1 Corinthians 7:24
Brothers, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
St. Paul knew how to hold the balance between the stirring forces of Christianity, and. its calming, soothing power. He exemplified the combination in his own character; for he was ever moving yet never restless, ever aspiring yet always content, ever fighting, and that not as one that beats the air, and yet always breathing and making peace. The application of Christianity to actual conditions of society in ancient Greece raised many questions on which the Corinthian Church needed apostolic guidance. Such were the continual obligation of marriage after husband or wife had become a Christian; the question whether Judaism should yield to Gentilism, or vice versa, in the new community; and the problem of domestic slavery. St. Paul had no express command from the Lord Jesus on such matters, but guided, as he firmly believed, by the Spirit of God, he handled these three points with rare wisdom and foresight.
I. THE LESSON FOR THE FIRST CENTURY. The introduction of the Christian faith into such cities as Corinth could not but operate as a disturbing, unsettling force. It was therefore the duty of the Christians to avoid as far as possible giving alarm to rulers, by abruptly or violently assailing the forms of life and the established institutions round about them. If their religion should present itself to the eye of observers as mainly an agitation or social revolution, it would be put on a false issue, and would give to its adversaries a strong argument for its suppression. Therefore, though the apostle hated all social injustice, he perceived and taught that precipitate action, even with the best intentions, would be a serious mistake; and that the only sound policy was to work on men's consciences and subdue their hearts, and gradually lift them up into a condition of moral feeling and a love of righteousness which could, no longer brook such institutions as Greek and Roman slaveholding. On this topic, therefore, he checked impatience. The first thing needful was to bring Jesus Christ into every station and walk of human life. When Christ should dwell among and in men, society would take to new moulds by an inward necessity, not from any outward dictation. This was the best course to be taken even with regard to slavery. The endurance of it was hard; for St. Paul wrote at a period when the rich in Greece and Italy were cruel and contemptuous to their slaves, and it was possible for a Roman emperor to give their flesh to feed his pet fishes. But the institution was so familiar to the public mind that it was regarded as indispensable; and so Christianity was not to assail it directly, but to teach masters to give to their slaves what was just and equal, and slaves to be faithful and. honest in service. If a slave could get his liberty, he was to take it joyfully - "use it rather." If not, he was to abide with God in that calling. His spirit was with God in a far loftier sphere than could be conceived of by the heathen master, who probably treated him with scorn. The Christian slave was the Lord's freeman.
II. THE LESSON FOR THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
(1) This text must not be quoted to require or justify adherence to a questionable calling or occupation. A Christian may find himself in a trade or business which offends his now enlightened conscience and is hurtful to his fellow men: he may be in a place or appointment which requires him to practise deceit or minister to vice. Then be must leave it, because in such a place it is not possible to "abide with God." At the same time, such abandonment of one's situation or means of livelihood must be only under real stress of conscience, and not merely because the work is hard or troublesome.
(2) This text must not be quoted to retain Christians in ecclesiastical positions which they see to be at variance with the Divine Word. The presumptive evidence always is in favour of one's continuing in that Church in which he obtained mercy from the Lord, and it is foolish and ungrateful to leave it so soon as he sees a flaw or fault in it. lie who cannot live in a Church that has faults will have an unhappy Christian career, and end probably in a small clique of impracticable persons like himself. At the same time, one must avoid the other extreme of refusing to consider what is or is not in harmony with the Law of Christ, and sheltering or defending abuses which ought to be confessed and corrected. Such a mode of acting puts a stop to all Church reformation. Of small faults we do not speak; but serious errors and abuses we should try to remove. If we fail, we must change our position in order to "abide with God."
(3) This text must not be quoted to check human aspirations. It is not to be implied that, because a man was poor at the time of his conversion, he must always be poor; or if he was a servant, must continue a servant to his dying day. Christianity gives no countenance to the idea that the ranks of society should be stereotyped, and no one allowed to rise above the station in which he was born. There is a wriggling anxiety to gain personal importance which is not worthy of a Christian; but if, by honest industry or conspicuous ability, one should rise in position and influence, the thing commends itself to good feeling and to reason. Therefore it cannot be condemned by Christianity, which is pervaded by good feeling and is supremely reasonable.
2. Positively. The text sets a wholesome check on self regarding ambition. The great problem of life is not bow to step up from one calling or station to another, but how, in this calling or that station, to abide in communion with God and advance his glory. No doubt, one position appears to great advantage over another, for happiness and for usefulness; but the difference is seldom so great as appears. That which has outward facilities has special risks and anxieties, and that which has disadvantage in one respect has compensation in another. But to "abide with God," not when apart from our worldly calling, gathered into a church on a holy day, but in our calling, - this is the problem. To have him with us and in us by the Holy Spirit; to walk up and down in his Name; to work and to rest as in his sight; to have his light shining on our path; to have his grace working in us both to will and to do; to have our labour lightened, our care relieved, our leisure sweetened, by his love! This, indeed, is life - high life. Oh, to abide in our calling calmly with God - our minds and hearts open to his impulse and direction - our wills submissive to his! This is what will baffle the tempter and silence the gainsayer, by proving that our religion is no mere selfish hope of future enjoyment, but a power deep seated in the soul, which can conquer passion and covetousness, and diffuse over the life a sweet serenity. To quote an English poet of the sixteenth century, now little known
"He most of all doth bathe in bliss
That hath a quiet mind." F
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.