Chasing Obscurity Here, Waiting for Welcome There
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
Regarding obscurity, one of the great spiritual dangers within institutions is that in our work we would only function, to use the language of Colossians, to please our [institutional] masters (see Colossians 3:24). That is, our work is done so that we are seen, noticed, appreciated, affirmed, and rewarded, perhaps with more pay or with a promotion or both, or just to get affirmation.
Institutional Intelligence, by Gordon T. Smith
How often do you appreciate working in obscurity? I think most of us tend to appreciate some feedback or praise for a job well-done. Generally speaking, most if not all humans want to be known and acknowledged. This is a main current in our society that we Christians aren’t immune to. In fact, I’d say that this current has become more subversive because of the ability to speak to people who are not in our physical environments. You can actually send a tweet to famous people, and some might even respond (I suppose depending on what kind of famous we’re talking about here.) It is like everyone who went on The Price is Right. The 10 minutes of being noticed is something you can never take away, and perhaps the response to your comment on Twitter or your viral video on Tik Tok means that you are noticed…to be forgotten quite quickly. This (along with other things) has created completely different and segregated realms of truth on the interwebs where various groups of people reiterate truths and falsehoods and half-truths in their own peculiar order, and it has become a canon of truths since the group agrees with it (I’m becoming quite happy to be ignorant about these online opinion schemas but being ignorant also means it is easy to observe in conversing with people). This is quite disorienting, and it is anti-God. This is because the vices of pride and deception (even unknowing deception) lie at the heart of it.
There is a different path. It is the path of obscurity. I think I’ve said it often, but we must learn to begin at a different place than where the world begins. The world (and our natural selves) begins with pride, a desire for being noticed, a rejection of truth as grounded in God’s hand in creation and revelation, and people pleasing. This is nothing new, it just comes out in our current world in a different way. The Christian beginning is humble servitude seeking the approval of Christ alone. Just review Colossians 3:22ff. Paul is talking to slaves! They’re so obscure, they were bought with money. In the world’s eyes, they aren’t valuable as humans, they are property. And Paul urges them, which becomes an example for any worker, to work obediently and with a sincere heart. Can you imagine how weird these words sound? Hey obscure slave, lean into your obscurity! Why? Because he is not slaving for his master but for the Lord Christ. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself today, it matters that you are living in light of your obedience to your Lord. Because: 1. Your inheritance is different than the world imagines, and 2. Wicked masters, wrongdoers will be repaid for their wickedness.
So we should begin by remembering that our labors today are not for the likes of people. We aren’t simply working to climb up the ladder of success so that at the end of the day, we will have a barn full of grain (or stuff). Instead, it is very possible, we might labor as an unnoticed homemaker without children for the rest of our days, or we might labor in a dead end job for the rest of our working life, or we might toil barely making ends meet all the while having a nasty boss. And our response is first: My labor is not for my boss but for my Lord. And this oddly enables us to serve with sincerity and perhaps joy, even in terrible circumstances. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move to a different company or work to make our conditions better. Sure, go ahead, but don’t do it in bitterness or strife or anger, or vain ambition. Because we are serving Christ until our last waking breath, we labor with the freedom of fearing the Lord and we labor with a different inheritance in view. This is true in the church as well. In a small church we might feel like not much is happening, that there are more opportunities elsewhere. On the other hand, in a larger church we might entirely miss the point of being a church and just try to get noticed by someone important: maybe the pastor will shake my hand! In both cases we ought to remember who it is we are serving.
And we can by extension also mention the interwebs as well. Although Instagram or Facebook, etc., online isn’t work, we have been trained through them to desire attention. What are those notifications on your phone? Oh, someone liked the photo you posted. The creators of these systems have hijacked our brains so that they can make money (literally, they are making a killing, and are publicly traded, they are not non-profit do gooders), and so we have to take care in our engagement with them so that we are not using their systems to feed our desire for attention or to be noticed. And if you notice that you might be struggling with such a thing, perhaps just delete it from your phone and see if the lack reveals anything about your heart. Oddly enough, many of these social applications are more work for us than we give them credit for.
At the end of the day, we look forward to the praise not of any one individual but of Christ. His welcome is our joy.