If you had to sum up the key to success in one character trait, what would it be?
All of these are important, but according to Joseph, they’re not the most important. These are all the outworking of something greater – a biblical understanding of who God is, and who we are not.
Have you heard the term “adulting” today? One website defines it this way: Adulting is the assumption of tasks, responsibilities and behaviors traditionally associated with normal grown-up life, along with the implication that the individual in question does not particularly identify as an adult and that acting as one does not come naturally.
If you’re on social media, I’m sure you’ve seen the hashtag. If Joseph had had an iPhone back in his day, it would have been perfect for a selfie from the bottom of his pit, or perhaps a shot of the tail end of the camel he was tied to as he headed off towards Egypt, sold as a slave by his own brothers. His childhood ended rather suddenly, having his prized robe ripped away and being thrust into a foreign culture.
“Adulting” isn’t when we have to fold our own laundry or figure out what we’re going to eat for dinner. Adulthood is when life dictates we start to take responsibility for ourselves, and our character – who we really are – becomes evident.
When Joseph came out of that pit, his character was revealed. Up to this time, we’ve only seen him as the rather spoiled child of his elderly father, but when life took a different turn, who he was on the inside became evident. He had an unfailing trust and respect for God, and he saw every event as guided by God’s sovereign hand. His greatest character trait was his understanding of who God is, and who he (himself) was not.
In his first encounter as Potipher’s servant, the Lord was with Joseph and the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand (Genesis 39:2-3). When Potipher’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph’s response revealed the defining character trait that brought him success.
Genesis 39:9 – There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?
Joseph knew the sin would hurt Potipher, but ultimately, his allegiance was to God. His integrity (the result of his faith) angered this evil woman, and it landed Joseph in jail, where again, God was with him and caused all things in his life to prosper (39:21-23). He quickly moved up to a place of responsibility.
While in jail, Joseph has the opportunity to help two prisoners. While he could have taken credit for the ability to interpret dreams, he makes it clear, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” His humility (the result of his faith) didn’t get him out of prison for two more years, however.
When Joseph is finally brought before Pharoah, the cupbearer having remembered his ability to interpret dreams, Joseph still takes no credit but gives honor to God no less than three times in their conversation. He wants there to be no doubt about who he serves, and where his success comes from.
Genesis 41:16,25,28 – Joseph then answered Pharoah, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharoah a favorable answer.” … “God has told to Pharoah what He is about to do.” … “God has shown Pharoah what He is about to do.”
Twenty-two years after Joseph entered adulthood from the bottom of a pit, he is reunited with his brothers who did this great wrong to him. It would be understandable if he was angry or wanted revenge, but instead, he readily forgives them, as his defining character trait, his faith in God, gives him the perspective of the sovereignty of God.
Genesis 45:5,7-9 – Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. … God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; … God has made me lord of all Egypt.
Do you want to be successful?
Take a page from Joseph’s story. Did Joseph work hard? Did he live a life of integrity? Did he have the humility to forgive? Did he perform to the best of his ability no matter who was his current master? Did he have natural talents for leadership? Was he kind to those under his authority?
Yes, his life gave evidence of all those character traits, but they were rooted in one underlying foundation. He knew who God was, and who he was not. His faith in God protected him, sustained him, and positioned him for God’s blessing, even in difficult and unfair circumstances.
Success is found in one thing, and one thing alone: knowing and walking with God. Pursuing worldly goals and success while leaving God out of the picture is a recipe for failure. The better goal is to deepen our knowledge of God through His Word and walk confidently in His sovereign plans. Joseph went from the pit to the prison to the palace, not in his own strength, but because God’s hand was upon him. He is God, and we are not.