Becoming Fruitful through Affliction (From the Life of Joseph) Palitha Jayasooriya May 3 Introduction In this sermon we will look at the life of Joseph. It’s an amazing story, the kind of story that dreams are built on. After many unexpected twists and turns, and thirteen years of toil and affliction, God blessed Joseph in an unimaginable way! As a result, he became the second most powerful man in Egypt (Genesis 41:41-44), and thereafter, God blessed Joseph with two sons (Genesis 41:50). He named his second son Ephraim, which had the meaning of being ‘fruitful through affliction’ (Genesis 41:52). The word ‘affliction” is translated ‘suffering’ in the NIV. Let’s look at three ‘afflictions’ Joseph went through in the period between the ages of 17 – 30, and how God made him fruitful at every stage, culminating in him becoming Pharaoh’s top Executive and Egypt’s highest civil servant. The story begins at Genesis 37:2 when Joseph was just 17 years old. PROPOSITION: God can make you fruitful through every affliction you face What affliction are you going through right now? How are you reacting to it? Can you believe for the God of Joseph to come through for you? 3 of the afflictions through which Joseph became fruitful are: 1) He Became Fruitful Through Rejection Genesis chapter 37 covers this part of this story, as Joseph’s brothers take revenge on him because of their envy (Genesis 37:4-5) and reject him through betrayal (Genesis 37:12-31). It all began because of the favored status Jacob placed on Joseph (Genesis 37: 3, 4), over all the other sons. This favor included making Joseph a very special ‘coat of many colors’ and using him to spy on his brothers (37:2). Joseph’s status now was that of being the ‘favorite son’. To make matters worse, Joseph foolishly began to boast about his futuristic dreams, where one day he would rule over his entire family (Genesis 37:5-7,9). The envy and hatred that was simmering in the hearts of his brothers had now reached boiling point with trouble about to burst! (Genesis 37: 8, 11) As we read further in Genesis 37, the brothers got their opportunity for revenge and initially planned to kill Joseph (Genesis 37:18-20). But, thanks to the intervention of Reuben (37:21-22) and Judah (37:26-27), they put him in a cistern and decided to sell him off as a slave. Verse 25 says that they actually started to have a meal while he was in the cistern!! Eventually they sold him off to a band of Midianite merchants who in turn sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard (37:36). Because of his brothers’ rejection and betrayal, Joseph had lost all his rights, and was now a slave. One can only imagine the pain and loneliness this young man went through. It is certain that he would have been treated harshly, maybe viciously,by the slave-traders. God however was with Joseph and gave him favor with Potiphar (39:4), who began to see the unique faith, wisdom and skills this young Hebrew slave possessed (39:2-3). Joseph’s status had changed from being ‘favorite son’ to being ‘favorite slave’. As a result, Potiphar now put Joseph in charge of his entire household and of everything he owned (39:4). God in turn blessed Potiphar’s household in abundance, because of Joseph (39:5-6). Similarly, even in our afflictions, God can still make us a blessing to others! Joseph’ status had now changed even further. He had moved from being ‘favorite son’ to ‘favorite slave’ and was now Potiphar’s ‘favorite Executive’ (CEO of Potiphar Enterprises?). God had made him ‘fruitful through rejection’! Friend, rejection is always painful, specially when the blow comes from someone we have loved or someone we have helped. Maybe you are going through rejection right now in your marriage, in a relationship, in your workplace and the pain has become unbearable. I once remember a lady telling me, after a painful divorce, ‘I have no more tears to cry’. But, no matter how bad the rejection, God can still make you fruitful like he did for Joseph. The lady mentioned above too had a very fruitful life thereafter, by serving God wholeheartedly. Let’s also not forget that the skills Joseph developed in Potiphar’s house were more or less what he needed later, to rescue Egypt and the surrounding nations. Similarly, God can teach us valuable lessons and enhance our skills in the midst of rejection and other afflictions. ILLUSTRATION – In 1 Samuel 23, there is a story of how David rescued the city of Keilah from the Philistines. King Saul subsequently found out that David was in Keilah and decided to surround the city and capture him. When David heard about this, he inquired of the Lord as to whether the people of Keilah, the very ones that he had saved, would hand him over to Saul. To his dismay, the Lord revealed that they would surely betray him. Talk about rejection and ingratitude!!! The Lord however saved David, taught him to rise above ingratitude, and made him fruitful as we know so well. 2) He Became