From the sermon Sunday 19th July. Read Genesis 39 & 40
I don’t know all the details but my recollection of Sir John Marshall, former Prime Minister of New Zealand was that he was a good example of a man who stood firm throughout his career. Over 29 years in parliament, 20 years as a minister and 17 as deputy leader or leader of the National Party Sir John was renowned for his strength of character, and deep Christian faith. Sir John I am sure had many opportunities to stumble but he remained centred on Jesus Christ to the day he died en route to a meeting of the United Bible Society.
In the world of the Church, Billy Graham would be another. men of faith, men of integrity.
It seems that many ministers and evangelists can preach mighty sermons but are either naïve or too weak to say NO to an attractive temptation. Indeed it’s worse than that, for far too many of us in leadership, actually put ourselves in the way of temptation – somehow thinking we have God-given immunity to sin.
Joseph may have been an arrogant brat of a kid – but in slavery he appears to have grown up. Obviously he had time to think – first as a slave then later in prison – experiences which we wouldn’t wish on anyone, but nevertheless experiences that for Joseph lead to a maturing of character: a determination to stand in the face of many forces that would rather have him crawl; this was a time of preparation for great things.
The Genesis narrative reveals two steady characters and many others who are not so reliable.
We are reminded of the first in the second verse of chapter 39. Despite Joseph’s previous arrogance and totally inappropriate behaviour within his family, despite that he had been carted off to foreign soil and life as a slave – despite the seemingly hopeless mess he was in – THE LORD was with Joseph.
The LORD, our God is reliable – steadfast – God stands when all else is crumbling around us. God is faithful and true and will not be wavered from his love for us.
Joseph was obviously in great distress as he was sold by his brothers – almost unimaginable isn’t it – this rejection by family – but sadly for some maybe it’s not so hard to imagine.
Yet God was with Joseph – God is always with us in distress. While God may not always protect us from it – God is with us in it.
The end of Gen 37 had left a flicker of hope for Joseph as he was sold into the staff of Potiphar. And he does prosper because the LORD is with him; he finds favour and is given some standing in the household – easier work, and in time considerable authority.
By 39:20 life had once again nose-dived, but as we read on we see that God’s faithfulness never fails. God is with Joseph and in time Joseph is restored but that will be for another week.
The point here is that one thing after another went wrong for Joseph – his life could not have been bleaker – except there was always a glimmer of light: God remained with him in the darkness.
God’s presence in darkness built Joseph’s faith first for when more adversity came and secondly when he would be called upon to exercise leadership.
God is always dependable – but as we know people are not.
People – dear friends, partners, colleagues, even family can be painfully unreliable, even manipulative.
Look at the people in Joseph’s life.
A father who loved him too much and spoilt him, brothers who rejected him, slave traders who saw only his monetary value and now in today’s reading a woman who sees him as a boost to her ego.
And cell-mates who quickly forget him.
Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph – clearly he is young and desirable; possibly also his character made him attractive and certainly his increasing reputation would have made him attractive to some women.
Potiphar’s wife tried the direct approach – ‘come to bed with me!’ she invited. And I’m sure she didn’t have an afternoon nap in mind.
But he refused. Despite the Hollywood image men can say no to such an invitation.
Joseph certainly did, and not just once, consistently for days!
Joseph didn’t give sin any room at all. Some men might have said: ‘I’d like to but out of duty I can’t! It’d be a sin against my master.’
Others might have even said: ‘I’d be hurting you.’ Or ‘I don’t love you.’
But under pressure such excuses would have been worn away. Joseph knew that sexual sin was not just between the two involved, he knew that it was not just a sin against his master; ultimately sin is an act of disobedience against God.
Joseph did all the right things here. His no was firmly no. He refused her invitation of sex – he avoided her.
Sometimes merely trying to avoid temptation is not enough – we must turn and run; and that’s exactly what he did.
Unfortunately Potiphar’s wife is not made of the same moral character as Joseph – she accuses him of trying to rape her.
And without a hearing Joseph is in prison…
Chapter 40 introduces further unreliable characters: the Cupbearer and the Baker.
Both seek Joseph’s help to interpret their dreams – which he readily gives. One, the cupbearer receives the good news that he will soon be restored to favour and Joseph asks him to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh when he is restored to his position.
We know the story – it turns out just as Joseph had said it would – the cupbearer is restored; once again he has the ear of the Pharaoh yet the chief cupbearer, we are told, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
This is the story of Joseph’s life to date: unreliable people who think only of themselves surround him.
Through all this God remains faithful to Joseph – he is always with him in adversity.
And likewise Joseph remains centred in God. He maintains his integrity, he refuses to compromise; he maintains his faith in a hostile environment.
Because of his sure relationship with God Joseph was able to prosper even in the harshest of conditions.
In slavery he found favour, in prison likewise the ‘LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.’
Joseph’s knowledge of God also gave him wisdom to correctly identify right from wrong and the strength to do what was right.
Because of his security in God Joseph was able to stand firmly before temptation, disappointment, and imprisonment – his strength was not in what others thought of him but always in God who knew him.
I’d like you to listen to a song which if Joseph was alive when it was written might well have been his theme song.
Stand! Sung by Sly and the Family Song was produced in 1969 – so some of you middle aged hippies may recall it. Stand!
Stand! – In the end you’ll still be you
One that’s done all the things you said I could do
Stand! – There’s a cross for you to bear
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere…
Stand! – For the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight.
Stand! – for the things you want are real
You have you to complete and there is no deal.
Stand! – You’ve been sitting much too long,
there’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong
Stand! – There’s a midget standing tall
And a giant beside him about to fall…
Stand! – they will try to make you crawl
And they know what you’re saying makes sense at all
Stand! – Don’t you know that you are free?
Well at least in your mind if you want to be.
Sly sung about Standing firm for what you believe – standing firm for the truth, for what is right. These are the qualities we see in Joseph’s life, unfortunately Sly and the band struggled themselves to ‘stand’ but does not take anything away from the truth of their lyrics.
Jesus reminded us that if we are to follow him then we must make a STAND, pick up our cross and carry it.
Following may not be an easy road but it is the road we are called to travel; as Sly sung the truth is that there is a cross for you to bear;
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere…
This week any number of temptations will come our way – will we stand or fall.
All men and all women face daily temptation; an attractive proposition, a flickering monitor, magazines kept out of sight of the missus – but we are not just talking about sex. Many who live by the highest sexual standards for example fall when it comes to money; or we will let our standards slip for the sake of another; compromise our God-given ethics for convenience.
And we are surrounded by people, friends, co-workers family members who have an entirely different set of values who may be confused by our stand, and will pressure us to relax and live a little – yet as Christians we are called to stand – to resist evil, to place our trust in God and his faithfulness in the dark and the good times.
Will we stand or fall. Joseph stood firm, he carried his cross, and in time rose to greatness as a saviour of his people.
Friends, remember it is no longer you that live but Christ that lives in you. We can stand – we can speak the truth, we can resist the devil, and he will flee from us.
But only, as James 4:7 reminds us as we are submitted to God.
Joseph was submitted to God – his whole life now centred on him he was able to resist and stand in the face of all sorts of temptation and disappointment.
We are invited to do likewise.
Submit yourself to God – and with the life of Christ within you, you will resist the devil you will stand, and God will see you through to the end.Arohanui Ian