Servants are no longer the norm in UK households. With the increase in the costs of labour and the development of household equipment such as vacuum cleaners and clothes washing machines the thought of employing someone to clean and care for the house disappeared from most people’s experience many decades ago.
However, for many reading this blog in, say, India or Africa, servants around the house are very normal. With wages in these countries often being relatively low and the level of poverty quite high, and with no cushion of a welfare state, it becomes a social responsibility to employ people to give them a family income. In many cases such people become almost a part of the employer’s family being trusted with caring for the children, security in the home if the employer is away from his property, and so on.
What sorts of characteristic might an employer expect in his servant? The story of Joseph gives us some good guidelines (Gen 39:4-10, 19-23).
1. Responsible and Trustworthy
When Joseph was taken into Potiphar’s house he was an ‘unknown quantity’. No doubt Potiphar kept him on a ‘short lead’ at first, not knowing how responsible and trustworthy he was. But it is clear from Gen 39:4 that he commended himself to Potiphar as we read that he made Joseph overseer and put him in charge of all that he owned.
In 1 Tim 3:10 Paul tells Timothy that Deacons should first be tested before entrusting them with responsibility. This is a very good principle to observe. By watching people carrying out a simple one-off task you can learn much. If they do it well they can be entrusted with more responsibility, but if not little has been lost by the trial.
When I relocated to Brighton and Hove to serve Terry Virgo in 1981 I soon met Steve Priest. He had moved to Hove for the sake of the gospel. His former job prevented him getting involved in his local church so he took a job in our area with better hours in order to join Clarendon Church (now CCK). However, when he started work it soon became clear that his new employer was dishonest about the terms of employment, and Steve quickly left. Each day he would go to the Job Centre and, having found nothing, he came to help me as a volunteer. This was such a valuable help in those early days! Steve soon made himself indispensible and as I had observed his serving heart, and his total reliability and trustworthiness, we gave him paid employment. In due course he ran the whole of the tape duplicating ministry for Newfrontiers, a formidable responsibility as, with the Downs and Stoneleigh Bible Weeks through the 80s and 90s, ending in 2001, to be superseded by the Leadership conferences, Newday, Mobilise and so on, there was a huge and on-going demand for recorded ministry.
One day when Potiphar was out of the home his scheming wife decided she wanted an affair with Joseph. She looked at him with desire and wanted to have intercourse with him (Gen 39:7). Joseph refused, stating clearly that his loyalty was to his master. Nevertheless, day after day she persisted until a time came when opportunity presented itself to her; only Joseph was inside the home with her. She grabbed him and pulled him towards herself. Joseph tore himself away, but this meant he fled naked. When she screamed it must have looked highly suspicious – the apparent evidence all pointed to Joseph’s disloyalty. And that is what Potiphar assumed, and cast Joseph in prison.
The cost of loyalty can be great; in the eyes of the world it is sometimes seen as a bit old-fashioned. Those we work with are not faultless and we can easily be drawn into a compromising situation. It may not be as extreme as Joseph’s and, in some forms, can appear to be quite innocuous, such as gossiping. But gossiping is disloyalty! One who is loyal should be representing the best interests of his master or colleague at all times. We must all be constantly on our guard.
Next time we shall consider some further characteristics of servanthood.