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“Shaped in Adversity”

Genesis 40:1-23
Bob DeGray
September 28, 2008

Key Sentence

You are being shaped now for all that God has in mind.


Introduction: Your SHAPE
I. Willingness to serve even in adversity (Genesis 39:20,21, Genesis 40:1-8)
II. Gaining experience in adversity (Genesis 40:9-19)
III. Recognizing God’s confirmations in adversity (Genesis 40:20-23)


An anonymous Christian poet, reflecting on God’s work in people’s lives both in Scripture and in our common experience, wrote the following words:

When God wants to drill a man, and thrill a man, and skill a man;
When God wants to mold a man, to play the noblest part,
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a man,
…that all the world will be amazed;
Watch His methods! - Watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects whom He Royally Elects!
How He hammers him, and hurts him,
…and with mighty blows, converts him
…into trial shapes of clay which only God understands.
While his tortured heart is crying, and he lifts beseeching hands,

How he bends but never breaks, when His good He undertakes.
How He uses whom He chooses, and with every purpose fuses him,
…by every act induces him, to try His splendor out;
God knows what he’s about.

There is hardly a person in Scripture who was not shaped in adversity. There is hardly a person in this room who has not been shaped by adversity, who is not being shaped by adversity. God uses adversity to mold us into people he can use.

Introduction: Your SHAPE

That’s why I like the acronym SHAPE. It originated some years back, at Rick Warren’s Saddleback church. It is used to help people discover where they fit in ministry by discovering how they have been shaped for ministry.

‘S’ stands for your spiritual gift or gifts or gifts. In 1st Corinthians we read, “Each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.” There are a number of different gift lists in the New Testament. And each of us has at least one gift or a mix of gifts which are to be used to benefit others.

I read a good powerpoint recently in which the author taught that ‘It’s easier to discover your gifts through ministry than it is to discover your ministry through your gift.” It’s good to take a spiritual gift inventory or to ask others what your gifts might be, but until you are involved in ministry you’ll never really know.

Next is ‘H’, heart. This is what drives you, motivates you, fires your jets. There are some things that you care about very deeply and others you couldn’t care less about. That reveals your heart. In Jeremiah 24:7 we read “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord.” And Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

It is God who puts godly desires in your heart. The way to discover them is to ask “What do I really long to do? What do I dream about? What commands of Scripture really resonate with me, or even haunt me? When I don’t have a care in the world what does my mind automatically turn to?” You can’t escape the basic interests God has implanted in your life. They make you unique in the body.

A” stands for abilities. One version translates I Corinthians 12:6 “There are different abilities to perform service...” A lot of people think, “Well, I don’t have any real abilities.” But you do. You just don’t recognize them. Researchers have shown that people have between five hundred and seven hundred different abilities. Some are interested in computers. Some are scared to death of computers. Some can sing. Others really shouldn’t. Many here are good with numbers; others are good with words.

You have both physical talents and practical skills that suit you for a wide variety of roles and responsibilities. And these abilities are not there by accident. God gave them for a purpose, and to be used. One translation of 2 Corinthians 3:5 says “Our competence comes from God.” God has given you spiritual gifts, a heart that motivates you and your abilities — natural talents and skills.

The fourth part of your shape is P: personality. Everybody has personality. When we talk about personality we’re referring to three kinds of things: the way you act, the way you think, and the way you feel. And our thoughts greatly influence our actions and our feelings. In Proverbs 4:23 we read, “Your life is shaped by your thoughts...” And personality is very complex. Some researchers identify as many as 18,000 different personality traits. Naturally the combinations are endless, giving you a unique, complex personhood that is part of your shape for ministry.

Number five, but possibly most important, are your experiences. God uses the experiences of your life to help shape you. Romans 8:28 reminds us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” What this verse is saying is that God can use everything that happens to us—the good and the bad. It doesn’t mean that God causes everything—but God can use everything to bring good out of your life. We need to get the most out of the experiences we have had - and those that we are having, even if they are painful.

I. Willingness to serve even in adversity (Genesis 39:20,21, Genesis 40:1-8)

Because God never wastes a hurt. He uses especially adverse circumstances to shape us into the likeness of the Son and prepare us for ministry. That’s one of the key things we see in the life of Joseph He was shaped by his adversity to be used by God in a key moment of history. We looked last week at Chapter 39, in which Joseph responded to both his slavery and his temptation with integrity. He worked hard and smart for Potiphar and he fled Potiphar’s wife.

