joseph comes to his brothers telling them that the fear of God has changed the course of what is about to occur. Before only one brother was to be set free as the other nine were held hostage until Benjamin was brought before him.
Now nine will go, bearing the grain needed to keep the families of Israel alive. Joseph had always spoken through an interpreter so the brothers were unaware that he knew the Hebrew language and thinking he could not understand they speak in Hebrew to one another. But look at what they say in verse 21, instead of discussing who it is who should remain or the relief at being set free, they remember their mistreatment of Joseph when they threw him into a pit. They connect their wrong choices and actions of the past with their own present predicament. I don’t know what to call this except an awakened conscience, it meant that they had likely thought of Joseph many times but never admitted their actions to their father nor to one another. They never confessed to Jacob what they had done and guilt followed their steps to this place. Scripture teaches a number of things about our conscience, Paul writes to Titus 1:15 saying, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” Our conscience can be defiled when we know what the right thing to do yet we choose against it. If defiled continually our conscience can even be seared. 1 Timothy 4:1,2 says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…”. This refers to the way that conscience can be abused to such a degree that it ceases to function, it’s like nerve endings that have been cauterized and no longer sense pain. These brothers had not gotten to that point and their consciences are pricked as they evidence a true remorse for what they had done. Perhaps this is what Joseph was really wanting to know… was their hope because truth was finally acknowledged.
III. God Uses Conscience to Stir Emotion Directing Our Steps Towards Him.
As Joseph hears the remorse of his brothers he is so overcome he turns away from them and weeps. Perhaps Joseph had told himself he’d never see his family again, perhaps he’d reasoned that they’d all be better off just not talking or knowing each other anymore. There had been seven years of plenty, Joseph had been within a two or three day ride to where his father and brothers were yet he never went there. Was God stirring Joseph’s conscience to not only do what is right but to also be willing to love those who humiliated him? God uses conscience to stir our emotion and He uses emotion like a flashing light on the dashboard of a car. He catches our attention with emotion and alerts us to some changes that need to be made. Perhaps it was in that same way that the emotion of fear was felt by the brothers when they discover the bags of money that had been put in with the grain on Joseph’s orders. The fear came from the fact that this wasn’t right, they had bought the grain and now here was their money back in their sacks. Conscience told them this wasn’t right, reason invited them to speculate that this was a set up, guilt trapped them for now Simeon was in jail in Egypt and yet if they went back they all might die. Fear prevented them from even considering that this might be an act of generosity on Pharaoh’s part or from considering that this might be part of an even greater act of providence on God’s part. Conscience told them they needed to go back and confess the error and do what they had promised to do, bring Benjamin to Egypt. Conscience invited them to trust in the Lord with all their heart, lean not upon their own understanding, in all their ways to acknowledge God and He would direct their paths. That’s what conscience was inviting them to see and do even as the emotions assailed them.
Someone has said that conscience is like a sundial at midnight, if you come with a flashlight and you point it at the sun dial you can make it be whatever hour you want. The point is that conscience is dependent upon truth. The less truth a person has in their soul the weaker the conscience. Paul spoke of this in 1 Cor. 8:10-12 in reference to meat and idols. The truth is what God uses to direct our conscience so strengthen your conscience with truth. When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus to test Him, He knelt down and wrote several things in the sand with His finger. In John 8:9 the Scripture records, “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” Jesus uses truth to convict our conscience, to prevent an even worse offense, to set people free from accusation and guilt.
The writer of Hebrews gives us the last word today. He is speaking about how the blood of goats and bulls was once used to cleanse the Temple spiritually and then he writes in Hebrews 9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ shines truth onto the sundial of our conscience, it was never about how good we could or couldn’t be, it is about faith in the living God who knows our every step and who invites us to know Him more than we did before.