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Steady Leadership Over the Long Haul: Lessons from the Life of Joseph

March 15, 2024

Teacher: John McLeod
Scripture: Genesis 37, 39


  1. Lead Where You Are
  2. Lead with Integrity
  3. Lead with the Future in View
  4. Lead with Confidence in God’s Providence

Introduction to “Follow the Leader(s)”

Is God calling you to be a leader? I’m wondering as we begin our time together if you’re expecting these lessons on leadership to be for you or for someone else.

My goal tonight is to help all of us grasp the truth that leadership is not just something for our future selves. It is for us now.

What do we mean by leadership? Let’s start with a few definitions.

Take 60 seconds and write a definition.

This is what I came up with:

  • Leadership is using your influence, resources, and/or position to effect change or movement in others toward a worthy goal.

I also poked around on the World Wide Web for some example definitions.

All leaders, to a certain degree, do the same thing. Whether you’re talking about an executive, manager, sports coach, or schoolteacher, leadership is about guiding and impacting outcomes, enabling groups of people to work together to accomplish what they couldn’t do working individually.

Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal.

I found a couple of different definitions from John Piper.

Acting and speaking so as to create a following toward a goal.

  • Piper, Ask Pastor John, Episode 25

This one is from an article he wrote on the Marks of a spiritual leader.

“knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power.”

  • John Piper, The Marks of a Spiritual Leader

You’ll notice from these definitions that they are not dependent on age, experience, or position. Leadership is not limited to those with titles or degrees. Sometimes in our church-life, we refer to specific leaders. We have Ministry Team Leaders; we have Home Group Leaders. We sometimes refer to the elders as “leaders.” We have biblical warrant for this from passages like Hebrews 13.

Hebrews 13:7 (ESV) — Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) — Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Many leaders do have some kind of authoritative place or position in our lives. This could be spiritual leaders, leaders in the home (parents or husband), or civil leaders (political or law enforcement).

But, this weekend, generally we are not referring to specific civil or church roles, or positions of authority. Of course, many of the principles we will discuss can be applied in such situations. However, no title or office is necessary to grow in leadership.

Our goal this weekend is that each of you would take to heart the call to use your gifts and influence to lead others toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tonight, we will be looking at the life of Joseph to glean whatever lessons we can to help us lead faithfully and effectively.


I. Lead Where You Are

One of the first things that stood out to me with Joseph as a leader was that he showed leadership in whatever situation he found himself. Though he did eventually find himself in a very powerful position, that is not when his leadership began.

As men, we tend to fantasize about how we would lead if we were in charge.

  • “If I were leading my team…”
  • “If I were in charge of my company…”
  • “If I were leading the church…”

By allowing ourselves to live in the “what ifs” we often miss opportunities we have to lead where we are. Let’s look at some of the occasions for Joseph’s leadership throughout his life.

Throughout this message, I may refer to Joseph’s “leadership” as well as his “service” to others. There are very intertwined throughout Joseph’s life, as well as in ours. Biblical leadership is “servant” leadership.

Joseph as a younger brother

Joseph had a complicated family situation. The narrative begins in Genesis 37 when Joseph is still a teenager.

Genesis 37:1–4 (ESV)

  • (1) Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
  • (2) These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.
  • (3) Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.
  • (4) But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

There’s a lot going on here. We are immediately introduced to some tough family dynamics—birth order; Isaac treating Joseph differently than his other sons; sibling rivalry. I’m not actually sure what to make of Joseph’s bad report. We could read it a couple of different ways. Was Joseph taking advantage of his status with his father to get his brothers in trouble? I don’t actually think we need to read it that way. I think, rather, that Joseph gave an honest recounting of his brothers’ actions which he thought would be of importance to his father.

Either way, the relationship between Joseph and his brothers was difficult. We do try to teach our kids not to be a tattle tale, yet we would want them to tell us if something really concerning was happening with their siblings.

Whatever the sibling dynamics are, Jacob sends Joseph back out again to bring more word about his other sons. Jacob trusts Joseph to give an accurate report.

Genesis 37:12–14 (ESV)

  • (12) Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.
  • (13) And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.”
  • (14) So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

We’re not sure why Joseph is not with his other brothers at this point, but he faithfully serves his father and does what his father asks.