But as a result, verse 20: “Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined.” He was in a very adverse situation. Still, verse 21: “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” So Joseph became the administrator of the prison, still a prisoner but trusted by the warden will all kinds of responsibilities behind those locked doors.

Joseph had a willingness to serve even in adversity, and to trust that God was still at work even though everything had gone wrong. In terms of SHAPE, he was willing to use his abilities, his God given talent and insight at planning and managing things. Notice that Joseph does not wait until later when Pharoah appoints him as prime minister: he uses the abilities God gives him now. So should we.

Joseph was also willing to use his spiritual gifts, though it was the mis-use of those gifts that had contributed to his descent into adversity. Genesis 40, verses 1-8, the great story in this week’s text: Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. 4The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, 5each of the two men--the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison--had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 6When Joseph came the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. 7So he asked Pharaoh's officials who were in custody with him in his master's house, "Why are your faces so sad today?" 8"We both had dreams," they answered, "but there is no one to interpret them." Then Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams."

The Pharaoh of Egypt was a targeted man. Political and dynastic intrigues frequently led to assassination attempts, both subtle and blatant. So the cupbearer who brought him his meals and tasted them was in a position of trust and responsibility. In the same way the baker, who prepared much of the Pharaoh’s food, had to be trustworthy because the slower and subtler poisons could be used in baking. So one guesses that something bad happened. An attempt may have been made on Pharaoh’s life, and in the heat of retribution both the cupbearer and the baker were thrown in prison, possibly in a sense awaiting trial.

In prison they come under the care of Joseph: two highly placed aristocratic Eygptians under the authority of a Hebrew slave. This appears to have gone on for some time, possibly years, until the night when both the cupbearer and the baker had dreams. Seeing their dejection, Joseph asked them what was wrong.

Verse 8: “We both had dreams," they answered, "but there is no one to interpret them.” Dream interpretation was a big deal, a big part of Egyptian idolatry. There would have been professional, priestly dream interpreters in the service of many of Egypt’s many gods. But the prisoners had no access to any of these interpreters.

Joseph however, knows that God has gifted him with the understanding of dreams. Notice that he never takes credit for this himself: it’s a spiritual gift, not a talent or ability: It’s God working through him. Nonetheless, we might expect Joseph to hesitate to use that gift. The last time, after his dreams of his family bowing down to him, he had aroused such antagonism that he ended up in a pit, in slavery and prison.

The end of verse 8: Then Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams." Joseph is willing to serve God even in adversity. He knows that only God is sovereign, that whoever else they might go to for understanding would probably only mislead them. So he puts his gifts to work and gains experience in exercising them.

The point is that as you are being shaped for ministry you need to not only apply your abilities and talents to the work around you, but you also need to seek opportunities to express your spiritual gifts. If you have the gift of serving, as so many do, then God intends you to serve. If you have the gift of teaching, find even simple places to teach. If you have the gift of administration, call me immediately. God wants us to exercise our gifts, because it is by exercise that we grow strong in them.

II. Gaining experience in adversity (Genesis 40:9-19)

Verses 9 to 19: So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, "In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup and put the cup in his hand."

12"This is what it means," Joseph said to him. "The three branches are three days. 13Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon."

16When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, "I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head." 18"This is what it means," Joseph said. "The three baskets are three days. 19Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh."

The cupbearer told Joseph his dream first, possibly because he was innocent in the incident with Pharaoh. In his dream he saw the source of his work: a vine with grapes to be made into wine for Pharaoh. The vine had three branches, which Joseph will interpret as three days. The cupbearer squeezes out the wine and hands it to Pharaoh, and Joseph says “you will put Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer.”

Notice verse 13: “Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position.” The author weaves this idea of ‘lifting the head’ into the whole episode. It’s a very flexible term, as we’ll see.

Notice also that Joseph is bright: he recognizes the opportunity in this situation: “When all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” That word dungeon is the same word used back in chapter 37 for the pit or cistern Joseph had been thrown into. That pit was unjust, and so is this one.

The baker, who may have been reluctant because of his guilt, was encouraged by Joseph’s favorable interpretation of the first dream and obviously hoped the two dreams meant the same thing. That had been true of Joseph’s first dreams and it would be true of Pharaoh’s dreams. The baker says: “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

It would, of course, have been common in Egypt to carry food in baskets on your head. The relief sculptures on various Egyptian temples and monuments show this being done. But it would not have been common to let the birds eat Pharoah’s bread. That may have been a symbol of the neglect or guilt of the baker.

