In the first two speeches of this convention we have considered various lessons from the life of Joseph. One of the things we noticed is that Joseph was not blessed with the family life that most of you have enjoyed. He came from a very dysfunctional, troubled family. Yet in the midst of a life of adversity, Joseph manifested the powerful work of God’s grace—not only in the way he dealt with his suffering and trials, but also in the way he lived in devotion to God, striving to walk in holiness in all things.
I now direct your attention to yet another way in which God’s grace was seen at work in Joseph. Joseph served God. Throughout his life we are given the example of Joseph dedicating himself to the Lord in service. By his life we are reminded that serving God doesn’t belong just to ministers. It isn’t only a matter of serving God in the church. Nor is it a matter of occasional, special service projects. But in every aspect of life and no matter the calling or vocation God gives you, your life as a child of God is to show forth the privilege of serving the Lord. In other words, your life in fellowship with your redeemer is to be a life that shows thankfulness for his love. That is true, even if you live in difficult circumstances.
As we conclude our consideration of “Lessons from the Life of Joseph,” and specifically “The Privilege of Serving,” I call your attention to the distinct periods in Joseph’s life, each of which shows how that service of God involves every aspect of our lives.
Serving in Family Life
We begin by observing Joseph serving God in family life. That is where the recorded history of Joseph begins. Apart from telling us about his birth, revealing an early childhood in his unsettled and traveling family, and letting us know that his mother Rachel died when Joseph was in his mid-teens, the Bible doesn’t tell us any more about Joseph’s early childhood and spiritual instruction.
The substantive history of Joseph begins in Genesis 37, where we are told that Joseph, at age 17, was a herdsman. As soon as he was old enough, he was given certain responsibilities in the household of Jacob. He was found with some of his brothers caring for the flocks of his wealthy father Jacob. Even though we read that Joseph was special in his father’s eyes, that does not mean that he was brought up with everything handed to him on a silver platter. Children who are not taught to work, children who have everything handed to them, are children who generally turn out to be irresponsible and unproductive parasites upon society. We are called to labor. Especially as young men, you are called to labor. That, after all, is going to be your life’s calling, as providers for your households and the kingdom of God. Joseph was taught to work.
But the example for us is that Joseph did his work to the glory of God.
Notice as well that Joseph had to work alongside those who were ungodly. Most of you have the blessing of growing up somewhat sheltered from the influences of the ungodly. Notice, I don’t say, from the influences of sin. We carry sin with us. We live in relationships marred by sin, within the family and within the church and school. We have to learn how to live as Christians within those relationships marred by sin. Yet generally we grow up somewhat sheltered. But we live in the world. And when the time comes that you are able to take on more responsibility than just those chores around the house, and you begin working outside the home, for many of you that will mean rubbing shoulders with those who are unbelieving and ungodly. I well remember beginning a job as a freshman in high school, being the only Christian in the work place. Not only do we have the calling to do our work to the glory of God, but also to stand faithfully as Christians among those who love not God nor his truth. Joseph did so faithfully.
But when I say that Joseph had to tend the flocks alongside those who were ungodly, there was a complicating factor. Those ungodly were four of his brothers, the sons of Jacob’s two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. Some of these brothers may have later repented and been converted, as would be the case with other of Joseph’s brothers. But at this time they were notorious for their wickedness. While we are not told specifically what their sins were, they were sins that gave these sons and their family a bad name. Joseph worked with them. But he would not be a partaker of their evil deeds.
What are your friends like? What is your reputation? How do you handle being around those who are unbelieving and perhaps openly ungodly, even if they might call themselves Christian? Joseph worked with them; but he could not have fellowship with them in their sins. To use New Testament language, Joseph was not a man-pleaser, but a servant of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. It would have been easy to go along with those brothers. It would have made life a lot simpler—humanly speaking. But you can’t have it two ways when those ways are polar opposites. Joseph would serve his Lord, because there was no one more important in his life.
When I speak of the complicating factor of Joseph’s ungodly fellow workers being his brothers, we also have to consider Joseph’s special calling in that regard. The ungodly whom God places on the pathway of our lives are our neighbors, according to Scripture, and therefore those whom we are called to love as ourselves. That love is to come to expression by seeking their spiritual good, calling them to repentance and pointing them to life. But there is an added calling when brothers or those who call themselves brothers walk in sin. It is to be understood that not only did Joseph refuse to be a partaker of their evil deeds, but he had spoken to them in the name of God. He called them to repentance, to no avail. His very life and speech witnessed against them. That is why they hated him. But when he was unable to effect a change, he had the calling to take it to the higher authority, his father, whose own reputation was being damaged by the wickedness of his sons. So Joseph told his father about the evil committed by his sons. Again, that was not the easy way. But it was right. It was the way that sought his brothers’ salvation. Also here Joseph carried out his calling to the glory of God.
