Joseph appears in Scripture as a great example of God’s sanctifying power in his people. His godly response to sufferings, fleeing fornication, and forgiving his brothers, reveal God’s work of grace in his heart. For us as young people, it is easy to look at the life of Joseph and to try to distance ourselves from Joseph. We say—but that was Joseph! My situation is far different. This attitude reflects a low view of God and a minimizing of the work of God’s grace in your heart. We know that Joseph was a sinner, but the Bible intentionally does not reveal any blatant sins of Joseph. This is remarkable! God uses this history to show his power of grace in the lives of his people.
This history is not about Joseph. This history is about God and his marvelous work of sanctification. Before God created the world or time, God had ordained all the good works that he wanted performed on earth for his glory. He decided to create each of you so that you will do those good works. The works are God’s which he creates us to carry out by his Spirit. He ordains the works, he chooses us to do them, and he works in and through us to do his good pleasure. This is humbling and glorious. God rewards his works in us by his grace. This is why the history of Joseph is your history. This is the history of God’s dealings not only with Joseph, but with you personally.
Justification is God’s declaration that we are righteous in Christ. Sanctification is the work of God’s grace in making us holy. There is a difference between sin surviving in us and sin having the mastery over us. It is one thing for sin to live in you, it is another thing for you to live in sin. Sanctification means that sin is more and more put off and holiness is increasingly cultivated and put on.
The Holy Spirit alone is able to work sanctification. Never forget that you are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. Self-confidence promotes pride and ungodliness. If Joseph would have walked in self-confidence the result would have been far different. God uses means in sanctification and makes it so that sanctification is a process in which we are active. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13). Because God is at work, we work. All the working is God’s work in us. The more active we are in working, the more we realize that all the power is of God and his Spirit of grace.
You need to work to concentrate your thoughts, actions, heart, mind, and will on the prize of the high calling of living unto God in Jesus Christ. You need to work to direct all of your life to God and his glory. We want to be holy, as God is holy. God gives us means—chiefly the preaching of the pure gospel and the sacraments, but also prayer, the reading of the Bible and singing of the Psalms, trials, admonitions and discipline.
What does it mean to you to be holy? You all know that God has called you to be holy. What does that mean?
We are going to look at three aspects of Joseph’s life which are daily reflected in our lives in which it is necessary that we walk in holiness.
First, we need to maintain holiness when we face suffering and trials. At issue is not this question—“how much suffering do you have in your life?” No, the question is this—“how are you responding to that suffering?” You can’t control the actions of others, but you can control your own response. Joseph lost his mother at a very young age. Joseph was surrounded by godless brothers who mocked and picked on him. Some of you can relate to both of those struggles. Then, as he got older those brothers conspired against him to throw him into a pit and to sell him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt. Then, he found himself in a far away land as a slave to people he didn’t know. Joseph was wrongly accused of sin and put in prison. He did not deserve to be in jail at all. Don’t ever say that your situation is too great for you to handle. Do you really have it worse than Joseph did? How did Joseph respond? It would have been easy for him to spend time in self-pity. It would have been easy for him to turn his back on God and claim that there must not be a God if this is how much suffering I need to endure. Don’t despair if life is not as you would desire. Whatever the future holds, you know that God controls it and that the outcome will be for your good and God’s glory. God gave Joseph a remarkable ability to focus on God’s perfect plan rather than to focus on his present distress. The theme verse of our convention is Genesis 50:20 “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.” God works the same grace in you. Focus on God and his faithfulness and trust his perfect will.
Second, Joseph was faithful in temptation. All of us face temptation. And, again, the question we face today is how will we respond to those temptations? You are all familiar with the wicked attempts of Potiphar’s wife to seduce Joseph. He was not her first attempt at an affair, nor would he be the last I’m sure. She was lying in wait for him, waiting for her opportunity to seduce him. Imagine how difficult this had to be for Joseph! What is the first thing we usually think of when we face a temptation? Will we get caught? Joseph’s chances of getting caught were slim. He did not have any family around to know what he was doing and Potiphar was in a far country. Joseph could enjoy the pleasures of the moment without fear of being punished. Even more, the immediate consequences of refusing the temptation were greater than going along with it. We have that often—it is easier to go along with the temptation than to try to stand up against it, especially when our friends or someone we are close to is involved. We are at a party and someone brings out the wine coolers and beer. They offer it to us. If we refuse, they will mock us. Joseph could even have argued—this would be a way for me to increase my influence and opportunity in Egypt through this powerful woman. I can help God along perhaps. This was acceptable and normal behavior in Egypt. And, remember, Joseph was the brother of Reuben who had defiled himself with his father’s concubine. He was the brother of Judah who gave his body to someone he thought was a prostitute, but ended up being his own daughter-in-law Tamar. This kind of sin was present in Joseph’s own family.
