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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.45am Svc, 2011-08-14

Text: Psalm 75:1-10 

As we continue with our series of sermons on ‘Living as Christians before the World,’ we will consider one area that many Christians have problems with: Their attitude to promotion or personal advancement in their workplace. What should our approach be to climbing up the corporate ladder? Should we just follow what everyone else is doing – vying for the most coveted positions, and competing with one another for recognition and for a promotion?

The temptation to do this is especially great when we have the potential to do well in a higher position because of our good qualifications, talents or work experience. There are also very attractive incentives that promotion offers, like getting a bigger paycheck, a larger office, or the greater influence and control that only top-level executives are able to enjoy.

Because promotion is so desirable, people use all kinds of strategies to get it. They try their best to win the favour of their boss, or better still, the favour of the boss of their boss. They keep asking for more responsibilities, and make sure that everyone can see how well they perform and how knowledgeable they are. They are most ready to take credit for anything they can claim credit for. But they are also most quick to shift the blame for their mistakes to others. They gain influence by engaging in office politics, and would fight against anyone who dares to stand in their way to the top.

If we do all these things, we may get promoted very quickly, but we would end up with a ruined Christian testimony before the world. Our colleagues and subordinates would be stumbled and angry with us, and perhaps even saying to themselves, “What selfish and inconsiderate workers all these Christians are. I certainly would not want to become one of them.”

Dearly beloved, although there is nothing wrong with getting that promotion which we hope for, we must be very careful how we seek for promotion and how we respond to promotion as God’s people. These things must be done in a god-honouring manner. One passage that provides us with good insight on the subject of promotion is Psalm 75. You may notice that the title that is given to this psalm is “A psalm or song of Asaph.” Who was this Asaph? He was one of King David’s choirmasters. Asaph wrote poems and composed music that was used for the worship of God at the Tabernacle and later, at the Temple. Twelve of the psalms in the Bible are attributed to him.

But the only part of this psalm that may have originated from Asaph is the very first verse. You will notice that this is the only verse where the pronoun ‘we’ is used: “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks.” This is a typical expression of corporate worship by God’s people. But from v.2 onward the pronoun used is no longer ‘we’ but ‘I’. And the words of the rest of this psalm seem to be those of a newly-crowned king rather than the words of a choirmaster like Asaph.

For this reason, many Bible interpreters believe that under divine inspiration, Asaph had taken the words that David had said upon becoming king of Israel, and turned them into this psalm. And Asaph did this because he saw the hand of God in David’s promotion to the throne, and he wanted the people to express their thanks to God for it. By the time this psalm was written, David had probably ruled Israelfor many years and the people had seen how his promotion had brought tremendous blessings to them and transformed Israel into a great kingdom. God had done great things for them by giving them such a godly king – one who was a man after God’s own heart, and one who truly understood God’s purpose for promoting him to his high position.

In this psalm we can find at least three useful principles about promotion, and these principles are still applicable today. The first one is:

I. Accept the Responsibilities that Come with Promotion (vv.2-3,10)

Let us look at v.2 which says, “When I shall receive the congregation I will judge uprightly.” Here we can imagine David at the point of his coronation, reflecting upon his new responsibilities. And from what he mentioned here, we can see that David was not thinking of the personal privileges and benefits he would gain from being promoted. He was thinking of the people he was to serve. He really had their interests at heart. He wanted them to be judged uprightly. Perhaps he had seen how this was so lacking during his predecessor’s administration. From what we know about King Saul, he was more concerned about holding on to power and eliminating his own enemies than he was about serving the Lord and His people. As a result of this, judgment was sorely neglected, and many people suffered under his rule.

Please note that the Hebrew word that is translated ‘judge’ in v.2 is not limited to deciding who is right and who is wrong in legal cases. It also means ‘to govern,’ ‘to defend,’ and ‘to bring deliverance’. It refers to all the responsibilities of leading a nation. That is why there was a period of time when Israelwas governed by leaders called judges (e.g. Gideon, Jephthah, Samson and Samuel).

Therefore what David really wanted wasn’t just to be a king, but to be a good king who would govern the people well. He wanted to be a king who would ensure that everyone under his administration was treated fairly and equally, and would be well protected against all harm and danger. You may recall that long before David was king, he was a shepherd boy who took great care of his father’s sheep. He took this responsibility so seriously that he even risked his life to save the sheep from the attacks of a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:34). And now that he was promoted to being the shepherd of God’s people, he readily committed himself to giving them the most selfless and responsible care they could ever receive from a king.

