Learning from Joseph

I recently re-told the story of Joseph from the Bible to a group of teenagers with practically zero knowledge of the Bible. It was the most fun I’ve had telling the story because the teenagers did not know what was going to happen. Case in point:

Me: Joseph was a man from the Bible. He had 10 older brothers. They plotted to kill him.

Teens: *Audible gasp*

One of the best things about the story of Joseph is that it’s not ultimately about Joseph. Most American Christians would probably expect Joseph to say in Genesis 45:7, after he had become the second in command in Egypt: “But God sent me ahead of you to bless me and make me rich and powerful.” Joseph doesn’t say this. Instead he says, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Joseph sees the bigger picture. God turned something evil, his brothers selling him into slavery, into something good, the salvation of his family – including those wicked brothers – in order to preserve his covenant with Abraham, and eventually his covenant with us through Jesus.

But I also love the story of Joseph because he shows us such a great example of living by faith no matter what circumstances he found himself in. Here are a few things we can learn from the life of Joseph:

When you’re not where we want to be – be faithful to the task at hand: After being sold into slavery Joseph found himself in the house of Potiphar. This was not the job he wanted. He had been forcibly removed from his homeland and his father’s house. He had gone from being a son, a favorite son, to being a slave. Yet Joseph was faithful in those circumstances. God was with him and blessed his diligent work.

When you’re being tempted – flee: While a slave Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him… every day. After the seduction didn’t work she tried to take him by force. She grabbed his cloak. What did Joseph do? He fled! I wonder if Paul had Joseph in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality.”

When you’re facing injustice – help others: Jilted by Joseph’s rejection Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of trying to sleep with her, a charge that got Joseph thrown into prison. While there, Joseph met two of Pharaoh’s officials. One morning he saw they looked dejected and asked them why they looked so sad. From there, Joseph was able to interpret their dreams – after which one was probably felt even worse! Well, he tried. It’s interesting to note that even while Joseph was facing injustice, he did his duty, and was even open to helping those in the same situation.

When you have success – continue to do your work: Eventually God raised Joseph out of prison and gave him a prominent role in Egypt. He was showered with wealth and honor. That kind of success makes a lot of people delusional. Joseph could have easily settled into a life of luxury. Instead, he stuck to the task at hand. He was tasked with storing up crops during the years of plenty and distributing those crops during the years of famine. That was probably a difficult and stressful job. Who would have known if he hadn’t done a good job? No one, until it was too late. But Joseph knew the work was important. He stuck to it. He was as faithful to God when he was the ruler as when he was a slave and a prisoner.

Most people’s stories don’t turn out like Joseph’s. It’s a good story because he’s an exception. His story isn’t a motivational speech: Live like Joseph and God make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. Yeah, it probably isn’t going to happen. I’ve known plenty of people whose lives are marked by faith yet haven’t seen close to the kind of success Joseph did. Remember, Joseph’s story isn’t ultimately about Joseph; it’s about God saving Israel’s children – and the many others whose lives were saved from the famine.

Nevertheless, the principles of this story still ring true. God blesses the faithfulness of his people and he uses the faithfulness to bring about his eternal purposes, for his glory.

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