Joseph as a servant

We’re going to fast-forward a bit and catch Joseph at his next post. When Joseph found his brothers, they considered killing him, did wrongfully detain him, sold him into slavery, and lied to their father, claiming that Joseph was killed wild beasts.

Let’s see what happens next.

Genesis 39:1–6 (ESV)

  • (1) Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.
  • (2) The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.
  • (3) His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.
  • (4) So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.
  • (5) From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field.
  • (6) So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.

We don’t know how long Joseph was in Potiphar’s home, but it seems that very quickly Potiphar recognized that Joseph was capable and trustworthy as a leader. Potiphar would have been no slouch as a leader—as the captain of Pharaoh’s guard—and he recognized leadership in Joseph and put him over everything.

The author isn’t merely pointing out Joseph’s work ethic. Moses makes it very clear that what made the real difference was that the LORD was with Joseph.

Ben Garner and I were discussing Joseph earlier this week, and he brought up a great point about Joseph’s leadership. It’s noticeable that Joseph did more than merely “do the things he was told with a good attitude.” He took initiative to the point that his master did not need to worry about anything except for showing up to meals.

This is a good word for our young men (though it doesn’t not only apply to them). Leadership goes beyond mere obedience. It involves initiative, creativity, and problem-solving—all in order to serve others.

Leadership goes beyond:

  • doing your chores assigned to you
  • doing the assignment given to you by your project-manager, even with excellence
  • doing your work without complaining

As we’ll see next, Joseph took these principles into his next “leadership opportunity” too.

Joseph as a prisoner

Even though he served faithfully in Potiphar’s household, he is wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife.

Genesis 39:20–23 (ESV)

  • (20) And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.
  • (21) But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
  • (22) And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.
  • (23) The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.

We don’t know exactly how long Joseph was in Potiphar’s house, but Joseph is in his twenties while he is in prison.

Of all the places we might assume we would have no chance of showing leadership, prison would be one of them.

Yet, even more than in Potiphar’s home, ALL that was done in the prison was due to Joseph’s leadership.

Have you ever considered the challenges you would face if you were wrongfully imprisoned for doing good?

Example: Paul Vaughn, Pro-Life Father of 11 Arrested

About a year and a half ago, a small group that prayed regularly outside of the Carafem abortion business in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, gathered at the facility for what they called a “rescue.”

The focus that March 2021 day was prayer, reading Scripture and singing hymns.

More than a year passed.

Then, at 7am on Oct. 5, the FBI showed up at the home of Paul Vaughn, 55, president of Personhood Tennessee, in Centreville, Tennessee, to arrest him( 

Four federal agents pounded on the Vaughn front door. Another agent walked around the family’s yard and apparently told two of Vaughn’s 11 children waiting for their father to drive them to school that their dad was about to be arrested.

Paul has publicly said that he’s willing to serve God in prison if that’s the end of his appeal.

In Genesis 40, we get a very vivid portrait of Joseph’s leadership in prison.

Genesis 40:5–8 (ESV)

  • (5) And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation.
  • (6) When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled.
  • (7) So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?
  • (8) They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.

This glimpse helps us see that Joseph’s leadership was not cold and calculated, but concerned for the wellbeing of those he had charge over.

It may sound like Joseph’s time in prison was a bit cushy. However, Psalm 105 does not present it that way.

Psalm 105:17–22 (ESV)

  • (17) he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
  • (18) His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron;
  • (19) until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.
  • (20) The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free;
  • (21) he made him lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions,
  • (22) to bind his princes at his pleasure and to teach his elders wisdom.

as the 2nd in command of Egypt

Finally, we see Joseph ascend to power in Egypt. After thirteen years either being in Potiphar’s home or in prison, Pharaoh is now calling. He has had some dreams that needed interpreting, and the cupbearer remembers and brings Joseph to Pharaoh.

Joseph gets cleaned up and comes before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams.

Note Pharaoh’s response.

Genesis 41:38–46 (ESV)

  • (38) And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?
  • (39) Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.
  • (40) You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.
  • (41) And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”
  • (42) Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck.
  • (43) And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt.
  • (44) Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”
  • (45) And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.
  • (46) Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt.

