Salvation Doesn’t Mean You Should Change Your Physical Circumstances
Paul had been giving instruction in Chapter 7 regarding marital status. Apparently there was some level of discontent among the believers where there was an inordinate desire to change their state from single to married or from married to single. Maybe those who were in mixed marriages were envious of those who were in Christian unions. Maybe those who were married wished that they were single so that they could serve the Lord more devotedly. In any case, Paul feels a need to pause and address the wider problem of contentment with your assigned role in life. Each person must understand that God is providentially working in their circumstances. The priority must be on living by faith and obeying the commandments of Christ. Every person has opportunity to live out their calling from that perspective. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” For myself, I have this running joke with my family where when I start feeling sorry for myself or unhappy with my present circumstances I talk about “moving to Kansas” (= some nondescript place that is far away from my present situation). This passage addresses that struggle for contentment.
EMBRACE WITH CONTENTMENT GOD’S SOVEREIGN PROVIDENTIAL DISPENSATION OF YOUR OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES AS YOU FOCUS ON SERVING CHRIST TO THE MAX
– GENERAL PRINCIPLE
– 2 CASE STUDIES
I. (:17) GENERAL PRINCIPLE: EMBRACE WITH CONTENTMENT GOD’S PARTICULAR CALLING FOR YOUR LIFE
- Particular Application (Repeated 2 other times: vv.20, 24 – Present Tense command – "let him walk"): "Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk."
- Matter of Priority: "Only"
- Matter of Providential Calling – applies to every realm of life: "Lord has assigned" and "God has called"
Rugh: Talking about the situation in which you find yourself when God saves you. That effectual call which results in our turning to God in saving faith.
- Matter of Personal Application – no one can make this happen for you
- "each one"
- "called each"
- "let him walk" = how we live out our Christian life; conduct ourselves
- Universal Application: "And so I direct in all the churches."
- Still holds true for believers today – Don’t get this wrong!
II. (:18-20) CASE STUDY #1: CULTURAL, ETHNIC IDENTITY
- (:18) Don’t Despise Your Calling
- Called as Circumcised: "Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised."
- Called as Uncircumcised: "Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised."
- You don’t have to remove your tattoos!
- (:19) Focus on What Really Matters
- Viewed Negatively: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing,"
- Viewed Positively – Serve Christ to the Max by Focused Obedience: "but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God."
Rugh: Not talking here keeping the Mosaic law; Paul recognizes here that the law of Christ is now what is binding for the church. That is how he can say that circumcision is no longer important. Gal. 5:6; 6:15
- (:20) General Principle Repeated for Emphasis: "Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called."
III. (:21-24) CASE STUDY #2: ECONOMIC, OCCUPATIONAL IDENTITY
- (:21-22) Don’t Despise Your Calling
- Called as a Slave Man: "Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman;"
- Called as a Free Man: "likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave."
Piper: He is saying that in the gospel there is an antidote for despair in menial jobs and an antidote for pride in highly esteemed jobs
- (:23) Focus on What Really Matters
- Viewed Positively – Serve Christ to the Max as one who has been redeemed from bondage to sin: "You were bought with a price;"
- Viewed Negatively: "do not become slaves of men."
MacArthur: Here Paul does not mean physical slavery but spiritual slavery. He is speaking of becoming slaves of the ways of men, the ways of the world, the ways of the flesh. That is the slavery into which many of the Corinthian believers had fallen, the slavery that caused their divisions and strife and their immaturity and immorality…
God allows us to be where we are and to stay where we are for a purpose. Conversion is not the signal for a person to leave his social condition, his marriage or his singleness, his human master, or his other circumstances. We are to leave sin and anything that encourages sin; but otherwise we are to stay where we are until God moves us.
- (:24) General Principle Repeated for Emphasis: "Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called."
- What are some temptations we face regarding contentment with our outward circumstances? How do we handle that struggle for contentment?
- Are we always comparing how the Lord is working in our life to how the Lord seems to be working in someone else’s situation? Are we jealous for their circumstances?
- What commandments of God require more focus from us? What distracts us from giving our full attention to obedience to God’s commands?
- What are we doing to maximize our service for the Lord Jesus who bought us for Himself with His own precious blood on the cross?
