Faith and character
Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said. “I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” –gen 37.9
For a long time I judged Joseph as a brash, even arrogant, young man who could not contain his enthusiasm. If he had only kept his mouth shut, I thought, he would not have fallen into such personal hell.
Perhaps true, but something that should have been long obvious finally hit me full-on today, when a Bible search inadvertently opened to the above verse. If Joseph had not been so brash, his dream never would have fulfilled: He would not have terminally ticked off his brothers, they then would not have sold him into slavery, he would not have risen to be Egypt’s prime minister, and Israel would not have found refuge from the famine gripping the world.
So we see that God, who indeed works in strange ways, used Joseph’s brashness to bring about His will. What exactly is going on here? Is it that God rewards immature people who flaunt their rough edges?
I don’t think that’s the essence of it. The real dynamic is that God rewards those who place Him first and give the highest value to the gifts He gives them. Joseph was excited enough about his dream from God to proclaim it to those he cared the most about, his family, even if his familial relationships were decidedly spotty. Joseph had that too-rare quality, faith. He actually walked with God and believed enough to act on it.
Now, his character was not fully mature. God chose Joseph because of his faith, and then went to work on his character. As with Job, Joseph would be tested in the refiner’s fire before being poured forth as gold. But Joseph was bold enough to act on his faith even while he wasn’t perfect, and that’s the crucial thing. We must work with what we have. And God kept on rewarding Joseph, even during the years of tribulation, by remaining with him and giving him favor in distressful situations, and by continuing the prophetic dreams and adding to them the gift of interpretation. And when we look at how Joseph later counseled Pharaoh and dealt shrewdly with his returning brothers, we see that ultimately God even richly gave him what was so lacking at first – humility and wisdom.
So yes, Joseph brought a whole world of pain upon himself for a dozen years or so by acting on his intimate relationship with God. But in the end we see that both God and man honored him for it, Joseph’s character was completed by it, and world history was forever changed because of it.
For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison -2cor 4.17
Joseph’s story makes more sense to me now, and the unassailable wisdom of God’s priorities are once again vindicated. And Joseph also shows me where I could use some work. Do I have near the faith that he had, or the willingness to suffer opposition to proclaim His word?
Those are good questions which we all would do well to ask. But as we take inventory, remember that it is Jesus, as both God and man, who singlehandedly cut the perfect covenant we enjoy with God, with His own blood. We had nothing to do with it – we couldn’t, because we were unable. Yes, God Himself was our intercessor:
Now an intermediary is not for one party alone, but God is one –gal 3.20
Christ alone is the author and perfecter of our faith. That is why Paul could confidently proclaim:
For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus –php 1.6
And my favorite:
But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. -2cor 12.9
So if you, like me, have a faith that is imperfect, wait expectantly on God. Be humble toward yourself but bold toward God. Use the faith you have, even with your flaws. You will receive more faith, and God will deal with your flaws. And if you keep on pressing in, refusing to give up, you will develop both faith and character that overcome, that fulfill your destiny and purpose in Christ.
And on the way you might even find yourself getting a little brash once in a while. God seems to like that.
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