In the book of Genesis, there is the incredible story of Joseph. His father’s favorite child, Joseph was hated by his ten older brothers. One day, they threw him in a pit and then sold him into slavery. Joseph was sold to a man in Egypt, who later threw him into prison on the trumped-up charge that Joseph had tried to rape his wife. In a miraculous turn of events, Joseph was plucked out of prison and made prime minister of Egypt. (I’m not doing the story justice; read it for yourself in Genesis 37-50.)
In a beautiful twist of the storyline, Joseph’s brothers have to come to Egypt for food during a time of famine. They have no idea that they are purchasing food from Joseph because of his unlikely position and because of his Egyptian dress. Eventually, he reveals his true identity and tells them that he has forgiven them for selling him into slavery. Showing the incredible work God has done in his heart, he tells them that God allowed his many trials so that he could save many lives during this time of famine.
The story is fantastic, but I want to focus on just a small part of it, a single quote. Once he has revealed his true identity to his brothers, Joseph calls his brothers to come live with him in the best part of Egypt under his reign. When he sends them back to Canaan to get their father, he gives them one piece of advice: “Don’t quarrel on the way!” (Genesis 45:24)
It seems funny that God would think to put this part of the dialog in Scripture. It’s a detail that seems extraneous to the story. Besides, are the brothers really likely to get into quarrels with each other? They just received the shock of their lives and were forgiven of their sins against their brother, who they thought was dead. Wouldn’t this unify them and put all squabbles in perspective?
It would be an unnecessary detail if this story was just a story, but it’s not. The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of Christ and the Church. It is a foreshadowing so that those who lived before Christ could look ahead to the Messiah, and it’s confirmation for those who live after Christ so that we can look back and realize that Jesus’ life and death was God’s plan from the very beginning.
I believe there are over thirty parallels between Joseph and Jesus, but let me just highlight a few. Joseph was his father’s favorite and hated by his brothers, because he told them they would all bow before him one day. His father sent him after his brothers, but they weren’t where they were supposed to be. When he found them, they abused him and sold him for a few pieces of silver. He was later accused of a crime he didn’t commit and placed in the earth (i.e., in the dungeon). Though his brothers thought he was dead, he was miraculously raised out of the dungeon and given the second-highest leadership position in Egypt. There, he had all the authority of Pharaoh and was responsible for the saving of many lives. See the parallels?
Joseph represents Jesus. His brothers represent the Church. Like Joseph, Jesus sends us back to get the others, and His message to us is “Don’t quarrel on the way!”
He knew! He knew what we would do. He knew that as soon as He was gone, we would start to divide and would argue about “who is the greatest” and would be at each others’ throats. And He knew that our squabbling would keep us from doing what He left us here to do. As long as we are focused on what’s wrong with each other, we aren’t doing the work of the Great Commission.
I’m not talking about salvation issues. Obviously, we should speak against those who proclaim a different Gospel than the one Jesus proclaimed. But most of what we fight about as the Church has nothing to do with salvation. Things like how we baptize, whether or not we should raise our hands in worship, which spiritual gifts are still around today, do we drink alcohol or not drink alcohol, are we pre-trib or post-trib…
Sure, these are important issues that we should wrestle with, but we shouldn’t divide over them. Our fighting distracts non-believers from our message. Worse, it hurts our credibility. Our message is a message of love. How can we bring love to those outside the Church if we can’t even love each other? Jesus said:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
We’ve neglected our most powerful evangelism tool. Jesus gave us the formula. If we love each other (our brothers and sisters within the Church), people will know we are Christ’s disciples. Unconditional love is a magnet that draws the discouraged, the disillusioned, the disappointed, the disconnected and the defeated, but we’ve got to walk it before we talk it.
We’re all headed in the same direction, and we’ve all got the same ultimate goal in mind, so we should hear and heed Joseph’s words. What was important for his brothers is even more so for us. If we want to win the lost, “don’t quarrel on the way.”