Message: Moral and Ethical Faithfulness As a Slave
Preacher: Sam Leonor
Reflection: Sam Millen
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Ame Fowler
Live Beyond: Chelsea Mensink
Live Purpose: Emily Ellis
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Genesis 39:1-20 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Joseph was a good servant (slave). He was loyal to his master, and even more importantly, loyal to God. I believe, regardless of our station in life, our true identity can be grounded in our role as God’s servants. After listening to a fortnightly podcast by N. T. Wright since last November, a particular truth has begun to sink in slowly for me. Yes, Christianity is a relationship; I maintain this definition as absolutely central. But Christianity is also a vocation. Being a Christian means you and I have a specific role to play in the restoration of the world. No matter where we live, how much we have, or what our employment may be, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and as such, Christians are called to partner with God in its expansion. Jesus had a lot to say about servants. He told several parables regarding good and bad ones.
Let’s start with “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” recorded in Matthew 18:21–35. It is very clear this is a bad servant, but this parable has also puzzled me. Having his massive (king-sized!) debt cancelled, how could this servant not forgive a relatively small sum owed to him by a fellow comrade? He even refused the poor chap’s plea for a little extra time to repay! For a while I thought the Unforgiving Servant could not have fully grasped what the King had done for him. It was my attempt at explaining how many professed Christians can be unkind, uncaring, and harsh. Perhaps they never fully understood the Gospel—the good news of what the King has done for them! It took me a long time to realize information alone doesn’t change anyone. If it were that simple, all of us would have stopped eating desserts a long time ago. The Gospel cannot be reduced to information. Christianity is a relationship, but it’s also a vocation.
After spending a decade and a half in pastoral ministry, I have observed that something is a little off (OK, way off). Something is missing in the lives of many church members, and all too often, in my own life as well. I don’t see the fruit of the Spirit as often as I should—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control (see Galatians 5:22–23). Why is sanctification missing? Where is the evidence of Christian growth and spiritual maturity? Doesn’t it trouble you when individuals who have spent decades sitting on church pews, fulfilling all the expectations of a faithful church member, even holding a church office, remain arrogant, vindictive, judgmental, and mean? I don’t think being a Christian is simply the equivalent to being nice either. We don’t need congregations full of people-pleasers. We need congregations who love people, even those they disagree with.
If we are going to examine Joseph’s life and discuss the importance of character, loyalty, faithfulness, integrity, etc., we must view these traits not as a list of moral attributes to attain but as the outcome (fruit) of something else.
Recalibrate: What explanations have you heard on the discrepancy between what Jesus taught, and how His followers (Christians) act?
Respond: Pray the Lord’s Prayer and reflect on the meaning of the line, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Research: I highly recommend this podcast with N. T. Wright on all kinds of topics regarding Christianity. I have appreciated his overall emphasis on Christianity in terms of “vocation.”
Remember: “Potiphar saw that the Lord was with Joseph. He saw that the Lord made Joseph successful in everything he did” (Genesis 39:3, ICB).
Sam Millen is the pastor at Anacortes Adventist Fellowship in Washington State. After living in five countries on three continents (and five states), he feels at home on Orcas Island with his wife and three kids.
There is nothing like holding a child who wants to be held. They cling to you with all they have like a koala in a tree. Koalas cling to trees because this is their safe place, the place where they are fed and the place where they can rest. God was Joseph’s safe place in a world that was not safe. Our Words to Remember tell us that Potiphar, Joseph’s master, could see that the Lord was with Joseph. The world sees what we cling to. Open your heart and wrap your everything around God’s love for you.
Read the Words to Remember out loud. Think about what it means to say that the Lord is with you. Through all the difficulties of life, God was with Joseph. God loves spending time with you. What do you like to do with your friends? I like spending time with my friends talking, playing games, going on walks, and eating together. Jesus is with you all the time even when no one else is. How do you spend time with Jesus? He’s got big plans for you. Are you ready?
In my family, if you have the blues or just feel grouchy for no reason, we call it “the hoochalies.” When I’ve got the hoochalies it’s really hard for me to do tasks and chores well. Growing up, I would do the bare minimum on my chores when I was having a bad day. I would drag my feet as I emptied out the garbage, whine as I put away the dishes, and “cleaning my room” was just me shoving things under the bed and inside the closet where my mom couldn’t see them. My quality of work went down when I felt down.
In Genesis 39, we jump into the story of Joseph, who was having more than just the hoochalies. He was having a bad life. He had been sold by his rotten big brothers into slavery. He didn’t have a life anymore! And he became a servant in the home of a powerful man named Potiphar. But unlike me, Joseph’s bad days didn’t affect his work ethic. He leaned into his work and chores and God blessed him. It’s so easy to do things when we feel like doing them. It takes real courage and strength to do things well when we really don’t want to do them.
Because of Joseph’s good attitude and great work ethic, Potiphar realized that God was with Joseph. Who knew that just a small attitude adjustment could be a witness for God? In what small ways would life at home change if you put on a good attitude and did your work well, even if you didn’t feel like it?
Years before Joseph was alive, before his father Jacob was alive, and even his grandfather Isaac was alive, Abraham received a promise. This promise was that through Abraham’s descendants he would bless the entire world. However after many years of God saying the same thing and Abraham having no children, he decided to take matters into his own hands. His wife gave him her female slave, Hagar, for Abraham to have a child with. They had a child together and they named this child Ishmael. He was convinced that this was the promised child, but God told Abram that this was not the promised child but that he would have another son named Isaac. Eventually Abram and Sarai gave birth to Isaac and it seems like Ishmael was completely forgotten about. However in the first verse of Chapter 39, we read that the Ishamelites (descendants of Ishmael) are the ones who take Joseph into captivity and sell him in Egypt. The mistake of Joseph’s great grandfather lead to his imprisonment. This was his future, but it didn’t have to be his reality. What I mean is this: just because Abraham’s mistake hundreds of years earlier led to Joseph’s journey to captivity, it didn’t mean that Joseph had to live like a captive. Instead he took his life into his own hands and created his own future. Even though he had every right to act like a slave, he held himself to a higher standard. He still committed himself to God even though he could have chosen to rebel and forsake God. Mistakes in your past or your family’s past don’t have to define your future destiny. God has the power to create something new in your life and to empower you to do great things. The question is, will you let Him?
Zan Long is GRC director for faith development for ages 0-17. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and serves at her local church in nearby Kellyville.
Ame Fowler has fifteen years of youth and children’s ministry experience and has served as a leader with TOP kids. She and her husband enjoy ministry through coffee, and live in Chattanooga, TN.
Chelsea Mensink serves as the family ministries director at Crosswalk Church in Redlands, California. She is a delightful and talented children’s pastor who just oozes fun and love like a squished Twinkie.
Emily Ellis is a junior studying theology at Walla Walla University and interning at the Eastgate Seventh-day Adventist Church.