This is quite a post for a 30 year old.

Did you notice that Potiphar, the prison keeper, and Pharaoh all recognized the connection between Joseph’s leadership and the Spirit or blessing of Yahweh on his life.

  • Gen 39:3 - his master saw that the LORD was with him.
  • Gen 39:23 - The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything… because the LORD was with him.
  • Gen 41:38 - Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?

Joseph will end up serving Pharaoh and Egypt for quite some time. It’s easy when we look at great leaders to only pay attention to their prime—to their “second-in-command-in-Egypt” moments. But, we also must consider Joseph as the servant in Potiphar’s house and prisoner as well. These were much less glamorous—even punishing ways to learn leadership.

What about you?

How will you embrace where you are as an opportunity to grow in leadership in the service of others?

Now that we’ve considered how Joseph demonstrated leadership in all kinds of situations, let’s observe how he led with integrity.

II. Lead with Integrity

Look back to Genesis 39. Remember that Joseph here is likely in his late teens and early twenties.

Genesis 39:5–10 (ESV)

  • (5) From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field.
  • (6) So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
  • (7) And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.”
  • (8) But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.
  • (9) He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
  • (10) And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

What do we mean that Joseph led with integrity? He stayed within the Potiphar’s boundaries and within God’s boundaries.

Joseph knew Potiphar’s boundaries.

All was under Joseph’s leadership “except” his wife. It’s important to remember that though Potiphar entrusts much to Joseph, Joseph is still his servant. It’s amazing how quickly the narrative presents Joseph as being set as the overseer over his whole household.

Joseph knew God’s boundaries.

More important than the boundaries that Potiphar set, Joseph is aware of God’s boundaries.

Joseph knew that to give into temptation with Potiphar’s wife would not just be a sin against Potiphar, he knew it would be a sin against God.

Joseph is in a foreign land with foreign gods and foreign customs, yet he holds on to his God’s morality.

Fleeing temptation

We’re not going to read the passage which begins in Gen 39:11, but Potiphar’s wife ramps up her temptation and catches Joseph by his garment to lie with him.

Joseph flees.

Notice: Fleeing temptation had a cost.

We would like to think that fleeing temptation always leads to a better life. Of course, in the ultimate sense this is true. Joseph’s fleeing temptation may have saved his soul.

But, in the here and now, fleeing temptation may lead to more hardship. Joseph experienced a wrongful accusation and an unjust imprisonment as a result of his godly response.

Leading with integrity does not mean everyone around us follows. Joseph was unable to get Potiphar’s wife to follow his path of holiness. She continued to pursue him sinfully.

We must remember that living a life of integrity, and leading with integrity is not always what our employers, friends, or government wants. But we must put wicked ways aside.

Ephesians 4:22–24 (ESV)

  • (22) to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,
  • (23) and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
  • (24) and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Flee sexual immorality

Ephesians 5:3 (ESV)

  • (3) But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

Flee manipulative anger

Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)

  • (31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Flee playing at the boundary of truthfulness and untruthfulness

Ephesians 4:25 (ESV)

  • (25) Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

III. Lead with the Future in View

Joseph seeks improvements in his circumstances

Genesis 40:14–15 (ESV)

  • (14) Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.
  • (15) For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”

Joseph does not have some stoic attitude towards fate or his circumstances. He does look for ways to improve his situation.

Joseph sees what is coming and recommends action

Did you notice in Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams that he didn’t stop with the interpretation?

Genesis 41:33–36 (ESV)

  • (33) Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.
  • (34) Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years.
  • (35) And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it.
  • (36) That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

Joseph went beyond merely interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. He recommended a course of action, precisely because he understood the ramifications of the dreams.

This is bold leadership. Joseph could have been passive here. He could have merely interpreted the dreams and left it to Pharaoh and his advisors to solve the problem.

Leadership looks ahead for danger and looks ahead for blessing.

Joseph also proactively cares for his family’s future.

Genesis 45:6 (ESV)

  • (6) For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.

