righteousness

The Righteous

Have you ever wondered why bad things to you? Have you ever questioned God’s goodness? Questioned God’s kindness and love for you? William Cowper was a wonderful English poet and hymn writer who also deeply struggled with depression. Cowper’s poetry helped him process the pain and emotional angst in his life. He did not always understand why his life was so hard; why he felt alone, depressed and forgotten. Cowper lost his mother at the age of six and was sent to a boarding school by his father. He lost his mother and virtually his father in short period of time. Although he never fully recovered emotionally, Cowper came to see that God was with him in the midst of the valley of despair. He wrote this beautiful hymn, God Moves in Mysterious Ways,

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

 

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

 

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

 

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

 

Cowper came to interpret his pain and trials through the sovereign plan and purposes of God.

            Joseph would learn to interpret life the same way. Joseph was stripped of his robe and his special relationship with his father. He was forsaken by his brothers and sold into slavery. The narrative does not also share Joseph’s thoughts, but we can imagine his struggle. I pray that you will interpret the joys and trials of your life through the sovereign purpose and presence of God.

The Lord’s Righteous Servant Rises in Egypt

            Genesis 37:36, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar; an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” The story continues after Moses highlights the sexual immorality of Judah and Tamar with Genesis 39:1-6a,

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

God would use Joseph’s pain and slavery to bless others. God was with Joseph. This is the most important and profound aspect of Joseph’s story. He was a slave in Egypt, betrayed by his family, taken from his father, but the Lord was with him.

            If we only focus on our individual lives, it will be hard for us to see the purposes of God. American Christians tend to struggle with God’s sovereignty in using our pain for the good of His Name, because of the individualism that permeates so much of our society. It is hard to see how much individualism has infected our thinking. If you were to ask a fish, “how is the water?” He would probably respond, “What water?” The fish cannot tell you about water, because he is so familiar with it. It is so intertwined with his life that it is hard for him to see it. This is the challenge facing Western Christians. We live in a society where individualism is to us as water is to a fish.

            When we read Joseph’s story focusing on Joseph, we may miss how God is using Joseph to bring about His purposes. Genesis 39:5, “From the time that he made Joseph overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.” The repetition of the Lord’s blessing is extremely important. Remember Genesis 12:1-3, the great promise of the Bible,

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

Through the offspring of Abraham will come the blessing of all the families of the earth. Joseph’s slavery is bringing the blessing of God to Egypt.

Joseph brings the blessing of God to one Gentile family, as Jesus brings the hope of the gospel to all Gentiles, Galatians 3:13-14, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Your ability to believe in Jesus and experience the blessings of eternal life through faith in his death and resurrection is seen here in seed-form. Do you see how God used Joseph as way not only to bless Potiphar’s house, but you and I as well?

            Do you interpret the things in your life through the plans and purposes of God? God is doing far more through our joys and trials than we realize. Trust him. God’s presence with Joseph in the valley of slavery brought God’s blessing to a wicked nation. As God’s people we can know that when God prospers us as he did Joseph in Potiphar’s house that He is with us. God is with us in our prosperity and our prosperity is not merely for us. It is for those around us. Maybe your promotion at work was primarily not for you, but was given so that you could bless others in need. Maybe the great deal you got on your house was primarily not for you, but was given so that you could be hospitable your church family. Jesus said, “Everyone whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him whom they entrusted much, they will demand more” (Luke 12:48).

            Fight against the water of individualism and see how God is blessing you for the sake of others as he did with Joseph. God uses rise of his righteous servant to bless others.

The Lord’s Righteous Servant Resists in Egypt

            Things are starting to go well for Joseph. He is now in charge of everything in the household and is honored by the master of the house, but Joseph’s righteousness will get him in trouble.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. (Genesis 39:6-10)

Joseph is the only male in the Bible who is described as handsome and good looking.[1] Potiphar’s wife pursues Joseph and commands him to “Lie with her.” Joseph resists temptation in Egypt far different than Judah who was with Israel.

