TEXT: 1 Corinthians 7: 17- 24
TITLE: “ The Contentment of our calling “
We have not considered the first letter to the Corinthians since the beginning of October last year , and so it is time that we finish the work that we have begun, and we now pick up where we have left off.
The letter to the Corinthians is to a church where God had evidently worked wonderfully. They were “ the church of God that is in Corinth… those sanctified in Christ Jesus…” ( 1:2). Therefore Paul gave thanks to God for them , as he says “because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus” ( 1:4) .
It is one thing to discover the apostolic gospel , for which the letter to the Romans is so well known and loved . But we also need to know the relationship between this gospel and its order , discipline , worship and ethics, and for this we need to study the first letter to the Corinthians .
I believe that this letter is relevant for Christians here in Windhoek and Namibia because so many claim to know the Lord Jesus Christ , but so many make no connection of His lordship to their daily lives . As a result our visible Christianity among the non Christians makes such a poor impact , and in a number of instances the name of God is even blasphemed among the unbelievers because of such a poor testimony ( Rom 2:24). I often see evidences of this in our media , which is clearly looking for a cause to accuse Christians.
We have seen that the Corinthian church was a messy church . It was a church full of cliques. It was a church full of doctrinal and therefore moral laxity. Its members not only had a problem with submitting to one another , they also had a problem with submitting to Paul’s apostolic authority . There was a distinct lack of humility and consideration for others. They were keen on the dramatic , showy gifts of the Spirit, but they lacked love which was rooted in the truth . All this led to a lot of poor relationships in the church .
Chapter 7 deals with principles for marriage . I have dealt with the particular issues there , and you can access them , if you like, on my sermon blog “ Reformed Baptist Sermons from Namibia “ .One of the major issues that Paul focuses on in this letter and in particular in Chapter 7 is that we should at all times seek to live in peace. That peace is mainly obtained by being content with the state in which we find ourselves at any given moment . Are you single ? Stay single! Are you married ? Don’t seek a divorce, even if your spouse is an unbeliever . However if the unbeliever chooses to leave, let them leave - don’t force them to stay . God has called you to live in peace ! (7:15). You won’t save your unconverted partner . Only God can do that ( 7:16) . And very often a spouse must battle with patient prayer and humble, exemplary conduct, even seeing their spouses sometimes turn against God . The principle that Paul follows is this : stay in your God-ordained relationships; don’t divorce . But he allows the exception , that if the non believer leaves , the believing spouse is not bound to the deserter.
So then those are the statements that have brought us to our text (7:17-24) for today . We shall see that the apostle Paul continues to speak about that which has moved him right throughout this letter as he thinks of the Corinthian attitudes , derived probably from their cultural setting , but especially from the unsanctified areas of their sinful nature . There is of course nothing unique about that . I believe that we Namibians have a similar problem . We are not a contented people . We are generally restless and divisive . Therefore Paul counsels us with the Corinthians : Learn to live in peace! Learn to avoid conflict . Learn to be content with the life that the Lord has assigned to you ! Remain with God !
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Paul urges a basic attitude of contentment with whatever God gives us , even if the situation is less than ideal ; even if there is friction and frustration . He is applying the same rule to the many tensions life may have as he does to marriage . Having discussed the principle of staying in the God-ordained relationship of marriage when you become a Christian (except when the unbeliever leaves) , Paul now discusses this principle in two other connections. He applies the principle to the matter of circumcision and uncircumcision and he applies the matter to slavery and freedom . Both these issues were big issues in the society of that day , and a lot of discontentment was being voiced on these issues .
The principle that Paul had already taught in relation to marriage (“ stay in it” )is repeated here again , three times !
- V. 17 " Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. “
- V.20 "Everyone should remain in the condition in which he was called."
- V.24 "So, brothers, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God."
But before we go on from here you will have noted the word “call / calling” appearing repeatedly in this text . We need to understand what Paul means by this word which appears 9 times in this passage .
What is meant by this calling ?
Normally we think of our calling in terms of our vocation , whether that be a mom at home , a teacher, a plumber , an electrician or engineer , a child at school or a young person at Polytechnic or University, studying in their respective fields .
