Back in 2018, Forbes magazine released an interesting list. It was a ranking of the 75 most powerful people in the world – at least in their opinion. It is a fascinating grouping. As you can imagine the list is dominated by world government leaders with the leader of China, according to Forbes, ranked as the most powerful person in the world. Beyond politicians and heads of government there are also lots of business leaders on the list with Jeff Bezos of Amazon ranked at the top of that group and according to Forbes considered the 5th most powerful overall figure just behind the leaders of China, Russia, President Trump and Angela Merkl of Germany who is the highest ranked female on the list at number 4. You might also be interested to know that the list includes one religions figure, Pope Francis, at number 6 and one sports figure which is the head of FIFA the world soccer organization coming in at number 75 on the list or dead last (though some of us could make a case that the Commissioner of the ACC or SEC would have been a better choice). The oldest person on the list was 91 and the youngest 34 back in 2018 when the list was created.
(The Worlds Most Powerful People, May 8, 2018, Forbes)
Now, what should we make of Forbes’ list? Well first we must say that this list is totally subjective and thus a bit ridiculous so in all truth we probably should not make too much of it at all. However, the Forbes’ list does offer an interesting example of how people define what it means to have power. If you use this list as your guide then people with real power have political influence, a significant corporate position, plenty of money or are at the very least the head of a large international organization with lots of clout. To be powerful therefore is to be at the top of the ladder of an organization, country or at least a person of profound wealth financially speaking.
Truth be told, even without the Forbes list, many of us would define what it means to be a person of power using similar terms. This way of thinking about power would also lead a lot, if not most of us, in this room to conclude that we don’t have power. After all, we don’t lead a country, a major organization or have lots of money. Further many of us are glad this is the case for we do not want the burden of authority, clout or wealth – we are just fine being off the radar, living quiet lives and with no real authority.
This morning, I want to suggest to us that while these are certainly conclusions that any of us naturally reach or come to, I do think that we often sell ourselves very short. I firmly believe that many of us have a lot more power than we think and more power than we want to admit.
I once visited with a friend who went to church weekly with one of the CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. As he spoke about having this gentleman in his Sunday School class, he admitted that it was an odd experience all the way around. He said that on several occasions, he had seen his Sunday School classmate interviewed on some national news program or show during the week only to have him put forward his person next door, just one of the guys, call me Joe, demeanor in church on Sunday. In truth, both perspectives were correct. This gentleman did lead an organization whose logo over half of the world’s population would recognize if they saw it on a truck or on a package. On the other hand, he was indeed just a normal person who had challenges, griefs, parenting questions and a desire to follow God like everyone else in their class at church.
The same is true of us. We are normal people. We do lead normal lives. We are not famous, over large organizations and we don’t have more money than we know what to do with. But, we are people with influence, we are people who can make profound changes in our own neck of the woods and sometimes in the larger world and we are people who have the ability to be used by God, as was Joseph, to do incredible things.
This is another one of those points, where Joseph can be overlooked but where his story is so very helpful I think. For, he teaches us some things about not only the power we all do have but also about how to grow and mature into using it wisely and it is a growing, maturing process for sure. This morning, let me mention the ways that Joseph should change our thinking in this regard.
First, Joseph is a wonderful reminder for all of us that at every stage in our lives, we have more influence, more ability to make a difference than we think. This is a terrific element of the overall story. Once Joseph arrives in Egypt, he lands in three different spots. First, he is a slave of the military figure Potiphar. Then, he is a prisoner in an Egyptian jail. Finally, he is a leader in Pharaoh’s court. Now clearly our text for today presents Joseph as someone who now has power now that he has arrived in direct service to the Pharaoh. One of the most powerful statements in this description of Joseph’s new role is seen in the signet ring he is given would have been used to verify that a document came from him. It was like giving Joseph the authority to sign the Pharaoh’s name.
Yet, here is the thing. Joseph had also been influential as a slave and as a prisoner. In both places, Joseph took his role seriously, tried to follow God, worked to be an ethical person and in both places he made a remarkable impression. In both places, he was given more authority. He did the right things in the face of the temptations of Potiphor’s wife and he helped the baker and cup bearer to interpret their dreams. All along the way, even in two very trying situations, as a slave and as a prisoner, Joseph was a person of influence.
