February 2, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.
After telling people to stay put in their careers once they’ve found Jesus, 1 Corinthians 7:21 then gives suffering workers a way out. If you’re a slave and you have the opportunity to gain your freedom, do so. If not, don’t worry too much about it.
As a young inexperienced worker, I once had a job that felt like slavery. I worked in a shoe store for one long sweltering summer. All day long I fit sneakers onto the tiny feet of squirming children. They tried to kick me in the face. The manager ridiculed me. The ladders in the storeroom burned my hands. I stayed in that job because I needed the money. At the same time, I longed for the opportunity to change jobs – something that I believed would earn me my freedom.
Even so, I learned a valuable lesson in that shoe store about the inner freedom that’s possible just by changing my attitude at work. I remember one quiet Sunday when no one was shopping. I was stuck facing a long and very boring evening. Suddenly, I was inspired by an idea: Why not get a jump on the week’s work by lacing up all the new shoes that had come into stock? I didn’t need to do it, but it would be helpful for the other employees, and it would give me a sense of accomplishment. With a new burst of energy, I brought out box after box. I carefully set the laces in place on each sneaker. Cheerfully I imagined the smiles on the salespeople’s faces when they opened the boxes and found the merchandise prepped and ready to go for the customer.
It was a small action, but it made me feel great about myself. It gave me a sense of ownership. I found a new purpose in my work that evening, and consequently my job didn’t feel quite so enslaving.
I think this is the secret escape offered by the advice in 1 Corinthians 7:21, “Don’t let it trouble you.” If you cannot earn your freedom, you can at least find a way to be free inside your own mind.
If you have a job you don’t like, you may be wondering whether you should stay or go. The answer isn’t always clear. While 1 Corinthians 7:20 suggests staying put, there are also plenty of biblical reasons to change jobs—including but not limited to slave-like conditions. For example, you may change jobs because God is calling you to more responsibility, as a “good and faithful servant” naturally moves on to bigger and better tasks (Matthew 25:21). Whatever you decide – stay or go – the message from 1 Corinthians 7:21 is that freedom through Christ is possible anywhere.
Something to think about:
In what ways do you feel like a slave in your job?
In what ways can you be a faithful servant?
What does freedom at work mean to you?
Something to do:
Listen to Austin Channing Brown’s take on the legacy of slavery in the modern workplace. The podcast episode is titled The Invisible Burden of Being a Black Woman in the Workplace.
God, give me peace about my work today. May all those who experience slavery find freedom. May all people enjoy work in your presence. Amen.