March 15, 2020

Work Worries

Passage: 1 Kings 18:1-19
Service Type:

You work as a graphic designer for a small design firm. And you're a good designer. And the company that employs you has won several design awards based upon the quality and the creativity of your work. But lately, you've grown uncomfortable with some of the company's new clients and new projects. And although you haven't been asked to do any design work for any of these new clients, that all changed on Friday of last week. And during the company's weekly staff meeting, Miranda, your boss, and company owner, excitedly announced that the company has just signed their largest contract yet with a very public and very high profile company and with her face, beaming Miranda announced, "Team we have been selected to do all the design work for the Center for Women's Reproductive Rights." And while everyone else in the room cheered and high-fived each other, your heart sank. You knew that the newest and potentially largest and most lucrative client performed abortions. Miranda said to you, "they love your work and they have specifically asked for you to design their new logo. And this is going to be a huge opportunity for you. They're going to use that logo on everything they produce, from their business cards to their newly redesigned website to all their social media accounts. It's also going to be the logo they use for their podcasts, which is downloaded hundreds of thousands of times each and every year." And she says "this will be a big feather in your hat and not to mention that the contract will take our company to the next level. And when others see what you have created for them, you'll be responsible for bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for us. You're going to make big money for us." Then, "you know, this is what we've all been waiting for and I know you won't let us down."

Well, you're a Christian. And you're more than your average Easter and Sunday church attender. You attend church every week. You and your spouse volunteer time at the local pregnancy Help Center You're also aware that most of your co-workers and most importantly, Miranda your boss, knows that you profess to be a Christian and the thought of you doing any kind of design work for an abortion provider would not only make you look like a hypocrite, you would be a hypocrite. And you wonder how could you fulfill Paul's command to Christian employees, Ephesians six, that you are to work with goodwill "from the heart." How could you work wholeheartedly on a project that you didn't believe in, in fact, you couldn't believe in? Your job supports your family. It's your responsibility to take care of them but how could you in good conscience do work for a client whose existence is an affront to the holiness of God and to the law of God. You're not sure what to do. And you're wondering, are there any biblical examples? Are there any scriptural guidelines? Are there any biblical principles that will help you make the right Christ-honoring decision?

Now, obviously, what I've just recited to you is fictional in one sense, but the reality in another sense, because every Christian--there's a possibility that every Christian will be faced with having to make these kinds of decisions, either as a student or as an employee. And you wonder, what do you do when you as a Christian employee, When the commands of your boss collide with the commands of God, what do you do? And you wonder, Is this a subject that the Bible addresses? What does the Bible say? What are the guidelines that you can turn to, to guide you as a Christian employee?

Well, let's begin by acknowledging this fact, that God values all honest labor. We saw last week that work was part of the original creation and we learned from Jesus that all honest labor is valued by God. Jesus said in Matthew 25,

 "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Not huge acts, but valuable acts. Daniel Doriani, I believe is how you pronounce his last name. He has written a wonderful book, The simply titled "Work." And he said in that book, "The Lord watches and assesses all our work because it publicly," and I touched on this last week "it publicly demonstrates our faith. At work, we have the greatest capacity to care for the hungry, the thirsty and the sick." And then he goes on to make these four statements. He said "if our work has any role in bringing food to the hungry Jesus is pleased. If we have any place in the chain that brings water to the thirsty, Jesus smiles. If our work provides any clothing or shelter to people, Jesus rewards us, if our work has any role in the system that brings health or physical care to the sick, Jesus, counts it as service to him, hence the statement that 'God values, all honest labor that is done in His Name.'"

Now, an important part of that statement is that last part that "God values all honest labor that is done in His Name," meaning work done in His Name, is work that glorifies Him, work that is consistent with the holiness of God. But we have a problem, don't we? We live in a world that has no concern for God's standards, has absolutely no regard for God's laws, which means that you will be confronted with circumstances that require Godly wisdom, and the application of biblical wisdom. For instance, you're going to have to answer a question like this: What should you do when your company acts in ways that seem morally questionable, or that you know, are morally wrong? What are your options? Should you resign? Should you remain and bring salt and light to the company? Should you pursue a middle ground by staying employed while you look for another job? Or do you stay and risk losing your integrity? Those are some of the questions that you have to face.

Now, again, Daniel Doriani made two critical statements in his book "Work". I'm going to give you those statements and then I'm going to expand on them by taking you to a passage of scripture and showing you how they work out in real life. Here's the two statements: Statement number one, he said "Believers  may remain in compromised, or even corrupt organizations, if" and this is key, "if they can mitigate evil there, and they are not required to sin." That's the first statement. Here's statement number two. "Believers may also stand outside morally compromised structures and denounce them." So it's possible for some to stay inside the company, as long as they can mitigate evil and they're not required to sin. There are others for whom that is not God's plan, and they are to stand outside of that organization and denounce it.

