Advancing the Gospel | Philippians 1:12-18

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Philippians 1:12-18 (ESV)

 

So far, Paul has opened his letter by thanking God for their partnership in the gospel. As partakers with him of the grace of Christ, Paul expressed his affections for them and his confidence that Christ would continue to preserve them in the faith. Finally, Paul concluded his greeting with a prayer for their love to abound more and more.

The apostle now shifts topics by addressing the fruits of his imprisonment. Learning that Paul was imprisoned could easily have shaken the faith of the Philippians, yet Paul desires the opposite. He assures them that, by God’s providence, his confinement was actually advancing the gospel by making Christ known to the imperial guard and encouraging other Christians to be bold in speaking the Word.

THE ADVANCE OF THE GOSPEL // VERSES 12-14

Paul now begins to describe to the Philippians his present circumstances, which of course was being in prison. Paul’s imprisonment must have been quite a trying time for the early church. After all, Paul was the most prominent missionary of the first generation of believers. His contributions to Christianity have been said to only be second to Christ; however, we must be wary of elevating Paul’s importance too high. As Paul clearly understood, he was simply a servant of Christ. He was merely a living offering and testament to the magnificent graces our Lord. Christianity was not built upon Paul, but upon the Savior that he preached! And with such a great Savior, how could the gospel ever cease its advance!  Thus, for the sake of Christ’s glory, Paul reassures the believers that the gospel continued to advance in the midst of Paul’s present circumstances.

Indeed, the advancement of the gospel is Paul’s primary desire. As we remember, although Paul once persecuted the Body of Christ, Jesus revealed Himself as the risen Lord to Paul and making him an apostle alongside the eleven remaining disciples. Thus, he who ravaged the church (Acts 8:3) was given marvelous grace in Christ. The gospel, therefore, was not an intellectual concept for Paul; instead, it was the very “power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The apostle was more than willing to live or die for this message of good news, and its advancement was his highest priority. O’ that we might also have such desires! Too often are we like one who “is driven and tossed by the wind… a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6, 8). At times, the gospel is our most precious treasure, while at other times, we elevate our will as more important than the will of God. May God make us more like Paul so that every desire we have is secondary to our desire to see the gospel advance.

In fact, Paul’s hope in his imprisonment is rooted in its service to the gospel’s advancement. While the word “served” is not present in the Greek (the NASB’s phrasing, “my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” is more literal), the idea is still doctrinally sound. God, in His providence, takes our trials, tribulations, and sufferings and uses them as servants for the advancement of the gospel.

Such providential workings of God can be seen clearly in the life of Joseph, who experienced slavery in Egypt in order that he would rise to second-in-command and save Egypt and his own family from a severe famine. He confessed God’s providence to his brothers after Jacob’s death: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Belief in God’s providence means placing our confidence in God’s promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Martin Luther believed suffering’s key role in God’s providence to be an essential truth not just for daily life but also for the studying of Scripture. John Piper quotes Luther as giving his three rules for studying theology:

“I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself… here you will find the three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm [119] and runs thus: Oratio, meditation, tentatio (prayer, meditation, tribulation)… [These rules] teach you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is: it is wisdom supreme.” (21 Servants, 86)

God providentially brings good out of suffering. We can rest in the comfort of that truth, so long as we remember what “good” God is doing. For Luther, God used his sufferings to give him deeper comfort in the Word of God. For Joseph, God used his sufferings to rescue many from famine, including his brother Judah from whose lineage Jesus would come. For Ruth and Esther, God also used their sufferings to preserve Jesus’ ancestry. For Paul, God used his imprisonment to advance the gospel.

God, therefore, promises to use our suffering for good, but if our idea of good does not align with God’s idea of good, then how can we hope to be comforted? If our heart is set on things other than the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), we will often be sorely disappointed as God advances His own kingdom rather than ours. Yet if our heart is in heaven with God, who is our treasure (Matthew 6:21), we can then find great comfort that God would use us as instruments for the advancing of His kingdom.

To many, this may sound petty, as if God is merely using our trials and sufferings for His own gain. However, what better use could there be of our sufferings? What higher good could be brought from our tribulations? What greater purpose might be gleaned from our hardships? If we recall that suffering comes as a result of sin’s entrance into the world via the Fall, we would behold this for the grace that it is. Our rebellion, both of Adam and Eve and us today, rightfully earns our trials within this broken world. In fact, we do not deserve how peaceful and ordered the world presently is. We deserve to feel the effects of our cosmic treason against the Creator, both directly and indirectly. The miracle, however, is that God would, first, save us from our sins at the cost of His own blood and, second, would thereafter ensure that all of our hardships and sufferings serve the greatest goal imaginable, God’s glory.

