The Market Value of Clay
Dr. Jim Denison
There are more than 75 million single adults in our country this weekend. Half of the adults in America are single. In our community, 19% is widowed or divorced, and 32% has never married. In other words, 51% of our total population is composed of single adults.
Yet, despite their overwhelming importance to us, the church typically does not address single adults adequately. We have always struggled to know how best to serve singles through our ministries. I think the root of the problem is simply that the church today doesn’t view single adults properly.
To be completely honest, the common view of relationships within the church is that marriage is best. It’s the highest form of relationship. To be married is to be complete. The counter side is that to be single is to be incomplete, unfinished, less than whole. We may not have said that, but we have certainly implied it.
When we meet an adult we want to know, “Are you married?” If you’re not, we married adults all too easily assume there’s some reason.
Family members can be tough on single adults. Parents want to know when you’re going to get married. Siblings pressure subtly. And your church family can pressure you as well. Books and sermons are written from the perspective which says, “If you will commit your life to Christ, God will give you a marriage partner.” But Jesus never said that. He said, If you will commit your life to me I will fill it with meaning and purpose. He never promised marriage, or required it, or experienced it himself.
Today I want us to learn to see singles the way God does. The results will have tremendous relevance for every one of us.
Can a single adult save the world?
God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). If we had been writing the script for Joseph, molding the clay of his life, we would never have included thirteen years of slavery and prison. But God did.
Remember briefly the story of this single adult’s life.
Joseph is put in the prison where the “king’s prisoners” are held (Genesis 39:20). Soon he meets one of them.
The “cupbearer” was one of the most important people in an ancient kingdom. He would taste everything put before Pharoah to eat, to ensure that it had not been poisoned. We don’t know what he did to be in jail, but here he is.
The “chief baker” was likewise a man of great importance in the ancient world. His job was to oversee all the baking which took place for Pharoah. Ancient documents list 38 varieties of cake and 57 of bread used by the Egyptians. Again, we don’t know why he’s in jail, but he is.
Note that the “captain of the guard” assigns each of them to Joseph (v. 4). This captain is none other than Potiphar, further evidence of the trust Joseph earned in his eyes by his years of moral character and integrity.
Each of them has a dream, but neither can decipher its meaning. Joseph can, however, with the help of God. Here is a clear indication of the superiority of his God over the Egyptians deities: “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams” (Genesis 40:8).
The cupbearer tells his dream; Joseph tells him it means that he will be restored to his position. The baker tells him his dream; Joseph is honest enough to tell him it means that he will be executed. In both cases, Joseph is right.
Now, finally, Joseph will be recognized for the divine call God has on his life, we think. But no. Two more years pass.
Then Pharoah has a dream of his own—seven fat cows, eaten by seven starving cows; seven healthy heads of grain, swallowed by seven thin heads of grain. No one, not the wisest men or the greatest magicians of the land, can tell Pharoah what this means.
Only then does the cupbearer remember Joseph. Pharoah summons him from the prison, and asks his help. Hear Joseph’s humble and honest reply: “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharoah the answer he desires” (Genesis 41:16). Pharoah tells Joseph his dreams, and Joseph gives him the word of God: there will be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.
Next Joseph tells Pharoah what he should do about these events: “And now let Pharoah look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:33). Under his leadership commissioners would take a fifth of the harvest during the seven years of plenty, and use it to feed the people during the seven years of famine.
Here’s the result: “The plan seemed good to Pharoah and to all his officials. So Pharoah asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?'” (Genesis 41:37).
And so Pharoah elevates Joseph to the two highest offices of state: director of the palace (and thus charge of Pharoah’s finances) and grand vizier (the authorized representative of the Pharoah himself). If the president were to elevate an imprisoned felon to the status of Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State combined, we would not be more astonished.
Joseph wears Pharoah’s own ring of authority, and the great chain of state. He is preceded in Pharoah’s chariot by a guard who calls everyone to “make way” or “bow the knee.” This was something like being given the presidential motorcade and Air Force One.
And he is given “robes of fine linen” to replace the “coat of many colors stolen thirteen years earlier. Thus Pharoah “put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:43). From this position he will act to save Egypt from starvation, and his own Hebrew people as well.
And this elevation and transformation all started while Joseph was a single adult, 30 years of age. What does his story say to our church, our culture, about the way God sees single adults, and the rest of us as well?