Reflections on Success: Part 2 – Challenging Our Idea of Success

By Mark D. Roberts

July 24, 2018

Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master.

Genesis 39:1-2


In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to examine a passage from Genesis 39, in which Joseph is called “a successful man.” The ultimate cause of his success, according to verse 2, was the fact that “the LORD was with Joseph.” Yes, Joseph had ample skills and talents, as the rest of his story in Genesis will make clear. But, at the base, Joseph’s success came from the Lord, who “caused all that he did to prosper in his hands” (39:3).

A man working in the fields.Yet, there is something ironic in the identification of Joseph as “a successful man.” Verse 1 notes that Potiphar, an Egyptian official, “bought [Joseph] from the Ishmaelites.” The next verse identifies Potiphar as Joseph’s “Egyptian master.” Joseph was successful, yes, as a slave. He was owned by another human being who had complete say over his life and livelihood. He occupied a position of low status in Egyptian society and received little if any compensation for his work. His excellence in work benefitted his master, Potiphar. Any benefit for Joseph came only if Potiphar chose to reward him.

The reality of Joseph’s life and work at this time doesn’t exactly match our notion of being “a successful man.” We think of success in terms of position and power. Successful people run their own lives and are doing extremely well financially. The identification of Joseph as “a successful man” challenges our notions of success.

It also encourages those of us who do not fit our cultural ideal of success. If you are not in the upper echelon of society, if you find yourself several rungs down on the company ladder, if your work-life is structured by your organization and your boss, if your compensation is nothing to brag about, our culture says you are anything but successful. The example of Joseph in Genesis 39, however, says you can indeed be a successful person in ways that matter, most of all, to the Lord.

Moreover, if you are someone who has achieved worldly success, this passage reminds you that your success is not something you own for your purposes. Rather, it is a gift from God to be received with gratitude and stewarded faithfully. God has blessed you so that you might be a blessing to others and so that he might be glorified through you.

Something to Think About:

How is your notion of success challenged by the example of Joseph in Genesis 39?

How might we measure success according to biblical values?

Are you successful in your life and work? If so, how is your success informed by your faith? If not, how do you envision success?


Gracious God, thank you for how you blessed Joseph with success, even when he was a slave. Thank you for causing all that he did to prosper. Thank you that Joseph’s success was not, in this season of his life, determined by his position or power but by your blessing and his faithfulness.

Thank you for all the ways you have helped me to succeed in life. Forgive me for the times when I overlook your provision and think that I have done it all myself. Help me to be aware of your presence and provision in my life, and to be thankful for all you have done and are doing for me.

Lord, I do pray to be successful in ways that really matter. I ask that my success contribute to your kingdom work. Most of all, I ask to be successful in your eyes, so that you might be pleased in how I am stewarding the gifts you have given to me. Amen.

This post was originally published on January 19, 2016.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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