What is a servant?
For most people in the so-called ‘West’ house-servants are not part of our daily experience. But when I visit India or Africa servants are very evident and indeed are often treated as part of the family. They live in the home of the family they serve or in a house in the surrounding grounds, and are trusted to look after the children as if they were their own. Yet, however well treated, they know their place at the beck and call of the master.
When seeking to hire a servant what characteristics might an employer look for? Let’s take our cue from Joseph.
Joseph – a model
After his brothers had sold Joseph into Egypt out of jealousy for the favour he was shown by his father, Jacob, he was taken into the house of Potiphar, captain of Potiphar’s bodyguard. He would have been about 17 years old and clearly an attractive young man, and Potiphar’s wife fancied him.
Gen 39:2 tells us that ‘the Lord was with Joseph’. His master saw this and gave him great responsibility. What were some of the characteristics Potiphar saw in him?
• Trustworthy. Joseph was put in charge of all that Potiphar owned (except his wife). Later, in prison, the jailer committed the charge of the prisoners to Joseph ‘so that, whatever was done there, he was responsible for it’ (Gen39:22).
• Reliable. In the New Testament Paul teaches that deacons should be ‘tested first’ before entrusting them with responsibility (1 Tim 3:10). Joseph was being tested; he was destined for high office and needed to prove himself reliable.
I remember a good friend of mine, Steve Priest, known to many in the family of Newfrontiers churches, had an extended period of unemployment when he first moved to Brighton. Daily he would seek work and when he was unsuccessful he made himself available to serve me. He soon became indispensible! Newfrontiers employed him and he served faithfully for three decades in many ways, most conspicuously recording and duplicating the messages at conferences and Bible Weeks. He was entirely reliable and faithful.
It concerns me that in the current generation reliability and commitment seem unimportant to many. Often people are reluctant to commit to serve ‘in case something better turns up’. This may be seen, for example, when someone allocated a role on a Sunday serving rota fails to turn up. Sadly, there can also be a failure to phone to give the reason or to make an alternative arrangement with someone if it really is not possible to serve.
• Loyal. Loyalty is sometimes seen as an old-fashioned characteristic. But in Gen 39:9 Joseph equates disloyalty to his master as equivalent to a sin against God. In resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife he says ‘How could I do this great evil?’
Disloyalty undermines. In 1Tim 3:8 Paul teaches on the qualifications for deacons and cautions against those who are double-tongued. To present one impression when with a person, but then to speak badly of him behind his back or to gossip, is a mark of gross disloyalty. Loyalty is to be highly prized and pursued.
Such qualities as those above open up a channel of blessing. We repeatedly read that ‘God was with Joseph’ (Gen 39:2, 21, 23) with the result that Potiphar’s household and even those in jail were blessed on account of Joseph (Gen 39:5, 23). Others can be blessed through our servanthood, just as we are blessed through Jesus’ servanthood.
In the last part of this series we will explore the purpose of serving.