QUOTES FOR REFLECTION:
Piper: What Paul was doing was showing that obedience to the commands of God is so much more important than any cultural distinctives, that the mere changing these distinctives should be of no importance whatever to the Christian. In other words, don’t make such a big deal out of whether you are circumcised or not, or whether you are white or black or red or Swedish. But instead make obedience a big deal; make the whole aim of your life to obey the moral law of God. Then and only then may circumcision (as Paul implies in Rom. 2:25) and other cultural distinctives become beautiful, in a very secondary and derivative way as expressions of the obedience of faith. In a word, the application of Paul’s principle to cultural distinctives is this: Don’t fret and don’t boast about your present state of cultural distinctives; they are of little importance to God compared to whether you are devoting yourself, soul and mind and body, to obeying his commandments, which are all fulfilled in this: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14). . .
The real contrast, it seems to me, should be expressed as: "don’t let your slavery make you anxious, but instead use it." Use it to obey Christ and thus "adorn the doctrine of our great God and Savior" (Titus 2:10). . . . What matters in life and in eternal life is staying close to God and enjoying his presence. What matters is not whether our job is high or low in man’s eyes. What matters is whether we are being encouraged and humbled by the presence of God.
Putting the two applications of Paul’s principle together, the teaching seems to be this: Obeying the commands of God (v. 19) and enjoying his presence (v. 24) are so vastly more important than what your culture or your job is that you should feel no compulsion to change your position. You should not be driven from one by fear or despair, nor allured to the other by wealth or pride. You should be able to say to your position, "Never mind. You are not my life. My life is to obey God and enjoy his presence."
His concern is not to condemn job changes, but to teach that you can have fulfillment in Christ whatever your job is. This is a very unfashionable teaching in contemporary western society, because it cuts the nerve of worldly ambition. . . This text implies that the job you now have, as long as you are there, is God’s assignment to you. Verse 17 says, "Let everyone lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him." God is sovereign. It is no accident that you are where you are.
Stedman: "Well," somebody says, "what about sexual infidelity? I understand that breaks a marriage. Didn’t Jesus say that if there is adultery, sexual infidelity, that a marriage would be broken?" And the answer is, "Yes. He does say that." Three times in the Gospels it is recorded that our Lord says that divorce is wrong unless it be for adultery, for sexual infidelity. That does end a marriage. "Well," you ask, "why doesn’t Paul mention that here?" I think the reason is because he has just dealt at length with the subject of sex in marriage. He has pointed out how central the sexual union is to marriage. He has even warned couples not to defraud one another, not to refuse it, not to stay away from sexual union very long, because it is central to the working out of God’s purposes in marriage. It has valuable lessons to teach us when understood properly and when used according to the Word of God. Therefore, Paul does not dwell on that point because he has just referred to our Lord’s teaching on marriage and divorce. I am sure he felt that this exception that the Lord himself granted was widely understood and known, and so he does not mention it. . .
I have carefully checked all the commentaries available to me on this passage and have found that almost unanimously all the commentators agree that phrase, "not bound," means that the marriage has ended and that remarriage is permitted by the Christian involved in that kind of a liaison. The reason the apostle gives is that "God has called us to peace." Continual antagonism between two people of different faiths resulting in a constant chafing of one or the other in the marriage is not good. If the unbeliever takes the initiative (that is the qualification that must always be present), and wants to leave, then do not saddle him or her with legal restrictions or economic barriers that prevent him or her from doing so. That is what Paul is saying.
Charles Hodge: This of course is not intended to prohibit a man’s endeavoring to better his condition. If he is a laborer when converted, he is not required to always remain a laborer. The meaning of the apostle evidently is, that no man should desire to change his status in life simply because he had become a Christian; as though he could not be a Christian and yet remain as he was. The Gospel is just as well suited to men in one vocation as in another, and its blessings can be enjoyed in all their fullness equally in any condition of life."
Steve Zeisler: The general principle which Paul is seeking to apply is this: people do not have to change their circumstances in order to be happy. It is not due to a mistake that you find yourself in your present circumstances. God knows your situation, and he is not calling upon you to change your circumstances in order to bless you.
