In the pit of prison, Joseph waits. Day after agonizing day goes on, as Joseph wonders if and when salvation will come. As we saw last week, God’s presence with Joseph is sure. Nevertheless, the struggle of prolonged suffering surely weighs on Joseph in the darkness.
In the face of this suffering, we see, incredibly, not abject despair, but a living, breathing faith. The God who is with Joseph is also trusted by Joseph. This servant of God bears fruit of godliness, even in the pit!
We have a promise of God, as well. In Christ, we know that our end is Heaven and joy everlasting. But as we wait, and especially when that waiting involves suffering, our faith so quickly can be shaken from trusting in God. Yet as we continually look to Him, and what He has done in Jesus, even in suffering we are led to bear the fruits of faith.
Here are three fruits borne by Joseph due to his trust in God.
Love for Others
Joseph is joined in prison by two high-ranking royal officials. The cupbearer and the baker, both close confidants of Pharaoh, are on the outs with their boss, and have been confined to bondage. Recall that God’s presence with Joseph has given him success in the eyes of the prison manager. So, when these two men enter the prison Joseph is charged to attend to their needs.
How would your heart respond, if you were an innocent victim, to two high level officials who are truly guilty? Would you care about them at all? Often, in our sin, we are obsessed with ourselves in the midst of difficulty. We constantly rehearse our plight in our minds on a daily basis, and hijack any conversation to ensure our grievances are aired, and that to the full.
What we see in Joseph, then, shows remarkable evidence of God softening his heart. The two palace officials have both had dreams. To ancient Egyptians, dreams were vitally important phenomena that could portend the future. And, if there’s anyone who wants to know their future, it’s someone on the wrong side of the most powerful man on earth! Alas, these men cannot reach the Egyptian magicians, soothsayers, and other dream-interpreters. Thus, they are distressed. If we’re honest, we probably wouldn’t be too sympathetic to these palace officials. Yet, incredibly, Joseph looks up and asks them why they are distressed! God has worked Joseph beyond petty self-obsession to care for others.
Do you realize that this simple question is the gateway God uses to begin the events that lead to Joseph’s release? So, could it be that, rather than allowing our problems to cripple us and leave us bitter, our minds should focus on our God, and open to others? Who is right in front of you this week?
Confident Use of Spiritual Gifts
1 Corinthians 12 tells us that every Christian has been given “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Yet, doesn’t suffering often threaten to shut down not only our care for others, but our ministry to one another?
Not so with Joseph: we see, having been granted the gift of interpreting the dreams of his prison mates, Joseph carries out that task with confidence in God. In fact, using his gift serves as a testimony to the power and truth of God! By giving credit to God for his work, Joseph makes clear that the officials hope in their occult interpreters is misplaced. He faithfully stewards the ministry God has given him.
When we trust in God, we will be confident to do what he has called us and gifted us to do. But, when our trust fail in suffering, our ministries can sputter. What good things has weak faith stifled in your life?
We must be careful so far that the our example from Joseph is not that we ignore our suffering. Instead, Joseph gives us an example of trust in God in the midst of suffering. If we ignore them, we may come to believe that suffering is normal, or just a part of life. However, our Bible makes it clear that it is not. Trusting in God does not mean we sit back allow pain to consume us, instead, it leads us to strive, with hope, to see the salvation God’s presence assures.
Determined Seeking of Relief from God
Joseph rightly capitalizes on the cupbearer’s pending reinstatement by asking him to help. Joseph explains his case, and asks that the cupbearer would show “kindness” to him and report his plight to Pharaoh. The word “kindness” is the Hebrew hesed, a word normally used to describe God’s unfailing lovingkindness to His people. Such love is , it turns out, not part of the cupbearer’s plan. He fails as a savior. He forgets Joseph, leaving the righteous servant of God to languish in prison for yet another two years.
What do we do when we face such disappointment; not only suffering, but prolonged suffering? Certainly it is not wrong to seek relief in earthly things. God answers prayers, and brings people out of difficulty into seasons of joy and comfort. Yet, there are times He may not. This can confuse us in the Joseph account. Joseph sees an earthly, material change in his circumstances, but we may stay in the pit; even unto death.
So, do we just sit in the dirt and cry? In one sense, yes! We are not to holdback, for God hears us when we cry. Time after time the Psalmist cries out, “How long, O Lord?” in the midst of suffering. Joseph probably let one of those fly as the blade of disappointment sunk into his heart yet again.
Yet, in a more real sense, we do not fear. We mourn, but not as those who are without hope. Like Joseph, we know that God is present, and that God can be trusted.
Do you know that? Do you know the sweetness of the fruit of faith in a God who cannot fail? Yes, we admire Joseph’s faithfulness, but Joseph is only a glimmer of the fruit borne by Jesus. For Jesus bore the fruit of obedience to God in a way that no mere man ever could. Jesus loved others perfectly; people he had no mortal reason to love. Jesus exercised His gifts, and no hesitancy or self-obsession stopped him. Yet, in his case, it was not God’s plan to raise Him to second in command of Egypt. Jesus was thrown into a pit of curse, bearing the punishment we deserve because of our failure to trust in God.
In this salvation, God shows us true hesed; an irreversible promise of salvation. We seek relief from God, knowing what He has already done.
The fruit Joseph bore was love for others, and confident ministry, but the greatest fruit of all is that which Jesus purchased for Him, and for all of us. The greatest fruit, when we are faithful in suffering, is the relief of our suffering in the matchless love of Jesus. So, trust in the one who has worked this salvation for you. Even in difficulty; even though your suffering may not end in this life; God will work in you righteousness, love, ministry, and, greatest of all, an eternal life of glorifying Him.
Questions for Application and Discussion
- Discuss how suffering can “shut down” love for others. What does it say about where our trust is when we live in a self-obsessed way?
- What about God’s faithfulness to His people gives us reason to care for others? Are there Biblical reasons to care for unbelievers? What are they?
- How can God use other people to bring us out of suffering? Think deeper than how they might heal you physically, provide for you financially, or support you emotionally. Where might God be challenging us to engage people we wouldn’t otherwise interact with?
- The Bible says that Spiritual Gifts are for the good of the body. Is that how we usually think of them? How might God use suffering to turn our attention away from ourselves and to serving others? Is the use of Spiritual Gifts optional, depending on our availability? Why do we have so much trouble finding time to serve brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Does “God’s Sovereignty” mean that we must just “grin and bear it,” in the midst of difficulty? How should we respond? Discuss how this affects the advice we give suffering brothers and sisters.
- When should we cry out to God in difficulty? Is He ever bothered by our plight? How do we know He is always working for His people?