The Right Ambition for the Right Promotion
Topic: Character Passage: Genesis 41:1–41:57
If you are a football fan, you probably know the name of Art Monk. Art Monk was a longtime receiver for the Washington Redskins who for many years held the record for most receptions in a single season and all time receptions record and in 2008 was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. As his son, James Monk Jr. came up to introduce his father, he shared that one of the questions he was constantly asked as he grew up was, do you want to be like Art Monk when you grow up?
I think that that would be a discouraging question to grow up with – do you want to be like a world class, cream of the crop, hall of fame athlete when you grow up? There are exceptional, one of a kind, rise to the top kind of people out there – and then there are the rest of us. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be compared with the hyper-exceptional, top of the top of the top, promoted to the pinnacle of success people. Just me. We’ll never be famous, we’ll never write a bestseller, we’ll never be inducted into the hall of fame, we’ll never be promoted to the top of our field. Let’s face it, most of us will live pretty ordinary lives with a few modest successes and our share of modest setbacks.
Up to chapter 41 we’ve been tracking with Joseph pretty well. We know that Joseph is a type of Christ and his life foreshadows Christ in many powerful ways, but we have also found many helpful lessons for our lives through Joseph’s life. He’s had some modest successes but he’s also had some serious setbacks. As he endured the tests of success and sexual temptation and disappointment we have been inspired to follow his example of faith and godly character. But in chapter 41 Joseph’s ship literally comes in and in one day he is promoted from a prisoner in chains to the second most powerful man in the first most powerful nation in the world. Everywhere he goes, people bow to their knees before him. It is a promotion of epic proportion and Joseph is suddenly hall of fame successful. But that can provide a challenge to us as we consider God’s word: how do we rightly relate to and respond to Joseph’s life? What claim does this passage have on our lives? How do we apply the truth of Joseph’s story to our lives?
I think there are two answers to that question. The first is that through Joseph’s life we are reminded of the humbling and exaltation of our Savior Jesus Christ and of our great salvation. And the second is that, I believe, Joseph’s life does provide a call to all believers to have the right ambition for the right promotion. Let’s consider each of these answers.
- We see in Joseph’s life the humbling and exaltation of our Savior Jesus Christ
Jesus said that the scriptures – all the scriptures – speak of him. Our greatest joy is never in seeing ourselves in the scriptures, it’s in seeing Christ! We aren’t Joseph, Jesus is. He is the champion, we are the brothers who betrayed him and sought to put him to death. We are the brothers who need forgiveness and mercy from the exalted One. So at this juncture we see a beautiful picture of the humbling and exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Philippians chapter 2 describes how Jesus, though equal with God, did not grasp at that equality but emptied himself – not of His Godhood, but of the vestiges of power and glory and heaven – and began a humbling descent that reminds us of Joseph’s descent: he became a man, but not a powerful man, not a man of status and position, but a servant, born into a family so poor and without influence that Mary had to give birth in a stable for no other place was open to them. And Jesus humbled himself still further to the point of death – but not a noble, admirable death, but the shameful death of a common criminal on a cross. And there on the cross, though Jesus never sinned, he became sin for us – the cesspool of our sin was poured on his shoulders as if he had personally committed every sin we have committed. And he was humiliated as his heavenly Father turned His face away in repulsion at this sin and poured out on Christ His judgment for all our sin. It was a descent beyond anything we can comprehend.
But Paul goes on to write that “therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.
The image of every knee bowing to Joseph as he went by was a foreshadow of the day when every knee of every man and woman, every angel and demon, would bow before Jesus Christ and confess (some joyfully, some reluctantly) that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We see this picture of Jesus Christ and we are reminded of what it took for God to save us from our sin and what it cost Jesus to save us. And our love for Jesus should burn all the more brightly as we remember what he did to save us. That is the first and most important response to this point in Joseph’s story – that we see Jesus Christ and love him with all our hearts. We aren’t Joseph, we aren’t the Savior – Jesus is! So our greatest joy isn’t finding ourselves in this passage, but in finding Christ.
But there is a second way that I believe we can relate to Joseph, not only in his humbling, but in his exaltation too. A way that our ambitions can be rightly stirred. A way that we can aspire to “be like Joseph when we grow up.” Through Joseph we see that
2. We are called to have the right ambition for the right promotion
This might sound strange, but there is a way in which we are to desire – even make it our ambition – to be “exalted”. The Bible’s call to humility has an upward curve to exaltation that is to motivate us to be humble. So in the passage I just quoted in Philippians where Paul describes Jesus’ humility and exaltation, he says we are to have the same mind or attitude of Christ – emphasizing the humility, but not denying the upward exaltation that humility brings. Jesus says in Matt. 23:12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. He wants us to be motivated to humble ourselves because we know God will exalt those who do. Humility is the path to exaltation.