            Joseph resists the temptation to sleep with Potiphar for three reasons. First, he cannot betray his master’s trust since everything has been put in his care. Second, he cannot take his master’s wife, because that would be disobeying his master. Joseph clearly states that Potiphar has given him everything except his wife. (Not all scholars agree, but some believe that the reference to Potiphar’s appetite for food in verse 6 is a euphemism for sex). Lastly and the most important reason, to lie with her would be great wickedness and sin against God.

            The last reason is truly remarkable for there has been no indications in Joseph’s life that he has come to know the Lord. We can assume that he learned of God from Israel, his father, or God gave him further understanding of his dreams, but there is no explicit statement of his trust in the Lord. It is amazing because one would think that Joseph would not want to honor God after trials of his life. How many people do you know who turn from God in the mist of hardship? How often do we see people justify their grasping for pleasure because of hardship? The thought of being entitled to pleasure because of one’s pain is very real temptation. It manifests in numerous ways. “I have had a long hard week of work (pain) therefore I can sleep in our Sunday (pleasure).” Do you ever feel “entitled” to experience sin’s pleasure because of your trials? Again, I would this is a greater temptation for Western Christians because we swim in the cultural sea of comfort and convenience. We think that when life is hard, it is our right to experience ease from that pain. Not all ease is sin, but it is one way the evil one tempts you to sin by encouraging you to take your eyes off of God and place them on yourself.

            Joseph did not feel entitled to sin, but he resisted temptation. Notice that in Gen. 39:10, he had to resist temptation, day after day. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Joseph’s righteousness would bring persecution.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. (Genesis 39:11-20)

Joseph’s righteousness led to prison. Potiphar’s wife calls Joseph a Hebrew slave insulting his race and the position in the house. As Joseph brothers used his robe to lie to his father, now Potiphar’s wife uses the garment to lie to his master.

            Have you ever been persecuted because you tried to do what was right? Joseph foreshadows the One who will resist temptation. Jesus, like Joseph, was innocent of claims brought against him. Jesus was not put into prison, but put on the cross. Jesus willingly laid down his life to be identified with sinners. Jesus endured hostility and lies from sinners like Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife was the unrighteous one, but Joseph was the one punished. But beloved, remember why Joseph was in the house, he was there so that the Lord’s blessing would come to the Egyptians as well as to his own brothers. God would use Joseph to save his brothers and to save Egypt from the famine as God would use Jesus to save his brothers, the Jews, and to save the Gentiles from death.

            Beloved, I am sure you have heard this story countless times to be encouraged to be like Joseph and to resist temptation. And we are called to resist temptation, but the only way we can resist temptation is if we align ourselves with the one who resisted temptation on our behalf.  As Gentiles, we are not Joseph in this story, but Potiphar’s wife. We are the unrighteous, adulterous people who need the promised blessing of Abraham. It is only when we repent of our sins and trust in Christ that we become one with the righteous servant who resists sin. Our Sprit-led repentance and faith bring us to Jesus. We become united with Him. Jesus overcome temptation because of the joy of honoring God and saving us. So now, we look to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. We consider him who endured hostility from sinful men so we will not grow weary or fainthearted. In our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

Christ’s blood was shed so we would be declared righteous. We are righteous because of the mercy of God and only because the mercy of God. Jesus died so that we could be counted righteous. This is the story of Genesis. How can God save unrighteous sinners? The answer again and again is through the righteousness of the offspring of the promised seed, fulfilled in Christ. Beloved, you can resist temptation because of Christ. Christ is our example and Christ has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us the power to overcome temptation. You cannot be like Joseph and resist temptation until you turn to Christ. We must be united with Jesus. Our salvation is not bound up in our ability to resist temptation, but in our union with the One who has resisted it ultimately for us. John Murray writes,

Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ. Indeed, the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ and salvation has in view the realization of other phases of union with Christ.[2]

All of salvation, justification, sanctification and glorification, begin with being united with Christ. Joseph is not our Savior, but foreshadows the great Savior who is to come. Jesus, our Savior, died for our sins and was raised for our hope. If we are united in his death through faith, we shall certainly be united in his resurrection (Romans 6:5).

