“Be in the world, but not of the world” is a common Christian phrase. It refers to what Jesus said as recorded by one of His close friends in John 15:19 and John 17:14-16.
But what does that verse mean for your work? Does this mean you can be “in” retail or IT, but you aren’t supposed to enjoy it, develop in it, or excel in it? At what point in trying to be at the cutting edge of your industry do you over-identify with it and become “of” it, compromising your identity as a Christian?
Thankfully, we have a great model who helps us manage the tension: Daniel. Daniel was part of the Jewish elite—well educated, powerful, and full of potential—who was taken into exile by the Babylonian king and wanted Daniel to work for the Babylonian government.
In Daniel 1, we see how Daniel handled being “in” but not “of” his work.
On one hand, Daniel was excellent at what he did — had an edge. He had developmental aspirations in being in the king’s service. He immersed himself in the Babylonian language and literature (v. 4). He excelled at it to the point where he became a thought leader for the entire Babylonian empire (v.17-21). The king, himself, found none equal to Daniel in every matter of wisdom and understanding.
On the other hand, Daniel was not of the world — he had community. He had a group of people who deeply valued him, constantly held him accountable, and engaged in him real and sustained dialogue that kept him rooted in his faith.
His community was Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). In this time, your diet was a way to express your faith and beliefs. So when Daniel was pressured to eat the royal food of the king that violated Jewish dietary laws, Daniel turned to his community.
Together, these men found a way to maintain their identification as God’s people while staying relevant to the needs of the Babylonian empire. They asked for ten days to demonstrate the relevancy of their dietary laws to their immediate supervisor. After the ten days had past, the supervisor noticed that they looked healthier and better nourished than the others who ate the royal food. As a result, Daniel changed the way the people of the king’s service were trained and developed. The entire “workplace” shifted toward the dietary laws of Daniel.
So how do you be “in” your work but not “of” it?
First, have an edge — have clear developmental aspirations for how you want to excel in your career, be a constant learner, and work with excellence in whatever you do. After all, God placed you there “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
Second, make sure you have a community — have a group of people who love you, hold you accountable, and help keep you rooted in the Christian faith as you move throughout your career.
If you have both an edge and a community in your career, then you will be certain that your work will always be done with excellence and integrity.