What makes a church relevant? Bible Study – Genesis 46: 26-31

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we continued our study in the life of Joseph this past Sunday, we saw more high drama in Genesis 46 — and got some deep insights courtesy of Pastor Scott.

The center of the action is the first face-to-face meeting of Joseph and his father Jacob; the pair had not seen each other in many years — since Joseph was a teenager! In fact, Jacob figured Joseph was dead. But there his son was, in the flesh. And aside from the incredible joy Jacob must have felt was the amazing fact that his long-lost son was about to save him and his entire household.

One key point Pastor Scott noted is the relatively small number of people in Jacob’s household who make their journey to be in Joseph’s care — only 70. Yet from this tiny group over the course of four centuries would become the people of Israel and number 1 million. God sure was up to something!

Then after Joseph and Jacob finally meet and their tears were shed and their embraces were exchanged, Joseph reveals his plan to his brothers: They are to tell Pharaoh that they are shepherds and tend livestock — since shepherds are “an abomination to the Egyptians.”

Huh? That doesn’t seem like such a good thing, does it? But we must acknowledge that Joseph didn’t rise all the way to second in command in Egypt because he’s stupid, either! He has a plan. Joseph knows that when his brothers tell Pharaoh their occupations, it will result in them living in the land of Goshen — which Pastor Scott shared is in the delta of the Nile River. Literally the very best land for crops, and his family will get to live there. The very best of life for them!

And we can also see it’s the beginning of God “setting his people apart.” The Lord doesn’t want Joseph’s family to get too close to Egyptian culture, for the Egyptians do not know the one true God and — like many in the known world at the time — they worshiped every “god” that came down the pike. No, Joseph’s family — the future Israelites — would be set apart.

As Pastor Scott noted, this is where things come into focus for us as we meet the challenge of being “in the world but not of it.” It’s all a matter of how we balance “separation” (pulling away with other believers in church for a time to gain strength and insight for the daily struggles the world throws at us) and “assimilation” (living out our faith where others can see us and be influenced by us).

The rub, of course, is that it can be a tricky balance, and none of us navigate it perfectly. Sometimes we pull away from the world too much and default to “church things” during the week and avoid our interactions with non-Christians to the point that we become anemic witnesses. Then if we assimilate into the world too much, we can adopt way too many of the world’s perspectives that we’re actually compromising on a regular basis — perhaps even to the point that if we were placed on trial for being Christians, a judge and jury couldn’t convict us for lack of evidence.

A difficult balance, indeed.

One of the remedies Pastor Scott suggested that really stood out was that rather than simply improvising this difficult balancing act “as it comes up,” instead — like Joseph — we should figure out a plan. Pastor Scott’s football analogy really hit home, because that’s literally what good offensive squads do: They huddle up before the play, agree on it, and each member of the team knows exactly what needs to be done. Everybody has a special role; and the play works a lot better if each member of the team executes his job. Surely not easy — because nobody’s perfect — but when a football play is executed perfectly, it’s difficult to stop.

In the same way, Pastor Scott added that we practice the craft of taking a breath in (as we huddle together in church) and then exhaling (executing our play as we take on the world and reach non-believers whom God has placed in our lives).

We need to balance both — the separation and the assimilation — as we daily fulfill God’s special mission for us as individuals, and as a church body.

But remember: If we’re fulfilling our individual and collective missions from the Lord in the way he’s called us to carry them out, we’re going to run into trouble. Jesus said the world would hate us for sharing the gospel, which is an offense to the world. (No one enjoys being told they’re sinners and they don’t measure up to God’s ultimate standard.) And sure, it’s no fun to be the object of scorn even if we’re kindly and respectfully sharing the Christian faith — but we can take comfort in that even if we’re scorned and demeaned, the Lord is planting seeds. Nothing is wasted as he works out all our actions — just as he worked out all the actions (even the wrong ones) of Abraham and his descendants — for his good and miraculous purposes.

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