ISSUE: 2021, Volume 18, Issue 3
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I have been in the civil service for over forty years and recommend public service as a career worth considering in that it provides secure employment, while allowing a believer to serve the Lord and to fully participate in the assembly of which they form a part.
The vast UK public sector at national, regional and local government level covers matters as diverse as environment, agriculture, police and courts, social welfare, revenue collection, defence, foreign affairs and many more.
Individuals serving in the public sector each make a small but important contribution towards stable government, the support of those ‘that are in authority’, and the maintenance of conditions that allow us to ‘lead a quiet and peaceable life’, 1 Tim. 2. 2. New Testament passages have much to say about the role of government and governors, and how the governed ought to behave, Rom. 13. 1-7; 1 Tim. 2. 1-3; 1 Pet. 2. 13-17.
In effect, someone entering the public sector will be involved in serving the greater public good. The vast majority of jobs will be suitable for a believer, and they will feel comfortable about the purpose and what they are required to do.
Interestingly, those who do work in public service follow in the footsteps of two of the finest characters in the Old Testament. Both Joseph and Daniel rose to the highest level of government in their day. How they behaved are bright examples of the qualities to be displayed by those who would maintain testimony for the Lord in public service. Both were noted for their wisdom and effectiveness, which took them to the highest ranks. While few ever rise to such heights, believers today are called upon to emulate Joseph and Daniel for their integrity and reliability, qualities that are expected of all public servants. In fact, a believer may not be the most highly qualified or even the most capable person in the office, but they are to be renowned for their honesty and integrity at all times.
Most public service roles should not interfere with a believer’s responsibilities in their own assembly. In my time, my work always allowed me to attend the assembly meetings, participate in assembly activities, and to contribute to gospel outreach locally and elsewhere.
Sometimes in public service a believer may be assigned to work directly for an elected representative, some of whom may hold views and promote party policies that are contrary to the revealed will of God, as set out in scripture. In a liberal democracy, public servants are, of course, required to implement the policies and follow the directions of elected representatives, such as Ministers, Mayors or Councillors. A conflict is only likely to arise when a believer is asked to do something that in all conscience they simply cannot do. In such a situation, it is best to ask for a move to a different role, and in large public sector organizations this should always be feasible. While I have never been placed in such a position, I am aware of one believer who was, and, in that instance, the politician in question accepted the believer’s preference not to be involved in the matter. Daniel chapter 6 provides us with an extreme example of a situation where the believer’s position is completely incompatible with the edicts of the state – remember Daniel ended in the den of lions because he wouldn’t comply with the King’s edict in relation to prayer.
Taking up employment in the public sector (or indeed any large organization) will inevitably bring a believer into contact with colleagues of different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and political outlooks. On a personal level, these will often be fine, pleasant and likeable people. It is increasingly possible that amongst them will be individuals who hold beliefs or live lifestyles that will be in conflict with scripture, and maintaining a professional working relationship will require wisdom. Today, all public sector employers have policies which mean that a believer stating their beliefs could be censured and even disciplined, and, perhaps, dismissed. It is important, then, for the believer to work alongside all colleagues with integrity, dignity, and respect, and allow their manner of life and distinct testimony to speak powerfully to work colleagues. Should opportunity arise, ‘be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear’, 1 Pet. 3. 15. All such conversations should always be guided by the ultimate principle of ‘speaking the truth in love’, Eph. 4. 15.
In summary, public service is a career worth considering for the reasons stated, although over time it is likely to become more challenging for a believer as society in general becomes even more secular and the move away from scriptural principles accelerates.