Here, we get to finish our current study of Genesis. We have discovered together that God has given two purposes to His people. First, the people of God are to fill the earth with God’s image through both childbearing and through evangelism. Second, the people of God are to cultivate the earth for God’s glory. We followed the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as they were sanctified by God (as God cultivated their hearts). We discovered that it is God who performs His own sanctifying work in our lives. In response, we are called to obedience in our relationship with God. As we obey God, He continues to cultivate our hearts.

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Part of our purpose is that we cultivate the earth for God’s glory. As we think back to Adam and Eve before their rebellion, this meant tending God’s garden. After their rebellion, it meant cultivating the wild earth. Abraham was promised that the world would be blessed through his descendants. The nation of Israel was given the task of representing God to the world in holiness. Christ came through the nation of Israel and offered salvation to the whole world. The amazing blessing that Christ offers is available. God’s garden today consists not only of Earth’s plant life, but also of the human heart, mind, and condition. If part of our purpose is to cultivate the earth, then it is also to cultivate one another and to make disciples (not just converts) of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Thus, God has a two part mission set out for His people on this earth: for every Christian together to be both evangelists and disciple-makers. As I observe the church today, it seems to me that there is a lack of evangelism and of making new disciples. It seems this way because most churches do not regularly have new believers coming in and learning.

This is odd to me because it also seems to me that Jesus taught of the fields being ready for harvest (Luke 10:2, John 4:35). Why is it that so much of the organizational church today is not fulfilling its mission or accomplishing its purpose? Why is it the case that we don’t see new believers coming to Christ daily? Why do we not see new disciples being made in most of our churches? What is God’s plan, here?

Joseph was the son of Jacob. His brothers sold him because he thought he was better than them. He became a slave, and his master’s wife framed him for a crime when he chose to remain obedient to God instead of to her. As we join Joseph, we find him in prison.

Genesis 39:19-23

When his master heard the story his wife told him — “These are the things your slave did to me” — he was furious and had him thrown into prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined. So Joseph was there in prison.

But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. The warden put all the prisoners who were in the prison under Joseph’s authority, and he was responsible for everything that was done there. The warden did not bother with anything under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him, and the Lord made everything that he did successful.

God cultivated Joseph’s heart

In Genesis 37, we read that Joseph had a couple of dreams in which he was depicted as saving his family and as ruling over them. Joseph was the favorite child (as am I in my own family). His brothers became jealous of him and he did not help by bragging about the dreams that he had. His brothers sold him into slavery because of their own jealousy. Joseph, though, was not a humble character.

As we read through chapter 39, we realize something that is very different about Joseph. He is respectful of others. He is more humble. He is more concerned with obeying God than with what he will receive from God. God is cultivating Joseph’s heart and Joseph is responding in obedience. This is the idea that we have dedicated our time to previously. God saves us, sanctifies us, and calls us to obedience.

Joseph was obedient

Obedience, then, becomes an important theme in the life of the Christian and in the life of the local church. As Joseph obeyed, God prepared Joseph to take part in His plan. We might remember that as we gleaned from Genesis 15, we learned that God already had a plan in place. He spoke with Joseph’s great grandfather, Abraham, and stated that Abraham’s descendants would be in a foreign land. After four hundred years, God would bring Abraham’s descendants back to the land of Canaan to occupy it and to be a blessing to the whole world. God’s plan was already in place. The dreams that Joseph had were prophetic in nature. Joseph would be the one God used to bring Abraham’s descendants into Egypt.

Joseph, first, needed to come to a place where he could lead well, where he had more discernment than he did with his brothers at first, and where he was more humble. God sanctified him. As Joseph responded in obedience, God continued to prepare the way for him. We must notice in our text that it was not Joseph who prepared the way for himself. He did not outwit the prison guard. God gave him favor.

We see this throughout the text of Scripture. God said to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans that I have for you” (Jeremiah 29:11). God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will” (Isaiah 46:10 HCSB). Solomon stated in his proverbs that “The Lord has prepared everything for His purpose — even the wicked for the day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:4 HCSB). Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that God “chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Ephesians 1:4 HCSB). He also wrote to the believers in Rome that God foreknew those who would be His (Romans 8:29). God has all knowledge and works all things together to accomplish what He has purposed.

God gave Joseph favor because it was a part of His plan. God used Joseph’s obedience to prepare Joseph to fill his role in the plan that God already had. Because Joseph was obedient, he was, indeed, prepared.

Does this apply to the life of the individual and to the life of the church? Absolutely, it does! Will God accomplish His work of evangelism and discipleship? Yes. It is a plan and a purpose that He has laid out from the beginning according to His own omniscience. Will we be prepared for the place God has reserved for us in this plan? We might answer our question by asking another: Are we responding to God’s sanctifying work in our lives with greater obedience? If we are not, then we are likely not prepared to take part in the plan that God has.