If we indeed love God and His purpose, we can trust that He is working out everything for His good, and in that, we will rejoice.

Verse 12 presents the thesis of our text, that Paul’s imprisonment is advancing the gospel. Within verses 13-14, Paul provides two examples of how this is occurring: first, the whole imperial guard is now aware that his imprisonment is for Christ and second, many of the brothers have been further emboldened to preach without fear.

The Whole Praetorium

Paul’s first example of how the gospel is advancing through his imprisonment is that the whole imperial guard now knows that he is imprisoned for Christ. Who are the imperial guard, and why are they a big deal?

The word here for imperial guard is praitorion, which could refer to a ruler’s palace or to the Roman Emperor’s private soldiers, the Praetorian Guard. If Paul wrote this letter from anywhere other than Rome (such as Caesarea, which is the second most common thought), he would obviously then be referencing the local governor’s palace. However, if Paul is writing from Rome, he would then be speaking of the Praetorian Guard. The Praetorians were originally used to protect prominent Roman generals, but Augustus, the first emperor, transformed them into his personal bodyguards. Within a few decades, the Praetorians became a dominant political force in Roman, assassinating Emperor Caligula and inaugurating Claudius only fifteen or so years before Paul wrote this letter. They would continue such patterns until they were disbanded by Constantine in 312 AD. Furthermore, the prefect of the guard would often act as second-in-command to the emperor. Fee offers insight on why Paul’s message reaching these soldiers would give him such pleasure:

One should not miss Paul’s obvious delight in this mild “triumph” regarding his arrest, the same kind one senses at the end of the letter when he sends greetings from “all the saints, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (4:22). While this might be interpreted as a kind of “one-upmanship,” Paul’s concern would be to encourage the Philippians in their own current suffering, resulting in part from their lack of loyalty to the emperor. To the world—and especially to the citizens of a Roman colony—Caesar may be “lord”; but to Paul and to the believers in Philippi, only Jesus is Lord (2:11), and his lordship over Caesar is already making itself felt through the penetration of the gospel into the heart of Roman political life. (114)

Greater Boldness

The second effect of Paul’s imprisonment is that it emboldened other Christians to speak the Word without fear. Obviously, the Roman officials and Jewish authorities were hoping for the exact opposite results, that Paul’s imprisonment would discourage other Christians from spreading the gospel. Unfortunately for Christianity’s opponents, history reveals time and time again the truth of Tertullian’s words: “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed” (Apology, L). Paul’s teacher, Gamaliel, warned the Sanhedrin of this very problem in Acts 5. He recalls two examples of leaders whose revolutionary movements dissipated after their deaths, and he advised that if Jesus was merely a man, His followers would disband as well. Yet Jesus’ disciples only became bolder after His death (because of His resurrection), and the church continued to spread even as the apostles were each imprisoned and martyred. Just as Gamaliel feared, Christianity was not formed around a cult of personality but around the divinity of Christ. The church continued to survive the sufferings and deaths of its leaders because Jesus ultimately is the builder of His church, which He guides by His Word and empowers by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the imprisonment of Paul only emboldened the Christians in Rome. His life displayed what Jesus promised would happen: “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18). Yet throughout his sufferings, Paul repeatedly modeled the power of God in enabling him to bear through such torments. In other words, Paul’s joy throughout his trials was evidence to the believers watching him that eternal life in Christ is worth facing the greatest horrors of this world.

In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the church of Smyrna notes that this is the blessed witness of all the martyrs:

…when they were so torn with scourges, that the frame of their bodies, even to the very inward veins and arteries, was laid open, still patiently endured, while even those that stood pitied and bewailed them. But they reached such a pitch of magnanimity, that not one of them let a sigh or a groan escape them; thus proving to us all that those holy martyrs of Christ, at the very time when they suffered such torments, were absent from the body, or rather, that the Lord then stood by them, and communed with them. (II)

God’s grace in preserving our brothers and sisters through suffering also serves as a reminder to us that His grace will also preserve us when our time comes. May we, therefore, become emboldened to speak the Word without fear whenever we see the Lord standing beside and communing with those who are suffering.