It seems that Paul is speaking here not about that sort of calling , but mainly about the call to be a Christian . In fact, 8 of the 9 uses refer to this . Only in v. 20 does he seem to refer to the calling of a vocation .
So we see that Paul is speaking mainly about that effectual calling by which we are called to be the children of God - in the sense of 1 Cor 1:9 “ God … by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord .” ( see also 1 Cor 1:22,23 ) . All true Christians have been called in this sense , and so when Paul says in our key texts in vv 17 , 20 &24 that we should remain in the condition which we were called, he primarily means this : Remain in that condition you were in when you were converted !
Having established this understanding then , we take note how Paul applies this principle in terms of two applications : circumcision and slavery:
Two Applications :
a. circumcised or uncircumcised (vv 18-19) . Here Paul is saying :
- If you were converted when you were a Gentile, don't try to become a Jew by becoming circumcised .
- If you were converted when you were a Jew, don't try to become a Gentile by becoming uncircumcised .
In v. 19 Paul gives us the reason : 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God ( counts for everything) .
He is saying that neither being a Jew or a Gentile is something worth fighting for or boasting about . This is so amazing to hear in a day and age where there is so much cultural pride and where colour and ethnic barriers are erected to keep people apart . The truth is that being black or coloured or white or Herero , Damara or Afrikaner or rich or poor is nothing!
Keeping God's commandments is everything ! If you’re an Oshiwambo person don’t spend your whole life trying to be like a German speaking white Namibian. The pursuit of such things is a waste of time . Rather train yourself to be godly by keeping the commandments of God . Every person , every tribe , every culture needs to know ( following Paul’s logic) that obeying God is more important than beating your cultural drum. Paul is not throwing cultures out of the window . He is just getting the priorities right ! “Keep the commandments “, and the first is this: love God ; and the second is this : "Love your neighbor” ( Mk 12:29-31)
b. slave or free (vv 21-23 )
The point is essentially the same. Since slavery was common in the Roman empire  this would make an impressive argument . The main thing about being a Christian slave was not that you were a slave . The main thing is that you were a Christian . ( Paul uses similar arguments in Eph 6:5-9) . In the Lord a Christian slave was actually a freedman of the Lord (7:22) ,and Paul pushes the analogy by saying that a freeman is actually a slave of Christ . (NB. Paul was not averse to gaining your freedom if you were a slave, but that wasn’t the thrust of his argument)
Now the point : When you are called to be a Christian it doesn’t matter whether you are a slave or a freedman . It doesn’t matter whether you have a high position or a low position within the social strata of men . What matters is that you have been bought with a price by Jesus death on the cross (v.23) and therefore you belong to Christ .
Do you see Paul’s radically God centered theology ? We people ( and Christians) make much of social status and wealth and class . We are easily impressed by these . But God thinks nothing of these things .
- What matters is whether you obey God .
- What matters is whether you have been purchased by Christ .
The last verse ( v.24) is very important : “So brothers ( and sisters) , in whatever condition each was called , there let him/ her remain with God .” This last verse really helps us to see the full picture .
This is a call to Christian contentment, and our Christian people need to hear this . If there is something that characterizes much of our Christianity in this country it is discontentment and restlessness . It makes for poor churchmanship and it starves our churches of godly energy !
Take this seriously , particularly if you are tempted by discontent and restlessness . Take this counsel from the Bible: Calm down ! Stop making unimportant things (or things of secondary importance) the main thing. Rather make sure that you keep God’s commandments . Learn to be content where you are . Don’t think so much about your need for constant self improvement ( climbing the corporate ladder) or your social position and your possessions , and in which suburb you live and what car you drive and where your kids go to school . Think about God and the church which He purchased with the blood of His dear Son .
Settle down and get to know the church of which you are a member, and make a long term difference there . Our own church has suffered enough from this restless syndrome . Ask yourself this question : Am I a slave of Christ ? Or am I a slave of men ? (v.23) . The answer to that question will determine where you will go with this text .
Once again : This is a call to Christian contentment ! This is a call to embrace your call by God with joy and to settle down and there to remain with God . Your contentment with your present situation and with the God who is with you , will result in you helping to make a Corinthian church whole again ! Amen .