Friday, April 19, 2024

Working in Difficult Places

by Ben Hein

One of the things I love most about living in the DMV area is its incredible diversity. Because of its rich opportunity for employment, we attract people from every country and culture to come and be a part of the life that we make together. This creates an exciting environment of vocational diversity. In the churches where I have served, I have witnessed a beautiful fellowship of different people who, on account of their careers and cultural backgrounds, would ordinarily never gather together. But having been united by their faith in Christ, churches in the DMV become this fascinating intersection of people in different vocations coming together for a common purpose and mission.

But there is a darker, challenging side to this diversity. I often meet Christians who are really struggling to maintain their faith in their work. Many believers find themselves put in situations where they feel that they must compromise their faith in order to faithfully carry out their jobs. I’ve met teachers who are uncomfortable with new curriculum that is being introduced to the students, government officials who recognize the unethical shortcuts being taken in their offices, marketers who know their employer’s products are immoral, and businesswomen who work in very toxic and draining environments. This leads many of them to wonder: is this what God has called me to? Is it possible to be a faithful Christian in this space? Or do I need to leave and find new work altogether?

I’ve recently been reading through Dan Doriani’s new book Work: Its Purpose, Dignity and Transformation. I have really been challenged by the level of wisdom Doriani brings to the table to help us think through both basic and difficult questions about our work. One of the chapters that really left an impact on me is titled Work in Difficult Places, and it deals with some of these practical issues that many Christians face. In this chapter, Doriani argues that believers “may remain in compromised or even corrupt organizations, if they can mitigate evil there and if they are not required to sin.” He draws in six examples from Scripture to make this argument, each of which are helpful, and I want to briefly summarize them below.

Joseph Working for Pharaoh

The Pharaohs were corrupt rulers who believed themselves to be deities. There could be no greater conflict for the people of God than to work for someone who demands submission and worship to himself as a God. Yet Joseph found himself placed in that difficult situation. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph’s work that he made Joseph his second in command. Joseph was able to serve under a corrupt pagan ruler whose political system “rested on blasphemous, egomaniacal claims.” Through his work for Pharaoh, Joseph preserved countless lives, as well as God’s covenant family through whom God would fulfill his promises. Joseph “demonstrated that the faithful may work for anyone.”

Obadiah Working for Ahab

Of all the northern kings who did wickedness in the sight of the Lord, Ahab did more evil than all the kings before him (1 Kings 16:30-34). Ahab worshiped Baal, and his wife Jezebel killed God’s prophets while he sat idly by. At first reading, it would seem impossible for any follower of God to work for such a corrupt man – until we encounter Obadiah. Obadiah “feared the Lord greatly,” and when Jezebel sent to kill God’s prophets, Obadiah took 100 of them and hid them in two caves (1 Kings 18:1-4). Knowing the risks, Obadiah not only remained in Ahab’s court but also actively disobeyed unjust laws in order to protect God’s people. Obadiah served God by staying within the king’s court in order to protect God’s people and mitigate evil where he could.

Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

In other similar examples, we encounter believers who worked in very corrupt institutions for very ungodly leaders in order to do great good. Daniel became a trusted leader and advisor for terrible Babylonian kings (Daniel 1-6). Ezra and Nehemiah were high officials in Persia (Ezra 7:1; Nehemiah 2:1-8; 5:14) and became so trusted that they were able to help lead the people out of exile.

Esther serves as a reminder that although we don’t always get to choose the tasks given to us, we can still use wisdom to find ways to serve the Lord in difficult places. She was taken into the king’s palace to participate in the beauty contest. But as her uncle Mordecai pointed out – “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)?”

Applying Wisdom Today

Can Christians work for corrupt leaders in corrupt institutions? These examples in Scripture all say yes. But as Doriani points out, we need to apply sober wisdom here. Unlike Joseph, Moses refused to serve Pharaoh and was called to serve God’s people by standing against Pharaoh. Elijah, in contrast to Obadiah, was called to stand up against Ahab from outside of Ahab’s court.

This means that God is going to equip many believers to remain in difficult places to mitigate evil or restrain sin. Others will be called to leave their difficult place, either to work in a new space entirely or to attempt reform for their vocation. How will you know what God is calling you to? I suggest three things to help you wrestle through this question:

  • Pray for wisdom. God promises wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). Let us take that promise seriously and plead with the Lord for great wisdom in difficult places.
  • Surrounded yourself with 2 or 3 other Christians who can speak into this situation. Find believers who you trust will tell you the truth if they see you compromising or sinning in your work.
  • Pick up a copy of Dan Doriani’s Work and read through it. Even better, read through it with others in your church. Wrestle with its wisdom and insight. His book will make you a better Christian as you seek God’s glory through your vocation, career or calling.

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