In today’s postmodern, western evangelical church, where often more emphasis is placed on a Purpose Driven Life rather than Gospel driven lives and the pulpits are filled with messages of living our Best Life Now rather than laying our lives down and picking up our cross, it’s easy to see why discernment and understanding of Scripture is lacking. If we’ve stopped preaching the Gospel in our churches, then there’s no more teaching taking place. If there’s no more teaching, then there’s no learning and subsequently can be little to no spiritual growth. Without growth we’re left with a weak body of believers that become confused about what the Word of God actually says. What this creates is a vicious cycle within the church because when the truths of the Bible are then taught, they are perceived as being contrary to the weak or light Gospel that everyone has become familiar with and people therefore reject the truths as being “not what I was taught.” It’s time as the body of Christ that we return to the foundation of the Gospel and begin to realize and understand the sovereignty of God.
In the book of Genesis, we are introduced to the God’s sovereignty through His creation, in His punishment of sinful man via the flood, and in His providential hand in the lives of people. Specifically, we can see God’s providence on display in the life of Joseph. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, had 12 sons, of which Joseph was the 11th and had been the favorite of his father, expressed through the gift of a multicolored robe given by Jacob to his son (Genesis 37:3). With the onset of jealousy, Jacob’s brothers, except the youngest Benjamin, sold him into slavery which ultimately led him into the service of Potipher (Genesis 37:24-36). After being falsely accused by Potipher’s wife, Joseph wound up in prison, but redemption came through the interpretation of several dreams that led him to become second only to Pharaoh in power and authority.
It’s important to note that as Genesis recounts the story of Joseph, multiple times the text states that “the Lord was with Joseph”. It would have been easy for him to look at the circumstances that happened and place blame either on his brothers or God. Likewise, it would have been just as easy for Joseph to take credit for working his way up from prison to a position of power and authority. But Joseph recognized that it was not the working of his brothers selling him into slavery and it was not his own doing that elevated him to his status, it was the hand of God working purposely in all things to bring about His will. Note the following passage from Genesis 45 as Joseph encounters his brothers after his ascension to power under Pharaoh:
5And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. Genesis 45:5-9 ESV
Joseph astutely realized that it was not through the intentions of his brothers that he was sold into slavery, but it was to fulfill God’s purposes to have Joseph placed in a position of power and influence that would save the family of Jacob (Israel) from starvation during the famine. He was keenly aware of this fact and boldly asserted this message to his brothers telling them that they had no control over his life, but it was God and Him alone. Again in Genesis 50 Joseph says:
Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20As 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. 21So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21 ESV
In this second passage Joseph’s reply addresses the emotion that we would normally attach to circumstances such as those that Joseph went through, “you meant evil against me”. Who among us would not see the evil in having our siblings strip us and throw us in a pit and then sell us into slavery? Think about circumstances in your own life. Has something happened in your life that you are sure has a hand in evil? Perhaps someone has wronged you in such a grievous manner that generates feelings of contempt or hatred inside of you towards them because they certainly meant you evil. This passage is extremely important in understanding the sovereignty of God because too often we look at evil that may take place not only in our personal lives, but in the world and we do not fully realize God’s hand to purpose that evil for good, just as He did in the life of Joseph. The entire life of Joseph exhibits the providential nature of God’s sovereignty, yet this is not merely limited to him, it is so with each of us.
The world is inherently evil, but God purposes all circumstances for good and for His glory on the individual scale, but likewise on a global scale. If you understand that, then you can fully realize that the Apostle Paul truly means “all things” in the passage, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 ESV