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Your Work Matters More Than You Think

Obadiah

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 a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water (1 Kings 18:3-4).

God puts his people in some surprising places. The testimony of Obadiah can encourage Christians who have been called to serve God in dark places for His purposes.

Called to Unlikely Places

Obadiah is a godly man, and God has put him in the palace, next to Ahab. Imagine the darkness of this palace with its evil king and its wicked queen. King Ahab didn’t fear the Lord or walk in His ways. But God placed someone next to him who did.

Perhaps you can relate to Obadiah, who loved the Lord but lived and worked in a place that must have torn him apart. Maybe you are serving a company where many things make you deeply uncomfortable. You say to yourself, “I am a Christian. Should I even be here? How long can I go on working for these people?”

Maybe you face intense pressures in your career. You ask yourself, “Should I even be doing this?” And you wonder, “Is it possible to be a Christian and pursue a secular calling in this world that is increasingly hostile to our faith? Can I stay or should I go?”

Then you think, “Maybe I can get a job in ministry. Maybe I could become a pastor or a missionary or work for a nice Christian organization. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with these pressures.” The darker the world becomes, the greater the pressure on Christians to withdraw.

Don’t shy away from positions of influence because they are difficult. God calls His people to be lights in very dark places.

Called for Surprising Purposes

I Kings 18 tells us that there were at least a hundred men who had been called to preach the Word of God (v. 4), but there was only one man standing at the right hand of Ahab. The best that Obadiah can do for God is not to abandon his job and become the 101st preacher, but to persevere in his high-pressure position. Take him out of the palace, and so much is lost.

Obadiah couldn’t possibly have hidden the prophets apart from information gleaned by working in the palace. Think about the risk involved in that! Jezebel is killing prophets, and her husband’s chief of staff is hiding them in caves. Think about the cost! Obadiah supplied food to a hundred missionaries out of his own pocket!

The prophet Elijah could never have done what Obadiah did. Though the two men are brothers in the faith, they have very different callings. Elijah works from the “outside”—standing apart from and speaking into national life—and God has given him a platform to do that (1 Kings 18). But Obadiah has a ministry of influence from the “inside.” He stays in the palace, and he has to be very careful about what he says. Everything in his life is about staying faithful in a situation that often must have felt as if it was tearing him apart. Here are three insights we can gain from his testimony:

a. Expect to be troubled.

In any career, you will find yourself torn, because you are in the world but not of it. Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:33). This world is not your home, so you are serving where you do not belong in a system that will pass away. That will always cause tension.

When you feel pressure to withdraw from your profession because it’s a dark place, please remember—God calls Obadiah’s as well as Elijah’s. He puts his light in some dark places because that’s where it’s needed most. The steadfastness of Obadiah is a great means of preserving the witness of God, and it’s a warning against Christian withdrawal from the world.

b. Expect to be misunderstood.

It is fascinating to me that some writers take a very negative view of Obadiah. F. B. Meyer, a wonderful Christian writer from whom I have benefitted, sees Elijah as the hero, Ahab as the villain, and Obadiah as the compromiser—and what use is a compromiser? But Scripture tells us that Obadiah “feared the Lord greatly,” that he took a great risk to save the lives of a hundred prophets, and that he played an important role in bringing Ahab to Elijah (1 Kings 18).

Some Christians have it in for anyone who is given a trusted position at a high level, whether it be in the world of business, politics, and increasingly in the church. When other Christians don’t understand your work, remember you’re not accountable to them. You’re accountable to God.

c. Trust God to keep you.

How could Obadiah survive in the spiritually stifling world of Ahab’s palace? God can keep you wherever he has placed you. Spurgeon says, “Grace can live where you would never expect it to survive for one hour.” [1]

That’s true in a secular university and in the world of business and politics. God protected the soul of this faithful man who served in the cesspool that was Ahab’s palace. He can do the same for you.

Called to Goodness 

Elijah was a “change the world” person. His mission was to call the whole nation to repentance. His strategy was one of open confrontation on Mount Carmel. God was in that, and God used him in a remarkable way. But God has more than one kind of servant.

What’s fascinating is that Elijah ended his life in great disappointment that God had not done more. Carmel did not lead to the revival he longed to see. But read on in the story of 1 Kings and here is what you will find: In the end, Ahab (who did more evil than all who were before him) repented! It’s one of the biggest surprises in the Bible.

We’re not told if Obadiah lived to see Ahab’s repentance. But at the end of the day, Elijah ended up achieving less than he’d hoped, and Obadiah ended up achieving more than he’d expected.

Dale Ralph Davis has this comment that speaks to all of us who, like Elijah, want to do something great for God:

You want to see the community changed…You want to see the church built…You want to see the nation transformed…You want to see the world reached… How helpful then that Elijah is not God’s only faithful servant. Faithfulness is not so dull that it only comes in one flavor. Moreover, your own pride requires the correction this story can give: You are not called to great works but to good works, not to flamboyant ministry but to faithful ministry, not to be a dashing, but only to be a devoted servant. [2]

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1. C. H. Spurgeon, “Obadiah”, sermon, October 19, 1884.
2. Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2008), 233.
This article originally appeared here.
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Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. For more resources by Colin Smith visit Unlocking the Bible.