Just what can we learn from this tale of drama lifted right off the pages of the Old Testament? What cues can we take from Joseph about how we should — and should not — use our words when dealing with family, friends, and other necessary people in our lives?
1. Beware of Bragging — and the Impact Your Good News Could Have on Others
Although for most of Joseph’s life we see him using words wisely and well, many biblical scholars suggest that the young Joseph had a problem with pride. When he relayed his high and mighty dreams to his siblings, it set them on edge. We don’t know what Joseph’s motives were, and we don’t know the condition of his heart, but neither do we read that God instructed him to tell his brothers about his dreams. Still, we can learn something from the consequences of his words to his family.
Sometimes we may have a piece of information that is indeed true. However, relaying that bit of information to someone else may not always be the wisest course of action. Before we open our mouths, we need to think about not only to whom we’re speaking but also what they may be dealing with at the time and how the news might impact them. Did you just find out you are expecting your third child? Fabulous! But if your sister-in-law, who is childless, recently suffered her second miscarriage, then it might be best to hold off on your news for a while — and then consider carefully how you will let her know.
The primary principle is to check your heart and motives before sharing a success or celebration. Also be mindful that — even if your heart is in the right place — how and when you share your news just might put a pinch in another person’s heart, especially if they are sorrowful over the very thing about which you are rejoicing.
2. Say What Honors God, Not What Other People Want to Hear
When Potiphar’s wife was chasing Joseph around the mansion, he knew what she wanted to hear. He also knew that giving her the answer she wanted was the furthest from what God desired. Joseph could have gone along with her little plan and then kept it a secret from his boss, but he knew God was watching.
And listening. He chose to speak words that honored God rather than to please the ears of the person in front of him. Most of us aren’t usually faced with someone wanting us to break the law or do something immoral and against Scripture. However, there are times when answering according to what we know another person wants to hear conflicts with what we know to be true in Scripture. One of the authors of Proverbs writes,
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. — Proverbs 15:28
I certainly know there have been times in my life when my words just gushed out. I knew the answer I gave didn’t please God. But I was so intent on pleasing the person standing in front of me (or on the other end of the phone) that I just started gushing. Unfortunately, what leaked out was wrong.
We must purpose to weigh our answers. Weighing fruit at the supermarket sometimes takes a few minutes of back-and-forth as we add and subtract to adjust the scales. But when we do the same with our words, mulling over our response before it tumbles off the tongue, we have a much greater probability that the fruit of our words will please God. And then? We can trust Him with the consequences. If the other person doesn’t like our answer, so be it. We must make it of greater importance to please the Lord.
3. Realize That Lies Are the Minuscule Snowflakes in a Monumental Snowball
Because Joseph was truthful, he had no need to lie to cover up for what he might have done. Nor did he have to tell even more lies to cover up the first one. Lies must be followed by other lies, and they soon become a giant, rolling snowball, wreaking havoc on everything in its path.
In middle school, I was a pitcher on the softball team. I simply loved to play and wanted to make sure my skills were at their best so I could don my colorful jersey and be chosen as the starting pitcher of the game. So, while my mom was busy at work one day, I went down into my basement to practice throwing pitches, using the middle cushion of the couch as home plate. (This wasn’t fast-pitch softball, obviously.)
My little practice session went well, with most of the pitches landing squarely on the middle cushion of the big brown couch. However, one of them got away and sailed clear out our basement window, taking dozens of puzzle pieces of broken glass with it. Now I’d like to say that when my mom got home from work I told her what happened and offered my sincerest apologies. However, instead, I lied.
My string of untruths soon began to unravel. If only I had told the truth from the beginning, there would’ve been no need to continue twisting words in order to deceive. And my punishment would have been much less than the punishment I got for not only breaking the window, but also initiating a cover-up.
4. Give God Credit Where Credit Is Due
How easy it is to take credit for ourselves. But Joseph’s example shows just how much he learned from the failures of his early, bragging days. Whenever others marveled at his ability to interpret dreams, he rapidly pointed out that it was God who did the interpreting. I wonder how many of us, when receiving compliments from a high government official, would be quick to give all the credit to God. How easy it would be to smile and say, “Oh, it’s nothing really,” rather than declare, “Oh no — it’s all God. Not me. And he is really something!” Joseph knew where credit was due. God gave the talent. God gave the ability. God arranged the circumstances so he could use his talent and ability. And so it was God, and God alone, who should get any credit for the good things that resulted.