Fulfillment in life, freedom in Christ, personal integration, growth and confidence do not depend on whether you are married or not. It doesn’t matter whether we have the right job, whether we’re making enough money, whether we have the right friends or not. . .
"Do not become slaves of men," is Paul’s powerful word of advice. This is what happens—you become a slave–when you give to somebody the power to make you happy or unhappy. If fulfillment for you comes only when your boss promotes you, then you have become a slave of men. If you set your sights on marriage to a particular person, and if that determines your fulfillment or lack of it, you have become a slave of men.
MacArthur: Christians should willingly accept the situation into which God has placed them and be content to serve Him there. It is a principle against which human nature rebels, and Paul states it three times in these 8 verses, so that his readers could not miss his point. We should not be preoccupied with changing our outward circumstances. . .
The unity of the church at Corinth was seriously fractured. Not only were there numerous parties and factions, but some groups were encouraging those with the gift of celibacy to get married, while other groups were encouraging those who were married to become celibate. Slaves were chafing under their bondage and were trying to find spiritual justification for demanding freedom. Although the gospel is the antithesis of the standards and values of the world, it does not disdain or seek to destroy governments, societies, or families. Rather where the gospel is believed and obeyed, some of the most obvious by-products are better government, better societies, and better families.
But Christians can be Christians in a dictatorship, a democracy, or even under anarchy. We can be Christians whether we are man, woman, child, married, single, divorced, Jew, Gentile, slave, or free. We can be Christians in Russia or the United States, in Cuba or China, in France or Japan. Whatever we are and wherever we are, we can be Christians.
Gil Rugh: What Need Not Change as a Believer
Once someone becomes saved and has a heart to serve the Lord, all sorts of questions tend to arise:
– Should I quit my job and go into the ministry? No
– Should I abstain from sexual relations in my marriage? No
– Should I divorce my unsaved spouse? No
– Should I become circumcised like the Jews? No
– Should I change something in my physical and social circumstances?
The immediate point of the context is when you get saved that doesn’t mean that there should necessarily be any change in your marriage relationship. ("If I had known the Lord before, I would never have married this person . . .")
God has been working in your life all along – even before your conversion. When God sovereignly called you, it was in the context of physical circumstances that He had orchestrated. Certain things are inconsistent with being a child of God; but most of our physical circumstances can continue on without negatively impacting our spiritual relationship.
Changing your outward circumstances won’t improve your spiritual relationship with God. Submission to the will of God is what is important. These physical matters are important to the world but should not shape our thinking in terms of our relationship with our God.
Pastor Thomas Leake: Eyes on Christ = Lasting Contentment (7:17-40)
Introduction: Testimony of Paul in Philippians: "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself"
Refers to your marriage, your job, your social and economic status, the size of your house, the zestiness of your car, etc.
Rom. 8:28; Our goal = Become more Christlike; serve Him more fully; keep focused on Christ
2 Broad Areas of Contentment:
I. In Our Social Status (:17-24)
Don’t let your focus be on improving your status in this world;
What are the sinful motives behind being so driven and ambitious in a worldly sense?
Paul said he had learned to be content… and so can we.
Cf. country music song: Little Bitty by Alan Jackson:
Well, it’s alright to be little bitty
Little hometown or a big old city
Might as well share, might as well smile
Life goes on for a little bitty while
This life will be over quickly; live passionately right now right where God has placed you;
Don’t live under your circumstances
Ps. 42:5; 2 Cor. 12:10; Heb. 13:5-6
II. In Our Marital Status (:25-40)
Paul applying the same wisdom and the same principles to virgins and widows;
"Good to remain as you are"
Paul gives even more reasons in these cases
– in view of the present distress (could refer to a number of things)
– marriage brings a certain amount of its own "trouble" – Marriage doesn’t solve all your problems, just brings new problems
– the form of this world is passing away – new age rapidly approaching – Don’t get your mindset all wrapped around the things of this world
Conclusion: Are you a discontent person? Wishing you had different outward circumstances? Refocus on the greatness of the person of Christ; He is our lot; our sufficiency; my portion forever
Ps. 16:11; 84:11-12
God can satisfy me; but I must trust in Him