The penitent words of the brothers led Joseph to one of the finest theological points of his life and, indeed, much of Genesis. He told them not to be afraid, for he would not retaliate for their mistreatment of him. “Even though you intended to do harm to me,” he told them, “God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen. 50:20-21). Joseph’s reference to “numerous people” echoes God’s covenantal promise to bless “all families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3). From our vantage point today, we can see that God sent far more blessing than Joseph could have ever asked or imagined (see Eph. 3:20).
God’s work in and through Joseph had real, practical, serious value —to preserve lives. If we ever have the impression that God wants us in the workplace only so we can tell others about him, or if we get the impression that the only part of our work that matters to God is building relationships, Joseph’s work says otherwise. The things we make and do in our work are themselves crucial to God and to other people. Sometimes this is true because our work is a piece of a bigger whole, and we lose sight of the result of the work. Joseph took a larger perspective on his work, and he was not discouraged by its inevitable ups and downs.
This is not to say that relationships at work aren’t also of the highest importance. Perhaps Christians have the special gift of offering forgiveness to people in our workplaces. Joseph’s reassurance to his brothers is a model of forgiveness. Following the instruction of his father, Joseph forgave his brothers and thus verbally released them from guilt. But his forgiveness—like all true forgiveness—was not just verbal. Joseph used the extensive resources of Egypt, which God had placed under his control, to support them materially so that they could prosper. He acknowledged that judgment was not his role. “Am I in the place of God?” (Gen. 50:19). He did not usurp God’s role as judge but helped his brothers to connect with God who had saved them.
The relationship Joseph had with his brothers was both familial and economic. There is no clearly defined boundary between these areas; forgiveness is appropriate to both. We may be tempted to think that our most cherished religious values are primarily meant to function in identifiably religious spheres, such as the local church. Of course, much of our work life does take place in the public realm, and we must respect the fact that others do not share our Christian faith. But the neat division of life into separate compartments labeled “sacred” and “secular” is something foreign to the worldview of Scripture. It is not sectarian, then, to affirm that forgiveness is a sound workplace practice.
There will always be plenty of hurt and pain in life. No company or organization is immune from that. It would be naive to assume generally that nobody deliberately means to cause harm by what they say or do. Just as Joseph acknowledged that people did intend to harm him, we can do likewise. But in the same sentence lives the larger truth about God’s intention for good. Recalling that point when we feel hurt both helps us to bear the pain and to identify with Christ.
Joseph saw himself as an agent of God who was instrumental in effecting the work of God with his people. He knew the harm that people were capable of and accepted that sometimes people are their own worst enemies. He knew the family stories of faith mixed with doubt, of faithful service mingled with self-preservation, of both truth and deceit. He also knew of the promises God made to Abraham, of God’s commitment to bless this family, and of God’s wisdom in working with his people as he refined them through the fires of life. He did not paint over their sins; rather, he absorbed them into his awareness of God’s grand work. Our awareness of the inevitable, providential successfulness of God’s promises makes our labor worthwhile, no matter the cost to us.
Of the many lessons about work in the book of Genesis, this one in particular endures and even explains redemption itself—the crucifixion of the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8-10). Our places of work provide contexts in which our values and character are brought to light as we make decisions that affect ourselves and those around us. In his wise power, God is capable of working with our faithfulness, mending our weakness, and forging our failures to accomplish what he himself has prepared for us who love him.
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