Lessons from the life of Joseph
When Paul wrote that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to his purpose’ he could easily have had Joseph in mind. His story is an illustration of this great truth. What happened to Joseph was bad: envied by his brothers, sold as a slave, falsely accused and imprisoned, forgotten by a man who promised to remember him. Yet behind it all God had a loving purpose. He intended to bring good out of evil. We believe this. It is a great comfort to the Christian.
But we do not always see how this is true. We may be perplexed, even tempted to despair. However, Joseph’s story gives us some glimpses into what some call the mystery of providence.
God works for good in all things
Some of the things that happen to us may be difficult to understand at the time. The coronavirus is a case in point. We may ask how this situation and circumstance is part of God’s loving purpose. How can good come out of this?
And yet each incident in the life of Joseph was part of a larger whole, like the pieces of a jigsaw or the threads of a tapestry. Without the pit he would not have ended up in Egypt. Without the false accusation and imprisonment he would not have been able to interpret the dream of Pharaoh’s butler. If the butler had remembered him as soon as he was restored to Pharaoh’s favour, Joseph would not have been in a position to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.
The lesson is clear. We may be unable to understand perplexing things today. They may be incomprehensible now. We are to wait. ‘Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him’ (Psalm 37:7). His timing is always perfect and he never arrives too late. Faith means trusting when we cannot see. We may have to wait until Heaven and then explanations may be unnecessary. In the meantime we have the promises of God and the presence of God to help us.
God works for good in others
Our lives are bound up with others. We are not islands. The things that happen to us have an impact on other people. We see that in Joseph’s life.
It is good to ask ourselves the question: ‘What is God saying to others through what is happening to me now?’ God allowed Joseph to experience the things he did for the sake of many others. Joseph’s trials affected his father, Jacob, his brothers, Pharaoh and the people of the ancient Near East.
Think of the effect of Naomi’s faith on Ruth, or of Stephen’s faith on Saul of Tarsus. We all know something of the impact of others’ faith upon our own lives. Think of the times when you have witnessed the response of a true Christian to tragedy or when you have been influenced by the impact of a Christian’s godly life.
It is a good thing to ask ourselves whether our lives are an encouragement to other people. Am I a Barnabas? Do I help or hinder? It is striking that the coronavirus crisis is opening up new doors of opportunity for gracious Christian testimony and concern for the well-being of others.
God works for good in us
We see God working for good so clearly in the life of Joseph. Throughout his bitter experiences, God was moulding his character and preparing him for his great ministry. He became a much better man. He would not have been ready as a younger man. He learned the supreme value of wisdom, becoming the right man in the right place at the right time.
God is making something of us. He is conforming us to the likeness of his Son. He is our sovereign Father who works in all things for our good, refining and fashioning us into the people he wants us to be.
Overwhelmed by despair
What about today? Can I know these things to be true now? I may see them as I look back but today I am perplexed and near to despair. I cannot see a wise and loving purpose. I feel as if I am in the midst of darkness and distress. I feel overwhelmed by doubt and fear.
Here are some wise words from John Newton’s Authentic Narrative. Speaking of God’s power and wisdom at work in the apparent random circumstances of life, he wrote:
How many such casual events… in the history of Joseph…had each a necessary influence on his ensuing promotion! If the Midianites had passed by a day sooner, or a day later; if they had sold him to any person but Potiphar; if his mistress had been a better woman; if Pharaoh’s officers had not displeased their lord; or if any, or all these things had fallen out in any other way… all that followed would have been prevented; the promises and purposes of God concerning Israel, their bondage, deliverance, polity, and settlement, must have failed; and as all these things tended to and centred in Christ, the promised Saviour, the desire of all nations would not have appeared. Mankind would be still in their sins, without hope, and the counsels of God’s eternal love, in favour of sinners, defeated. Thus we may see a connection between Joseph’s first dream and the death of our Lord Christ, with all its glorious consequences. So strong, though secret, is the agreement between the greatest and the smallest events. What a comforting thought is this to a believer, to know, that amidst all the various interfering designs of men, the Lord has but one constant design, which he cannot, will not miss, namely, his own glory in the complete salvation of his people; and that he is wise, and strong, and faithful, to make even those things which seem contrary to this design, subservient to promote it.
That, in effect, is the argument of Romans 8:28-32. We know that all things work together for the good of God’s people because, ‘whom he predestined, those he also called, and whom he called he also justified, and whom he justified, those he also glorified.’ And we know that this is true, because he did not spare his only Son but gave him up for us all and with him he also freely gives us all things.
It all comes back to the cross of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
I am not skilled to understand
what God has willed, what God has planned;
I only know at his right hand.
stands one who is my Saviour.