Joseph says again that it’s all going to happen in three days: “Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.” Not pleasant. Notice word-play: ‘lifting up your head’ and ‘lifting off your head’ differ by only the tiniest bit in the Hebrew, but differ starkly in meaning.

III. Recognizing God’s confirmations in adversity (Genesis 40:20-23)

So Joseph puts his spiritual gift to work in prison; he practices giving the honest truth even when that truth is not pleasant. And God confirms both the gifting and the affliction in verses 20 to 23: Now the third day was Pharaoh's birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh's hand, 22but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. 23The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Joseph’s exercise of his gifts is blessed by God. Three days later Pharaoh throws himself a birthday party, and in the midst of it proclaims his judgments on the cupbearer and the baker. He lifts up their heads - one to be restored, one to die. One can almost imagine the mighty Pharaoh stepping over to the kneeling forms of his two servants and raising one up to embrace but the other in anger.

The cupbearer has been restored to his place, but that does not alleviate Joseph’s adversity. Verse 23 is really the kicker of the chapter: “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” I don’t think he literally forgot him, but that he neglected to put in the good word with Pharaoh Joseph had requested. Perhaps since Joseph was a foreign slave he lost all interest in him back in Pharaoh’s palace.

So Joseph continued in prison, in adversity, and the first verse of the next chapter will tell us that it was two more years he stayed there. The point is that even when we serve God with our spiritual gifts, with our abilities, with our whole heart, we may continue in adversity. The adversity itself is an experience that is serving to shape us, to mold us, to hammer us and chisel us into the forms that God desires.

Scripture teaches that God is the potter and we are the clay: we are vessels being shaped for his use. And just as the clay does not have the right to say to the potter, what are you making, so we do not have the right, as creatures, to second-guess the work of the creator. We need to accept that circumstances beyond our control are working out his will in our lives, whether those circumstances are a hurricane, or the death of a loved one, or the sickness of a friend, or stress in our relationships.

My point is that we’ve been shaped for this point in our adversity: our gifts, our hearts, our abilities, our personality and our prior experience have prepared us to respond as Godly people in this adversity. My other point is that this adversity itself is the experience that will shape and prepare us for future ministry. When God wants to use a man or woman, Scripture shows us his ways: he hammers and hurts, using trial and testing and wilderness in order to form the person into the image of Christ.

Remember, Jesus himself was a humble servant who loved us depite his own adversity. Jesus went through temptation and suffering, rejection and hatred, torture and cruelty and the anguish of the cross for us. So the writer of Hebrews say “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus himself was shaped by adversity and made complete by it, so that having made the perfect sacrifce for sins he could offer salvation from sin to all who believe.

So what do you do with all this? I want to encourage us to do two things: See yourself as being shaped by God in your adversity, and cooperate with it. I think that’s the lesson we learn clearly from Joseph, and it’s a good one. See yourself as being shaped by God in your adversity, and cooperate with it.

We’ve talked about God as the potter and you as the clay. Isaiah 64:8 “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” We’ve talked and visualized the hammer and the chisel, which is not a specifically Biblical usage, but certainly a valid Biblical image.

Another image God uses is the refiner’s fire to purify metals. Isaiah 48:10 “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Malachi 3:2-3 “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. 3He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.”

God is shaping us through adversity. James says that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. But, like Joseph, we are to cooperate with the shaping. In affliction. Joseph used his abilities, his gifts, his personality, his heart, and his previous experience to get him through. We are to cooperate with God’s work in our lives.

We’ve already quoted Philippians 2:13. Let me read it in context: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault.”

One adversity we’re still dealing with is Ike. We’ve been through the storm, some of us with little damage, some with a lot. We’ve lost our electricity, many of us for a short time, some for longer. But we’re still going through the response to Ike, and being shaped by that. We’ve helped our neighbors and people from our body, and their neighbors. We’ve sympathized with those who were flooded, with the elderly who can’t clean up their own yards, with the families down in Galveston.

And these needs are not going to go away quickly. There will be work we can do to show God’s love in a practical way for many months to come. The question us, will we let ourselves be shaped by this circumstance: will we apply our spiritual gifts, our heart, our abilities, our personality, our previous experience to helping others, or will we retreat into normalcy. I believe God is calling us to respond.

But it’s not just Ike: in every area of our lives God is shaping us by adversity, preparing us to serve him, giving us experiences that will combine with our spiritual gifts, our heart desires, our abilities and talents, and our unique personalities to fit us for ministry, whether inside the church or outside these walls. God is using adversity to shape you for his purposes. Don’t miss it.