Fruitful Through False Accusation As Joseph began to prosper in Potiphar’s household, a new and serious challenge was building up. Potiphar’s wife began to get attracted to the handsome Joseph and tried to seduce him (39:6-7). Soon, he was facing consistent sexual harassment at the workplace (39:10). Eventually, when she thought she had trapped him into a compromising situation, Joseph ran away (39:11-12) because he did not want to either hurt God or his Chairman (39:8-9). As a result, Potiphar’s wife exacted her full revenge on him through falsely accusing him of trying to molest her (39:13-19). Because of her false accusation, Joseph was unjustly thrown into prison! (39:20). The cutting wounds of false accusations come to all of us at some time or another. Character assassination is one of the most difficult challenges a human can face. It’s also amazing how such false accusations can travel with lightning speed, as Marvin Gaye sang, ‘through the grapevine’. How we handle it will determine how fruitful we will be through it. You don’t find Joseph grumbling or complaining. Instead, he trusted in the Lord and the Bible says that the Lord was with Joseph and made him fruitful in the midst of his affliction (39:20-21). He will be with us too. ILLUSTRATION – A Pastor I know was once accused falsely by someone who had an axe to grind. This gentle man of God in response, brought in a bucket of water and requested permission to wash the aggrieved person’s feet, even though the accusations were false. The accuser broke down at this humble act of love, seeking forgiveness for the things he had said! Joseph now found favor with the prison warden, who in turn made him the chief Administrator for all management operations and labor control in the prison! (39:21-23) Joseph’s status had changed once again. He had gone from being ‘favorite son’ to ‘favorite slave’, to ‘favorite executive’, and was now the ‘favorite prisoner”! He became fruitful through the affliction of false accusation. 3) He Became Fruitful Through Being Forgotten As the story continues in Chapter 40, the king’s chief cupbearer and chief baker were thrown into the same prison as Joseph for what could have been a possible assassination attempt on the king (40:1-3). They thus came under Joseph’s influence (vs 4). Sometime later, they both had dreams and when they were troubled over the dreams, Joseph interpreted them accurately (vs 4-19). The end result was that the chief cupbearer was restored back to his position, while the chief baker was executed, exactly as Joseph predicted (vs 20-22). In verses 14-15, we find Joseph pleading with the chief cupbearer to speak to the king on his behalf, once he is released, stating his innocence to the accusation brought against him. Sadly, verse 23 tells us, “the chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him”. In fact, his forgetfulness lasted 2 long years! However, Joseph was learning to be fruitful through the affliction of being forgotten. What about you? Have your efforts and your hard work or a promise made, been forgotten, maybe by your boss or some members in your family? Maybe a close friend. Maybe your labor in the ministry seems to have been forgotten by others. Do you feel that maybe the Lord has forgotten you? Be patient and keep trusting the Lord and He will lift you up at the right time. He will never forget you! Thankfully, when Pharaoh had a couple of bad dreams two years later and none of his wise men could interpret the dreams (41:1-8), the chief cupbearer’s memory came alive again (41:9-13). This resulted in him recommending Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams to the king, and the rest is history. While most people search for the ‘right contacts’ at Conferences, Seminars and other events, it is significant, as a man of God said, that Joseph found his contact inside a prison!! God may do the same for you in unexpected ways and places! After interpreting the king’s dreams accurately, Joseph was released from prison and promoted to the second highest position in Egypt, at the age of 30 (41:46). He was also assigned the huge task of saving the nation of Egypt and the surrounding world from the famine that was about to break out (41:37-40). Joseph handled the task to perfection (41:56-57). In the process, he was used by God to bring restoration to his family and to also save the nation of Israel. Joseph’s status had changed once again from being ‘favorite son’ to ‘favorite slave’, to favorite Executive’, to ‘favorite prisoner’, to now being ‘favorite Diplomat’! CLOSING Where did Joseph acquire the skills needed for this massive operation? It was during the 13 years he spent in Potiphar’s house and in prison, as he faced the afflictions of being rejected, falsely accused and being forgotten. As he mentioned to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”. God can do the same for you and for me and truly make us fruitful through our afflictions!