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Genesis 37:36; 39:1-6
THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS CHARACTER
Intro: We are considering some special people who found themselves in places they would never have chosen, nor would have ever expected to be. We are looking at some of the great Cellar Dwellers in the Bible. We are considering people who found themselves in pits, prisons and cellars. In other words, we were looking at people who endured times of hardship, difficulty and pain. As I studied these people, it dawned on me that every one of the Cellar Dwellers in the Bible kept something very special. The man in our text found himself first in a pit, and then in a prison. I want to show you what this special young man kept in his cellar.
Let me introduce you to a young man named Joseph. He is seventeen years old. He is the favorite son in a family of twelve sons. His father chose him to be the head of the family, and his father gave him a beautiful robe to symbolize his authority. Joseph was on his way to being the most influential and powerful person in his family. He had even had some dreams that were sent to him by God. These dreams confirmed everything that was happening in his life. According to the dreams, Joseph was on his way to the place of absolute leadership in his family, Gen. 37:5-11.
All 10 of Joseph’s older brothers resented Joseph because he was their father’s favorite, and because of the dreams Joseph shared with them, Gen. 37:19. One day, Joseph’s brothers had the opportunity to deal with him. His brother attacked him, threw him into a pit, and sold him as a slave. Joseph was sold to some Ishmaelite merchants for less than $100.00, which was the price of a crippled slave! The deal they made with the Ishmaelites revealed the contempt they felt for Joseph. The Ishmaelites merchants took Joseph to Egypt and sold him into slavery in that land.
So, here is a 17 year old young man.
• He is stripped of his coat.
• He is separated from his beloved father.
• He is betrayed by the very people who should have loved him most.
• He is sold as a slave and carried off to a strange land to live as a slave.
• Imagine the fear that must have filled his heart.
• Imagine the hurt that must have shattered him.
• Imagine the lies Satan must have told him.
• Imagine the disillusionment over the shattered dreams.
Joseph was a country boy from an unsophisticated family, and he found himself being transported to the capital city of the most advanced nation on the earth. Imagine how Joseph must have felt as the camels crested the last hill and the wonders of ancient Egypt spread out before him on the plains of Giza. The great pyramids would have been standing in Joseph’s day. In fact, they would have been over a thousand years old when his great-grandfather Abraham visited that land many years before. Joseph would have seen the Sphinx, the great Egyptian temples and the opulent palaces of the Pharaoh and his people. It would have been a great shock to this young man’s system.
Every mile he traveled moved him farther away from his home and from his father. Every new sight confirmed the truth that his life was forever changing. Every new word, every new sound, every new smell told Joseph that his life would never be the same.
On the surface it seems that circumstances could not have been worse for Joseph. In reality, those difficult days were mere steps on the path God had planned for Joseph. It may have appeared that all Joseph’s dreams had been shattered, but the God Who gave the dreams in the first place was working behind the scenes to ensure that they would all be fulfilled in His time.
Joseph found himself in a pit, and then in a prison. He endured much pain, sorrow and heartache in his young life, but through it all, Joseph kept something very precious. In spite of the assault by his brothers, the separation from his father, the indignity of being sold into slavery, and the insult of his later imprisonment, Joseph maintained a firm grip on his character.
Character matters. Character is what you are when no one else is looking. Joseph was away from home, in a strange town. He was offered amazing opportunities. No one back home would have known if Joseph had decided to live like an Egyptian, and given in to the ways and morals of that pagan land. But, through all the trouble he faced, and through all the temptations that came his way, Joseph kept a tight grip on his integrity. When he came out of the pit, and later, when he came out of the prison, Joseph came through it all with his character intact.
Let’s follow Joseph through his time in the cellar and notice The Man Who Kept His Character. The lessons taught here will help us to hold on to our character when we find ourselves in the cellars of life.
I. 37:36 HOW HIS CHARACTER WAS DEVELOPED
• It appeared that life had fallen apart for Joseph. When you study the life of Joseph, it becomes clear that God was personally directing all the events of Joseph’s life. It also becomes clear that God was using the pain to develop the person. God was turning a boy into a man. God was using the horror and hardship of Joseph’s life to develop him into a man of integrity for His glory!
When you take into account all he faced, far too many things fell into place for Joseph for the events of his life to be mere coincidences.