1 Peter 5:5-6 calls us to a similar “humble ourselves to be exalted” motivation when Peter writes: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…
Jesus and Peter are promising us that if we humble ourselves we will be exalted. It’s a promise. But what does that mean? What kind of exaltation? Does it mean we’ll be like Joseph when we grow up – powerful, in charge of everything, stunningly successful in all we do? It’s a promise, but how is it fulfilled in our lives?
- Talking to a young pastor at the conference. He pastors a small church – I think less than a hundred – and he was sharing that in the last year he has lost 5 families and has two key families considering relocating for job reasons. That hurts. I could relate very easily to him – I’ve been there. But do these verses promise this young pastor that if he humbles himself, he will one day be the pastor of a mega church? Or even a large church? Aren’t there humble, faithful pastors who have labored all their lives in small and struggling congregations? What gives? Is this promise not true?
- For the single mother, struggling to be both mother and father of her child and make ends meet on one salary, does this verse promise that her life of hardship and struggle will one day result in exaltation? If so, what does that look like? Does it mean she will write books and be applauded as a successful single mom and go on a speaking circuit instructing other single moms how to do it? My dear grandmother is 91. She raised her children largely as a single mom, loved Jesus most of her life and worked hard all her life. 20 years ago she had major health problems and now she lives in an assisted living home, barely able to get out of bed. If she is going to be exalted in this life, it’d better come quick cause she doesn’t have much time left.
- How about the faithful, hard working husband who barely makes ends meet and has little hope for a promotion in his career? His children will never introduce him to a large group of people as a hall of fame inductee. He’s just an ordinary, hard working, poorly paid father.
I think you get my point: is this promise true, and if it is, in what way is it always true for the Christian who humbles himself? Some of you might be thinking: the exaltation comes after this life and that is certainly true, but I believe scripture stirs a right ambition leading to a right promotion in this life. Once again, I think we can learn from Joseph. I’m going to share three steps toward the right ambition for the right promotion, but for the sake of time I’m going to spend most of my time on the third.
A. Wait patiently for the Lord’s “due time”
Peter writes that the Lord will exalt the humble in due time. Joseph waited 13 long years for the Lord’s due time. In the end Joseph would declare that the Lord had made him fruitful, but there were many years when he probably thought “futile” described his life better than fruitful.
If you are in a waiting period – embrace all that God has for you in that time. He has a due time – a proper time- when He will lift you up, and exalt you. But He is using that waiting, humbling, “futile” time to work in you and refine you and purify your faith and strengthen your character. It isn’t futile at all. Wait patiently for the Lord’s due time.
B. Declare with boldness the work that God has done through Christ
As Joseph stood before Pharaoh he stood before the most powerful man on earth. And Pharaoh was considered (and considered himself) a god among the many Egyptian gods. Joseph’s God wasn’t accepted in Egypt so when Pharaoh said, “I hear you interpret dreams” it would have been a lot more politically correct for Joseph to say, “I’ll give it a try”. But in verse 16 he boldly declares it’s not in me, God will give Pharaoh the answer. He declares to Pharaoh, there is one true God and He will give the answer.
And then he goes on to tell Pharaoh what God has revealed He is about to do. He’s not asking Pharaoh for permission, He’s not consulting with the Egyptian gods about it. The One True God is going to send 7 years of plenty – that’s the seven fat cows and healthy ears of corn. And then He is going to send 7 years of intense famine. That’s what God is going to do – and the doubling of the dream shows that God it is fixed by God and He will shortly bring it about.
This had all the potential of offending Pharaoh and sending Joseph back to prison – if not to death. But Joseph’s rise to power isn’t a product of him sucking up or saying what everyone wanted to hear. It is the matter of a man brave enough to declare with boldness even to Pharaoh that God is God and He will do what He will do.
We have been entrusted with a message of what God has done and will do: through Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself and all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved for eternity. There is no other way because God has fixed only one name under heaven and earth by which men can be saved. Brothers and sisters we have opportunity to declare with boldness – humbly, lovingly, winsomely, but boldly – what God has done through Jesus Christ.