And when we are told that Joseph told his father about the evil of his brothers, the implication is that Jacob attempted to deal with his sons. He did not simply file away in his mind the report of Joseph, and hope that all would turn out well with his other sons. As a godly father, he rebuked them for their iniquities. They knew, in other words, that Joseph had reported their evil deeds. And when sin and hypocrisy is uncovered, there can only be one of two reactions. Either the sinner will humble himself and repent; or he will harden himself and reveal all the more the hatred of his heart. Those who hear the precepts of God and his truth faithfully set before them either will hate it and seek to hide behind the filthy rags of their own self-righteousness, or they will come out into the light, bow before God’s verdict, and repent. May God give you and me grace to repent always. With these sons of Jacob, the response was one of hardness of heart and impenitence. They not only continued in their wickedness, but began to focus their hatred with even greater intensity upon Joseph.
Now I would have you notice that Joseph’s desire and willingness to serve in the household of his father Jacob, while founded in his love for God, was also an expression of the fellowship that he enjoyed with his father.
Much could be said about Jacob’s faults and sins as they affected his family. But even as a teenager Joseph revealed a love of the truth and a determination to stand for the truth in honor and love for Jehovah. Thus this father and his one son were brothers in the Lord! They were friends together, united by faith in the Messiah! Jacob and Joseph could talk together about spiritual things. What a blessed thing that is!
What is your relationship to your parents? May God grant that there is spiritual fellowship and oneness. Yes, as parents and particularly as fathers, we have to provide spiritual direction to our children. Sometimes we don’t do that very well. And perhaps in his old age, those spiritual things were more on the foreground now with Jacob than they had been when his other sons were younger. But the sad fact as seen in the record of this family is that Joseph’s brothers didn’t want such spiritual fellowship and conversation with their father. And in our day, when everything goes on at such a mad pace that there is no time for worthwhile things and spiritual conversations unless one consciously makes the time, there are far too many whose lives are much more like Joseph’s brothers’, than they are like Joseph’s.
You sons and daughters ought to enjoy spiritual fellowship with your parents. You ought to give serious consideration to what your parents think of you, far more consideration than that given to what peers think. The fact that many young people are more concerned with what their peers think than what their parents do is often nothing more than an excuse for mindless disobedience. The inclination to follow the word and example of sinful peers rather than the wise instruction and example of God-fearing parents is an inclination that arises out of the old man of sin. Joseph was not perfect. He was just like you. But Joseph received the instruction and correction of his father. He trusted the Word of God that his father taught. And the fruit was seen in a strong spiritual bond of love and respect, communion and joy. That is what motivated Joseph’s service of God in the home of his father.
One more thing before we move on to the other aspects of Joseph’s life of serving God, because this affects them all: Joseph lived this life because he stood in the brilliance of the righteousness of one who was yet to appear on the scene of history. God saw Joseph in Christ. God took Joseph into his own fellowship of love and communion. And living in the consciousness of that covenant fellowship with God, Joseph would walk in that fellowship, even when it required that he face persecution. For Christ’s sake he would bear persecution! Is Christ that important in your life? Do you live in the consciousness of your covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Do you belong to him—body and soul? That knowledge is critical to serving him in every aspect of your life.
Serving God as a Servant to Potiphar
That we see also as we consider Joseph serving God as a servant to Potiphar.
The way in which God led Joseph to Egypt is familiar to you. The Ishmaelite merchantmen, who had bought Joseph from his brothers for 20 pieces of silver, sold him for a profit to a man named Potiphar. We ought to notice immediately the Lord’s hand in this. Joseph was brought to Egypt and sold to a person who stood in direct connection with the king, who in our day would probably be called the head of the secret service, and who was able presently to throw Joseph into the same prison where offenders against the king were kept.
Jehovah, by his counsel, was leading Joseph every step of this journey. The ways of the Lord with us are often mysterious. We are unable, from the point where we stand, to see the connection between the way and the end. But in the life of Joseph this truth is revealed to us just the same. Nothing happens by chance, but by God’s fatherly hand for you who love him.
In the service of Potiphar, Joseph showed himself to be a young man of tremendous talent. He was ambitious, hard-working, responsible and trustworthy. So that Potiphar was willing to entrust his entire household, his whole estate and all his financial dealings, into the hands of this young Hebrew. That is astounding when you think about it. How tremendously noticeable must have been the gifts that Joseph had received of God, as well as his spiritual perspective toward all things.
