CALLED TO REMAIN
1 CORINTHIANS 7:17-28
Once upon a time there was a farmer. He was a poor man, struggling to work out a meager existence for himself and his family in the small field behind the old wooden shack in which they lived.
One day the farmer heard a story of a fabulous diamond. It was said that this diamond was the most valuable gem in the world. The farmer thought to himself that if only he could find this diamond, all of his troubles would be over. He left his farm and his family and set out in search of this treasure.
He searched high and low, traveling through many countries in search of the gem that could so change his lot in life. Years passed and his health deteriorated until, at last, he was forced to give up his quest. He returned home to his farm and his family in dejection.
A few days later, he was plowing in his field and the plow overturned a glittering rock. It was the fabled gem, the object of his search. He realized with a start that the treasure for which he had spent his life searching had been his possession all along.
We are often like that man. We look about us and we decide that our lot in life is too small. The swells of ambition roll over us and we set out the change our life. We climb the ladder of our imagined success only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.
THE PRINCIPLE STATED
Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:17).
Paulís principle is that the believer is to stay within the circumstances in which he finds himself. If you are going to understand this principle, you have to first understand the basis upon which the principle is founded. It is founded upon the sovereignty of God.
There is a great truth here that you can easily miss if you do not look closely. It is that whatever circumstances you find yourself in have been assigned by God.
This is a tremendous truth. God has planned everything that has ever come into your life. When you stop at a red light, it was a part of the plan of God and was decided before the foundation of the world. When your alarm clock fails to ring in the morning to that you are late for work, it was ordained by God. Nothing comes into your life that has not first passed across the desk of the Architect of the universe.
This is a great source of comfort. God isnít going to be taken by surprise by anything that comes along. He will never say, "I had some real nice blessings set aside for you, but something unexpected came up and now it is all ruined."
When He says that He causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose, you can know that it is true. Because God has planed all things, He has also planned what the circumstances would be when you were saved. If you are single, it is because He planned it that way. If you are married, it is because He designed you to be married. Whatever are your circumstances, they were planned and designed by God.
Therefore it is okay to stay in the circumstances in which you were called. God designed those circumstances and He planned when you would be called. These things did not happen by chance. They were arranged by God. They came to pass according to His timetable.
This seems to be clear enough. You are to remain in the condition in which you were saved.
This brings up a question. Does this mean that you should never allow your circumstances to change once you have become a Christian? If you are single when you are saved, do you have to stay single for the rest of your life? If you are a slave when you are saved, do you have to remain a slave as long as you live? If you work for a particular company when you first trust in Christ, do you have to remain with that company until retire? Is it against Godís will for you to ever quit a job?
I do not think so. Instead, let me suggest that Paul is teaching that being a Christian should not make you immediately go out and change your social status. If you are single and you become a Christian, you do not have to run right out and get married. If you are a slave when you are saved, you do not have to try to escape from your slavery in order to begin serving Christ. If you work for a particular company when you first trust in Jesus Christ, you need not quit that job and go to work for a Christian in order to be more spiritual.
It is possible to be a Christian within any social strata. You do not have to be poor to be a Christian. You do not have to be rich to be a Christian. You do not have to be single or married, free or a slave to be a Christian.
Having stated the principle, Paul will go on to apply it to three different areas of social life.
Paul begins with the principle as it relates to the two most basic divisions within the church -- that of Jews and Gentiles.
THE PRINCIPLE RELATED TO CIRCUMCISION
18Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.
19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.
20Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:18-20).
The earliest doctrinal conflicts within the church were those that related to Jews and to Gentiles. When a Gentile turned to Christ in the days before Jesus, he was required to undergo the rite of circumcision. The foreskin of the manís penis was surgically removed in a painful operation.
This was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. It was the covenant that God made with Abraham when He promised him a nation and a people. The sign of the covenant pointed to the people that would spring from Abrahamís descendants.
Now the question arises. Is a Gentile required to undergo this rite of circumcision and become Jewish and observe all of the Jewish rituals in order to become a Christian? Or was a Jew who came to Christ to give up all of his tradition and abandon the Temple and the sacrifices and the Old Testament Scriptures? Paul answers in the negative.
Here is Paulís principle. If a Jewish man comes to Christ, he is not to try to obliterate his Judaism. He can be both Jewish and Christian. The two are compatible. This is why we are able to read of Paul coming to Jerusalem and offering a sacrifice at the Temple. He was able to live as a Jew when He was ministering to Jews.
The reverse is also true. A Gentile who comes to Christ should not feel as though he must convert to Judaism and undergo the ritual of circumcision in order to be a real Christian.
The Jewish rite of circumcision is not spiritually significant. It does not make you more spiritual to be circumcised. It does not make you less spiritual to be circumcised. It is not good or bad. It is indifferent. It is nothing.
What does matter is the principle behind the practice and the reality behind the ritual. This is not a new concept. Even in the Old Testament, the Lord told the prophets that He was much more interested in what went on inside a man than what his body looked like.
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD
And remove the foreskins of your heart,
Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
Lest My wrath go forth like fire
And burn with none to quench it,
Because of the evil of your deeds. (Jeremiah 4:4).
God called people to have a circumcision that was internal. He called them to cut around their hearts -- to turn to Him in repentance. This is the same truth of which Paul spoke in his epistle to the Romans.
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29).
