This is a further post in my series on the attitude of the Christian to work. Other posts in this series and the sermon itself are also available here.
In the previous post, I made my first real point in this series: that we must deal with our attitudes, and have an appropriate attitude to our work. My second point follows and this is increasingly the case and this is the main reason I was drawn to Esther as an example: We are infiltrating enemy territory as a friend and an ambassador.
This is a critical thing for us to understand. Many Christians today are stuck in a time-warp. We think we’re back in 1950s– when the Queen was sworn in and promised to uphold the faith. The head of the Church of England, ‘We’re a Christian nation’. The truth is it’s long-gone. I know we all recently gathered around the royal wedding, but didn’t it feel slightly odd that a million people would turn out for a wedding where God was talked about? My family and I stood on the Mall and watched them go by. It was wonderful in many ways, but a world away from most work places today.
We are infiltrating enemy territory. But we’re not there as part of some kind of war. We’re not an invasion force. We’re there as a friend and as an ambassador. I think it’s very helpful to think through what that means. What the New Testament says, is really a good way of putting it: We are “in the world, but not of the world.”
So many Christians are of the world, but not in it. So many Christians don’t engage with the world. They don’t have non-Christian friends. When their work-mates go out for an evening, they’re like “Well I don’t want to go because they’re going to the pub – I’m too holy for that.” They don’t speak to people, and yet, if we’re honest, our attitudes are not very different from the world. We’re not in the world, but we’re of the world.
Brothers and sisters, we’re meant to be in the world, but not of the world. We meant to, and this is the summary of this point, we’re meant to have total identification with the world. Total identification such that we look very similar to them, we may even sound very similar to them, apart from hopefully there are some words that we don’t use.
And yet, and this is crucial, we must identify with the world, but have a clear grasp on our own identity. You are not primarily a businessperson or a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher or a parent. That’s not your primary identity. Your primary identity is simply this – you’re a child of God.
Now this whole process of being in the world but not of the world, of identifying with the world, but keeping your identity, requires great wisdom. It’s interesting to note in 2:20 that, “Esther had not made known her kindred or her people as Mordecai had commanded her.” Mordecai told her ‘Don’t tell them who you are.’ It’s an interesting thought and I don’t know if you’ve paid much attention to that. But she was going into a vipers’ nest of great opposition and later in the book we see that. So much so that one of the people in the court decided he wanted to try and wipe out all the Jews.
Some people have even criticised her for this and said, “She should’ve gone in and told them who she was.” I believe that in this situation she was right, she was wise, and Mordecai advised her wisely. Sometimes, even as a Christian today, it can be right to keep your identity hidden for a season to win favour. Particularly, perhaps when you are going into a situation like that where you know that there is great hostility. You know, there is no doubt about it, that there was great hostility there. And so sometimes it can be right to do that, but we don’t lie about who we are. And you know, we enter the situation in order to gain respect, if you like. She gained favour and no doubt if she’d have come in and said, “Oh yeah, by the way I’m a Jew’, she probably wouldn’t have got to the position that she was in.
Sometimes Christians have to do something similar. What about on your CV? Do you put on your CV that you’re a Christian? Do you happen to mention that you’re a volunteer at your church ? Sometimes it might be very appropriate to do that, but sometimes it is not. Please don’t sit in judgement about someone else who comes to a different decision to you. Many employers these days are no longer interested in your outside activities and interests.
In all these kind of decisions you have to think for yourself. You have to be wise about this. And it’s a good example, really, of a recurrent Biblical theme, which is this: There are all these godly principles, but you need wisdom to know how to apply them. It is not enough to know all the godly principles, you need to know when to apply them. CANT do that alone! There is a time to speak out, and a time to be silent. Who will help you figure this out? This is where Mordecai was so helpful for her, because at the beginning of the book he says to her, “Don’t tell them who you are” And then half-way through the book he says, “Tell them who you are!”
Some Christians will then say “Well, which is it? Should I tell them? Shouldn’t I?” I’m not going to give you an answer, because it depends on your situation, depends on your circumstance and you need to understand what job applications look like in your situation. Maybe actually, most people in your area of work leave off that whole ‘special interest’ section on their CV. I must say that I haven’t had one of those myself for a long time now.
Being in the world, but not of the world is a challenge. If Esther can throw her soul into this strange job she found herself being put up for, surely you can throw yourself into your job, whether you are a bank manager or whether you are a mother. It really makes very little difference what you do. Your job will pay the bills, and will give you dignity, something to do and something to achieve and also put you in a place that God can use you. If your job is not against the law and is moral you can and should do it for Jesus. For the mothers out there – I know some of you have to work and be a mother-being a mother has been described as ‘the ultimate job that all others serve’ and I think there’s an element to that that’s absolutely right.
Aiming to please where possible
Esther was eager to do the best that she could. She had the favour of God on her. You’ll notice that recurrently through this book. She aimed to please wherever it was possible to do so. Esther 2:9 says this, “And the young woman pleased him and won his favour.” Esther 2:15: “Esther was winning favour in the eyes of all who saw her.” Esther 2:17: “The King loved Esther more than all the women and she won grace and favour in his sight, more than all the virgins so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” I believe it wasn’t just external beauty that won them over. It was that inner beauty of her godly attitude that we were speaking about a few moments ago. Remember God looks at your heart.
Being winsome at work is wise. It’s not worshipping others. It’s not humiliating fawning. But there is a godly, honouring that one should have towards ones’ leaders. Notice it doesn’t say here that ‘Esther condemned him as a pagan sinner with the first words out of her mouth, and then made him think that she couldn’t care less about the job that she was given.’ It doesn’t say that.
Some people have criticized Esther and say she had sold out to the world’s demands for women to be beautiful for powerful men (which of course hasn’t changed today, sadly) Perhaps, BUT she didn’t seem to have a choice, and was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Improving difficult circumstances is a godly thing to do. Esther hadn’t sold out. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between ‘selling out’ and ‘identification’ and that’s where another older, wiser Christian can be of such help to you – to help you work out ‘what is the best way for me to be a Christian at school?’ ‘What is the best way for me to be a Christian in this job, in the police, in my office, in my work place?’ ‘How do I handle that?’ You need others to help you learn how to serve Jesus in the situation you find yourself in. A good question to ask as we get to the end of this post is Who is your Mordecai?