Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Contentment of our Calling

TEXT: 1   Corinthians  7: 17- 24
TITLE:  “  The Contentment of  our calling  “ 
DATE:      06/02/2011

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
The principle that Paul had already taught in relation to marriage  (“ stay in it” )is  repeated  here  again  , three times !
  1. V. 17  " Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. “  
  2. V.20  "Everyone should remain in the condition  in which he was called."
  3. 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  1:9God … 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  [1] 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 .

[1] Some estimate that the slave population in the 1st century consisted of approximately 1/3 of the total population  ( Source:  Wikipedia)

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