So with that in mind, let's look at 1 Kings chapter 18, verses 1-19. "After many days, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, 'Go show yourself to Ahab and I will send rain upon the earth.' So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria. And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly, and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took one hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water.) And Ahab said to Obadiah, 'Go through the land to all the springs of water and into all the valleys. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive and not lose some of the animals. So they divided the land between them to pass through it. Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself. And as Obadiah was on the way, behold, Elijah met him. And Obadiah recognized him and fell on his face and said, 'Is it you, my lord Elijah?' And he answered him, 'It is I. Go, tell your lord, 'Behold Elijah is here.'' And he said, 'How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hands of Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they would say, 'He is not here', he would take an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. And now you say, 'Go tell your Lord, behold, Elijah, is here.'

“And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of Lord will carry you I know not where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord's prophets by fifties in the cave and fed them with bread and water? And now you say, 'Go tell your Lord, 'Behold, Elijah is here''; and he will kill me.' And Elijah said, 'As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.' So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, 'Is it you, you troubler of Israel?' And he answered, 'I have not troubled Israel, but do you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and follow the Baals. Now, therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 profits of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table."

So there's three main characters in our story here: King Ahab, King Ahab's Chief of Staff Obadiah, and then the man of God, or the prophet of God, Elijah. Now, here's a little bit of the background to what we just read here in chapter 18. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah had predicted three years of drought, which as you can imagine, didn't make the king very happy because he knew drought brings on famine and famine brings on frustration amongst the people that he would rule over. So he knew no water meant big trouble for him. But why did God send the drought on his own people? Because it not only hurt Ahab, it hurt the people as well. Why did God send drought against his own people? Well, because of the leadership. Because of the sinful king that sat on the throne. Go back to 1 Kings 16 and Ahab ascends to the throne. And in chapter 16, verse 30, we read "And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him." Now, keep that description in mind. Ahab did more evil than all the other kings who came before him. But that's not all. It goes on to say in verse 31 "And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshipped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria." Notice how Baal is coming into play here? "And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him."

Twice in these verses, the writer makes it clear that this guy was wicked. He wasn't just a little wicked. His wickedness was off the charts. And it was because of his wickedness that the drought came. And again, pay attention to verse 33, "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him." So let me ask you a question. How would you like to get up every Monday morning and go work for Ahab? How would you like to go to work every day in that kind of utter wickedness? Perhaps the question should be asked, would you go work in that kind of atmosphere? Well, let's jump back to the 1 Kings 18 because it is in 1 Kings 18 that were introduced to Obadiah, who is his position is, he's what would be a modern-day chief of staff. He's head of the household. So we need to ask you a couple of questions about Obadiah. Was Obadiah a compromiser? There are plenty of Christians today-- well, I shouldn't say plenty-- there are some Christians today who would look at Obadiah and that's exactly what they would label him. He's a compromiser. How could anybody be a believer and go work for such a wicked man as Ahab? Somebody will say that he's not a believer, and if he is a believer, he certainly has compromised his beliefs.

So we have to ask ourselves, was it wrong for Obadiah to serve such a wicked king? Now before you answer that question, remember that the Bible calls all Christians to be salt and light. In order to be salt and light, you have to be in the darkness. You have to be in a place that needs to be preserved. Well, let's look at how the Bible describes Obadiah. Look at verse 3, "And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly)," so by the Scripture's own testimony we know Obadiah, he was not a compromiser. Scripture says he feared the Lord greatly and here in Kentucky, we would say he was a God-fearing man. Therefore, he was not a compromiser. Scripture says he feared the Lord greatly. He was a man who held a prominent position of being the king of Israel's chief of staff. And yet, he was a man who feared the Lord greatly. He was godly. He was devout. And he was committed to the Lord.

Now, let me ask you a question. Don't you think that it's entirely possible that he felt the temptation on multiple occasions to compromise his beliefs, in such an atmosphere, in such a setting? Well, Obadiah faced a situation that many of you share. Your boss is not a believer. Your boss may even revel in their wickedness. They may rejoice in it, they promote it, they see nothing wrong with it. You can identify with the situation that Obadiah faced. But like Daniel, Obadiah did not use the wickedness of Ahab, his boss, as an excuse to give less than his best. Obadiah was working from and with the sincere heart that Paul described in Ephesians chapter 6. Scripture gives us no indication at all that Obadiah was nothing more than a loyal, faithful servant and subject to the king. Thereby he sets an example for every Christian, for every believer who does secular work, okay? Just because your boss behaves like the son of Satan does not give you the right to do less than your best. Because remember, you're ultimately working for Christ. So the work of Obadiah obviously was exceptional. We would even say today he was “Employee of the Month” 24 months running. He was a peak performer. He was a top performer. But let's not make a mistake of thinking that Obadiah let his allegiance to Ahab override his allegiance to his God. So how do we know this? Well, Obadiah demonstrated his allegiance to the God of Israel through his act of courage in that he hid 100 prophets of God. Look at verse four, "And when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water." Do you know anybody who's named their daughter recently Jezebel? Do you know why they don't? She epitomizes wickedness. It is not a compliment to be called Jezebel or Judas.

