My church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.
That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.
Text – Genesis 39-
One of the big questions that a lot of us start asking in college, or should, is “How do we work in the secular world, maybe in difficult situations?” Right? A lot of us are getting our first jobs, or we’re thinking about what to study, and what career to go into. We’re starting to realize that if you don’t know how to live out your faith at work, then there’s about 40 or 50 hours of your week where you’re just saying, “Well God, I’ll check back in with you when I’m off the clock.” For followers of Jesus, that just won’t work. Jesus claims all of our lives, including our work lives. So how do you work as a Christian?
What’s more, how do we do it when it’s difficult? When your boss is a tool? When you’re at a job you hate? When your co-workers don’t love Jesus? When you’re kind of wondering why you’re even there?
Well, while there’s a lot to say, tonight we’re going to talk about the story of Joseph and see the way trusting in God’s purposes allows us to engage the world at work for his glory.
To see this, let’s set up the story.
The Story – Here’s the set-up. so, last week we talked about Abraham. Abraham had Isaac who then had a son named Jacob. Jacob was a busy man who ended up with twelve sons. Joseph is one of Jacob’s sons. In fact, he was his favorite son and he made it very clear (special coat, privileges, etc), so much that his brothers became jealous of him. Now, Joseph was kind of an arrogant young idiot and even told them he had vision where he’d basically be ruling over them.
Well, later on they had a chance to get rid of them and so when they were far away from the house, and Joseph was coming to check up on them, they jumped him. Initially they were going to kill him, but instead, they ended up selling him into slavery. They took some of his clothes, tore ‘em up and bloodied them to make it look like a wild animal had eaten them.
Some time after that, he’s sold into the house of a very wealthy official in Pharaoh’s household named Potiphar, which is where we picked up the story in chapter 39 and we start to learn some things.
The Options — See, at this point, He was living in a new land, pagan, with a slave-owner boss who worshipped other gods. What we see is that Joseph avoided two basic options that we’re tempted to fall into, but opted for a third that comes from trusting in God. So what are these options?
Christians Don’t Slack — The first option would be to kind of slack off and shut-down. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, or interacting with non-Christians, you kind of do what you have to to get by, not more, not less, but just kind of half-it. A lot of Christians think that work in secular environments is just something you have to put up with. They refuse to participate, or accept positions of power because they think that working with non-Christians, or doing good at something other than churchy things is inherently sinful or inferior. Or maybe the situation is just so frustrating they get better and don’t work for that reason.
This is not what we see Joseph do. Joseph didn’t sit there getting bitter, cursing God for the situation and then just waiting it out. See, it says that he worked and the Lord prospered his hand in all that he did. Now, if the Lord was prospering his hand, this doesn’t mean that he just kind of sat there and God worked it out. Clearly, Joseph applied himself to the best of his abilities and talents on behalf of his master. Despite being a pagan and his owner, Joseph worked to serve him and do the best job he could.
Christians are to work hard and do well in their jobs. We shouldn’t just punch our cards, and wait until the hours are done. Paul tells servants in Colossians that they should do their work as if they were working for Jesus himself. WE are to put our best foot forward, to try, to strive, to do a good job.
Christian Don’t Compromise – On the flipside, Joseph also avoids the other option: selling out. There are going to be times at work where it’s tempting to compromise. You may want to start giving in to the culture. It may be shady business deals. Or maybe its cheating your boss. Or maybe it’s just the general atmosphere of immorality. Whatever it is, the temptation is to just fit in and get cozy at the cost of your reputation and your relationship with God. Maybe you just figured all you can do is make the best of it because God has let you down, to you settle into the atmosphere of sin.
This is not what you see Joseph do either. Look at the situation with Potiphar’s wife. She’s coming on to him. She sees he’s young an attractive and she’s kind of a cougar, so she wants him. And, really, how easy would it have been for Joseph to give in? It probably would have been fun. What’s more, it might have benefited him short-term with his position. She might have put in a good word with her husband to set him free or give him more privileges, etc.
But he refuses to compromise and runs out the door on that. He says here quite clearly that he would not dishonor God or betray his master’s trust that way. He clings to his integrity and strives to honor God in what he’s doing. This is our call as Christians. We are to stand firm, not give in to the culture or sell out our integrity.
Being honest won’t always work out immediately either as you can see. She lies about him and gets him thrown in prison. You’re going to have these moments where being honest might not be the ‘smart’ thing to do, and yet the call is to stay firm and not compromise in our jobs.