Now, very few of us have the gifts and abilities that Joseph apparently had. But every one of you has gifts necessary to serve God in a particular place in life. The question is: How do you use those gifts? Joseph showed himself faithful to God by using his gifts to God’s glory in this particular calling. He served Potiphar with complete faithfulness, not as a man-pleaser, but for God’s sake. For most of you right now, the particular station in life that God has given you, the most time-consuming calling, is that of students. Do you apply yourself as did Joseph? And what about at work? The abilities and gifts God has given you, all of which still are developing, are to be used for God’s sake.
We read that Potiphar didn’t even know the affairs of his estate, didn’t even know his financial situation, so extensively had he committed all things into the hands of Joseph. The only thing Potiphar knew was that the meals were faithfully provided for him each day by Joseph. He could also see that things were prospering greatly under Joseph’s care and stewardship. We are told in verse 4 that Potiphar saw this prosperity, and knew that Jehovah prospered this Hebrew. It becomes evident, then, that not only did Joseph live in obedience to God, but he also testified of his relationship to Jehovah.
It is in this context, of course, that Joseph fled the temptation of Potiphar’s wife.
I mention that incident here only to point out that the temptation did not come upon Joseph because he was frequenting a place where he should not have been. He wasn’t hobnobbing with the ungodly in the neighborhood tavern. He wasn’t dancing with the women of Egypt. He wasn’t going about the house of Potiphar, looking for an opportunity to see Potiphar’s wife naked. Or, to put it in today’s context, he wasn’t on the web feeding his lust by looking at naked women. He was in the house of Potiphar simply doing the duties that his master required of him.
It is important that we understand that. We read in Proverbs 6:27, 28: “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?” If the temptation that Joseph faced was due to his own deliberate playing with fire, you can be sure that the outcome would have been entirely different. Genesis 39:11 makes explicit reference to the fact that Joseph was in the house to carry out his master’s business, nothing else. Moreover, it is apparent from that verse that there usually were many servants in and around the house every day. When Joseph entered the house on this particular day, he did not realize that “none of the men of the house” were there at the time. In fact, in that act of fleeing fornication, Joseph’s love for God came to expression in his love for Potiphar. He served Potiphar faithfully also by honoring him not only in his relationship as a servant to his master, but also by honoring Potiphar’s marriage. But once again God took his faithful servant and led him to another area of service, one Joseph would never have chosen—in the king’s prison.
Serving God in Prison
For his faithful obedience to God, Joseph found himself serving God in the king’s prison. Falsely accused, Joseph lost his job in the house of Potiphar. He lost his freedom, what little freedom he had as a slave. He was cast into prison, for an unspecified term. For all Joseph knew, he would live out his life there.
Those years in prison were wonderful years. I realize that’s an astounding characterization of the history. But Joseph did not sit and sulk in Pharaoh’s prison. He did not wallow in self-pity, questioning God’s wisdom. We find him in prison, enjoying the mercy of Jehovah, patiently bearing his burden, with an amazing measure of contentment. Which is to say, Joseph lived in the knowledge of and in subjection to the truth that God is God, and that in every circumstance the Lord works all things for our spiritual profit. Even prison could not dim the beauty of Joseph’s godly life.
Joseph enjoyed Jehovah’s fellowship while in that prison.
Certainly that would not have been the case, if Joseph had not enjoyed his fellowship before entering that prison. Again, young people, the chief lesson we learn from Joseph’s life is the importance of living in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. It is true, Joseph would never have been in this situation, if he had not had such a close relationship with his redeemer, that compelled him to walk in godliness regardless of the consequences. But this is his reward—the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy. And that mercy was expressed in a tangible way that Joseph could clearly see and experience. We read that Jehovah gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
That prison was not a place where prisoners sat on their hands. They worked in hard, menial labor. Joseph began his prison term doing that work. You talk about a drop in position!—from the chief ruler in Potiphar’s household to the labors of a prisoner! But recognizing that no work is too lowly when it can be done to the glory of God, Joseph faithfully and diligently performed those labors. With the humility of one who serves the Lord in everything, Joseph performed his work, showing that his life was one committed to the Lord his God. That was seen by the keeper of the prison.