Notice the sovereign hand of God moving in Joseph’s life:
• The intervention of Reuben. The other brothers wanted to kill Joseph, but Rueben convinced them to put Joseph into a pit. Rueben was planning to come back later and release the boy. Gen. 37:21-22; 37:29-30.
• Judah came up with the idea to sell Joseph as a slave instead of killing him, Gen. 37:26-27.
• The sudden appearance of the Ishmaelite traders – Gen. 37:28.
• The fact that the Ishmaelites sold Joseph to Potiphar – Gen. 37:36. Potiphar is called “the captain of the guard”. His position seems to have been that of chief executioner. He was like the head of Pharaoh’s secret police. He was responsible for protecting Pharaoh and for dealing with those who dared attack the king. Potiphar, by virtue of his position, would have been in contact with many of the dignitaries and political officials of Egypt. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Joseph would have been introduced to many of the influential people who would later serve him.
• God set everything up just like it needed to be so that Joseph arrived exactly where he needed to be at the exact moment he needed to be there.
• Joseph might have been just a young man, betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, but he was safe in the arms of divine providence the whole time. He might have been separated from his earthly father, but his heavenly Father went with him and before him into Egypt.
• You can see how much control the Lord has by looking at the actions of the people involved in this account. Joseph’s brothers, the Ishmaelite traders, and Potiphar were all serving their own selfish interests.
• His brothers wanted rid of Joseph and his dreams.
• The Ishmaelites were out for a profit.
• Potiphar was just looking for a good deal on a slave.
• What they could not see is that they were all unwittingly accomplishing the purposes of a sovereign God.
Isn’t it a comfort to know that God can use lost people to accomplish His purposes? Isn’t it a blessing to know that all the events of our lives are part of God’s plan for us?
While the events of Joseph’s life appeared to be out of control, every thing that occurred was controlled by God. Joseph was being protected and matured by the Lord. Notice how God developed him.
• By God’s presence – Gen. 39:2
• From a bitter spirit – There is no hint that Joseph was angry about his difficulties.
• By God’s providence – The dreams God gave Joseph in Gen. 39:5-11 had not been forgotten. They were being fulfilled, in God’s time and in God’s way. Those dreams surely sustained Joseph during the dark days of his suffering and slavery.
You and I have the same protections that Joseph enjoyed.
• We have His presence – Heb. 13:5; Matt. 28:20
• We have His help to deal with our past, our problems and our pain in His way – Eph. 4:29-32. We do not have to become bitter, angry or succumb to an unforgiving spirit. We can display a sweet spirit, even during the most trying of times with our Lord’s help!
• We have God’s promise that all “things work together for our good”, Rom. 8:28. A lot of what happens in life does not make sense, but it does not change the fact that God is in control of everything that happens to us, Eph. 1:11; Isa. 46:10; 2 Cor. 4:17-18; Rom. 8:18.
• God’s purpose in our trials is not to harm us, but to develop us. We can trust Him to protect us and grow us amid the hardships of this life, Jer. 29:11.
In everything Joseph faced, he was being developed for the glory that was waiting for him down the road. His character was developed in his father’s house, in his relationship with his brothers, in the pit, in Potipher’s house and in his prison experience. God used every good day and every bad day to shape Joseph into the person God wanted him to become. Joseph was in God’s University, and he was taking an advanced course in character development.
By the way, then the Lord sends us through storms, trials, times of suffering and abuse, He does so to develop our character.
• He is in the business of transforming us into the people He saved us to be.
• He is in the business of transforming us into the image of His Son, Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:13-14.
• He is preparing us for the glory that lies ahead, Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17.
The character of Joseph was developed in the cellars of pain, heartbreak, misunderstanding, betrayal and separation. So is ours! Your time in the cellar is not in vain if it makes you more like the Lord!
Phillips Brooks, a preacher from the 19th Century once said, “Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”
That’s a truth we must always remember. God is taking sinners and turning them into saints. He is not building shacks; He is building cathedrals. Just as it takes heat, pressure and time to turn coal into diamonds, it takes the same things to turn sinners into saints. It takes much heat, much pressure, and much time to build character into our lives.