PREACHING CHRIST // VERSES 15-18

These three verses expound upon the effect of Paul’s imprisonment in verse 14. Unfortunately, even though Paul’s sufferings did embolden the other believers to proclaim Christ, not everyone did so from pure motives. Paul explains that some were preaching Christ from love and good will, knowing that Paul’s trial is really all about defending the gospel. Yet there were others who proclaimed Christ from envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition.

That last group can be quite puzzling, especially since proclaiming Christ meant placing a target on one’s back for persecution. We may, therefore, be tempted to wonder what made them envious of Paul’s imprisonment and how they were preaching Christ from selfish ambition. The answer, unfortunately, provides us a further glimpse of the human heart’s depravity.

These verses are the only details we have of why Christ was being preached insincerely. Paul is obviously not placing these people in the same grouping as the Philippians’ opponents (1:28). Since we are left to our own deductions, I would assume that these people had a pharisaical mindset. Just as religious hypocrites would look gloomy and disfigure their faces to get attention while fasting (Matthew 6:16), so this group is probably attempting to appear bolder and more spiritual than Paul. In other words, they may have been jealous of the attention Paul was getting in prison. In essence, this group seems willing to embrace the suffering that might arise from proclaiming Christ, not for God’s glory, but for the elevation of their own name.

If this sounds a bit difficult to believe, simply consider those who sought martyrdom in the early church. While many Christians in the Roman Empire lived in near constant fear of the next wave of persecution, some Christians actually looked to be martyred. Some desired martyrdom because they viewed it as a guaranteed way of entering heaven, which more resembles the Islamic doctrine of jihad than the assurance of salvation in Christ. Others faced martyrdom with the hope of being remembered for their bravery and holiness. Such a mentality is probably why the Polycarp (the martyr mentioned above) was praised by his church for not seeking martyrdom but also not fleeing either.

But does such selfish ambition make these people false teachers?

Technically yes, but certainly not in the ordinary sense. Typically, false teachers are thought of proclaiming false doctrine. Since Paul rejoices that Christ is still proclaimed, their teaching must be orthodox. The problem lies in their hearts, not their words. They are declaring biblical truth, yet they are still false teachers in the sense that their teaching comes from false motives. They may be proclaiming the supremacy of Christ, but they are seeking their own glory in doing so.

We must carefully guard against such a subtle and secret sin.

As a preacher of the Word, this reminds me that I can preach truth for others and still lose my own soul. I can get the technical details of the gospel correct while citing beautiful quotes from godly men throughout history, but if I do so out of selfish ambition, then I don’t truly understand the gospel nor the glory of God. As Thomas Boston laments, “There are many that know the doctrine of the gospel, the history of the gospel, that are mere strangers to the secrets of the gospel.”

But we who labor in preaching and teaching are not the only ones warned. The people to whom Paul refers were likely ordinary Christians, who were proclaiming Christ to whomever they encountered. Acts 8:4 shows us that following the martyrdom of Stephen, many Christians fled Jerusalem and “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” Justo Gonzalez writes that these everyday Christians were also responsible for the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire:

The missionary task itself was undertaken, not by Paul and others whose names are known—Barnabas, Mark, et al.—but also by countless and nameless Christians who went from place to place taking with them their faith and their witness. Some of these, like Paul, traveled as missionaries, impelled by their faith. But mostly these nameless Christians were merchants, slaves, and others who traveled for various reasons, but whose travel provided the opportunity for the expansion of the Christian message. (35)

Most Christians will never proclaim Christ in a sermon from a pulpit, but each of us is called to preach Christ to the dying world around us, to our friends, family, and neighbors. Evangelism, therefore, like the preaching of a sermon, can be done technically correct, while arising from impure motives. This sharing may even yield fruit, but such fruit comes from the grace of God and is not necessarily indicative of our motivations. We certainly can do good works from a sinful heart. Let us regularly examine ourselves then, that we will repent of doing anything for God out of pretense.

And yet another great indictment lies upon many of us today. Such a warning to preach Christ from truth rather than pretense may ring hollow for us because we fail to proclaim Christ at all. The primary cause of this failure is lack of understanding of and/or meditation upon the gospel. If we truly believe that eternal life is only found in Christ and apart from Him is only eternal death, then the good news that Jesus rescues sinners from the eternal consequences of sin is the greatest message imaginable. The gospel proclaims that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), but no one can call without first believing. And no one can believe without first hearing. And no one can hear unless someone first preaches the gospel to them (Romans 10:14). To understand the gospel means also understanding that others need the gospel. We should all, therefore, cry out with Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16)! Repent of silence and proclaim Christ with all boldness.

