Summary: Joseph was "up against it" as a captive in Egypt but, God being with him, difficulties and disappointments turned into a "pattern for good".
ALL THINGS WORKING FOR GOOD
St. Paul has some very encouraging words for people who are finding life hard, who are ’up against it’. ’We know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28). The apostle is writing to the church at Rome an exposition of the Christian message. He wants to convey to the believers at Rome that the redemption God has provided is complete, that no aspect has been neglected. The J. B. Phillips’ translation uses these words: ’We know that to those who love God, who are called according to His Plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.’
It’s easy to accept the truth of these words when circumstances are favourable, when life takes on the appearance of being ’heaven upon earth’. When that’s so it costs nothing to say glibly ’everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.’ But anyone with even a little experience of life knows that it isn’t always plain sailing. Life’s voyage has its stretches of troubled waters from which there’s no escape and no short cuts. But the apostle insists that it’s ’everything that happens’ which ’fits into a pattern for good.’ Yes, even those things, which at the time are so distressing, perplexing and hard to bear.
When Paul wrote in these terms he didn’t do so lightly. We’re quite entitled to ask what evidence can be brought to substantiate his words, especially as we’re convinced that the Holy Spirit inspired them. Now here’s the great value of the Bible stories, recorded for our instruction. The characters in them have made their brief appearance on the stage of time, but the lessons they can teach their successors are abiding and it’s for us to reap the fruits of their experience. Then let’s take a page from God’s casebook and see what principles apply in considering Paul’s emphatic words ’we know that to those who love God, who are called according to His Plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.’
The principal witness we shall call upon to give evidence as to the way God over-ruled in his life is Joseph. He’s addressing his brothers, frightened of what might happen to them now that their father, Jacob has died: ’you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good’ (Genesis 50:20). Joseph’s story is so well known that there’s no need to go over the events of his life in any detail except to draw out lessons illustrating the way that God deals with a Christian in his or her personal life. ’You meant evil against me,’ testified Joseph, ’but God meant it for good.’ The first lesson that stands out is that:
GOD MAY ALLOW EVIL TO TRIUMPH
This is something hard to accept, as it often appears that God has forgotten the victim even though he or she is a person of faith. Joseph had bitter experience of this. You remember how that as a result of his brothers’ hatred he found himself up for sale in Egypt and was bought as a slave by Capt. Potipher. The writer records that ’the Lord was with Joseph’ (39:2) so obviously he was a man of faith, and yet God allowed him to be thrown into prison as a result of the lies which Potipher’s wife told about him. What a reward for his faithfulness to his master and determination not to sin!
He had worked so hard, and it has all come to nothing. He’s held to his integrity, and where’s it got him? Is there no justice? What now of any hope of God using his young life? This must have been terribly hard for Joseph to accept at that point of time but from God’s perspective it was quite different. He would have been astonished had he known that the historian would note following this incident ’the Lord was with Joseph and showed him stead-fast love’ (39:21). And yet by the time that Joseph was telling his brothers ’God meant it for good’, he knew that God had been with him. He would certainly confirm what the hymnwriter affirms: ’Ill that He blesses is our good: And unblest good is ill: And all is right that seems most wrong, If it be His sweet Will.’
That’s how the Christian is called on to accept the apparent victory of the forces of evil: to believe that we are surrounded by the steadfast love of God despite every indication to the contrary. A bishop was once called to the scene of a mine disaster. Someone placed in his hands a beautiful piece of embroidery on which the words ’God is love’ had been worked. What could the bishop say? Surely the fact of the disaster contradicted the message and made it a mockery? He held the embroidered words up so the stricken people could see the message that had been so perfectly worked according to a plan. Then he turned the canvass round and all they could see were the tangled ends of the thread, which certainly didn’t seem to make sense at all. This illustrates that God’s plan and God’s work is absolutely perfect and it’s all initiated and outworked in love. But we can’t see it in that way now. All we can see are tangled ends, and yet one day, some day we’ll understand. Another lesson to learn is that: