"THE REWARDS OF FAITHFULNESS"
Genesis 40-41 (various selections)
Imagine working on a road paving crew for 20 years. You stay out in the heat, oil and grime of one of the hardest jobs possible. Your hands are callused. Your back hurts continually. The wind, sun and weather scar your face. You have a family--kids and a wife. She complains about the hours, no vacations, the pay that seems unfair compared to the work you do. The bills pile up and the stress and tension grows. She wants you to quit. You have been on the road crew so long you donít know what else to do. Your boss is a fair employer but you donít know if you can hang on. Year after year though you do. Then the rumor starts that the business is going to be sold. You fear for your job and your family. You get word that the boss is meeting with all the employees. All you can think about is that at least he has the guts to come and tell you youíre fired to your face.
When you arrive the room is full of your friends and co-workers. Your stomach is churning. You are wondering how and why it has to be you. Youíve been a good employee all of your time with the company, now this. The owner greets everyone with the news that even though the company is selling that part of the contract is that everyone gets to keep their job. You are relieved but wonder why he brought everyone together just to tell them this. Then he starts passing out envelopes. You think that maybe itís a gift certificate for couple of buffets at Ryanís. You open the envelope and discover itís a check for one million tax free dollars! The owner looks you in the face and says, "Thanks!"
That is exactly the story of the Thompson-McCully road paving company which was just sold by owner Bob Thompson for over 450 million dollars. Thompson decided that the best thing to do with the profits of the sale of his company was to give it away to the people who made the company worth 450 million dollars. So Bob Thompson gave 550 employees bonuses for their devotion and commitment to the company. Not all received one million dollars but it was enough to say their work for him mattered.
That story is an example of a vital spiritual principle. The principle is that God rewards faithfulness and faithful obedienceóespecially faithfulness--during times of hardship and heartbreak. However, we wonder sometimes, "Is faithfulness really worth it?" "Is a life of faithful obedience to God worth it when your faithfulness doesnít seem to bring an end to your problems? " "Is faithfulness to God worth it when others are unfaithful?"
No doubt those might be some question we would ask Joseph. If he were able to be here this morning I can say that his answer would be an affirming, "YES! Faithfulness in the face of pain and problems is worth it!" This portion of Josephís life teaches us that faithfulness in testing is rewarded by Godís best in Godís perfect time! God has said, "The man who honors me I will honor." Joseph is the proof of this relevant principle!
Before we begin our study this morning I want us to once again take a brief look backwards in order to survey the tests to Josephís faithfulness. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers because of their jealousy (37:14, 18, 14, 28). He was made a slave in the house of a very powerful man in Egypt (37:36, 39:1). While a slave he is accused of attempted rape of by the wife of his master (34:14-15). Even though innocent he is thrown into jail and forgotten it seemed by everyone. That is by everyone but God (40:14, 23, 41:1a). Joseph tried in vain to have a fellow prisoner make an appeal of his innocence to Pharaoh but it was not to be. Genesis 40:23 ends with these haunting words about the one who could help him, "did not remember Joseph, but forgot him." Somewhere between the prison and the court the promises and assurances of the cupbearer lost their urgency. They ceased to be as important as what he was doing that day. Gradually a day stretched to a week and a week to a month and a month to a year and as we read in Genesis 41:1 a year became two years. And Joseph, faithful Joseph, was forgotten.
From our view we would have screamed how unfair and unjust all of this was. Yet for Joseph it was the final test, the last exam. These two years of loneliness were his final exams. All else was preliminary to these last agonizing years in the prison. The test was two-fold: first, being forgotten would be the final test of his character to see if he would let bitterness control his life. Here is where so many of us fail! Instead of letting the ill treatment make us more like Jesus, we let it make us bitter and sour. Joseph did not fail as we will see. Secondly the test was to see if he would just be content with the reward of knowing he had been obedient to God. Here again is where we so often fail. We want to obey God but we want the reward of our obedience to be demonstrated. We want more than just the privilege of obedience to the will of God! Again Joseph did not fail this test!
Slowly but purposefully these two years of solitude and prison began to link all of the strands of the will of God into a rope of meaning and purpose. Having asked the question over and over, "What does God want of my life?" Joseph began to see that Godís purpose was first and his desires were second!
Thatís not what we want Ė Let God accomplish his own purpose, just give me my desires and my dreams! Then rather than learning from the test we spend our life trying to achieve our dreams and fight the purpose of God!
Yet when we bend our heart to the purpose of God and accept that as our ultimate priority we find God has done something to our desires and dreams: He may give us our dream, retire our dream or change our dream! What matters is no longer our dream; what matters is that now we are fulfilled with the Giver of dreams!
The turning point in our story comes in the opening verses of Genesis 41:1, "When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dreamÖ" The dream of Pharaoh came on a night like any other night Ė no advance warning, just another night for Joseph in the dungeon. Then Pharaoh had a dream, then another. The dreams are described in Gen.41:2-7. They are powerful and disturbing. They depict some kind of impending doom that horrifies the king. When he wakes up he cries out for all the magicians and all the wise men of the land to aid him in interpreting the dream. They are helpless to relieve his terror. His magicians, schooled and educated counselors, could not unravel the dreamsí meanings. Though skilled, they were empty of understanding.
While all of the commotion is occurring the kingís cupbearer overhears the conversation. Suddenly a similar situation from two years ago comes back to his mind when he had a dream that troubled him. He tells Pharaoh that he knows someone who can interpret dreams. The degree of turmoil that the dream caused Pharaoh is evidenced by the fact that he doesnít even question the idea of a butler telling him a prisoner has the answer. Gen. 41:14 is the verse we have been waiting for, "So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh." Josephís day had come! We learn in verse 46 that Joseph was 30 years old when he appeared before Pharaoh. He had been a slave or a prisoner by this time 13 years.