In spite of some preaching Christ from selfish ambition and because of his passion for the gospel, Paul still rejoices in the proclamation of Christ. This returns us to Paul’s original hope and desire for the advancement of the gospel. The gospel advances wherever Christ is preached. In fact, the gospel cannot progress without the proclamation of Christ. The gospel is good news, and news must be delivered in words, whether spoken or written. Paul, therefore, rejoices in the proclamation of Christ (even when done in pretense) because the gospel is advancing. And if the gospel advances, so too does the glory of God.

May we rejoice as well in the glory of God through the progress of the gospel and the proclamation of Christ.

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Dwelling in Egypt | Genesis 46:31-47:31

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. (Genesis 47:11-12 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of beginnings, Genesis perfectly sets up the story and themes for the remainder of the Bible. After describing creation, humanity’s fall into sin, and the great flood, the narrative shifts onto the family of one man, Abraham. The LORD gave his family three promises: they would become a great nation, possess the land of Canaan, and bless all the families of the earth. Both Abraham and Isaac, his son, died without seeing these promises fulfilled.

Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, had twelve children, and drama ensued. He loved Joseph, the eleventh son, most of all, so the older ten brothers sold Joseph into slavery to get rid of him. By the providence of God, Joseph went for slave, to prisoner, to ruling all of Egypt. Also by providence, God used Joseph to rescue the world from a severe famine, which also gave him the opportunity to be reconciled with his brothers.

With his father and brothers in Egypt, Joseph must now present his family to Pharaoh. The meeting with the Egyptian king is made tense by the Egyptians disdain for shepherds, but God uses Pharaoh to graciously bless Jacob’s family. In turn, Jacob pronounces two blessings upon Pharaoh. We are then told how Pharaoh came to be blessed through Joseph wise management of Egypt during the time of the famine.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read 46:31-47:31 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Genesis 46:31-47:31? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Through Joseph’s shrewd management, he saved Egypt from the famine while also prospering Pharaoh richly. Why does Genesis present Joseph’s actions in a positive light? How do our tithes and offerings resemble the people of Egypt’s tax to Pharaoh? How does the gospel impact our giving?
  3. Our text ends with Jacob demanding that Joseph pledge to bury his body in Canaan. Why was Jacob so adamant about ensuring that his body was carried down to Egypt? Like Jacob, how are you planning to display your faith in God’s promises beyond your own life?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you in obedience to His Word.

The Journey to Egypt | Genesis 46:1-30

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” (Genesis 46:1-4 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Because Genesis is the Bible’s introduction, we cannot properly understand the rest of the Scriptures without knowing this book. Here we learn that God made the world good and created humans in His image, but we rejected God’s paradise, choosing rebellion instead. But God did not give up on us. In fact, He promised a Savior that would one day defeat sin and death for good, and that Savior would come from the family of a man named Abraham.

Although none in Abraham’s family have proved to be the Savior, God miraculously uses Joseph (Abraham’s great-grandson) to save his family. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph went from being a slave, to being a prisoner, to becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Through divine wisdom, Joseph guides Egypt through a devastating seven year famine, and now he beckons his brothers to bring his father Jacob down to Egypt.

Regularly fearful and nearing 130 years old, the journey to Egypt would have been frightening for Jacob, but God speaks to the patriarch, encouraging him to make the journey down to his long-lost son. Just as Joseph, the grain supplier in Egypt, is an image of Jesus being the bread of life, so Jacob’s journey into Egypt is similar to the journey we must all make toward Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 46:1-30 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Genesis 46:1-27? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Jacob responds to the news that Joseph is alive in Egypt by worshiping God through sacrifices. Do you regularly turn to God in worship upon receiving blessings? What does that worship look like?
  3. Even in his old age, Jacob must make the perilous journey into Egypt to meet Joseph and save his family from the famine. How does this journey parallel our daily walk as Christians? How is Judah similar to Jesus in preparing the way for his brothers? In what ways does discipleship help others on their journey toward Christ?
  4. The always fearful Jacob finds peace to die upon reuniting with Joseph. How is this similar to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8? How does the gospel remove the sting from death?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you in obedience to His Word.

