Giving God the Glory
When Joseph was brought before Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams in Genesis 41:1-36, he did so skillfully and accurately (Genesis 41:25-27). At the same time, Joseph refused to take any of the credit for interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, saying instead that it would be "God [who would] give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16). Though the opportunity was certainly there for Joseph to bolster his own reputation and status before Pharaoh, he decided instead to give all of the credit to God. Why?
The reason why Joseph was so humble in this moment, I think, can be realized by quickly reviewing Joseph’s life. Up to this point, Joseph had experienced a mixture of highs and lows; successes and hardships; good times and bad times. Yet, he had also seen God’s hand at work through all of this. The same God who allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery was the same God who caused Joseph to “find favor” in Potiphar’s sight (Genesis 39:3-4). The same God who allowed Joseph to be thrown into prison unjustly was the same God who had now given him a unique audience with Pharaoh.
In other words, Joseph’s life up to this point stood (and still stands) as an explicit testimony to God’s divine providence. Joseph had learned that whatever success he had was ultimately a gift from God, thus he could not take credit either for the ability to interpret the dream nor for the favorable situation that he found himself in. This was all God’s doing, so God deserved all the credit.
The doctrine of God’s providence teaches us that God is always at work within the world and that He has the final say over life’s outcomes. In other words, the Christian faith is neither fatalistic nor self-actualizing—it doesn’t teach us that our actions don’t matter at all nor does it teach us that they matter infinitely. Instead, it teaches us that God is the one who “may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 14:29).
What might it look like for us to take this doctrine into our hearts? I believe the knowledge of God’s providence ought to work itself out in our lives in at least three ways:
First, the knowledge of God’s providence ought to keep us from being arrogant. When we acknowledge that our natural gifts and abilities have been given to us by God and that He is the one who blesses the work of our hands, it will naturally humble us. When we succeed, we will be deeply aware of God’s provision for us rather than simply taking all the credit for ourselves. This will keep us from pride and arrogance while freeing us from placing too much emphasis on our accomplishments for our hope and identity.
Second, the knowledge of God’s providence ought to keep us from despair. As with Joseph’s life, each of our lives are a series of ups and downs; joys and sorrows. But the doctrine of God’s providence teaches us to trust that God is at work in our lives through difficult times just as much as He is in times of success. As Paul writes in Romans 8:28, "all things work together for good” for those who love God. This truth will free us from despair whenever hardships or failures arise in this life, helping us to see them as opportunities for growth while also teaching us to give ourselves (and others) grace when things don’t go our way.
Finally, the knowledge of God’s providence ought to keep us glorifying God.
At the end of almost every piece of music that he composed, Johann Sebastian Bach would write the initials “S.D.G.” These initials stood for the Latin phrase “Soli Deo Gloria,” which means “Glory to God Alone.” The fact that Bach wrote these letters shows us that he (despite his brilliance) composed not for his own acclaim but for God’s. In other words, Bach was deeply aware that his skills and abilities were a gift from God and he desired that his work and success would ultimately bring God glory.
This same thing will naturally happen for all of us who realize that God is actively at work in this world. Why? Because we will realize that the blessings we have been given have been given to us by Him. We won’t be able to help but to give Him praise and glory and honor.
Like Joseph and like Bach, we will also begin to view our efforts in this life in a completely different way. Rather than anxiously viewing our work as something that will fulfill us or even as something that will ultimately determine the outcome of our lives, we will instead be able to see our efforts as opportunities to glorify God and to bear witness to His work in us. Now we are freed to live for God’s glory rather than for our own.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.