Christians Glorify God by Bless Others – So what is driving Joseph? What is this third way? If it’s not shutting down, or selling out? What is his goal? What is his call? It is glorify God in his work. That’s what we see here, over and over again, as well as what we see in the rest of the story.
Summarizing some of the story ahead, you’ll see that once he’s in prison, he’s actually placed in a position of authority again. The jailer actually ends up trusting him so much he’s put in charge of the prisoners. While in there, he meets two of Pharaoh’s servants: the baker and the cupbearer. Both of them have dreams and he ends up interpreting the dreams for them: the baker would die and the cupbearer would return to his position. And that’s what happened. The cupbearer ends up getting out of prison and returning to his station right next to the Pharaoh.
Years later, the Pharaoh has a freaky weird dream about some skinny cows eating fat cows and it’s all very bizarre. None of Pharaoh’s wise men are able to decipher it and it’s at that point that the cupbearer remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. He brings him out of prison, where he is able to decipher the meaning of the dreams. They foretold seven years of crop abundance followed by seven years of famine. He then advised that the Pharaoh prepare by saving up during the fat years for the lean years.
And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:38-40)
Pharoah trusted in Joseph and because of his wisdom he took him and put him in charge of his empire. He was second only to Pharaoh. In other words, he went from the pit to the palace and from there, he administered Pharaoh’s kingdom wisely. And there he worked hard, and didn’t compromise either. But this shows us something else.
See, not only was he a hard worker and didn’t compromise, the wisdom of God helped him do things the people around him could not. See, this pointed ahead to what Israel was supposed to do in the world. God’s people have always been called to show the world what God is like through the wisdom he gives us. So, there might be times where the lessons of grace will give you extra peace, or graces, or care with a co-worker, or something like that which will give you an opportunity to be a light in the darkness for the name of Jesus.
And that should be our goal: to glorify Jesus in the way we do our job with the wisdom of the Gospel
Christians Trust in God’s Sovereignty – How do we do this in difficult situations, though? How do we have the perspective we need to be faithful in trials, to work hard, to not compromise and not give up hope? To testify to God’s wisdom for the world? By trusting you are where you are by God’s wisdom. This is what we see this later in Joseph’s story.
See, Joseph was raised to the palace, meanwhile when the famine hit, his own family was still back in Canaan, where the famine had no relief. So the brothers came down to Egypt to buy food and after an interesting chain of events, they were all reunited, and Jacob and his family were moved down to Egypt under the protection of Joseph where they grew and were prosperous.
In two speeches, Joseph testifies in his belief that God was in control the whole time. In chapter 45:5-7, he’s telling his brothers about what has happened and that they should not be afraid of him because he wasn’t angry anymore. He says to them,
““I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
Later, after Jacob dies, they are again afraid that Joseph will take his revenge and so he has to reassure them and he says to them in 50:19-20:
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
See, Joseph knew that God was in control and that he was working things out according to his plans. God was using the evil of his brothers and Joseph’s years to prepare a way to save a great many lives, not only of Joseph and his brothers, but of many of the nations around him. And, and, in the future, the bloodline Joseph preserved through his brothers, was that of the Messiah, the savior of the World.
Of course, Joseph had no idea at the time what redemptive purpose God had for him at the time. He only knew that God did have them, which is why he was able to serve without despair, or bitterness, and yet still work to glorify God. Only if you believe that God is at work in your work, that he has a plan for you can you follow after him.
Christians Look at Jesus– Of course, once again, we’re in a much better position to trust in God’s purposes for us at work because we’ve seen, not only Joseph, but the greater Joseph–Jesus Christ. Jesus was the perfect brother who went to work in a foreign land, not because he was forced to, but willingly. He was not made, but made himself a slave for his brothers. He worked in far worse conditions, amongst a people who rejected him, told lies about him, and threw him, not only into a pit, but the pit of hell itself on the Cross. But from there, that greater depth, he rose to a greater height, in the resurrection and ascension, he rose to heaven itself so that he might pass on riches, life, and health of salvation to those of us starving in sin.
This is what we see in the Gospel, and so even more than Joseph, we are able to trust in God’s purposes for our lives, even at work. As always, there are a number of take-aways to think about tonight:
Maybe God’s call is to quit slacking at work. Or, stop our compromise morally and spiritually. Or, it is to pick our head up and look for opportunities to bless those around us for the Glory of God. Whatever it is, know you’ve been called for God’s purpose wherever you are, serve as to the Lord, trust in God’s plans despite our lack of sight, and marvel at God’s ability to work that all out.
Soli Deo Gloria