Joseph was noticeably different from the other prisoners. He was godly. And God, Who rules the hearts of men, moved the keeper of the prison to give Joseph great freedom. But it didn’t stop there. The prison keeper’s confidence in Joseph continued to increase, until Joseph was promoted to a position of authority. He became, as it were, the prison keeper’s “right hand man.” Not only was he given the run of the prison, but he exercised complete control over all the prisoners. And in all those labors Joseph showed himself trustworthy, humble and caring, a servant of the most high God even in prison—until God set him free once again
Serving God under Pharaoh
In a very wonderful way Joseph was delivered from the bondage of prison to serve God under Pharaoh. God led him to the court of Pharaoh. Joseph appeared before Pharaoh; a Hebrew slave before the king of Egypt.
There is something striking in verse 14 of Genesis 41. Even before an ungodly earthly majesty, Joseph appeared clean shaven and dressed fit for the occasion. Such was the respect he showed an earthly superior. The Bible makes a point of mentioning that. How, then, shall we appear in worship before the King of all the earth? That is certainly an aside. It has little to do with the main thought of the passage. But it is mentioned nonetheless. And how do you show up for your job interviews? What is the general appearance you convey as a child of God? Obviously we must think about these things. Else such a detail wouldn’t be noted in the Bible.
Then we are told of the conversation that took place between Pharaoh and Joseph and Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. When you consider that conversation you will find that on Joseph’s part all the emphasis is on God’s sovereignty. Do you live, young people, in the consciousness of God’s absolute sovereignty, his rule over your life? Joseph would not have made that testimony unless he also understood that God himself had determined Joseph’s way, even through that long time in prison. Joseph had entrusted himself to the care of his God, living in contentment. That perspective rules also in his testimony to Pharaoh, his respect toward Pharaoh and his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams.
To that interpretation Joseph added also wise counsel. “Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine” (Genesis 41:33-36).
Pharaoh looked at the young man standing before him, one who was the spokesman of Jehovah, and was amazed. Not only was this Joseph able to tell him the meaning of his dream, but he was also able to give to Pharaoh a solution to the many political and economic problems that presented themselves in this amazing revelation. “And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou” (Genesis 41:38-40).
So Joseph immediately passed from a wonderful deliverance to an amazing exaltation! How amazing are the works of God! Let’s remember: This is the God whom we serve, and who has saved us. (I want to come back to that momentarily.)
Pharaoh gave Joseph everything he needed to carry out his responsibilities in his newly appointed position and office. With that power and authority vested in him, Joseph served as the chief ruler in the government of Egypt. But he exercised his office under God. He subjected the entire land to his strict economic policy. With wisdom that makes our country’s economic policies look like something written only for a comic strip, Joseph exercised faithful stewardship. By his rule Joseph showed the people that bumper crops and prosperity were not to be taken for granted, but were gifts from the God of heaven and earth, the God who governs all things. There were no entitlements, no hand-outs. By his rule he not only spared the land of Egypt from economic ruin, but was used by God for the provision of the church. That, after all, was the purpose for this amazing exaltation of Joseph.
We realize that God’s sovereign work in all things always has a purpose. All things lead to Christ. All the events in this history were divinely and precisely directed in a such a way that the outcome would be Joseph’s exaltation as ruler of Egypt at exactly the right moment with a view to bringing the covenant seed into Egypt. God would lead his people into Egypt, to preserve them, to try them, to cause them to grow into a mighty nation. And so he would set the stage to “call his son out of Egypt.”
But the gospel of this history for you and for me is this: What Jehovah God did in Joseph’s life for the sake of preserving the line of Christ, he has also promised to perform for every one of his children.
The wonder work of Jehovah in the outworking of Joseph’s life so long ago is also happening even now in your life and mine, and to everyone who is united to Christ by a true and living faith. The Lord told us, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Christ gives us the victory. A rich inheritance awaits us. And everything leads us to that end.
I know that sometimes this is hard to believe. We cannot see how all these things work toward that end. And our faith is often very weak. I know that. But look again at Joseph. When he sat in Egypt’s prison, did it even seem possible that his own dreams of being exalted would come to realization? Did that seem possible? And yet the Lord brought that very thing to pass!
When you know that he looks upon you in Christ Jesus, you may also lay hold of Psalm 37:9-11: “Evil doers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” That promise is absolutely sure. And its surety is demonstrated to us in the Scriptures. Not only is it Jehovah’s promise, Who is unchangeably faithful; but Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, has been revealed as accomplishing the victory. He sits in the highest heaven, glorified at God’s right hand. All you who are one with him shall surely follow him into that reward!
Be patient therefore until the day of our Lord. Serve God in that knowledge, in every aspect of your life. Then will our churches continue to thrive as well, to the glory of our bridegroom, who is Christ our Lord.