Monday, January 16, 2012

Servant Success

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, January 8, 2012

Genesis 39:1-23, “Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate.  Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”  So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.  But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.”  So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”  So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.

Two weeks ago, we all began the New Year, 2012, at the same starting place, with the same hopes and aspirations for this year, with the same kinds of dreams and desires that somehow, some way, this year was going to be a better year for us, more successful, more prosperous.  How are we doing so far?  You know, we count down the days until Christmas, don’t we, those last few weeks before December 25th?  But few, if any, of us consider the fact, count the days, we’ve already used up in this New Year, and recognize that we only have 350 more days left in this year to pursue those goals with which we began the year. 

Success, prosperity, this world’s definition of those words revolves around things like profit and product and progress.  And, those things aren’t wrong or sinful, in and of themselves.  But listen, I’m a Christian, that’s what I claim to be.  And that’s what you call yourself, too, right?  So, is this world’s definition of success, and perhaps, more significantly, is this world’s means for attaining to success, to be my definition and my means of attaining it?  Bible-driven, not profit-driven.  Holy Spirit-directed, not directed by and for an end-product or mere human progress.  That’s who I am, or who I am supposed to be, if I am a Christian.  So, how am I doing that so far in 2012, seeing I only have 350 days left to go? 

The life of this man Joseph, what an incredible illustration of success, God-centered success, his life is.  He was a success, he prospered, materially, or, we might say, monetarily, verse 3 tells us that “the Lord made all Joseph did to prosper in his hand.”  And, verse 5 adds the interesting and amazing insight into how the blessing of God upon Joseph’s life brought blessing from God upon his master, Potiphar’s life and family. 

Joseph prospered, he was successful, materially.  He also succeeded militarily.  We looked at this aspect of success, or prosperity, last time, didn’t we?  No, Joseph wasn’t a soldier, at least, not in the guns and bombs and combat boots sense.  But, what a war – fellows, ladies – what a war he waged with lust, with temptations that repeatedly came his way through Mrs. Potiphar’s invitation to the bedroom.  And, what a victory he enjoyed when he exclaimed in her ears, “How can I do such a wicked thing as this, and sin again God?”  Joseph was a success militarily, and he prospered monetarily or materially.  And, in both ways, he not only received blessings from God, but he also was used by God to give blessings to Potiphar and Potiphar’s family!  Beloved, that’s success!  That’s what this Book means by the word prosperity. 

But, then there’s a third way in which Joseph succeeded and shows us what real success is all about, and that is in a way that I’m calling, ministerially.  I’ll let your minds munch on that long word for a moment or two, while I set up for you the background.  Success, prosperity - I don’t know how many of you are college football fans, or professional football fans, or, maybe even High School football fans, but so far, in all the years that I have been watching, listening and reading about these games, I’ve yet to see a team awarded a trophy for ending up in last place!  Success, in football, at least, is measured in victories!  And, ultimately, in Championships and Super Bowl rings, right? 

Or, think of it this way.  If you have ever watched the Cowboys play, in their stadium, you know they have a special display of banners on a certain level of the stadium’s walls.  It’s called the ‘Ring of Honor’ and Cowboy greats like Tom Landry and Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman  have their names and numbers arrayed there for all to see.  And, of course, those men’s names are included in that select group, because they were the best, because in football terms, they succeeded.  But listen, so far, Jerry Jones may prove me wrong on this someday, so far, I have yet to see a banner raised for the Team Water-boys, for the gophers who make sure all those multi-million dollar stars have plenty of Gatorade® and Power-Ade®.

Success, ministerially, would you allow me to add a word to your ‘success dictionary’ that maybe, up to this time, you had not included?  Here’s the word: ‘servant’.  Servant.  Verse 4 of our text, it’s one of those verses folks like you and me pass over quickly, you know, because we want to get to the ‘meat of the passage’.  Verse 4 – Take a look, this verse is the first ‘bite’ of some really good, really needed, ‘T-bone steak’!  Success, how does God define it?  Verse 4 – The text simply says that Joseph “found favor in Potiphar’s sight and served him…” 

I don’t have time to develop it this morning, but allow me to remind you that that one word, a new addition, perhaps, to many of our success ‘dictionaries’, was the first ‘entry’ in our Lord’s dictionary!  Remember?  Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give My life as a ransom for many…”  In another context, when even Jesus’ closest friends, His disciples, were elbowing for position and prominence, Jesus took up the towel, the pitcher and the basin, their Master stooped to show them the full extent of love (see John 13:1), washed their dirty, grimmy feet, and drove home the point one more time before He died, that He, their Lord, their Master, their Creator, the Great ‘I Am’, was among them as the One who serves.  (See Luke 22:27)

The successful servant, does that sound like an oxymoron to you, a contradiction in terms?  In God’s Dictionary, it isn’t!  Husbands, Fathers, Elders, Deacons, Preachers, in God’s ‘Dictionary’, it isn’t!  Open it up – house Wives, Mothers, Sunday School Teachers, open it up, this ‘Dictionary’, and next to the word ‘success’, first entry is the word ‘servant’… 

But, let’s go just a bit further with this, shall we?  What does it mean to be a ‘successful servant’?  What does one look like?  What are his or her qualities or characteristics?  Let me give you a quick list, how about it?  Do you want to be a ‘successful servant’?  Successful in this, Word-of-God-defined way?  Here’s what you must ask the Lord Jesus to do in your life, to make of your life, to accomplish through your life: this prayer, “Lord, increase my faithfulness; Lord, increase my willingness; Lord, increase my giftedness; Lord, increase my kindness; Lord, please make me a successful servant!” 