It was said of Art Monk that his fans never waited for him to make a great play – he was too busy consistently making important plays. Recently the Lord gave me an extended opportunity to share the gospel with someone and pray with them. As I thought about the day I realized that with everything else that I did, that was, by far, the most important moment of the day. You and I may never do something great – but every day we have the opportunity to do something important – to tell people what God has done through Jesus Christ and what He will do for all those who trust in His name.
In the end, this was ever Joseph’s ambition: to be faithful to his God. This chapter isn’t about Joseph, it’s about God. Joseph’s life was centered on the greatness and faithfulness of his God. That should be our ambition as well – not to a position, not to a result, but to be a faithful witness of God’s glorious work through Jesus Christ.
C. Remember that it’s God’s purpose that interprets God’s promotion
Remember at the beginning of Joseph’s story how he has two dreams in which he is exalted so highly that his family, including his father and mother, are bowing down to him? God gave Joseph a vision of how God would promote Joseph, but not why. It was a narrow lense view that simply revealed: you will be great. You will be exalted. But God’s purpose in exalting Joseph wasn’t revealed in the dreams.
When we have a narrow lense view of greatness and exaltation, we will interpret things like becoming the CEO of a company or making a lot of money or becoming famous as being exalted. Business men and women interpret it as being promoted in the company with all the perks that come with it. Pastors and spiritual leaders can interpret it as having large churches, widely listened to or read ministries, and far reaching influence and reputation. Whether it’s worldly exaltation or spiritual exaltation we often just focus on people bowing down and nothing more (we wouldn’t put it that way but deep inside it’s the idea of being important, looked up to, promoted higher than others that we interpret as being exalted).
It’s not until we see the why of God’s promotion of Joseph that we can understand what Jesus means when he says those who humble themselves will be exalted. Of course it finds its greatest fulfillment in the eternal kingdom, but I don’t think that’s all Jesus meant. Joseph was exalted in order to be used of God as an instrument to save the world, including his family. That was the purpose in Joseph’s exaltation. That didn’t show up in the dream, but it shows up now. Look with me at verses 55-57.
And God also used it to move His people to Egypt, where they would remain for four hundred years and God would use their exodus to bring great glory to His name through Moses (who wrote the passage we are reading). This is in Moses view, and it is in God’s purposes. Joseph’s exaltation wasn’t defined by people bowing down to him, it was defined by people being rescued by him.
So what does it mean to be exalted? I submit it has little to do with how we are perceived in this world and much to do with how much we are a part of the work of Christ. The work of Christ is the only enterprise that will last into eternity – all other enterprises will pass away and therefore all other successes and promotions will pass away too. Jesus will be exalted above all things on that day, and those who served His purposes, His kingdom, His work, will find that what they did, because it served the only thing that has eternal exaltation, is exalted too.
Remember Art Monk’s son and the question he was asked? Here is his answer: So to answer the question, do you want to be like Art Monk when you grow up, my answer is I'd rather be like Dad. Dad, thank you for being the man of God that God has called you to be, and for raising me in the same way. As your best friend, as your admirer, as your biggest fan and as your son, I want to tell the whole world that I love you and I'm truly honored and blessed to induct you into the 2008 Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It wasn’t the receptions or the games won or money or famed earned that James Monk defined as great in his father – it was the things that any father can do. So it is with being exalted by Christ. God’s purpose interprets His promotion.
It’s the grandmother who humbly prays for her children and grandchildren to come to know and love Jesus. Great –and as she sees the answer to those prayers she will be exalted. It’s the single mom who barely makes ends meet, but models the love of Jesus to her little boy or girl so they grow up knowing that God cares. It’s the pastor like my friend who faithfully ministers God’s word in the face of challenge and discouragement. It’s the person who never does anything great in their lives, but frequently does something important: live a life that witnesses to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
We will never be exalted to the high position that Joseph was, but we can know the true exaltation that Joseph enjoyed – God used him for His saving purposes. Through Joseph God saved the world from physical death. And we can be instruments that are used for God’s saving purposes: through us the message of God’s salvation can be brought to a lost and dying world. And at the end of our lives we will know with satisfaction that Christ used us, and in His kingdom we will hear His words, well done, good and faithful servant. And then we will be given more to do in accordance with our measure of faithfulness. That is promotion. With a purpose.
May the Lord give us grace and humility and courage to have the right ambition for the right promotion. Let’s pray.