This was not going to be an easy task for David, because Israel was in a terrible mess at the end of King Saul’s reign. The people were oppressed by a strong foreign power on the west called the Philistines. Many able-bodied Israelites lost their lives in Saul’s last battle with them. Those who survived were badly disunited, with the northern tribes at odds with the southern tribes. This bleak situation is poetically described in v.3 – “The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved.” The picture given here is that of a land that had been totally devasted – with all the accompanying loss of life and property. That was how bad things had become just before David ascended to the throne. And yet he says at the end of v.3, “I bear up the pillars of it.” No matter what it takes, he was going to shore up the leadership. He was going to strengthen his kingdom to keep it together and build it up well. And, as mentioned in v.10, David would also have to stop some wicked people from wielding any more power, and promote righteous people to positions of authority, all for the good of the nation.

Did David succeed in doing all these things? Yes, he certainly did, with God’s help. The first 8 chapters of 2 Samuel describe how he united all the tribes of Israel together, defeated the Philistines, made the city of Jerusalem his capital, and forged the people into one great and prosperous nation under God. David turned out to be the best king that Israel ever had, and his reign became the standard of measurement that was used assess the reigns of all the kings who came after him.

What lesson can we learn about promotion from all this? We learn that being promoted is not about being honoured with greater privileges. It is all about being entrusted with greater responsibilities. And before we are promoted we must consider whether we are ready and able to take on all these responsibilities and fulfill them well. So before you seek for any promotion, please ask yourself whether you are really fit for the post. Are you able to bear the responsibilities it brings? Have you counted the cost? Make sure that you find out carefully all that is required of the position. Be realistic about your abilities. There are some things that you can do well but there are also some things you simply cannot do well. If you do not take this seriously, you may be promoted from a level of competence to a level of incompetence. And you may end up doing more harm than good to those you serve and to yourself after you are promoted.

There may be times when you have to accept the fact that someone else in the office is really more qualified and more deserving of the promotion than you. He has better skills and experience than you. If he is promoted, he will probably do a much better job than you can ever do. Are you gracious enough to forego your opportunity for promotion? Will you be happy when he gets the promotion? And are you willing to work under him and be part of his team?

In the account of David’s promotion there was one person who was like that: Jonathan, the son of King Saul. Jonathan was actually the crown prince of Israel. He was a very capable and brave young man, proving his leadership skills many times on the battle field. But when Jonathan met David, he immediately realized that David was so much better than him. Instead of becoming jealous of his rival, Jonathan loved David and even protected him from Saul’s jealous rage. Listen to what Jonathan said to David in 1 Samuel 23:17 – “Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee….”

And so David and Jonathan got along very well with each other. They never allowed selfish ambition to destroy their relationship and make them bitter enemies. They were the very best of friends because they both understood the principle that being promoted is not about being honoured with greater privileges, but about being entrusted with greater responsibilities. That is the first principle about promotion we learn from psalm 75. Now we move on to another principle:

II. Avoid Seeking for Promotion out of Pride (vv.4-5)

Let us look at vv.4-5 of our text – “I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn: Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck.” Here David appears to be speaking to those who were not happy about his promotion. They were seeking instead for their own promotion. Why did they do this? Perhaps they thought that they were better and more deserving of promotion than him. They may have gained some influence among the people, but they foolishly thought that they should be crowned as king instead of David.

One person who tried to do this was Absalom. Absalom was one of David’s sons. But he was not like his father at all. He was a very proud man. According to 2 Samuel 14:25 no one was was more handsome than Absalom in all Israel. He was physically perfect from head to toe. He had the most luxuriant crop of hair on his head which impressed everyone. As people admired him, Absalom began to think very highly of himself. He appointed a large retinue of chariots and horses to accompany him everywhere he went. He stole the hearts of the people by boasting that everything would be so much better in Israel if only he was made their king. And so when the opportunity finally came, he launched a full scale rebellion to overthrow the king. David was forced to leave the palace and run for his life. How terrible it is for a son to do this to his own father. And how arrogant Absalom was to ‘lift up the horn’ against the king.

The horn mentioned in vv.4 and 5 is a symbol of power and authority. To lift up the horn is to declare one’s own authority in defiance of established authority. It is the outcome of seeking for promotion out of pride. And that is a sure recipe for a downfall. Proverbs 16:18 warns us that: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” In the case of Absalom, his attempt to seize the throne ended with his death. As he was riding his mule, his head got stuck in the branches of an oak tree and he was slain (2 Samuel 18:9).

Let this be a lesson to all who would aspire to be promoted – Don’t be driven by pride. Don’t think that you deserve the promotion, or seek after it to gain more esteem, honour and prestige for yourself. The Bible abounds with examples of the folly of pride. What happened to the angel Lucifer when he sought to exalt his throne above the stars of heaven and be like the Most High? He was brought down to hell (Isaiah 14:12-15). What happened to the builders of the Tower of Babel who wanted to make a great name for themselves? The Lord confounded their language and they had to abandon the project.