A successful servant, that’s what Joseph was, in all of these ways, and certainly, along with many other important roles like Savior and Great High Priest, that’s what Jesus was and is!  But are you, and am I? 

The successful servant, the one to whom the master can hand over increasing levels of responsibility, he is that way, becomes that way, how?  Why?  Because he is faithful!  Because he is trustworthy!  The apostle Paul, in a great passage on the subject of servant-hood, and the related topic of stewardship, said it like this: “It is required,” not optional, not ‘don’t have to, if you  don’t want to’, but “it is required,” you must, if you’re going to be a steward, someone entrusted with what belongs to someone else, if you’re going to be a steward, “it is required that you be faithful…”  (See 1 Corinthians 4:2)

Jesus put it this way: He drew the line of demarcation between successful and unsuccessful servants this way, remember?  The good servant, the servant the master commends, is what kind of servant?  “Well done, good and faithful servant…”  God, I want to be a successful servant.  Would you, please, cause me to grow, to flourish, to increase in faithfulness!  I don’t want to be entrusted with only one, measly, portion of what is Yours!  No, please cause me to grow in faithfulness, that I might be entrusted with more and more of what is Yours!  How about that for a prayer for the remaining 350 days of this year? 

Then, there’s willingness.  The word is not used specifically in this text of Joseph, but it’s there, believe me, between the lines, it’s there.  Imagine the conversation between Potiphar and Joseph, the first day Joseph is on the job.  ‘Young man, since you are min, my property, I expect you to do whatever I say, no questions asked. So, for starters, I want you to polish my armor, and mop the floors of my house.  Any questions?’  ‘Yes, sir.  When’s my coke break?  And, sir, couldn’t you think of something a little easier, a little les, you know, ‘yucky’ than polishing and mopping?’  From what I read both through the lines and between the lines of this passage, I don’t think such a conversation occurred, do you?  Joseph succeeded as a servant because of his willingness!  Jesus, the Ultimate Servant, described His role, His goal, His aim as His Father’s envoy, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49).  “I must do the will of Him who sent Me and finish HIS work!” (John 4:34, 6:38)  “Lord, increase my willingness.  This year, I want to be a successful servant!  God, please cause me to grow in willingness!”

Then, there’s giftedness and kindness.  Again, Joseph sets an example before us, that finds ultimate expression in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  There are several more things we could say about these qualities and characteristics of successful servants, but, let me bring it around to one more significant quality.  We don’t have time to read the passage in its entirety, so, your assignment for this afternoon is to read and examine Genesis chapters 40 and 41 to see the details of what I’m going to summarize for you here.  Genesis 40 – 41: It’s almost stunning to me to see it.  In both Pharaoh’s dungeon, his royal prison, and in his palace, God – the One true and Living God – was trying to make Himself known, He was attempting o show pagan Egyptians that He was, is, alive and that He speaks powerfully.  Pharaoh’s butler, Pharaoh’s baker, and then, Pharaoh himself, all three of them had dreams.  God was speaking to each one of them in their sleep, trying to show them that He is, that He lives and that He speaks, to men. 

However, there’s one big problem.  The butler, the baker, Pharaoh; none of them understood what the dreams meant.  And, in the palace, Pharaoh - who had wise men, and astrologers, and fortune tellers, coming out his ears - none of them could figure out the dreams either.  But God, the One, True and Living God, who speaks, who wants to communicate, yes, even with pagans, had a servant.  His name was Joseph.  And what did Joseph do?  He did what every successful servant of the Lord does.  He said, ‘God, speak to them through me…’  He allowed the Living God, the God who DOES speak, to speak His Word through him!  (See the meaning of the name Pharaoh gave Joseph in Genesis 41:45, “God lives and speaks”.)

How did Joseph do it?  Six words, we’ve seen it before in Genesis 39, and the same is true in Genesis 40 and 41.  Six words, and two principles, that are regularly at work in every successful servant of the Lord.  What are those words?  What are those principles?  Mark them down one more time, will you?  God-with-us: the ‘Emmanuel Principle’.  And, Joseph-honored-God: the ‘Honor Principle’.  What made Joseph the successful servant, faithful, willing, gifted, kind, that he was?  God was with Him.  The Spirit of the One, True and Living God was IN him.  And, as he honored God, in the pit of slavery, in the prison and, yes, even in Pharaoh’s palace, God spoke through him to people who otherwise might never have known that there is a God in heaven who lives and who speaks. 

How do you measure success, how do you define it?  God’s word for it is this: serve.  Servant.

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