I. How His Character Was Developed
II. 39:2-3 HOW HIS CHARACTER WAS DEMONSTRATED
• When Joseph arrived in Egypt, he no longer had his coat of many colors. He may have lost his coat, but his character was very much intact!
The coat Jacob gave Joseph was a symbol of his position in the family.
• It marked him as the overseer.
• It marked him as the head of the family.
• It marked him as the one in charge of all things.
• It marked him as a man with authority.
Joseph’s authority did not come from a robe. His influence did not come from some piece of cloth. Joseph’s authority came from his character! He was a godly young man who walked before his father in absolute integrity.
When Joseph lost his coat, he did not lose the ingredients made him a great man. Joseph’s greatness did not come from the clothes on his body, but from the character of his heart. He may have worn the humble garments of a slave, but he was still a man of character and integrity!
We ought to have the same testimony! We need to do everything in our power to guard our character and integrity.
Some people are different depending on when you meet them. You meet them at church and they are one person; meet them in town and they are someone totally different.
I would suggest to you that we need to be the same person regardless of where we go. We should strive to do the right thing, and be the right person, at all times. We should determine in our hearts that we will have a good attitude and demonstrate Christlikeness every minute of the day!
• When Joseph arrived in Egypt, he could have taken several paths. He could have adopted the ways and customs of his new land. He could have abandoned his faith in the God of his father and embraced the polytheistic religion of Egypt. But, Joseph just stayed the course! While Joseph may have been purchased by Potiphar, he belonged to God! He had already determined how things would be in his life.
It made no difference to Joseph whether he was in his father’s house, in a pit, in the possession of slave traders, or in the house of his master; Joseph had purposed in his heart that he was always going to do the right thing, and that is just what he did! Joseph was a man of integrity regardless of the situation in which he found himself.
Like Joseph you and I need to establish some boundaries for our lives. We need to make up our minds that there are some things we just are not going to do. (e.g. drinking, drugs, bad language, premarital sex, adultery, pornography, gossip, etc.) Then, when a situation arises, we do not have to debate it, we already know what we will and will not do. We have already made up our minds and the issue is settled!
• We are told in verse 2 that Joseph was “a prosperous man”. Verse 3 tells us that “the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.” Some might have looked at Joseph’s advancement in the home of Potiphar as “good luck”. They see a young man like Joseph and he has some bad breaks, then things turn around for him. Things start heading the other way. People look at that and they say, “Man. He sure is lucky.” I want you to know that “luck” had nothing to do with Joseph’s success. In fact, there is no such thing as “luck”. Luck is for fairies, gnomes, sprites and other mythical creatures; not for the children of the living God!
Joseph prospered because God blessed him! Joseph prospered because God saw in Joseph a man He could trust to do His will. What some would call “luck” in a person’s life may be nothing more than the manifestation of a good, godly character.
Maybe God blesses some people more than He does others because they have the right kind of character. Maybe they enjoy His blessings because they have integrity. Maybe they are blessed because He can trust them to do right!
What I want you to see here is this: Joseph was in a bad situation, but he still lived a life that was blessed by the Lord. I am sure that his life was a life of endless drudgery and service, but he was faithful to his tasks. His character caused him to be faithful to his God and to his human master. As a result, God blessed his life and his work.
Ill. The great Baptist preacher John Bunyan was thrown into prison in 17th Century England for preaching the Gospel without a license. He spent twelve years in jail because he would not promise the court that he would not preach if he were released. He could have become discouraged by so long an imprisonment, but John Bunyan was a man of character and integrity.
While he was in jail he had a stool that had three legs. He removed one of the legs and carved it into a flute. He would use that flute to play Gospel songs. While in jail, Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, which is an allegory of the Christian life. It is the second largest selling book in history, only the Bible has sold more copies.
John Bunyan could have given up. Instead, he used his trials as a place to glorify his God. In turn, God blessed him!
By the way, the Lord is still looking for men and women of faith, character and integrity. He is still looking for people that He can use in these days to get glory and honor to His name!
• What you has a way of getting out on you! Your circumstances will reveal your character. I challenge you to do everything you can to safeguard your integrity and your character. God will bless and honor those who are real. What does your character reveal about you?
What’s on the inside will eventually show up on the outside.
• “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:All these evil things come from within, and defile the man,” Mark 7:20–23.
• “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…,” Pro. 23:7a.