Okay, so Jezebel had already murdered some of God's prophets. But it was through the courage of Obadiah that 100 of God's prophets were spared. In other words, when the organization he worked for did wrong, he did right. And we need to ask ourselves what would have happened if Obadiah had gone with the flow? What would have happened if Obadiah would have just thrown up his hands and said "What can I do? She's a crazy lady. If I get in her way, I might be dead too." That's a very real concern. You remember later on that Ahab wanted a vineyard and he tried to get it and he got turned away, got turned down, he whimpered like a little baby, went back to his wife, Jezebel. What happens to the guy that owned the vineyard? He got killed. She was no one to be fooling with. So what would have happened if Obadiah hadn't taken a stand? Well, at the very least, we know there'd been another hundred dead prophets. But by staying in Ahab's employ, if you will, he had the opportunity to do the right thing and undermine Ahab's rule. Obadiah believed that he could serve God in a dark place because it was a strategic place. His exalted position allowed him to strike back at the darkness, to attack the wickedness of the king. So one factor that you must consider in your employment situation is this: has God placed you in a similar strategic place? Are you uniquely placed to be able to do good in the face of evil? Maybe you are, maybe you're not. Really that's only a question that you can answer.

So what do we learn from Obadiah? Two things, quickly. Christians are to show the same courage when confronted with moral dilemmas in the workplace. Obadiah did the right thing when the king and his wife were committed to doing the wrong thing. The second lesson we learn is this: the believer's obligation to God in such situations is clear-cut and straightforward: obey God. So one character here is Ahab, another character is Obadiah, and the next one is Elijah. Elijah. He was a servant of God. Obadiah was a servant of God, but Elijah served God in a different way. Instead of working inside the system, he worked outside the system. In fact, he denounced the system, he attacked the system. Obadiah worked within the system in order to save a life while Elijah worked outside of the system and denounced the system to condemn the system, to pronounce the judgment of God against a system for the same reason, to save lives. Say how would he save lives by attacking the system? Get that wicked King off the throne, get the people of God back to repentance and confession and serving God and lives would be spared. Elijah directly attacked the wickedness of Jezebel and Ahab. And what was the wickedness of this unholy pair? They went in whole hog in the worship of Baal. They cast aside the God of Israel and introduced the worship of a false god to the people on a mass scale.

Now, Obadiah and Elijah, they set good examples for us. But there's another pair in Scripture that we can look at as well. How about Joseph and Moses? Joseph served under Pharaoh, another pagan king. And how did God use him? To save a life. Then we have Moses. He got out from under Pharaoh's household. Joseph worked inside the system if you will. Moses worked outside the system and what did he do? He directly attacked Pharaoh and the nation of Israel. Why? Because they had enslaved the people of God. Again, the same goal, to save a life. Both Obadiah and Elijah were right in their actions. Both feared God, both served God, but they did so in different ways. Both Joseph and Moses were right in their actions, both feared God, they served God but they did so in different ways. Say why do provide me with these examples? Here's why. First, to show you that your situation is not unique. You're not the first believer to serve in an unholy place. And you won't be the last. And second, to show that you're in good company. Some of God's more well-known servants, I don't want to call them any greater than anybody else. Maybe they are maybe they're not. But to show you that you're in good company with them. You can work in a corrupt and compromised organization and still do your very best for the Lord.

Now let me give you, I think, four principles. Let's try and extract or distill four principles from what we've learned so far. These are not necessarily in any order of importance and I guarantee you're gonna have to think some of these through. And I reserve the right to come back to this, amen. Number one. Believers may never take jobs that require sin occasionally or permanently. Now I trust that is self-evident, but if it's not, there it is. Two. Now, this is a little bit more lengthy, so I'll repeat it a couple of times. Believers should not, in the course of their employment, actively promote or participate in any activity that violates the law of God or any activity that contradicts God's revealed will. Let me say that again. Believers should not, in the course of their employment, actively promote or participate in any activity that violates the law of God or any activity that contradicts God's revealed will. So let's review your situation as a graphic designer. Would it be, would it have been sinful for you to design graphics for a company whose actions openly violate God's law and would be used to promote their sinful business practices?

