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.…
This remarkable saying occurs in a remarkable connection, and is used for a remarkable purpose. The apostle has been laying down the principle that the effect of true Christianity is greatly to diminish the importance of outward circumstance. Paul says, "You will better yourself by getting nearer God, and if you secure that — art thou a slave? care not for it; if thou mayest be free, use it rather. Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed? seek not to be bound. Art thou circumcised? seek not to be uncircumcised. Never mind about externals: the main thing is our relation to Jesus Christ, because in that there is what will be compensation for all the disadvantages of circumstances."
I. First, then, note how, according to the one-half of the antithesis, CHRIST'S FREED MEN ARE SLAVES. Now the way in which the New Testament deals with that awful wickedness of a man held in bondage by a man is extremely remarkable. It might seem as if such a hideous piece of immorality were altogether incapable of yielding any lessons of good, But the apostles have no hesitation whatever in taking slavery as a clear picture of the relation in which all Christian people stand to Jesus Christ their Lord. He is the owner and we are the slaves. And all the ugly associations which gather round the word are transported bodily into the Christian region, and there, instead of being hideous, take on a shape of beauty, and become expressions of the most blessed truths. And what is the centre idea that lies in this metaphor, if you like to call it so? It is this: absolute authority, which has for its correlative — for the thing in us that answers to it — unconditional submission. Jesus Christ has the perfect right to command each of us, and we are bound to bow ourselves, unreluctant, unmurmuring, unhesitating, with complete submission at His feet. And His authority, and our submission, go far, far deeper than the most despotic sway of the most tyrannous master, or than the most abject submission of the most downtrodden slave. For no man can coerce another man's will, and no man can require more, or can ever get more, than the outward obedience, which may be rendered with the most sullen and fixed rebellion of a hating heart and obstinate will. Absolute submission is not all that makes a disciple, but depend upon it there is no discipleship worth calling by the name without it. Bow your obstinate wills, surrender yourselves and accept Him as absolute, dominant Lord over your whole being! Are you Christians after that pattern? Being freemen, are you Christ's slaves? What does it matter what you and I are set to do? Nothing! And so why need we struggle and wear our hearts out to get into conspicuous places, or to do work that shall bring some revenue of praise and glory to ourselves? "Play well thy part; there all the honour lies," the world can say. Serve Christ in anything, and it is all alike in His sight. The slave-owner had absolute power of life and death over his dependents. He could split up families; he could sell away dear ones; he could part husband and wife, parent and child. And Jesus Christ, the Lord of the household, the Lord of providence, can say to this one, "Go! "and he goes into the mists and shadows of death. And He could say to those that are most closely united, "Loose your hands! I have need of one of you yonder. I have need of the other one here." And if we are wise, if we are His servants in any real deep sense, we shall not kick against the appointments of His supreme and yet most loving providence. The slave-owner owned all that the slave owned. He gave him a little cottage, with some humble sticks of furniture in it, and a bit of ground on which to grow his vegetables for his family. But he to whom the owner of the vegetables and the stools belonged owned them too. And if we are Christ's servants, our banker's book is Christ's, and our purse is Christ's, and our investments are Christ's; and our mills, and our warehouses, and our shops, and our businesses are His. We are not His slaves if we arrogate to ourselves the right of doing what we like with His possessions. And then, still further, there comes into our apostle's picture here yet another point of resemblance between slaves and the disciples of Jesus. For what follows my text immediately is, "Ye are bought with a price." Jesus Christ has won us for Himself. There is only one price that can buy a heart, and that is a heart. There is only one way of getting a man to be mine, and that is by giving myself to be his. And so we come to the very vital, palpitating centre of all Christianity when we say, "He gave Himself for us, that He might acquire to Himself a people for His possession." The one bright point in the hideous institution of slavery was that it bound the master to provide for the slave, and though that was degrading to the inferior, it made his life a careless, childlike, merry life, even amidst the many cruelties and abominations of the system. If I am Christ's slave it is His business to take care of His own property, and I do not need to trouble myself much about it.
II. Then there is the other side, about which I must say, secondly, a word or two; and that is, THE FREEDOM OF CHRIST'S SLAVES. As the text puts it, he that is called, being a servant, is the Lord's freedman. A freeman was one who was emancipated, and who therefore stood in a relation of gratitude to his emancipator and patron. So in the very word "freedman" there is contained the idea of submission to Him who has struck off the fetters. I do not forget how wisdom and truth, and noble aims, and high purposes, and culture of various kinds have, in lower degrees and partially, emancipated men from self and flesh and sin and the world and all the other fetters that bind us. But sure I am that the process is never so completely and so assuredly effected as by the simple way of absolute submission to Jesus Christ, taking Him for the supreme and unconditional Arbiter and Sovereign of a life. If we do that, if we really yield ourselves to Him, in heart and will, in life and conduct, submitting our understanding to His infallible Word, and our wills to His authority, regulating our conduct by His perfect pattern, and in all things seeking to serve Him, and to realise His presence, then be sure of this, we shall be set free from the one real bondage, and that is the bondage of our own wicked selves. There is no such tyranny as mob tyranny; and there is no such slavery as to be ruled by the mob of our own passions and lusts. And that is the only way by which a man can be delivered from the bondage of dependence upon outward things. Christian faith does so, because it brings into a life a sufficient compensation for all losses, limitations, and sorrows, and a good which is the reality of which all earthly goods are but shadows. So the slave may be free in Christ, and the poor man may be rich in Him, and the sad man may be joyful, and the joyful man may be delivered from excess of gladness, and the rich man kept from the temptations and sins of wealth, and the freeman taught to surrender his liberty to the Lord who makes him free. And if we are the servants of Christ we shall be set free, in the measure in which we are His, from the slavery which daily becomes more oppressive as the means of communication become more complete, the slavery to popular opinion, and to men round about us.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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.