Here is my point. One of the critical decisions we have to make is whether or not we believe that God has placed us where we are right now in this life for a purpose. We have to decide if we matter. We must reach a decision on whether we believe we have influence and power just as we are to be a significant figure in the lives of others. Now, we must pray and think on this subject on our own. But, I am going to go ahead and say that the answer to all of these questions is yes. If we are a follower of Jesus and if we have the Holy Spirit in our lives then God wants to use us with Joseph reminding us that our influence exists whether we are a slave, a prisoner or the Pharaoh’s right hand man. That is a profound thought.
Second, Joseph reminds us that the power that we have comes from God not from ourselves or what we have. Joseph does some amazing maturing from the beginning of his story when he was seventeen. Back then he was annoying because he was so wrapped up in his fancy coat and in what his daddy said about him. When the watershed moment comes, when he successfully interprets the Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph clearly says time and time again that this work he is doing is a result of God working in him, God revealing things, God guiding Pharaoh. Joseph understands that God is the conveyor of his abilities and his position, it isn’t a result of his ability or his position. Now, with all of the trappings of power and wealth clearly around him, Joseph doesn’t seem to be nearly as concerned about things or status symbols. In fact, Joseph never even asks for a position of responsibility in Pharaoh’s service, it is instead a job that is offered completely by Pharaoh to Joseph unexpectedly. All that he has – his ability to interpret dreams and now wealth and a prestigious position – are because of God at work in him.
This leads Joseph to do one final thing well with his power and that is to use it for good and in order to do God’s work in the world. Suddenly, Joseph is amazingly important in the eyes of the world but that doesn’t change how he approaches the job. He has the same approach that he had in service to Potiphar and in the jail. Joseph has this amazing three fold belief – he is there for a purpose , because of God, to do good things for God. This is how he ultimately lives out the remainder of his years in both service to Pharaoh and ultimately to his family when he is reunited with them.
This is the approach to life that honors God today too. What would it look like if this was how we lived? I am here at this point in my life right now for a purpose, because of God, to do good things for God.
Instead, we live in this way, we often think to ourselves, I don’t know if I am where I ought to be or not, but, if I am in the place I should be it is because of my intelligence and skill and I am here to make money, to make a name for myself and to get across my agenda.
And, I am going to say this too. Often times, this is also the perspective of those who claim to be people of faith. Far too many Christians today buy into the idea that we are really where we are because of our own ability and we are here to live out our own agenda. That is definitely not what Joseph does.
One of the great literary figures of the last 100 years was the close friend of CS Lewis whose name was JRR Tolkien. Tolkien gave the world The Lord of the Rings trilogy which may be a favorite of yours or a set of books that you will never read or watch the movie versions of depending upon how you feel about science fiction and fantasy.
At the heart of the stories, however, is a profound moral imperative and Christian idea centered on a mysterious ring. The one who possesses the ring has tremendous power but the temptation is always to let that power go to our head and to use it for all of the wrong reasons. The whole series hinges on two unlikely characters named Bilbo and Frodo Baggins who are elf like creatures called Hobbits with little power. This ring of tremendous power comes into both of their possessions in an unexpected way. First it is owned by Bilbo Baggins and later by Frodo. Again they are unlikely owners of the ring but once they have it, for both of them the question is the same, will they recognize the power they have and will they use it for good or for evil. Over time what the story points out is that others have owned the ring before Bilbo and Frodo but in each case rather than being care takers of the ring for a season, they have all been overcome by its power and unable to resist the temptation to use it for their own selfish ends.
As children of God, we are where we are with the ability to influence lives, to change things to affect our world in positive ways. The question of our entire lives is will we individually recognize our personal, unique significance in this time? Will we recognize that our strength and value is God given and not man made? And, will we use our power, whatever it is, to do good in the world for our God not just for ourselves? If we do, we truly can impact the world around us just as Joseph did. Amen.