Let me add this. And this is, I guess I will apologize because I haven't had time to think this through as much as I would like to but I will. There is something to be said here about direct responsibility. Are you directly responsible to participate in and promote some ungodly activity? I believe that's key. Or are you not directly responsible? In other words, you may work for a company, a Fortune 100 company, and each year they promote gay pride. You're not directly responsible for their actions. You're part of that corrupt organization that is promoting something that God says no, that's sinful. There's a difference between the employee that works for that large organization who is not directly responsible for what they're promoting versus an employee who may work in a large organization and they are by job requirement, job description, responsible for promoting the activity that God says is off-limits. Okay, you may have to think that through some more, I know I do. But I think I've got it boiled down to that.

Number three. Believers should not take a job, nor should they stay in a job if they can't fulfill the commands of Ephesians 6. And specifically, what I have in mind is Paul's command in verse 7. In verse seven, Paul said, "rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man." So remember, remember that rendering service with a good will means wholeheartedly. Therefore, if you can't do your job wholeheartedly then you probably should seek other employment. And when I say that you can't do your job wholeheartedly, it's because that you feel like maybe it's questionable. So you can't put your whole heart into it. So this is probably not the right spot for you. Now, if you're violating your scripturally, and this is important, if you're violating your scripturally-informed and scripturally-taught conscience, then you're not going to be able to work wholeheartedly. Therefore, you will be disobedient to a clear Scriptural command.

Can I tell you to two pieces of advice you should chuck every time you hear them? One is "follow your heart". No, no, no, no. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Let's follow it. Hallmark theology is poor theology. It's bad theology. It's sinful theology. Statement number two, "let your conscience be your guide". Here's the problem. For many people, they have an untaught, untrained conscience. That's why I emphasize you should not violate your scripturally-informed or scripturally-taught conscience. Some of you hold the beliefs that you hold and the positions that you hold because your conscience has not been scripturally taught, nor scripturally trained. You have never subjected your conscience to the application of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. I'm not condemning you for that. I want to make you aware of that fact. If your conscience is not subject to, in submission to, under the control of the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, do not trust it.

 Number four. The Bible instructs believers to engage the culture and shows them doing so in numerous Biblical narratives. For instance, Daniel. We saw Daniel in our study of Daniel. He was a believer certainly in a challenging situation, environment. We looked at Joseph today, Obadiah. You ever thought about Esther? Esther had no choice but to become a participant in the beauty pageant. No choice at all. But she did her best. Or who else have we talked about? We haven't talked about Nehemiah. But you can look at the lives of all of these men and women and you know what? Even in those difficult, challenging situations, they behaved in such a way that they maintained their integrity.

All right, so let's say that you do find yourself working in one of these difficult environments like Joseph or Obadiah. What guides does the Bible provide for you? Let me give you three or four things rather quickly. Number one, remember that the world needs Christians, the world needs believers to work in every industry where sin and corruption thrive. And as just about every industry. We can't all work for Christian companies. I know of a company, I'm intimately aware of a company that the owner is a Christian and that's well and that's good, but all he wants to hire is Christians. I'm not so sure that's Biblical. But anyway, the Bible never tells us to withdraw from the world but to engage the world. Again, you and I as believers, we are to be salt and light in our places of employment and in our classrooms. Second, if you find yourself in an atmosphere that is challenging, or morally questionable, let's put it that way, ask yourself by carrying out the duties of your job, by fulfilling your job description, are you serving King Jesus or King Boss? Are you promoting justice? Or are you just fitting in and making a livin'? Or as some people say, living. Number three. When potential conflicts between business and Kingdom goals arise, do I stand on principle or do I do what it takes to keep my job? Am I willing to endure and maybe even begin conflict for a good cause? Number four, pay attention-- after all that I've said about conscience, but still, this holds true-- pay attention to an uneasy conscience. It very well may be the work of the Holy Spirit. Okay.

So let's go back to you, our award-winning graphic artist. You share your concerns with your boss that in good conscience you could not do any design work for any company that violated Scriptural commands. Miranda, your boss tries to convince you that doing the work was not that big a deal. After all, you wouldn't be providing the termination procedures. But even as she said the worst she knew they rang hollow. See at this point, I can't tell you what to do. Over the years I have people ask me should I quit my job? Say, well, wait a minute, why won't you tell me what to do here? Because I don't know the whole story. All right. A lot of preachers won't act like they know the whole story. I don't know the whole story. I'm not Paul Harvey, I don't know the rest of the story. Some of you saying Paul who? But if you can't, in good conscience, perform your job what do you think you should do? Scripture does provide guidance and specific principles that we can apply to our lives to make sure that our work is consistent with our confessed beliefs. And the Holy Spirit will help you to apply the gospel to your work and remember this, the Holy Spirit will never lead you to dishonor your heavenly Father but will always lead you to glorify your heavenly Father.