Thursday, January 29, 2009

Work and Worship

The Chronological Bible Study has taken us over the last several days through the story of Joseph and his brothers. Genesis 37:1 - 46:9. During our study group last night, one of the men remarked that we see very little of Joseph's "interior life." He meant that we were not able to see into Joseph's mind. This student observed that there seems to be no reference to a prayer life, a worship life, if you will.

Another student commented on how, in these scriptures, we see Joseph working all of the time, except when he is imprisoned in the cistern. Joseph's story opens when he is 17 years old and working for his father. When we see him speaking to his brothers, it is as his father's deputy; his conversations with them take place at the work place - the fields where they tend their father's flocks.

After Joseph is sold into slavery, we see him as Potiphar's steward, in charge of that man's household. The confrontation with Potiphar's wife takes place while Joseph is working and in the workplace.

When he is imprisoned on false charges of attempted rape, we find Joseph not languishing and discouraged but working - running the prison as a deputy of the warden, a job that includes such close relationships with the other prisoners that they confide their very dreams to him.

And finally, we see him working for Pharaoh, and he becomes the most powerful man in Egypt next to the king. He is always working. But we see no prayer, no personal devotions; we see a life of apparently worshipless labor.

As Providence would have it, I listened to Robert Austell's first sermon of the year this morning as I took my walk, his first in a eight-part series. (I had downloaded it to my iPod, but did not get to it until today.) Robert's sermon deals with work and worship, and his thesis is our work is our worship. Robert notes that the Hebrew word for "work" in Genesis is elsewhere translated as "service" and "worship". The work that Adam did in the Garden was, then, a form of worship. (I cannot do Robert's sermon justice, so you should listen to it yourself.)

And so it obviously was with Joseph.

There is, in fact, an insight into Joseph's "interior life" provided in Genesis 39:9, which relates the conversation Joseph has with Potiphar's wife when he rejects her. He asks her, "How could I do such a wicked thing [as sleep with you] and sin against God?"

It is God to whom Joseph sees himself accountable, not Potiphar. An unfaithful worker is unfaithful not to the person who would appear on the outside to employ that worker but to God. Faithful work, then, is faithful worship, and Robert makes the point that this principal applies in all walks of life. We do not need to "see" Joseph's "interior life." We know that it was a rich one, indeed, by how he worked, that is, by how he worshiped.

1 comment:

Kellsey said...

Insightful, Paul. Thank you.