• “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law,” Gal. 5:19–23.
What does your character say about you?
I. How His Character Was Developed
II. How His Character Was Demonstrated
III. 39:4-6 HOW HIS CHARACTER WAS DECLARED
• Potiphar saw that the hand of God was upon the life of Joseph, v. 3. He knew there was something special about this Hebrew slave. As he watched Joseph work, and as he saw the results of his work, Potiphar saw that everything Joseph touched turned to gold.
Potiphar promoted Joseph and made him the overseer of his entire household. Joseph was in control of everything that happened in Potiphar’s home and in his business interests. Potiphar learned that he could trust Joseph to do the right thing. He soon discovered that Joseph was a man of industry and integrity, a man of character and conviction. He was a worker who did the best job that he could for his master. Joseph served Potiphar like he was serving the Lord!
• Like cream Joseph continues to rise to the top. Regardless of the situation in which he finds himself, he walks with integrity, seeking to glorify his God, and it showed in his life.
Even Potiphar the pagan Egyptian saw something different in the life of Joseph. Joseph didn’t have to blow his trumpet and tell Potiphar was a great believer he was. The life he lived proclaimed the glory of his God and Potiphar saw for himself the influence of God in the life of Joseph! The touch of God on his life opened the door for Joseph to share his faith with Potiphar.
The same thing ought to be true of each of us! The lives we life should be so different from the world around us that the mark of God’s favor will be clear to see, Matt. 5:16.
Joseph lived a godly life, which glorified God.
• He lived for the Lord when he was home with his father.
• He behaved himself well in front of his brothers.
• He lived the right kind of life as a slave.
• He refused to give in to his flesh when he was tempted by Potipher’s wife.
• He maintained his integrity when he was falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison.
• He lived a life of character and devotion when he was promoted to a position of power and privilege.
• Because Joseph kept his character when most people would have given in to the flesh, God openly blessed him by promoting Joseph and using him in a powerful way.
The Lord will do the same in your life and mine. If He can trust us with the tasks He assigns to us, He will entrust us with greater things down the road. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much,” Luke 16:10.
It pleases the Lord when His people walk before Him in integrity. When we keep a tight grip on our character, even in the worst of times, it honors the Lord, and He honors that commitment.
Conc: God used the sorrows of Joseph’s life to shape him into the man He desired him to become. The trials we face are never easy. While they are not easy, our trials are useful in that they teach us many things.
• They teach us how to depend on God.
• They teach us how to maintain a tender and compassionate heart.
• They teach us the value of tears.
• They teach us how to be useful to the Lord.
We should never seek to shun the trials of life. In shunning our trials, we are also shunning the best of God’s blessings in this life. A.W. Tozer once said, “It is doubtful that God ever used anyone greatly without first hurting them deeply.”
God uses the cellars of life to build and refine the character of our lives. He uses the hurt to make us more like Him. When we, like Joseph, allow the Lord to build character into our lives, we become the persons He saved us to be.
Here is how Chuck Swindoll said it:
THE WORLD NEEDS PEOPLE...
• Who cannot be bought;
• Whose word is their bond;
• Who put character above wealth;
• Who possess opinions and a will;
• Who are larger than their vocations;
• Who do not hesitate to take chances;
• Who will not lose their individuality in a crowd;
• Who will be as honest in small things as in great things;
• Who will make no compromise with wrong;
• Whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires;
• Who will not say they do it “because everybody else does it”;
• Who are true to their friends through good report and evil report, in adversity as well as in prosperity;
• Who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning, and hardheadedness are the best qualities for winning success;
• Who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for the truth when it is unpopular;
• Who can say "no" with emphasis, although all the rest of the world says “yes.”_
Are you a person of character? Or, are there problems in that area of your life?
Trials will help build character into your life, but if character is missing, trials have a way of exposing that too. Maybe you’ve been through a trial and didn’t come through it with your character intact.
The place to get help is to get before the Lord and ask Him to move in your life to accomplish His perfect will in you.
• If the Lord has spoken to you about your walk with Him, I invite you to come before Him to thank Him, deal with sin, ask for His help in trials, or whatever else you may need.
• If you are lost, I invite you to come to Jesus for salvation. Let Him transform your life and develop you into a person true character and integrity.
1 Adapted from Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.107-8.