Joseph Tests His Brothers | Genesis 44

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” (Genesis 44:16 ESV)

Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. (Genesis 44:33 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

As the first book of the Bible, Genesis sets up the story and themes for the rest of God’s Word. It opens with the account of God creating the world good, but humanity quickly ruins paradise by rebelling against the LORD. In order to save humanity, God narrowed His focus upon one man’s family, Abraham. Though Abraham is called the man of faith, he was not humanity’s savior, nor was his son Isaac or grandson Jacob.

The story now focuses upon Jacob’s twelve sons, particularly Joseph. Being his father’s favorite, Joseph’s ten older brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. As a slave, Joseph displayed the favor of the LORD… until he was wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. But God’s providence worked to move Joseph from prison to Pharaoh’s right hand man. As second-in-command of Egypt and with a severe famine ravaging the world, God ordained that Joseph’s brothers would travel to Egypt for food, meeting their lost brother.

For two chapters, Joseph has tested the hearts of his brothers to see whether they have changed for the better. With Jacob’s beloved son, Benjamin, in Egypt, Joseph is now ready to orchestrate the final test. By framing Benjamin for stealing from him, Joseph gives his brothers a chance to betray one of their brothers again. Most notably, we are able to see the change God has worked in Judah’s heart, when he passionately pleas to be a slave in Benjamin’s place.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 44 and discuss the following.

  1. When Joseph’s servant finds the cup in Benjamin’s sack, all of the brothers tear their clothes in anguish. This quite a change from when they torn off Joseph’s coat and felt no remorse. Likewise, a softened conscience is a distinctive mark of being saved by God. What examples have you seen in your life of God’s work in softening your heart?
  2. When the brothers stand before Joseph for stealing the cup, Judah admits guilt even though they did not steal it. What guilt is weighing on Judah? Why is guilt a blessing from the LORD?
  3. How does Judah’s offer to take the place of Benjamin reflect the gospel? Why is Judah’s speech such an important development in the story of Joseph and his brothers?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you in obedience to His Word.

Joseph’s Brothers Return to Egypt | Genesis 43

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” (Genesis 43:14 ESV)

He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. (Genesis 43:23 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

When it comes to understanding the Bible, Genesis is a crucial book to know. Its first eleven chapters establish how the world was made and why it is now broken by sin. The rest of the book concerns itself with how God plans to fix humanity’s problem of sin. God promises to do this through the family of Abraham. Even though Abraham was a man of faith, he was just as marred by sin as anyone else (and his son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, were the same).

But the narrative now follows the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson. After being sold into slavery by his brother, Joseph rose to a prominent rank as a servant only to be falsely accused and cast into prison. As a prisoner, Joseph was placed in charge of other prisoners, like Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. After correctly interpreting the cupbearer’s dream, Joseph beg him to mention Joseph to Pharaoh, but two whole years passed before the cupbearer remembered Joseph. In a blur of a moment, Joseph found himself removed from the prison, interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, and placed as second-in-command over all of Egypt. But God’s providence is displayed even greater when Joseph’s brothers come before him in Egypt.

Our present chapter deals with Joseph’s brothers’ return to Egypt. We find two major sections of the text. First, the brothers must convince their father, Jacob, to allow Benjamin to travel with them to Egypt. The patriarch’s struggle to entrust his beloved son into the hands of his other sons and ultimately God is a battle with which many of us can relate. Second, the brothers are invited to a lavish dinner with Joseph in Egypt, wherein Benjamin is given five times the portion of his brothers. Here Joseph’s brothers are forced to confront their envy, jealousy, and covetousness, the very sins that caused them to sell Joseph so many years ago.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 43 and discuss the following.

  1. The chapter opens with the brothers needing to return to Egypt, but Jacob is still hesitant about sending Benjamin with them. How does Judah’s answer to his father differ from Reuben’s in the previous chapter? Why might we call Judah a wise leader? Why might we call Reuben foolish?
  2. Jacob eventually realizes that he must let Benjamin, his treasured son,  go to Egypt, trusting God and Judah to bring him home safely. What do you similarly treasure? Have you similarly experienced leaving them in the hands of God and others? What benefit is there in surrendering our treasures over to God?
  3. At the banquet, Joseph gives Benjamin five times the portion of his other brothers. This is meant to test the jealousy which they had for Joseph long ago. How does your heart respond when other receive more from God than you? Why is jealousy such a destructive sin? How can we combat jealousy in our lives?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt | Genesis 42

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us. (Genesis 42:21 ESV)

He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:28 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Genesis, the first book of the Bible, can easily be divided into two main parts. First, chapter one through eleven deal with the shaping of the world as we know it through creation, humanity’s fall into sin, the great flood, and the humanity’s dispersion at Babel. Second, chapters twelve through fifty focus upon Abraham and how God would use his family to bring salvation to all of humanity.

