Teaching Series
Tuesday—Moral and Ethical Faithfulness As a Slave

Series: Citizenship
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 Message (MSG). Note 1–3 insights or questions. 

Reflect: Our emotional functioning (healthy or otherwise) is not determined by our values alone (all of us want the fruit of the spirit), but primarily by patterns of behavior learned from our families of origin. We have common sayings based on our collective observation of this reality: “The apple never falls far from the tree,” or “He/she is a chip off the old block.” There is also plenty of scientific evidence, thanks to the extensive research conducted by American psychiatrist Murray Bowen (1913–1990), who received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to hospitalize and study entire families of mental health patients. Bowen quickly learned that the functioning of patients was largely determined by their family systems. The patient could actually be viewed as the “symptom bearer” of unhealthy patterns in the family. Sure, there are other distal risk factors to consider (such as biology), but Bowen observed the functioning of mental health patients drastically improving (or deteriorating) with changes in their family systems. This is difficult for Americans to grasp because Americans see themselves as individuals (Lone Rangers) who determine their own destiny and functioning.

Bowen developed his family systems theory based on this research. Obviously, most of us are not mental health patients (this is all on a continuum), but we are in some way, to a greater or lesser degree, the “symptom bearers” of unhealthy patterns in our families of origin. For many, until this “emotional baggage” (as it is commonly described) is identified and addressed, emotional health—and thus spiritual maturity will prove elusive. Thankfully, Bowen identified a way to break free from this generational cycle through a step he called “self-differentiation.” In order for our emotional functioning to be determined by our values (the fruit of the spirit) rather than patterns of relating ingrained in us by our families of origin, we must become self-differentiated.

For Christians, self-differentiation means allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our behavior (for secular people, it’s their values) rather than going into “default mode.”  Just like Bowen’s self-differentiation can never be fully attained, emotionally healthy spirituality is a continual process. The question is not, “Have I arrived?” but rather, “Am I still growing?” Faith is a journey through many stages.  Scazzero writes

In 1976 I became a Christian at the age of nineteen.  God then transferred me into his family—the body of Christ.  While I now was a new member of Christ’s family, almost everything I had learned about life had come from my original family.  The issue of discipleship now was how to do life Christ’s way. Learning how to pray, read Scripture, participate in small groups, worship, and use my spiritual gifts were the easy part.  Rooting out deeply ingrained messages, habits, and ways of behaving, especially under stress, would prove far more complex and difficult. (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, pp. 100-101)

Bowen’s theory is demonstrated in the Bible. Just look at the first three generations of Abraham’s family—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are clear patterns of lying, favoritism by at least one parent, brothers experiencing cut-off from one another, and poor intimacy in the marriages of each generation (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, p. 98). It’s almost like each generation is following a script, until we finally reach Joseph (fourth generation) who practices appropriate self-differentiation. Despite all the odds, on his journey to Egypt, sold by his brothers as a slave, Joseph chooses self-differentiation. His functioning skyrockets as a result! Joseph had every reason to be bitter, but instead he fulfilled his role as the best slave, then prisoner, then ruler, then brother he could be—saving the nation and his family in the process. “One day’s experience had been the turning point in Joseph’s life. Its terrible calamity had transformed him from a petted child to a man, thoughtful, courageous, and self-possessed” (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 214).

Recalibrate: Have you ever viewed Joseph’s character as an expression of emotional health rather than solely in terms of morality?

Respond: Spend time reflecting on your family of origin (a genogram can be very helpful for this exercise).  Can you identify any emotionally unhealthy patterns you may have inherited from previous generations?

Research: Read Chapter 20 of Patriarchs & Prophets by Ellen White.

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.

Take your child for a piggy back ride around your home. Go over mats and under doorways, through rooms and down hallways. If your child is able to, encourage them to take their favorite toy for a piggy back ride. Watch and see if your child takes the same path, uses the same language as you did together when you were carrying them. Choose to let love lead you on the path of abundant life.

In this story, Joseph refused to do something he knew was wrong. He stood up for what was right even though it cost him his job, and he was put in prison. Can you think of a time when you stood up for what you thought was right? Can you think of a time when you felt uncomfortable because someone asked you to do something you thought was wrong? How did it make you feel? Talk with your parents about it. Come up with ideas on how to stay strong when you’re faced with hard situations or decisions. Practice being kind and direct to communicate how you feel.

When I read the story of Joseph, I feel uncomfortable when Potiphar’s wife gets a little too flirty with Joseph. What am I supposed to take away from that awkward exchange? But this scene has a message for me too—and it’s all about distraction.

If you’re like me, I’m guessing you can count many things that distract you from what you should be doing. Supposed to be listening to your teacher? Your friend is whispering a funny secret. Supposed to be doing your homework? A hilarious YouTuber just posted a new video! Supposed to be cleaning your room? You forgot how many interesting toys you’ve got and are now looking at each one.

Distraction may seem like it’s just small moments here and there, but it certainly adds up! Suddenly, you realize you missed a big chunk of what your teacher said; it’s bedtime and your homework isn’t finished; your dad can’t give you your allowance because your room is still a disaster.

When Joseph was tempted by the distracting wife of Potiphar, he resisted his feelings and instead committed to the good work that was in front of him. Whether the temptations you face are small or big, ask God to give you the discipline to follow through on the good work He has put in front of you.

Sugar is one of my biggest weaknesses. In Walla Walla, there’s a bakery called Colville Street Patisserie, and every time I walk in I tell myself to not get their mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies. But I always do. In the moment, I have made the best decision of my life. However, in the long run I feel sluggish and not as healthy. What feels good in the moment isn’t what’s best in the long run. This can be applied to all aspects in life. Watching Netflix instead of studying for a test might feel good in the moment, but in the long run you won’t know the material. I could go on . . . Joseph knew this to be true. Potiphar’s wife was after him, and to be honest, Joseph probably wanted to be with her as well. I’m guessing she was beautiful, easy to talk to, and Joseph hadn’t been with anyone for a long time. But he knew that if he caved in he would risk his reputation and even his job. So instead he held fast to his beliefs and what was right. This week I challenge you to think of ways that you have been compromising your beliefs for things that feel good in the moment.

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.

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