We live in a wicked culture. Sexual temptations abound. It is normal for couples to live together before they get married. College students leave home, move to college, and soon are living with their boyfriends or girlfriends. They would never think to do that at home, but they get away from home, and they give in to the temptation. The devil is tempting us with pornographic literature which has never been easier to find. He is using the internet, television, movies to try to de-sensitize us to sexual sins. Most young men and women now lose their virginity long before marriage. They don’t view their bodies as belonging to Christ nor save themselves for Christ and for their spouse as God requires. The devil is working hardest among the people of God. He wants to destroy our families through sexual sins and wants to mess up our lives. We can be forgiven, yes, but we will have to live with the consequences of those sins—the guilt and shame, the unexpected baby that is ours, and the sexual diseases which plague us. There is the dissatisfaction of sex in marriage because it was “fun” before marriage and not viewed as intimate love. We can be such fools! We put ourselves into situations of temptation.
What would you have done if you were Joseph? An attractive woman or good looking man wants your attention, your love, your passion. They are eager to please you. Your parents will never find out. You will not get caught. The excitement of the moment overwhelms you. What would you do? What should you do? Joseph said no, and fled temptation. He resisted temptation as a faithful child of God. Joseph showed that he was a slave of God. He would not be a slave to sin! As a servant of Jehovah God, he had to serve his master. And, notice the motivation that Joseph had, a motivation that shames us. Genesis 39:8 reads: “Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand: There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife; how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
Joseph did not consider the consequences, instead his concern was to love his heavenly Father. His relationship to God was more precious than any pleasure he could experience. He was not saying—but maybe I’ll get you pregnant, so we better not do this. He was not thinking, but we might get caught, so we should not do this. He did not say, but I don’t think I’m ready, and maybe we should get some condoms or something so we can have safe sex, as if there is such a thing outside of marriage. There is a place for warnings and fear of the consequences, but neither will keep you from sin. Your encouragement is God’s faithfulness to preserve his children in his love. When you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, then your main concern is that you not do something that would stand between you and God. You want to please God, not grieve God.
Three lessons come out of this history. First, you need to love your neighbor like God commands and like Joseph did. Joseph loved Potiphar. Potiphar was a wicked man, but out of love for Potiphar, Joseph would not touch his wife. You need to love the parents of the girl who is making eyes at you and trying to seduce you to go to bed with her. Love your boyfriend or girlfriend so much that you view defiling him or her as an act of hatred against your neighbor. Second, Joseph’s love for his neighbor flowed out of his love for God. Joseph was walking close to God. Everyone else had forsaken him. He did not have anyone to go to. Would he now forsake his one true faithful friend and Lord? Would he depart from God to walk alone? Joseph loved the fellowship he had with God. So great was that love that the idea of yielding to temptation was not even an option for him. Finally, notice that fornication is great wickedness. Just because others are doing it, does not make it right. Sin is sin, regardless of the cloak that the devil gives it. You can’t hide that sin from God. He sees sexual sins as great wickedness.
God works in our hearts a power so great that it is able to move us to make tremendous sacrifices for his sake. God is able to make us turn away from our own pleasure in order to walk with him as our covenant friend. Never say—I can’t resist! The temptation is too great! That reveals a low view of God. The grace God gave Joseph is the same grace God gives you in Jesus Christ. That grace is sufficient to preserve and keep you faithful. Your relationship to God is the only thing that can keep you faithful until marriage! Remember I Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
Finally, notice the power of sanctification in Joseph’s life that led him to forgive his brothers. Joseph did not hold grudges nor did he lord things over his brothers. His brothers rejected the son of their father’s love. They sought to destroy him. Later the Jews would do the same. They rejected the Son of the Father’s love and sold him for 30 pieces of silver to be crucified. Joseph did not turn away from his brothers. As a matter of fact the history teaches that Joseph was looking for his brothers. We read in Genesis 42:6 that he, the ruler of Egypt, was personally selling corn to all who came. God does not turn away from his children who come to him with humility of heart and confession of sin. Joseph knew his own sin to such a degree that he was able to know the forgiveness of his heavenly Father. Knowing and confessing that forgiveness, God gave him the grace to forgive others. All who have tasted the wonderful grace of God in Jesus Christ will forgive one another. Joseph did not get to the point where he could forgive his brothers in a matter of days, but prayed constantly through all his years in Egypt for his brethren and for the grace to forgive them their sins. Don’t think that was not a difficult battle! Joseph battled every day to see God, not man, behind all that he was experiencing. Are you praying for that grace—the grace to see that it is God, not man, behind all your struggles? Do you pray for grace to overcome your own selfishness? Years of self-discipline, self-condemnation, and self-abhorrence lie behind Joseph’s forgiveness. The spirit of God was in him.