Josephís life was about to change radically! There are few people who could have stood such a drastic change. But the Lord knew the kind of person he was using, an individual who had been pulverized in the crucible of the will of God. God knew he could trust Joseph with the blessing and reward he was about to receive.
Just think, though, thirteen years to fulfill a dream! The prime of his life, in our view, has been spent in slavery or prison. God had given him a dream when he was 17 years old that someday he would rule over his brothers and over a large land. Yet, up to this point the dream wasnít being fulfilled. Letís be honest, sometimes it is little comfort to us to know that when we seem to be in the first year of the trial that as the Bible says, "1000 years is as a day and a day a 1000 years with God". Be honest, faith in God is sometimes a terrible thing for a person! If Joseph had not had faith in the purpose of God he would have perhaps gotten out years ago. He dared to trust God even though in the 6th year God had not fulfilled his dream, or the 7th and now the 12th . He dared to believe that sometime and somehow God was going to keep His word!!! But it didnít happen until the 13th year! Joseph is proof that faithfulness is rewarded by Godís best in Godís perfect time! How we must tell ourselves and others our dream may not be fulfilled in the 12th year but wait until the 13th year. Wait until Godís time!
Sometimes the best that God has takes a long time to fulfill. If you dare to dream the very best that God has then God must have time to work his purposes. It may take 13 years. There will come a day when your faithfulness will be rewarded. It may be on earth, it may be in heavenóbut it will be Godís best in His perfect time and I stake my life on it!!
Josephís day of reward had come! The dreams of Pharaoh required the mind and mouth of one whom God could interpret Pharaohís dream. Oh, the power of the one sentence that Joseph speaks when he is brought before Pharaoh and asked if he can interpret dreams, "I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires." (Gen. 41:16) It is not in me! Itís God! The most beautiful character, unsullied by the pain of his time in prisonóIt is not me Ė God!!
Joseph explains that in the dreams that God is the one who is speaking to Pharaoh warning him of a coming famine. The famine will be preceded by seven years of abundance then followed by seven years of famine. Joseph concluded his remarks by giving Pharaoh counsel as to how he should prepare the country for the famine that was only seven years away. It was going to be extremely severe. Joseph suggested that they look for a manager who could develop and implement an emergency plan to keep the nation afloat for the seven years famine!
The advice that Joseph gave was so wise that Pharaoh immediately rewarded Joseph with unbelievable power , authority and position (Gen.41:37-57). What were the rewards of Joseph? Truly beyond anything he would ever have imagined. First, he was exalted over all Egypt (41:40-44). In less than an hour Joseph had gone from sweeping the palace to ruling the palace. He has gone from being the lowest you could get to as high as you can go! Then, he was given a new identity and a new wife (Gen. 41: 41-45). His name meant "the god speaks and lives." The wife given to him was the daughter of the highest ranking priest in EgyptóPotiphera, priest of On. He was given as well limitless power to carry out the plan that he had proposed to Pharaoh (41:46,49).
Finally, he was given two sons as further signs of Godís blessing. The names of his sons though reveal more to us than just their identities. They are a reflection on how Joseph had seen Godís hand in all that had happened to him. Listen to what he said about his sonís names, "Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, "It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household. The second son he named Ephraim and said, "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." (Gen.41:51-52). Did you catch the words? "God has made me forget all my troubles" and especially those from his own family! Then he tells us that God is the one who can turn suffering into blessing! For as long as Joseph was alive whenever he called his boys by name he spoke of the power of God in the face of trouble and suffering!
Josephís faithfulness is rewarded beyond all he could have asked or thought. Remember God is the one who rewarded his faithfulness. God rewards faithfulness and nothing less than faithfulness. He will not reward anger, revenge, envy, jealousy, hate or self-pity. All the negative responses we so often give He will not reward. Joseph is genuine proof of the fact that God rewards faithfulness with His best in life.
One thing is that long tests donít have to discourage us. Joseph endured 13 years of trial and yet came out with no bitterness and discouragement. You say, "But you donít have it as bad as I do!" I know I may not fully understand how you feel but if a person in Josephís situation can endure victoriously, so can you. There is though only one way you and I can do it ,"It is not in meÖ." Thatís right! God Ė that is where your strength lies. Isaiah 41:10 says, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Another lesson that this story teaches us is that bad memories need not defeat us! Joseph was able to set aside the sting of his experience (betrayal, slavery, injustice, ignored) in order to make room for the blessing of God in his life. Many of you right here today are chained and shackled by what has happened in the past. You canít live for today because of the ugly events of yesterday. But you donít have to! "But you donít know what happened." No, I donít but the grace God can help you overcome.
A final principle that is obvious here is that great blessings donít have to disqualify us. Joseph was not changed in his character one bit. His generosity did not diminish nor did his heart become hard to those in need and suffering about him. He was the same ruling over Egypt as he was cleaning in the dungeon. You see, most of us are so self centered that when God does reward us we think we deserved it and forfeit the ability to enjoy the blessing! In stead of good things making us better, we let them make us worse. God just canít trust us with his blessings. It doesnít have to be this way. The same God who gave us grace while we were down gives us his grace while we are up. God and God alone!
Conclusion: Today you need not be discouraged, defeated or disqualified in your trial or testing. All God is looking for is for you to be faithful to Him and His purpose for your life. Paul said: "It is required of servants that one be found faithful."
Are you in the 12th year of the test? Then let me assure you with all my heart, if you are faithful God will reward you in His perfect time with His very best! When you have His best there is nothing else that matters.
Sunday, September 19, 1999
Dr. Bruce Tippit, Pastor
First Baptist Church