Category Archives: Lessons from the Life of Joseph

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

Lessons from the Life of Joseph Part I

The Life of Joseph is a portrait of a man of integrity and forgiveness. Joseph was a highly talented guy. In today’s vernacular, we’d say he was “crazy smart”. His strongest gifting from God was his ability to interpret dreams, yet his greatest ministry to mankind would not utilize his strongest gift.

Gifting and the Call of God

Our gifts and calling to serve in particular ways are irrevocable: “…for God’s gift and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 8.29). Irrevocable – used 4 times in the NT – is translated “no regret” twice and “irrevocable” 2 other times. It literally means “feeling no pain of mind on account of something done (or experienced) in the past; especially with no wish that it had been any different.” So, in Romans 8.29, what Paul is saying is that God does not regret giving you your gifts and your call – no matter what happens or how bad you screw up your life. Once you accept Christ as your Savior, your gifts and callings are irrevocable. Period. End of conversation.

When we abuse our gifting, God doesn’t take our gifting away. Yet the continued use of our gift doesn’t imply that everything else is right with us. The reality is that we can continue to use our gift while harboring sin in our lives.

Joseph Abused His Gifting

Out of his arrogance and pride, Joseph told his brothers his first dream and then expanded his audience to include his father when he relayed his second dream (Genesis 37). In both instances, all he managed to do was to drive a wedge between himself and his brothers. They already distained him because he was their father’s favorite. Now, his dreams that claimed he would be their master and that they would bow down to him drove them to hate him. Joseph must have thought that they would admire him and come to recognize how talented and smart he really was. Arrogance always needs to be admired – to be noticed – to be “up front”. Joseph was no different. In his arrogance, he was trying to get his brothers to see how great he would become. Joseph was all about Joseph. And his father encouraged it by making him his favorite and making him a coat of many colors.

Do you have a need to be noticed? To be admired? Do you quietly harbor this notion that one day you’ll be discovered and many will clasp their hands and say “what a talented and great man (or women)”? There are Christian business owners who will share their dreams, hopes and ambitions thinking it will coalesce their staff around a common vision when all they are really doing is trying to manipulate their way into being admired by everyone around them. Some Christian business owners share so much about God without regard to how it comes across to their employees that they actually drive people away from God.

Entrepreneurs are known for being people of great confidence who assume risk to grow businesses that create jobs and profits. But for many of them, you can’t tell them anything. Their confidence has coalesced into pride. Christians in business are just as susceptible to this as anyone else. If you’re business is all about you – if people are giving you good advice and you usually shrug it off because you know better – then beware: the day will come when your most trusted advisors will turn and walk away. You’ll feel betrayed and alone. Yet you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. Your pride and arrogance will have killed your business.

While Joseph went too far with his brothers and father – who can deny that an authentic work of God was initiated in Joseph by God? In spite of what we read in Genesis 37, we get this notion that God had begun a great work in Joseph. Yet we also sense that God would need to change Joseph so he could be of real use to God. In a very real sense, God had shown Joseph that He was going to use him in significant ways.

Usually when God shows us that He is going to use us, we think it will be in the next week or two. We think we’re quite ready. Yet, often times, it is a long time before we’re ready to be used by God in mighty ways and this includes growing an influential business. Consider the examples in Scripture of how long it took God to prepare some for significant ministry:

  • Joseph was 17 when he was betrayed – it would be well over a decade before God could use him
  • Moses spent 40 years in the desert
  • David spent nearly 20 years running from Saul
  • Nearly all of the minor prophets were old men when they prophesied
  • Christ spent 30 years getting ready for His public ministry
  • Paul spent 3 years in the desert

Maybe God has called us to do something and has gifted us for it. The fact that we have a gift doesn’t mean we have the wisdom or the common sense to use it. Flaunting a gift comes from our need to be admired – but it nearly always results in others disliking us.

Maybe you’re older and have been in business for many years. Maybe you have yet to see God’s greater purpose in your life. Perhaps you’re ready to give up. You thought you were going to be used – but it hasn’t worked out. Be encouraged: God isn’t done with you yet – keep going – keep being faithful to Him.

We must die to ourselves

To be used greatly by God, we must first die to ourselves. We must jettison the notion that our business is about us. We need to rid ourselves of our need for money and admiration. We need to downsize our lifestyles and learn to live on less. We need to under-size our appetites for the finer things in life. We need to submit the enjoyment of creating profits and jobs to our enjoyment of God’s presence. Our ambitions need to become about using our businesses to further the Kingdom of God. In short, we need to die to ourselves.

Easier said than done – yes. Some will understand what I’ve written. Many will not. And it’s a message you’ll *never* hear in any MBA program, even those that are Christian based.

His Brother’s Sin

When his brothers put him in the pit and then later sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite’s, they demonstrated their own sin and commitment to keeping that sin in their lives. Let’s not think that his brothers were without sin. Here’s some of their sin:

  • Jealousy
  • Conspired to kill Joseph
  • Mocked Joseph
  • Lied to Jacob
  • Self-Justified
  • Respectable neutrality
  • Sold their brother into slavery (Gen 37.27)

Often, your competitors and sometimes, your own staff will engage in these sins. Perhaps your second-in-command is jealous of your success. Perhaps your competitors mock you at trade shows for your faith in God. Some will lie to you and then justify their lies creative ways. Even as you try to live for the Lord in your business, bear in mind that others may live in sin and their sin will hurt you. You will feel betrayed – as Joseph did. And God will have you where He wants you – in a pit where all you can do is pray and trust Him.

One of the most difficult things for an entrepreneur to do is to give up his self-sufficiency and fully trust God. Yet if we don’t do this, God will strip away everything we trust and have so that all we can do is pray and trust Him. He cares little about our business. He cares most about our character and relationship with him.

Summary

Joseph was not ready to be used by God. He abused his gifting and used his strongest gifting to drive people away from him. He needed to be admired because he was so arrogant. What Joseph needed was preparation and polishing.

Are you gifted and called? Is God still preparing you? Can you make your business “all about God?” Will you allow God to commence His work of chipping away at anything in you that doesn’t conform to the image of Christ? Will you submit your business to the Lordship of Christ?

I pray that God will raise up an army of Christian business owners who operate in humility, righteousness and full dependence on God Himself. Only then will we see an awakening in the American marketplace.

Bill English

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