Lessons from Joseph: Prison to Power

From a sermon delivered 26 August, read Genesis 41.

When we look at this episode in Joseph’s life it’s as if his break comes when he had stopped striving for it.  As a youngster he had always tried to be the best, the most popular, the brightest, yet all his striving only caused disappointment, division, and rejection.

In prison he’d hoped that the right connections would help him – but as we recall his ‘connections’ forgot him.

Now two years later – we imagine he’d resigned himself to his fate when unexpectedly – a lifeline – he is called upon to help Pharaoh. Hope restored.

Pharaoh’s experts were good, the best money could buy – wise men, highly trained, yet they had no answer for Pharaoh.

I wonder why not?

Maybe they were just simply baffled – out of their depth, lacking the particular insight required.

Maybe they had a glimpse of what it might mean but couldn’t see beyond Egypt’s present glory and strength – a common weakness for powerful countries, companies, teams, and churches and people.

Or maybe – and I suspect this is it – they knew but were too timid to be the bearer of bad news – the saying about shooting the messenger was a reality in ancient Egypt.

In desperation Pharaoh turns to another man; Joseph, the same Joseph who had once helped the king’s cupbearer.  What is it about him that makes the difference, what are his qualities?

  • Reliability!  (vs 9-13)
  • Adaptability (vs 14)
  • Spirituality – centred in God (v16)
  • Courage (vs 25-32)

Joseph had proved his reliability.  Repeatedly in lesser circumstances Joseph had proved himself; when given responsibility in Potiphars house, or in prison he handled himself with integrity.

Sometimes we are offered small roles in life, seemingly unimportant tasks but a simple maxim is that more important tasks will come based on your reliability in the lesser things.

Sometimes we struggle with lesser things, it’s hard to see how they fit into the wider picture, it can be hard to see why they are even necessary, sometimes we feel slighted that we haven’t been given a more important job – yet as this parable reminds us we should tackle even the smallest job with integrity – giving it our best.

As we recall the life of Joseph we see the same attitude in him.  At times he was given important roles to perform at other times menial tasks but whatever it was he proved reliable – and did it to the best of his ability.

Colossians 3:23 reminds us of the same principle:

We all have tasks to do – some of these are worked out in the context of daily living, others in the workplace, still others in recreation, and others in the context of family, or faith and ministry.

Whatever it is, and wherever we are, we are called to ‘work at it with all our heart’ – it is God who is watching us more carefully than any line manager, and it is God who receives the glory for how we work.

Joseph proved reliable.

As we see in verse 14 Joseph was also respectful and adaptable.  He was summoned to Pharaoh’s presence – but note he took the time to clean himself up – including to shave.

At that time most men – in most nations – including Hebrews, tended to grow a full beard – it was a sign of manliness and honour – indeed to be seen shaven or with poor growth was a cause of great shame.

By contrast Egyptian men were clean-shaven, for them this was a sign of respect, facial hair was seen to be untidy, dirty, disrespectful.

By shaving Joseph showed himself to be a man prepared to lose personal face in order to honour the culture and customs of others.

Remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23

This applies to us also – it’s not a matter of discarding the truth or our values but there is much we can do to make the gospel more accessible to our neighbours: our language is important, our attitude more so, even the way we worship, can help or hinder people’s discovery of the gospel.

It may not always be the most comfortable thing to do – but if we are going to share the gospel of Christ then we are called to ‘become all things to all people – so that some will be saved.’ You see the call to serve is not a call to reward, or applause, or comfort for ourselves but a call to life for those who are dying.

Sometimes the challenge of Alpha hits us in this area – because to reach out to others, to even invite others we have to move out of our comfort, and risk embarrassment, rejection, and scorn for the sake of the gospel.

Joseph was able to do this while all the time maintaining his integrity.  His Spirituality didn’t suffer at all – indeed his willingness to ‘become like an Egyptian’ gave him the opportunity to reaffirm his faith.  Joseph was centered in God and bold to proclaim him.  It would have been easy for him to take the credit for his abilities; it would have been equally easy to downplay God’s role.  Yet Joseph is bold to proclaim God.

Of course he could only do so because he knows God well; his was a had a living relationship with God; a relationship which had given him the strength to faithfully stand while in prison, a relationship which was his strength and hope.

And from flowed his courage.  Joseph had the courage to speak the truth – even when it was bad news.  How often do we avoid the touchy subjects, refrain from speaking the truth.  Egypt was facing doom unless Joseph spoke the truth – indeed so were many of the surrounding countries; millions of lives could have been lost.  Thank God Joseph had the courage to speak the truth.

There is close to 20000 people living in the Wakatipu, the vast majority of whom don’t know Jesus, quite simply folks that means that they are as good as dead.  While they are still breathing we have an opportunity to share with them the gospel of our LORD Jesus but once they have gone, they are gone forever.  What are we to do?

Should we dumbly stand back and watch the approaching disaster – knowing that at least we are safe.  Or do we need to summon up the courage to speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

We all have neighbours, colleagues, flatmates, family members who need to hear the truth – yes it may upset them, but isn’t that better than the alternative.

Finally two more qualities I see in Joseph.  As well as being reliable, and respectful of others, as well as his strong faith centred on God, and the courage that flowed from such faith Joseph was a man who was prepared to do more than simply point out the problems.

Joseph continued to be a practical help by suggesting a strategy for the crisis.  Christians can be good at saying what is wrong with society but we’ve also got to offer real alternatives, and be ready (and this is my last point),

And be ready to be part of the answer.  Pharaoh appoints Joseph to this enormous task and he is ready to serve.  Friends so often when we do point out the problems of society, so often even when we offer solutions, so often when we pray for the salvation of our friends and family we are not prepared to be part of the answer.

I believe that today God is putting before each of us a challenge to be part of the answer, to trust in him, and to be prepared to do our bit to share the gospel.

We need to be men & women of faith

Reliable and centered on God.

People of courage, people prepared to speak and be involved.

For some of us that will mean that we are called to proclaim and teach the good news of Jesus, for others it may mean that you are called to share your story, your journey of faith, or to simply reflect God’s love, for all of us today it can mean getting involved with the Alpha opportunity that God has given us –

  • come to the dinner, invite someone else,
  • offer to help out,
  • maybe do the course yourself – you’ll know if you need to, take courage, trust God and have a go.

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