Genesis 45:9–11 (ESV)

  • (9) Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.
  • (10) You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.
  • (11) There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’

Joseph does not leave it to his brothers or his Father to contemplate what to do. He knows the urgency and persuades them to come to Egypt to come under his care.

Joseph sees with eyes of faith and speaks of God’s deliverance

Genesis 50:24–25 (ESV)

  • (24) And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
  • (25) Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

IV. Lead with Confidence in God’s Providence

Several things stand out when spending much time reading Joseph’s story.

One thing that proved really helpful to me was to see the overall timeline of his life in order to gaze at what living by faith looked like in his life.

Age Events Passage
17 Joseph’s story begins Gen 37:2
  Joseph serves Potiphar  
  Joseph is in Prison  
28 Joseph waits two more years after he interprets dreams  
30 Joseph enters the service of Phraraoh Gen 41:46
37 7 years of plenty  
39 Two years into the famine - Joseph Reveals himself to his brothers  
44 End of 7 years of famine  
56 Jacob dies after dwelling in Egypt for 17 years Gen 47:28
110 Joseph sees Ephraim’s children of the third generation.
Joseph dies in Egypt
Gen 50:22

We’re also struck by Joseph’s profound statements of God’s Providence.

Genesis 45:4–8 (ESV)

  • (4) So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
  • (5) And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
  • (6) For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.
  • (7) And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.
  • (8) So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Joseph sees something that is hard to see. He sees God working for good in the midst of his difficult circumstances.

He even has to comfort his brothers again when Jacob dies, to reassure them that he will continue to care for them.

Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

  • (20) As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Seeing God’s Providence helps us avoid bitterness or cynicism

Maybe you’ve wondered how Joseph did not become bitter at his brothers for selling him into slavery, or how Joseph avoided a pity party when he was thrown into prison.

We don’t know all of his thoughts, nor do we know how consistently or quickly he understood God’s Providence.

But, consider how much the reality that God was using these tragic circumstances in Joseph’s life to save his family from poverty and starvation. Consider how much that knowledge could serve as an antidote to bitterness and anger.

Seeing God’s Providence helps us embrace God’s purposes

God is doing more than one thing at a time. This is one of the most difficult things to remember in the midst of acute suffering or injustice.

Do you have a category in your theology that allows for God to bring difficult things into your path for the sake of doing something good in someone else’s life?

God can of course also bring difficult things in your life for your good. But, in the category of leadership, we often must suffer to some degree in our attempts to lead and help others see and know God more clearly.

Conclusion / Application

What do we need to take away from our look at leadership in Joseph’s life?

  • Joseph led where he was. He didn’t wait.
  • Joseph led with integrity, remembering his boundaries and holding to God’s commands.
  • Joseph led with the future in view. He did not just live for “now.”
  • Joesph led with God’s Providence in view. He remembered that God was doing many things at once.

Practical Reminders

Leadership is not a status or position.

Leadership is not something that is “given” to you by others.

Leadership is not passive. It is actions and words.

Remember Piper’s Definition:

“knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power.”

Biblical leadership towards others will nearly always involve personal sacrifice.

Remembering the Gospel

Jesus as our example and our hope.

Mark 10:42–45 (ESV)

  • (42) And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
  • (43) But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
  • (44) and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
  • (45) For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus not only gave us an example of faithful leadership, but he also gave his life for us. He paid for all our failures of leadership and failures of faithfulness.

We cannot be made right with God through strong leadership, only through humble faith in the one who is the perfect Leader.

We cannot lead people where we are not headed.

Our influence on others has more to do with how we have encountered the sovereign mercy of God than it does our own efforts. We can’t lead people where we aren’t going.

Do you have saving faith and a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? If not, there are many opportunities to place your faith in Christ this weekend.

Follow-up Questions

  1. What do you see, love, or believe that is worth leading others toward?
    • a beauty to pursue
    • a conviction you hold
    • a danger to avoid
  2. Identify some individuals or groups whom the Lord has put in your path that you might lead toward such a goal?
  3. What are the roadblocks which prevent you from exerting more leadership?
  4. What specific actions can you take to overcome those roadblocks?
  5. What part of Joseph’s story and leadership stands out most to you? Why?

Recent Messages

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