The Lord’s Righteous Servant Remains in Egypt

            Joseph resisted temptation and was thrown into prison. We may view prison as a harsh treatment of a righteous action, but the penalty of Joseph’s alleged crime was death. We must interpret life through God’s purposes. 

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Joseph story continues, Genesis 39:20-23,

And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.

The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love. God was with Joseph in his rise in Egypt and God was with Joseph when fell from his position in Egypt. Psalm 37:23-24, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”

            God was not done with Joseph in Egypt. God would continue to use Joseph’s trials to bring salvation bringing to be in prison with the king’s prisoners. Beloved, God may keep you in “Egypt.” God may continue to give you tremendous trials and pain, but he has his reasons.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

 

Beloved, God is with you in your joys and God is with you in your trials. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10) Whatever joys or trials come our way, take courage for we have our Immanuel who has given us Himself so that we will always be with him and He will always be with us.

 

[1] This point is made by Wenham who makes the connection that Joseph’s mother Rachel also receives the double honor Gen. 29:17

[2] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 161.

Exceeding Righteousness

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.~ Matthew 5:19-20

Beloved,

How can one exceed the righteousness of a Pharisee?  They lived incredibly moral lives. They fasted twice a week for the nation of Israel. They honored the Sabbath. As the epitome of Jewish faith, they fought to protect the Scripture’s commandments. If they meticulously and diligently strived to honor the Old Testament laws, then what did Jesus mean when he said that unless our righteousness exceeds theirs, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven?

Jesus answers the question by teaching that the weight of the law exceeds the external adherence to the law. True Christian discipleship is not merely following the law, but obeying it from the deeper places within our hearts. Jesus redefines the importance of the Ten Commandments by elevating and enriching them.  One should not murder, but also one must NOT permit personal rage to develop to the point of homicide.  Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law. He pours out the Spirit of the New Covenant. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33) Christ came, not only to change our behavior, but to transform our hearts.

The righteousness of Christ exceeds the external decency of a Pharisee. God doesn’t want merely people who obey his law externally, but desires a zeal within His people’s hearts for good works! Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ places his law within our hearts. Christ came so we would no longer have a righteousness that “comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Phil.3:9) Our righteousness depends on God and what He’s done for us through Jesus Christ.

Beloved, we no longer are under the Law of Moses. We’re now under the law of Christ. We no longer trust in our works to save us, but we have faith in Christ’s righteousness. Our Lord’s righteousness now calls us to complete the law of Christ by living for righteousness from the heart. God cares not only about our actions, but why we do things! He came to transform us, not just our behavior. He came to give us a righteousness that exceeds that of Pharisees, so that we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

For Righteousness' Sake

“Blessed are those who persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

Beloved,

Matt had been unemployed for a year and recently landed an interview with a local company. Matt was selected for the position, but the employer told him that it was necessary for them to pay him under the table so that the company could save money on taxes and insurance. Although Matt desperately needed the money, he chose to turn down the position because his Christian faith was more important. Matt believed righteousness was better than money.  He was willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Christians face decisions every single day that could bring persecution into their life. Whether it is the college freshman who chooses not to drink, or the spouse who refuses to lie on her taxes, or the parents who choose to go to church rather than have their children play in sports on Sunday, they all face decisions that could bring persecution into their lives. Every Christian will one day be faced with a choice to either forsake righteousness or be persecuted. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) The persecution may vary depending on the society. It may be losing the opportunity of career advancement in America or losing your life in Iraq. Although the persecution may vary, the promise of Jesus Christ will never vary or change.
When we face persecution, we must remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God’s people need to resolve to choose righteousness. We do not look for persecution, but when given the choice, we should gladly bear persecution for righteousness’ sake. We may lose things in this life, but we gain the kingdom of heaven. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12) When we remain firm in the face persecution, we are still blessed.
Do not focus on what you may lose, but what you will gain. We may lose everything, but we gain Christ!! Let us consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Take the sure road of blessing by choosing to suffer for righteousness sake.