Genesis 39:1-3 (New Living Translation)
When Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelite traders, he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did.
Last week we watched young Joseph as he was sold into slavery by his older brothers. By the time of today’s reading, he is now in Egypt and the slave traders have sold him to Pharaoh’s captain of the guard. Joseph is intelligent and efficient, and quickly rises up through the ranks to work as Potiphar’s household manager. Joseph is now in a high-ranking position in a prestigious household in a prosperous nation. Sounds pretty good, right?
Except for a few tiny, small details. Like that fact that Joseph is still a slave. He’s a well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed slave, but still a slave. He receives no salary. His efforts serve only to care for the person who purchased him like a new sofa or bookcase. Joseph is accorded no retirement provisions, no home of his own to escape to on the weekends. He has no family, no connections. He has no guarantee for the future, and is entirely at the mercy of his owner.
Most people have, at some point, worked at a job that was painful. A job that was a bad fit for your abilities. A job that provided an unsurmountable amount of work for a ridiculously small amount of pay. A job with a critical or spiteful boss. A job that was degrading or abusive or unhealthy. A job that for some reason was a horrible, appalling, painful experience. (You may be in that situation right now.) When I was very young, I took a job that I almost immediately knew was a mistake. My boss was a charming person when clients were around, but terrorized the staff in the privacy of the office. The first week on the job my boss gave me this advice: “Never say thank you to someone. If you say thanks, then they know they’ve done you a favor, and they’ll expect you to pay it back some day. Never, never, never say thanks.” I decided to ignore the advice, but it was a good indication of what was to come in that workplace.
If we read that Joseph had spent his days uninspiredly plodding along in Potiphar’s household, just doing the minimum to get by, it would have been entirely understandable, wouldn’t it? But, instead, we see this young man using the abilities and gifts given to him by God in the midst of terrible circumstances. He made the decision to give his all, even though he was constrained by his imposed servitude.
Being a Christ-follower is not just about attending church on the weekend, or serving people in need. It is about living every part of our lives– every moment, every interaction– in a way that honors God. Including our time at work! In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul gave this advice: “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (3:23). Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we’re called to do it to the best of our God-given ability.
Now, a quick aside. I want you to hear this clearly: God does not want you to be a slave. Jesus came to release us from bondage and to give us a deep awareness of the freedom of our souls. If you are in a work situation that is abusive, degrading, or otherwise damaging to you, please seek help to find a way out! God is endlessly faithful and loving, and wants you to know that faithfulness and love in every part of your life.
Jesus, the only Son of God, came to work in a world that showed him a distinct lack of respect. His work was censured by the exclusive club of religious elite. He took the job of offering God’s perfect, self-giving love to the world, and was rewarded with death. But he knew all of this when he accepted the assignment. And he still was willing to share his love, grace, and power with us. He still gave everything that he had, with great obedience and joy.
Each of us has an opportunity every single day to shock the world. Through simple words and actions, we can demonstrate an alternative way of living. We do this when we choose to use language to build people up rather than tear them down. When we say thank you to someone who has given us assistance. When we maintain calm in the midst of chaos, when we seek to correct injustice, when we do what is right even when no reward is expected. When we act in loving, honest, selfless ways, God rejoices! “This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers” (1 Timothy 4:10).
What frustrates you about your current employment situation? What do you enjoy about it? How can you increasingly work in a way that honors God?