For instance, if we read in Ephesians 4:29 that we are not to allow any unwholesome talk to come out of our mouths but only what is profitable for building others up, then we go and gossip together and our talk doesn’t build anyone up; we have acted in contradiction to God’s plain instruction and have been disobedient to Him. Will we be prepared for the place that God has reserved for us in His plan? I have a feeling that the reason we don’t see more people and churches taking part in God’s plan of evangelism and discipleship is because they have chosen not to be obedient to God’s instruction and leadership.

This realization forces us into weighty self-examination. If it is the case that we are not seeing God’s general plan regarding evangelism and discipleship work out through our lives, then we have to consider the idea that it may be us who are disobedient. Because of our disobedience, we may be entirely ill prepared to carry on within God’s plan today. Obedience in our lives is key if we want to be prepared to play an active role in God’s plan and purpose.

I might emphasize this again: God will accomplish His plan and purposes without us. It is how He has always operated. I would rather be prepared, always growing in my obedience, so that I might have a place in accomplishing  God’s plan on this earth. I would rather my church family be prepared, always growing in obedience, so that we, as a local church, might possibly be used by God in our day.

I know there is similar sentiment throughout our congregation. If disobedience remains, though, how will we ever be prepared to take part in the plan that God has for our own community and the world? Obedience is a central theme in the life of the Christ-follower. If we follow Christ, we will always be putting off those things in us that cause us to be disobedient toward our Lord.

God made Joseph a cultivator

All of this being stated, I want to fast-forward in Joseph’s life. What was he, through obedience, being prepared for? He was in prison. Two of Pharaoh’s (the Egyptian king) officials, who were also imprisoned, had dreams and Joseph interpreted those dreams. When Pharaoh had a dream one of these officials told Pharaoh about Joseph and Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph was given authority in Egypt. Because of this authority, he saved Egypt and he saved his own family from starvation during a time of famine. He brought his family to live in Egypt.

After Joseph died, the arose a Pharaoh who did not know his name and who enslaved his descendants. They were in Egypt for 400 years before Moses was born to lead the nation back to the land of Canaan, a land where the messiah would later be born and would be a blessing to all nations on the earth.

Everything that happened in Joseph’s life was for the purpose of accomplishing God’s plan. Through obedience, Joseph was being prepared to fill the role that God had for him. As Joseph was obedient, God made Him into a cultivator. In prison, Joseph was able to cultivate the lives of Pharaoh’s officials. Joseph was prepared to cultivate the land of Egypt. He was even prepared to cultivate the lives of his brothers in the way that they needed. God used Joseph in a mighty way. He was prepared by God through his obedience to God.

Considering this, let us examine our own circumstance. Do we observe that we are making a difference regarding God’s plan or not? What is God’s plan? God’s plan, as we have discovered during our time in Genesis, is that the earth would be full of His image and that people would cultivate the earth for His glory. This is what we were created to do. The problem, the hang-up, is disobedience. Sin keeps us from God and it keeps us from being prepared to partake in the plan of God.

Do we get to see people being saved (coming into relationship with Christ) often? Do we get to see God’s image being completed in people? If not, then we are likely not prepared to take part in God’s plan. Why would God use us for evangelism if we are not growing in our obedience? A father would not give a disobedient son a greater inheritance. Do we receive the opportunity to disciple new believers regularly? Has God made us into cultivators? If not, then we are likely not prepared to take part in God’s plan. Why would God ever use disobedient children to train others in the way of obedience? It is nonsensical to ever think that He would.

The good news for us is this: If we belong to God, He is cultivating our hearts. As He cultivates our hearts, He is drawing us into deeper obedience. As we grow in our obedience, God is preparing us for His plan. The Christian faith is not a faith of passivity. It is a faith of action. It is amazing to think that God calls us to specific and particular action in response to what He has done. As we respond in obedience, God gives us a place in the plan that He has set and that He will accomplish.

Jesus confirms this very idea for us as He teaches during His earthly ministry:

“For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one — to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. In the same way the man with two earned two more. But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

“Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

“Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’

“But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

“‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:14-30 HCSB).

It is clear from the words of Christ that those who are obedient to the master will receive a greater stake in the master’s plan and that they will receive the joy of the master. It is also clear that those who are not obedient to the master will lose their stake in the master’s plan, becoming bitter and distraught and useless. Even the phrase that Jesus uses, here, to describe the place of darkness (weeping and gnashing of teeth) is a phrase often used by Jesus to describe eternal separation from God in Hell. This indicates that if we are not growing in our obedience to God, we are likely not in Christ at all even if we present ourselves as a servant.

God sanctifies His people, draws them into deeper obedience, and fulfills His plan in and through them. Let us, then, become more and more obedient. Through this obedience, let us be prepared for what God has in store.

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