5. Watch Your Words in the Workplace
Beyond our immediate family members, perhaps the people we spend the most time with are our coworkers or colaborers in church, community, or school committees. We spend so much time with these people they are almost like family, so it’s easy to let down our guard with what comes out of our mouth. But Joseph didn’t shut the filter off when he was around his working buddies. Whether in service at his master’s house or in the cold dark prison, he watched his words. He knew that how he behaved and what he said reflected on the God he served. This is something we must also keep in mind as we work alongside others who are watching, absorbing, and then determining just what our God is like.
6. Just Because You Have a Reason to Retaliate Does Not Mean You’re Justified in Doing So
Oh boy, if there were ever anyone who had the right to retaliate, it was Joseph! Sure, we might have family squabbles or old wounds that just don’t seem to heal. Perhaps a family member has offended us in the past and now there is a great chasm of silence between us. Maybe someone’s words rubbed us the wrong way and now there is tension whenever we get together as a family.
Scenarios such as this sometimes tempt us to retaliate.
It challenges my heart in the greatest ways to think that Joseph did not retaliate. He had not just been talked about publicly in a negative way or given the cold shoulder by an extended family member — he was thrown away and left for dead! If he can forgive those who did such evil to him, then why, oh, why can’t I step back from the urge to retaliate?
7. Don’t Be God
Joseph went beyond just giving credit to God for the good things and talents in his life. Most importantly, he knew his position — and God’s. When his brothers approached him after their father’s death, begging for him not to retaliate, his answer was quick and clear:
Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? — Genesis 50:19
Then he proceeded to turn a horrid family feud into a timeless tale of forgiveness.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. — Genesis 50:20-21
Even though Joseph surely could have used his position of power to deliver a punishing blow to his brothers, he chose not to. He realized that in God’s divine plan, the evil they intended had instead been transformed into fuel for the fire of good. Joseph didn’t question God or complain. He didn’t take it out on his brothers. He let God be God while he was content to simply be himself: a servant.
8. Do Be Nice
After Joseph announced to his brothers that he was not God, he “reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:21). Talk about turning the other cheek! He not only reassured them of their safety, he spoke kind words, even going so far as to say he would provide for them and their children, which is exactly what he proceeded to do.
What a simple yet significant lesson — one we should all have learned way back in kindergarten.
Simply. Be. Nice.
Did a family member slight you and you are still stewing about it? The next time you’re around them try this: Be nice.
Did the other soccer mom jockey for position on the snack committee, leaving you in the dust? The next time you encounter her on the sidelines, try this: Be nice.
Got a coworker you know who talks behind your back? Don’t lower yourself to their level, adding to the workplace drama. Try this instead: Be nice.
Joseph’s behavior not only inspires me, it reminds me of Jesus. When we try to emulate Joseph’s godly behavior, we are also — in a sense — being like Christ. For example, when we choose to speak words that honor God — rather than massaging our words into what we think someone wants to hear — we follow Joseph’s example, but ultimately we mirror Christ. His words always pleased the Father even when some people didn’t agree or understand.
When Jesus tells His disciples He will soon be going away, it wasn’t what they wanted to hear (John 16:16-18). His companions did not understand (and I’m sure they didn’t agree with the timing), but He knew His death on the cross was the Father’s perfect plan, and so speaking these words pleased God. (And His death on that cross for the sins of the world opened the way to heaven for those of us who believe in Him!)
What does it look like to speak words that honor God, rather than speaking what someone else wants to hear? It may mean speaking truthfully about our views on an issue even if we know the other person’s views are polar opposite and they’d much prefer we agreed with them. (Insert “awkward tension in the air” here!) And our words — though not what the other person wants to hear — must always be delivered with gentleness, respect, and grace.
Watch the Video for Keep It Shut
Excerpted with permission from Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman, copyright Karen Ehman.
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Are you in the middle of a family squabble, a spat with a friend, or in a challenge with a not-nice acquaintance? What aspect of Joseph’s example, and Christ’s example speaks to your situation? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily