Lessons from the Life of Joseph Part III

The Life of Joseph can be highly instructive for Christian business owners, if we are willing to look at ourselves through the examples we find in Scripture. Joseph became a man of integrity and forgiveness, which was a result of God’s work in his life over a 13-year period to prepare his character and skills for a work that would save millions of lives.

You might recall this series of events in Joseph’s life that is outlined in Genesis 39 and 40:

  • Joseph is sold to the Ishmaelites who take him to Egypt
  • The Ishmaelites sell him to Potiphar, an official in Pharaoh’s government, a “Captain of the Guard”
  • “The Lord was with Joseph” – Potiphar notices this
  • Joseph is put in charge of his house

During his trials, three times we’re told that God is ministering His presence to Joseph:

  • “The Lord was with Joseph”
  • “The Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian”
  • “The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had”

The presence of God stayed with Joseph. In Genesis 39.3, we read that Potiphar saw that the “Lord was with him” and that it was the Lord who gave Joseph success. Now, the only way Potiphar would have known about the Lord was if Joseph told him. Perhaps God gave Potiphar special insight into his servant, but since it is doubtful that Potiphar even knew that God existed, it seems more plausible to assume that when Joseph was successful, he openly gave credit to God, not himself.

The Bible speaks to the positive effects of righteous people being in the place of leading and ruling others:

  • There is tranquility: 2 Samuel 23.3-4
  • There is rejoicing: Prov 29.2
  • There is justice: Isa 32.1
  • There is peace: Gen 39.3-6
  • There is satisfaction: Gen 39.3-6

One gets the impression from the first part of Genesis 39 that Joseph’s presence in Potiphar’s house was a peaceful, happy time for Potiphar and his house. I wonder if our presence in our businesses as owners brings about tranquility, justice and peace. Does our presence in our industry have the same effect? Or, do people look at us and run because of our Christianity? Do other business owners smirk behind our backs because of our faith? Some of this cannot be prevented, but to the extent it is within our control, the culture of our business and the effect of our presence in our industries should result in such things as peace, justice and tranquility.

Now, we’ll recall that Joseph had abused his strongest gift – interpreting dreams. So God suspended the use of his gift so that his other management gifts – particularly leadership – could be developed. In Potiphar’s house, Joseph learned the political and military protocols of Egypt, the structure of the Egyptian government and some lessons on the “polish” and graces of Egyptian upper classes. God puts the future Governor of Egypt in a place where he can learn how to behave when he is Governor.

But there were more difficult lessons Joseph needed to learn before he was ready to become governor of Egypt. This lesson would dramatically change his life and put him in prison for several years.

Later, in Chapter 39 Potiphar’s wife “took notice” of Joseph. The Bible describes him as “well built and handsome”. This has echoes of Saul and David who both were described as handsome. She “takes notice” of Joseph: “Come to bed with me” she demands. Day after day she pursues Joseph – one wonders why she would do this.

Her marriage to Potiphar was probably one of status. In today’s common English, she was likely a “trophy wife”. She got money, status, leisure, servants yet she likely felt unloved, trapped, used, bored and so forth. I order to survive, she’s learned manipulation and intimidation as tactics in relationships. So, she initiates an affair perhaps as much out of boredom as anything else. She keeps inviting Joseph – day after day after day – she stays after him until she’s frustrated and fed-up with her inability to manipulate Joseph into her control.

The Bible says that Joseph refused to “go to bed with her” and that he refused to “even be with her”. You know, it’s one thing to resist the temptation, it’s another to alter your daily schedule so that you avoid the source of the temptation. For many of us, we’re tempted day after day and it can get tiring. Satan comes at us: “spend this money” or “eat too much food” or “get involved with that cute little gal at the office” and so forth. He temps us day after day, often preying on our most vulnerable parts. But how many of us alter our schedules to avoid the source of the temptation in the first place? Our strength to resist temptation is not found in our ability to say “no” when the temptation comes, but in our ability to avoid the tempter all together.

Joseph’s response demonstrates that he understands his stewardship position relative to Potiphar. He calls Potiphar “My master” and further acknowledges that his sin would ultimately be against God: “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (39.9). In the end, resisting sexual temptation is about your love for God. It’s really that simple. Joseph had no support to resist other than the Presence of God, so it is apparent that alone in a strange world, Joseph had come to deeply depend on and enjoy the Presence of God.

Have you ever experienced the continued presence of God to the point where old temptations became a tradeoff of giving up the greater Presence of God so you could have the lesser temptation? I would submit that Joseph would have never known the deep, abiding presence of God had he not been cut off from all he knew and all he loved. R.T. Kendall wrote in his book God Meant it for Good, “The fear of offending God must become the worst thing that we can imagine”. Most Christian business owners find their business failing to be the worst thing they could imagine. That thought should be nothing compared to our sin offending the Most High God.

When Potiphar hears of his wife’s accusations against Joseph, he burns with anger and has Joseph thrown into the prison where the “kings prisoners reside”. It was a moderate punishment since many surmise that Potiphar didn’t believe his wife, otherwise, he would have had Joseph put to death. One of the most significant tests that God brings into our lives is this: being punished for doing the right thing and having no choice but to keep quiet about it. This is what Peter talks about in 1 Peter 2.20 – 23 when he says that Christ “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” and that “if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”

As Christian business owners, there will be times when our decisions will not be understood by the masses. We’ll have to make decisions that many will not like. We’ll be tried and convicted in the court of public opinion and yet, there will be no defense that we can offer. This is part of leadership and it is also part of living righteously before God. Leadership is sometimes developed in the trials that demand faithfulness to your principles and to God, even when everyone around you is pressuring you to do otherwise. Just because you live a Godly live doesn’t mean others will recognize it – some will even accuse you falsely of sin and will be believed.

What can we learn?

  • Let’s not only resist temptation, let’s avoid the source of the temptation
  • The fear of offending God must become the worst thing that we can imagine
  • If we really desire to be like Christ, a time will come when we are punished for doing what is right and we’ll have no defense. We’ll have to stay quiet about it.
  • Just because you live a Godly life doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded for doing right – sometimes God will chasten you when you’ve done right

Bill English

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