1 Corinthians 7:17-24
But as God has distributed to every man, as the Lord has called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.…
From the special case with which he has just dealt, the apostle proceeds to lay down a general principle. To understand the need for this, we have only to remember the circumstances of the time and the bearing upon these of the doctrines of the gospel. To many minds Christianity must have appeared to be revolutionary in its tendency. It proclaimed the equality of all men in the sight of God, the temporary nature of earthly things, the approaching advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, when a new era was to dawn; and men who drank in these views as the new wine of life were apt to become intoxicated. They were ready to cast off family obligations, disrupt social ties, and break up every earthly relationship. Against this tendency Paul here warns them. Christianity was not meant to revolutionize society in this violent way. On the contrary, it adapts itself to every position and relation in life in which men may be placed.
I. A GENERAL RULE. This rule is thrice repeated with slight variations (vers. 17, 20, 24). "Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called."
1. The Christian view of life.
(1) It is a distribution of God - a lot. Our station, occupation, relationships, are of Divine appointment. He assigns us our lot (Psalm 16:5, 6) and. determines the bounds of our habitation (Acts 17:26).
(2) It is a calling. Our true work in the world is that to which the voices of Providence call us. If we are where we ought to be, we should look upon our occupation as a real vocation of God.
2. The Christian's duty in relation to his lot or calling in life. The general rule is - Remain where you are. This follows from the view of life just presented; for it is our duty to abide by the Lord's appointment, and conversion does not necessarily change our secular vocation. If he finds you at the plough, or at the desk, or engaged in trade, or in the married state, or in the service of another, - serve him where he finds you. Christianity is a hardy plant that thrives in every clime. Do not imagine that if you were in a different line of things it would be easier for you to follow Christ. Nothing is more needed in our day titan a consistent exhibition of Christian principle in the common walks of life - the family, the workshop, the office, the exchange, etc. Let your light shine where it is first kindled, continuing there "with God" (ver. 24). To this rule, however, there are two obvious exceptions.
(1) When we discover that our occupation is inconsistent with the Law of God. A wrong course of life, such as a business which cannot be conducted on Christian principles, should be abandoned at once. It is not a "lot" or a "calling" of God.
(2) When there is a clear call to a position of greater usefulness, presenting fuller opportunities of serving the Lord. Thus the apostles left their boats and nets to follow Jesus. Thus many a young man is called to leave his secular occupation and give himself to the ministry of the Word.
II. ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE RULE. TO show how the rule applies, Paul takes two illustrative examples - the one from religious position, the other from social position.
1. Circumcision. If a Jew is called, let him not attempt to efface the mark of the covenant; if a Gentile is called, let him not think it needful to be circumcised. To do otherwise in either case would be to attach a value to external forms which they do not possess. Paul's own practice in circumcising Timothy (Acts 16:3), and refusing to circumcise Titus (Galatians 2:3, 4), throws light upon this. To have acted otherwise in the case of Timothy would have been to attach importance to the omission of the rite, since one of his parents was a Jew and the other a Greek. To have allowed it in the case of Titus, whose parents were both Gentiles, would have been to attach importance to the performance of the rite, and so to submit to the yoke which the "false brethren" sought to impose. By acting as he did he showed that both circumcision and uncircumcision were to him matters of indifference. Religion is not an affair of outward ceremonies, but of spiritual obedience. Comp. ver. 19 with Galatians 5:6 and Galatians 6:15, in all which the first clause is the same. In opposition to such matters of ritual observance, he places:
(1) "Faith working through love;"
(2) "A new creature;" and
(3) "The keeping of the commandments of God." These are the great essentials of Christianity (see Stanley, in loc.).
2. Slavery. If there is any institution to which we should have expected Christianity to show itself hostile, it is just this. Slavery strikes at the root idea of humanity, denying to man his proper dignity as a person; and is therefore in collision with the axiom on which the gospel proceeds, that "He made of one every nation of men" (Acts 17:26). At the time when Paul wrote, it was the great "open sore" of the world, and was frequently accompanied with great hardship and cruelty. Yet he does not counsel the Christian slaves - a numerous class - to rise in rebellion and throw off their bondage. He bids them "care not for it" (ver. 21). Freedom, indeed, is to be preferred if you can obtain it; but you can serve God as a bondservant as truly as if you were free. It was not by dint of hacking and cutting that the fetters were to be struck off, but by a surer and more excellent method. As the frost fetters of winter give way before the warm breath of spring, so Christianity was to loosen the bonds of the slave wherever it came. And this principle was to regulate individual action. For:
(1) It makes no difference to your Christian standing whether you be bond or free. You were bought with a price, and so redeemed from the bondage of sin and Satan in order to serve Christ. Hence, though you are a bondservant, you are really the Lord's freedman; and though you are outwardly free, you are really Christ's bondservant. Man must serve, but he cannot serve two masters. Our Redeemer delivers us from Satan, so that we are now free; but this freedom shows itself in the service of our new Master. "Let my people go, that they may serve me," is still the Lord's demand.
(2) The service of Christ is true freedom. It delivers us from every other spiritual service. Christian liberty is compatible with outward slavery, but not with subjection to men in spiritual things. Here we must not call any man "master." How often do Christians become bondservants of men! We fall into this error when we shape our views and conduct according to tradition, or party, or school, or the popular voice, instead of simply asking, "What saith the Lord?" - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.