Paul gives a lesson on what it really means to be Jewish. Being a Jew does not mean having a big nose. It does not mean having a surgical operation. It involves something on the inside. Being one of Godís chosen people involves an inner operation by the Spirit of God. It involves a heart transplant as God takes away your heart of stone and replaces it with a pure heart. It involves a new birth by which you enter the family of God.
Now you are a Christian. Were you brought up in the tradition of Judaism? Did you observe the Passover each year? Did you celebrate the Feast of Hanukkah? Did you fast on Yom Kippur? Did you remember the Lord each Sabbath? You need not stop. These celebrations will now take on a much greater meaning for you, for they are celebrations of the Messiah.
THE PRINCIPLE RELATED TO SLAVERY
21Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
24Brethren, let each man remain with God in that condition in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:21-24).
There was no more degrading social position within the ancient world than to be a slave. A slave had no rights at all. His entire life was in the hands of his master. He could legally be bought or sold at will. He could be beaten and he could be killed. He was considered to be a piece of property like a cow or a chariot or a sword.
What was to be the attitude of a slave if he became a Christian? How could he serve the Lord if he was enslaved to a pagan idol-worshiper?
If you are a Christian and a slave, you are not to be concerned that you do not have your freedom. It is not a matter of great concern.
This does not mean that, if you are given your liberty, you are not allowed to take the opportunity to be free. If you are able to be free, then be free. But if you are not able to be free, do not let your lack of freedom bother you.
How is it possible for anyone to have such an attitude? It is only by realizing that God is in control. If I am a slave, then it is because the God who loves me and who gave Himself for me decided that I should be a slave. If I am in prison, then it is because Jesus wants me to be there and it is for my best and for His glory. If I am in the midst of a harsh situation, it is because God has designed that situation to bring glory to His name through my circumstances.
Being a slave or not being a slave is of no consequence in Godís eyes. A slave who is a Christian is really more free than the mightiest emperor of Rome.
The Christian has been set free form the tremendous bondage of sin and of death. He is as free as a man can be. He will never die.
On the other hand, the free man who is a Christian is a slave of the Almighty God. To be a Christian means that you have been redeemed. You have been purchased from the slave market of sin.
When you were saved, God bought you. You stood on a slave block and were auctioned off to the highest bidder. God put in the highest bid. He bid the highest possible price. The purchase price was the blood of Jesus Christ. He paid for you with His life. His life was given for your life. Now you are Godís special possession. You are bound to Him with cords that cannot be broken.
For this reason, you ought not to enter into slavery. If it is possible, you ought to try to remain free to serve your Lord and Master. If you are free, then remain free and do not be enslaved. And if you are a slave, then remain content in your slavery unless the opportunity comes to be released.
THE PRINCIPLE RELATED TO MARRIAGE
25Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.
27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:25-28).
This same principle of remaining content within your present situation also applies to the area of marriage. Paul began this chapter by speaking of the issue of marriage and now he has come full circle.
If you are single, then you need to realize that God has ordained for you to be single at this time of your life. It is a part of His plan for you. If you are married, then God wants you to stay married and you need to see that marriage as having been designed by God for His glory and for your good.
Paul has already quoted the words of Jesus as directed toward those who are married. Jesus had been very clear in teaching that married people are to stay married. But for what Paul has to say now, he will not quote Jesus. Jesus did not give any commands to single people as to whether or not they should marry. He did not tell everyone to marry and He did not tell everyone to remain single. Neither will Paul. What he will do is to apply the principle of remaining to the area of marriage.
Paul applies the principle of remaining to the area of marriage. It is good to remain in your present status.
Paul has made it very clear that this is not a command that means all single people must remain single. What Paul is saying is that being single is a good option.
Why is it good to remain single? Paul is going to give several reasons throughout the rest of this chapter, but for the moment he will center only upon one. It is good for a believer to remain single because of the present distress.
To what does this refer? Paul lived in a day when Christians were under the gun. He had been beaten and stoned and arrested and imprisoned for the faith. Others had already been put to death for proclaiming the name of Jesus. In a time of distress like this, a marriage can be a marked hindrance. It is one thing to face this kind of persecution as one who is single. It is quite another thing to face such persecution when you also have a wife and children for whom to care.
Many Christians would object, "That doesnít apply to my situation today because we donít life in a time when Christians are being persecuted." That is not true. Christians are being persecuted today. Christians have been persecuted in every age. Jesus said that His people will always suffer persecution.
It is true that there is little or no persecution in the United States today, but this could easily change in the future. There may come a time when this principle will have profound implications.
Here is the principle of remaining. We are called to remain within the situation in which we find ourselves.
If you are not happy being married, then you will not be happy being single. If you are not happy being single, then you will not be happy being married; you will merely make someone else unhappy with you. Happiness does not depend upon being married or being single. Happiness depends upon your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Marriage may be difficult at times, but it is not wrong. It may have its own unique set of hardships, but it is not bad.
Here is the principle. Being single is not bad. Being married is not bad. Both are used by the Lord for His people. But single people often lose sight of the difficulties of marriage.
The single person will never experience marital problems. The single person will never suffer the pain of a divorce. The single person will never have to endure the death of a spouse. The single person will never have to watch a mate being persecuted for the faith.
It is hard enough to be a Christian by yourself, but it can become much more difficult when conflict is added to the picture. The union of two sinners in marriage can be like tying two porcupines together in close quarters. They keep getting pricked by the other partnerís sinfulness. That is not to say that marriage means trouble with a capital "T." Marriage can be a wonderful experience. But the single person needs to be aware that marriage is not a cure to all unhappiness.
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