When a person first comes to Jesus, one of the things they begin to think about is how they might serve in His kingdom. For some, the transformation of day-to-day life is dramatic. Unholy relationships, housing, lifestyle, friends and more need to be put under the blood, sanctified and sometimes abandoned altogether.
When the early church emerged in the world outside of Israel, there were many questions about a believers lifestyle and occupation.
One of the places where this was a big issue was Corinth. There you had former prostitutes, homosexuals and pagan worshippers coming together as new believers. What kind of friendships could they keep? What kind of jobs were off-limits and what kind of pastimes were to be left behind?
When it came to status and occupation, Paul gave them some very practical wisdom,
Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:20)
Were you a slave when called? Don’t be concerned about it. (Although, if you can lawfully gain your freedom, that’s great too). Were you driving a tractor, working at the local Chinese restaurant or at home raising the kids? Great, carry on.
You meet people who sometimes think that they have to stop everything, including godly responsibility, in order to go off and serve the Lord. But for most of us, God has already put our calling under our feet. Our task is to do what we have been called to do, faithfully – and thereby transform the place as a consequence.
If the work before you is lawful, there was no need—and nothing to be gained—by quitting your day job. Serve Christ where you are.
For some of us this can get quite complicated, especially where our work brings us into contact with open sin, false worship or a workplace openly hostile to the gospel.
Naaman, a commander in the Syrian army provides us with a wonderful example of how we can remain loyal to God, even in unfaithful circumstances.
We read about Naaman in 2 Kings 5. He was a great man, well-liked by the king of Syria and successful in battle against Israel. But he was also a leper.
He had been going about conquering Israel and had even dragged some of Israel’s men, women and children, home with him to be house servants.
One of those was a little girl. Once a carefree Israelite, now a slave in a pagan household. She was also an example of faithful service in hard places. Think about it. The Syrians had become mortal enemies of Israel and here she was serving in one of their homes.
She spoke to Naaman’s wife one day and suggested that Naaman go and see Elisha and have his leprosy cured. So, Naaman asked his king, the king of Syria, and the king shot of an email and some cash asking Jehoram, King of Israel if he wouldn’t mind curing Naaman of his leprosy.
Jehoram had Israelite kittens over this. “Am I God? Surely this guy is trying to pick a fight.” (2 Kings 5:7)
Anyway, the misunderstanding got sorted out and Naaman made his way to Elisha’s house. Elisha didn’t even bother to answer the door. He sent his servant to tell Naaman to go and dip seven times in the Jordan.
This cheesed Naaman off no end. He was a commander of an army currently sacking Israel. How dare Elisha treat him so casually.
Anyway, a couple of clear-headed servants told Naaman to swallow his pride and do it. So he did, and he was completely healed. He goes back to Elisha’s house and says,
Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel (2 Kings 5:15)
He also asked for a trailer-load of Israel’s dirt so that he could build an altar back home and offer sacrifices to the one true God.
This was his conversion. It was dramatic, it was simple and it was beautiful. But there was just one snag. When he got back home he was still expected to keep his day job, which, among other things, included taking the king of Syria to the House of Rimmon, a pagan god, and bowing down so that the ageing king could lean on his arm during worship (1 Kings 5:18).
Would the Lord pardon this?
Elisha’s counsel was sweet, “Go in peace.” (2 Kings 5:19)
Maybe you came to Christ while mopping the floors of a local brothel. Maybe you came to Christ while working as a taxi driver for a sleazy businessman. Or maybe you sit next to someone in church whose day job fits this description. Would such a person be welcomed into your fellowship?
What should a person who comes to Christ under these circumstances do? Well, says Paul, if you can get your freedom, then great.
But what if you’re in the position this servant girl was in? What if you were in Namman’s sticky shoes? Well, you could take the Naaman option. Go in peace and serve the Lord with a clean heart—watching yourself lest you also be tempted.
Living with this kind of faith troubles many of our more pious brethren. The optics aren’t good and so there will be plenty of suspicious looks from the little old ladies of both sexes. That’s okay. Jesus worshipped in a temple that was every bit as corrupt as the House of Rimmon and dined with prostitutes. But He worshipped faithfully.
We serve a God who is bigger than Rimmon, bigger than your pagan boss and bigger than the King of Syria.
Yes, God is big on separation. It matters where we get our income. It matters who we hang out with. But let’s not make the mistake of those who walk by a dying man on the side of the road. The Pharisee in us thinks it’s the dirt outside the cup that makes a man unclean. But Jesus taught otherwise.
So Naaman went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:14)
The real dirt is within (Luke 11:39). And when you are washed clean from within, and by God’s grace keep yourself clean within, then you can navigate your calling, along with all the wickedness that surrounds it, and yet still be pleasing to God.
It’s not our job or our station in life, however dull, or our super-spiritual acts of service, that make us clean. It’s God, toward those who believe.