And what happened when King Nebuchadnezzar viewed the city of Babylon and said, “Is not this greatBabylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30) He became insane for seven years – eating grass in the field like an animal. These examples stand as a warning to us against seeking promotion out of pride and ambition. How then should you seek for a promotion? By shining where you are in your current position. Be diligent at work and take your responsibilities seriously. And whatever you do, “do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” (Colossians 3:23) When you keep on doing this, your actions will speak louder than words. You will not need to make any request or suggestion for your promotion. Just be patient to wait for it to come – and it will come to you at the right time.

That’s what David did. Even though he knew that he would one day become the king of Israel, he waited patiently for his promotion. After King Saul died and left a power vacuum, David could easily have seized the opportunity to make himself king. But he did not do that. He just did what the Lord instructed him to do in going to Hebron, and waiting for the people to ask him. At first, only those from his own tribe, Judah, came to anoint him as their king (2 Samuel 2:4). Seven and a half years later, all the rest of the tribes came to Hebron to anoint David as their king  and he reigned over Israel for 33 years (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

Waiting for your promotion to come may be difficult to do, especially when everyone around you is impatient and expects to advance quickly up the corporate ladder. But as a Christian, you are to be different from them because you believe in the sovereignty of God. If God wants you to be promoted, He will see to it that you get your promotion. You just need to put your complete trust in Him. This brings us to the third and final principle about promotion that we find in psalm 75:

III. Acknowledge God as the Source of All Promotion (vv.6-9)

Let us look at verses 6-7 – “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” This settles the question ofwhere promotion comes from. It does not come from the east, the west or the south. Why is the north not mentioned at all? Some say that it is because the Temple or Tabernacle was located on the northern part of Jerusalem and so promotion comes from the north where God resides. But I think there is a better explanation than this.

One of the ways for a king to obtain power in ancient times was through neighbouring kingdoms: to form alliances with them or to defeat them. Before David became king, he had dealings with the king of Moabwhich was on the east. He asked the king of Moab to take care of his father and mother when his life was in danger from Saul’s persecution. On the west, David had dealings with the Philistines through a king by the name of Achish. He made a disastrous alliance with Achish which nearly got him into direct conflict with his own people.

On the south there was a large desert which was inhabited by a nomadic tribe called the Amalekites. They were long-standing enemies of Israel. David led his forces against the Amalekites and scored some victories, but he also had a painful experience when they retaliated against him. The north is not mentioned in v.6 because this was where the rest of the tribes of Israel who were David’s own people were found. Thus, in David’s situation, promotion through forming political alliances with foreign powers or through defeating them was only possible on the east, west and south.

All this means that in v.6 David was stating a lesson he had learned from his own experience – He cannot rely on foreign powers to elevate himself to a position of power and influence. Seeking promotion by such means would be futile because they are unreliable. And these human powers can only enjoy the influence and authority they have for only as long as God allows them to have it. God is ultimately the source of all their power. God alone decides who gets promoted and who does not get promoted. As v.7 tells us, “God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”

What lesson on promotion can we learn from this? We learn that we should leave it entirely to God to decide whether to promote us, when to promote us, and how to promote us. Don’t rely on the alliances you have built with certain people, or on your own strategic maneuvering or engaging in office politics. Trust in the Lord to lead and guide you in this matter. He knows what purpose your promotion is to fulfill. Your part is to obey Him and be sensitive to His leading. And if you don’t get the promotion you seek, then take it as God’s will for you not to have it.

Please remember that as a child of God you are most precious in His sight. So you don’t have to worry that you will lose out to others in the end or be greatly disadvantaged if you leave your future in God’s hands. Psalm 84:11 says, “…no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” And here is something you should be glad to know: There is one great promotion that you will receive if you are God’s child – Your promotion to glory! This is a promotion that comes from God, our righteous Judge, at the end of our earthly life.

And this is a promotion that we receive, not because we deserve to be promoted to glory, but only because Jesus Christ has died for us on the cross. He drank the cup of God’s wrath completely to the very last dregs on our behalf. This cup, which is mentioned in v.8 of our text, is the very same cup that Jesus referred to in his prayer at Gethsemane, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me,except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:42). Dearly beloved, it was God’s will to put down His only begotten Son so that you may be set up and promoted to glory! As Romans 8:32 says, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

However, this assurance belongs only to those of us who are saved. If you are not saved yet, I urge you to turn from your sins now and to turn to Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Come to Him right now without delay. Let all the benefits of His death on the cross be applied to you, so that you can share the wonderful assurance of being promoted to glory one day, and be able to leave the matter of your promotion at work entirely in God’s care. This morning we have learnt three principles about this promotion. Firstly, it is all about being entrusted with greater responsibilities which we must accept. Secondly, we must avoid seeking for promotion out of pride. And thirdly, we must acknowledge God as the source of all promotion.

Before we close, there is just one more application which I would like to mention. Give God all the credit for your promotion. This is mentioned in v.9 – “But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.” Each time you receive a promotion, remember to give all praise and thanks to the God of Jacob. May the Lord be glorified through every promotion that we receive from Him.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11