We now follow the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson. After being sold into slavery by his brother, Joseph rose to a prominent rank as a servant only to be falsely accused and cast into prison. As a prisoner, Joseph was placed in charge of other prisoners, like Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. After correctly interpreting the cupbearer’s dream, Jospeh beg him to mention Joseph to Pharaoh, but two whole years passed before the cupbearer remembered Joseph. In a blur of a moment, Joseph found himself removed from the prison, interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, and placed as second-in-command over all of Egypt. In all of these things, God’s providence has been on grand display, but Joseph’s story isn’t finished yet.

Today we learn that the famine struck Canaan as well, forcing Jacob to send his ten older sons to Egypt to buy food. Of course, the men must buy their food from Joseph, who is now an Egyptian noble named Zaphenath-paneah, and although they don’t recognize Joseph, he realizes who they are. Joseph then proceeds to test his brothers, casting them into prison and speaking roughly to them. But all of this is God providentially bringing the men’s guilt over Joseph to the surface that they might find true repentance.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 42 and discuss the following.

  1. Jacob derides his sons for doing nothing when they know that Egypt has food to buy. Of course, their reluctance may have come from a fear of traveling to the land where they thought Joseph was most likely a slave. Similarly, can you think of times in your life when sin caused you to shirk your responsibilities?
  2. God uses Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers to remind them of their bloodguilt against Joseph. Can you think of a similar time when God used circumstances to convict you of sin? When is guilt beneficial, and when it is harmful? What is the ultimately goal of our guilt?
  3. When Joseph’s brothers find their money still in their bags, they are afraid, knowing that they might be accused of stealing whenever they return, and they held God responsible (and He was).  How can you resonate with the men’s fear of God? What is a biblical fear of God, and why is it important?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word. 

Joseph Sold into Slavery | Genesis 37

Week 1 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. (Genesis 37:28 ESV).

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14 ESV)
OPENING THOUGHT

Genesis is the book of beginnings. It opens with eleven chapters that describe the creation of the world, humanity’s fall into sin, the great flood that only Noah’s family survived, and the scattering of humanity at Babel. In the creation account, we learn that God created the world good and even made humanity in His image. We were not content, however, to be made in God’s likeness. We wanted to be God, and so we disobeyed, bringing sin onto the earth. But even in the midst of our sin, God showed grace beyond measure, proclaiming hope that one day sin would be defeated for good. Indeed, these chapters are essential for properly understanding both the Bible and ourselves.

Beginning with chapter twelve, Genesis takes a significant shift in perspective by focusing upon a man named Abram instead of on humanity in general. Through his faith walk with God, the LORD promises to bless him by giving him a son through his barren wife, blessing all the nations through him, and giving him all the land of Canaan. Abraham then dies, only seeing the first of God’s promises fulfilled. The narrative then follows Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, as he attempts to follow God but repeatedly trusts in his own strength instead.

We now come to the fourth and final section of Genesis, which focuses predominately on Jacob’s son, Joseph. As the eleventh of twelve sons, Joseph could have been the runt of his family but was favorited by his father instead. This favoritism ultimately causes Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, leading to one of the most well-known stories of the Bible. Unlike the lives of Abraham and Jacob, Joseph’s life is marked by stunning displays of God’s glory; rather, Joseph’s life is saturated in the providence of God. Although he faces abuse, slavery, and prison, God’s plan is present throughout and ultimately leading to Joseph becoming Pharaoh’s right hand. As we dive into Joseph’s story, may we become more aware of the everyday glories of God around us.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 37 and discuss the following.

  1. A great benefit of reading narratives in Scripture is that we often are able to become aware of our own sin through reading these ancient sins. Do you presently wrestle with any sins present in this chapter (i.e. Jacob’s favoritism, Judah’s greed, the brothers’ unwillingness to reconcile, etc.)?
  2. How does this chapter serve as a stern warning against the dangers of unrepentant jealousy?
  3. Because no sin is ever committed in isolation, Jacob is grievously impacted by his sons’ sin. Can you recall a time when your sin hurt someone else? How might “secret” sins still harm others?
  4. The chapter ends with a cliffhanger, informing us that Joseph’s story is only beginning and that his visions might still become reality. How might this example of God’s providence provide hope for those suffering?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.