The book of Esther is unique for several reasons. One of those reasons is the lack of an explicit reference to God. Nowhere is God mentioned in the entire narrative’s sequence—not by the Jewish characters, the story’s heroes, nor by the non-Jewish characters. And yet, despite this oddity, the book contains valuable wisdom for those who follow Jesus and desire to share their experience with God in a world where many are not open to explicit expressions of faith.
Often when people in the church think about or discuss mission, they focus on explicit faith-oriented actions, such as evangelistic meetings, distribution of faith-based literature, Bible studies, or other forms of outreach. These things require a certain level of freedom and connection to a community to foster any meaningful transformation. But what about places where government doesn’t allow faith-based activities? What about areas where people are entirely uninterested in such activities? Often the church ignores such settings. But places that fit this description make up a substantial portion of the world’s population. This week, through the lens of Esther and Mordecai, we will see that God desires us to be creative in our witness, even in places and spaces that are not open to overt mission work.
The story of Esther and Mordecai, much like the stories of Daniel and Joseph, is a reminder to the followers of God that they do not need to be pastors or religious leaders to serve the mission of God. These stories are in Scripture to demonstrate that through public service, government officials, and other government agencies, the people of God can serve and impact society in such a way that they draw people toward the love of God.
In the case of Esther and Mordecai, they were able to save the lives of thousands of people by being faithful to the values and wisdom passed on to them through their Jewish ancestors. Often when we read biblical stories, we gloss over the details, not always recognizing the intensity presented in some of the situations, as in the case of Esther and Mordecai. What Esther and Mordecai faced was an extraordinarily stressful and precarious situation. For them, preaching sermons or involving themselves in direct missional activity would not have served the larger mission of God, which was to draw people into loving relationships. What was needed was the courage to stand for life in the face of death. They took this stand in a context in which they were part of a minority group, underappreciated in the empire. Yet, through God’s influence and the willingness of Esther and Mordecai to make wise decisions in connection with God’s overall plan for humanity, the queen and her adoptive father were able to be a blessing to people and to be part of a moment in history that was passed down via the pages of the Bible and the practice of the festival of Purim (Esther 9:18–32).
Many people reading this Bible study guide are living in places where they have significant religious freedom and do not have to worry about their lives being threatened if they reveal their faith. Others around the world do not have this luxury. Numerous followers of Jesus currently live in situations where an open adherence to God would land them in prison or endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Despite this danger, some of these people actively work in places of influence. God calls them to live out their faith in ways that may not seem like mission to many of us. It’s possible that the best way for these people to serve God is to avoid openly expressing their faith. Instead, their quiet work in the background impacts how people are treated, helping them to flourish. This work is no less important than the explicit gospel presentations that others make in situations in which they have more freedom. The courage required to stay faithful in situations in which you cannot do so openly is often demonstrably remarkable. Only in the new earth will we know the impact that such people have had on countless lives worldwide.
There is another missional lesson to be learned from the story of Esther and Mordecai. Neither Esther nor Mordecai were trained theologians or trained pastors. They were regular people who had come to be in positions that were significant within the empire of the day (Esther 2:7). Little did they know how vital their roles would be. What is clear from the story is that both Esther and Mordecai worked and lived with a sense of integrity (Esther 2:19–23; Esther 4:15, 16). Despite the challenges that life threw at them, they remained dedicated workers for God and developed reputations for their diligence and honesty (Esther 6). As a result, when the activities of people around them (specifically Haman and his minions) conspired against them, their reputations became crucial to their survival.
If either Esther or Mordecai had not habitually been responsible people who served those around them with integrity, the story would have been very different. Their integrity gave them the platform from which to ask for favors and speak openly when it was a matter of life and death (Esther 5:8; Esther 7:3, 4). And they were not only heard at that moment, but they were also listened to (Esther 8).
Herein lies the lesson for us today. Most followers of Jesus are not official employees of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Even fewer occupy such positions as a pastor, teacher, or chaplain. Yet, according to the story of Esther and Mordecai, it is often not the official workers who have the most significant amount of influence in a community. Usually, the average church member, who may work in secular businesses or for a civil service entity, has the greatest missional potential. We must never underestimate the role our relationships with people may have in the long run. The history of the mission of God is full of stories, many untold, that resemble Esther and Mordecai’s. While most followers of Jesus may not be in such high-profile positions as Esther and Mordecai were, they are still in places and spaces to which pastors and other people employed by the church have no access.
In those spaces and places, a person’s reputation for maintaining a high level of integrity and carefulness on the job will draw people to him or her in relationships of respect that create the possibilities for numerous influential opportunities. Sometimes explicit references to God are not what is needed to draw people toward the life that God desires for all humanity. It is essential to remind ourselves of this reality and remind the people around us, as well.
If a person were to tally up all the stories in the Bible about faithful followers of God, they would be surprised at how many of the stories are about everyday people living out their faith in everyday settings. The Bible demonstrates that God’s mission is for all people and that any person can be a participant in that mission. It does not necessarily require that a person leave behind his or her career in a field other than church work. In fact, in most cases, what is needed is for more people to see their existing places of work as their mission field. This understanding does not always require that they explicitly evangelize their coworkers. It often means that they work with honesty and integrity, allowing the relationships that come from such an approach to blossom naturally. There is a high chance that the people who implement such an approach will periodically find themselves in situations that require courage and decisions that have an impact far beyond themselves. Living in a relationship with God will prepare them for such situations.
The church must pray regularly for those who live in places where an open adherence to their faith is dangerous. The church should pray that God will give those in such places the courage to live out their faith through appropriate expressions in their given settings. The church should regularly intercede at the throne of grace for those who are in situations without freedom, praying that somehow, through their influence, they may get a glimpse of the love of God and the life God wants for all humanity. Setting aside a week each month in the church for more intentional prayer along these lines would be very valuable.
Together we need to creatively encourage all followers of God who are not official church employees. We need to recognize their service through the different avenues of influence they have. The church also should invest in training that focuses on helping church members see how their work can be missional without necessarily requiring explicit witnessing. The General Conference has resources and personnel who have thought explicitly about, and practiced, “tentmaking” approaches in mission, who may serve as contact persons for such training. Prayerfully considering in more intentional ways how the members, in their regular jobs, can be mission-oriented would drastically change how the gospel would spread around the world.