Imagine how humbling and painful it must have been for Joseph then after his father died when his brothers came to him implying that he had not fully forgiven them. For one who is holy, upright, and praying for grace to think no evil, this was a tremendous blow. By all his actions, Joseph demonstrated that he was one with the brothers, but regardless they were suspicious of him. They thought he was treating them kindly only to regain the respect of his father. More seriously, the brothers did not understand the character of God’s forgiveness. They continued to beat themselves up over the sins they committed. They could not see God’s wonderful, marvelous, undeserving forgiveness. Joseph asks in Genesis 50:19 “Fear not, for am I in the place of God?” God showed that his will was to bless the brothers in the benedictions Jacob pronounced on them in chapter 49. Joseph says- am I in the place of God to change his will and punish those whom God has blessed? Fear not! Joseph has the power to make their lives miserable, but he is not seeking revenge. The work of God’s grace in him moves him to look away from himself and his situation and to God and God’s grace. When it is in your power to seek and attain revenge, do you? Joseph reassures them with one of the most beautiful passages of scripture, parallel to Romans 8:28 in Genesis 50:20: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.” God gave Joseph the grace to make this remarkable confession. The more one walks with God, the more God works the reflection of Christ in him. He begins to think, speak, and act like Christ.
God uses means. What means did God use in Joseph’s life? God used first of all a close relationship to a parent. Joseph and Jacob had a close relationship due to their spiritual union. Jacob’s other sons did not share that relationship. You need your parents. You need to tell your dad and your mom how much you love them and you need to spend time talking with them. You don’t know how long you will have them.
Second, Joseph had a close relationship to God. When he could have fellowship with no one else, Joseph was able to walk with God. Joseph knew two things about God. First, God is sovereign and nothing happens to God’s children outside of God’s divine working. There are no accidents. Second, God works all the things in life for the good of his people and for his glory. Not just the dream of Pharoah, but also the terrible act of betrayal by his brothers and being falsely accused. All was for good. This confession comes in the way of walking close with God in his Word and prayer.
Finally, Joseph loved the church, the people of God. This is evident in his willingness to forgive. Joseph could have taken the position that he did not need his brothers or family any more. He did not go that direction. Joseph loved his brothers who constituted the church of that day, and showed his love for the people of God by insisting that his bones be buried back with those of his brethren. You need to see your need for the church and you need to live your lives as living members of that church.
Joseph walked close with his parents, his God, and his church family.
Some of you have had a very difficult life. God’s grace is at work when you can confess—nothing in my life has been an accident. All has come from God and all is working together for my good. God ordained who my parents were, whether I knew them or not, where I was born, my education or lack thereof, the classmates he put on my path, my teachers, my siblings, my pastor, my church. God ordained that I would be short or tall. He ordained that I would not have skills in basketball, but would instead have skills in chess and checkers. He ordains my looks and hair color and everything! He gives grace to go forward by faith.
You have been sinned against. But God calls you to forgive and go forward, trusting his grace. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t hold grudges against others. Pray for the grace God gave Joseph.
Faith does not need to know all the answers. Faith believes the promise. Faith sees Jesus in Joseph and cries out to God to make us more and more like our Lord.
“Not my will, Thy will be done.” That prayer cost Jesus the cross and experience of hell. That prayer will cost you and me much as we sacrifice our own desires for the sake of our Lord. It will not cost you hell, as Jesus earned everlasting life for you. Do you desire to live for God and his glory?
That confession is the fruit of God’s work of sanctification in your life.
By God’s grace and power, walk close with your parents. Respect them and talk with them and obey them. Walk with your God in prayer and read his Word. And, don’t think you can go through life alone. You need the church. Through these means God powerfully will preserve you in sanctification and godliness.