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1 Corinthians 7:17-24 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 44 secs

Spirituality Not Dependent on Circumstances

 

1 Corinthians 7:17 NASB "Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches." We have to go back and study the context. This is not Paul's chapter on marriage. Ephesians 5 is Paul's positive statement on marriage. Here Paul is dealing with some specific problems and questions that have been raised by the Corinthians congregation as indicated by a shift in tone at the beginning of the chapter where he says: "Now concerning the things of which you wrote me."

After outlining and addressing the different marriage situations in verse 10-16 Paul then shifts gears in verse 17 through 24, and here he is going to reinforce the principle that underlies the entire discussion, and that is that spirituality and happiness is not dependent on circumstances. Whenever you say that if you had a different job then you could be happy you have said that your happiness and your stability id dependent on something outside your control, and you have just put yourself into an emotional slavery. As soon as you say you would be happy if you had a different spouse you have just put your emotional stability and happiness in the hands of another person. We have to recognize that to the degree that we grant circumstances and people the power of making us happy and stable to that degree we are enslaving ourselves to people and circumstances. People and circumstances are never the source of happiness and stability, only our relationship with God. When we look to God—He is the rock of our salvation, He is immutable, He never changes—then it doesn't matter what our circumstances are. Granted, we go through some pretty miserable circumstances in life. If we believe in a sovereign God who is in control of the circumstances in our lives then we must include that whatever the circumstances are in our life God designs the adversity our lives because He is producing the character of Christ in us and He knows exactly what pressure points affect each one of us the most so that it is going to put us in that circumstance to handle the situation through the application of doctrine.

So Paul is going to address two issues that underlie these next seven or eight verses. The first is the problem of status quo where people think that if they just change their circumstances that they will be happy, and the other is a problem of time. That is, too often we get impatient and we want things to change. We want things to change now. We get in a marriage situation where we are going through some tensions and difficulty where we think we just can't survive, and it may go on for five, ten or fifteen years. But if we stick with it the long term consequences spiritually can be incredible.  Sometimes we have to stick with it for a long period of time. Don't fall into this subjective trap that is so typical of our self-absorbed culture and say: 'Well, God wants me to be happy." We don't read that anywhere in the Scriptures. God wants us to be obedient and to trust Him in the midst of circumstances and not to look to circumstances as the source of our happiness. There are many situations in life where we will endure jobs, bosses, people in authority over us, marriage situations, health situations, that are completely outside of our control, and we might have to stay in that horrible circumstance for many years but God has designed that circumstance to teach something and to provide an environment for the application of doctrine.

1 Corinthians 7:17 NASB "Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches." He is going to reiterate this principle at the end of this section on verse 24 where he says, "Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that {condition} in which he was called." Don't miss the point. Don't look elsewhere for your happiness, stay in the circumstances you are in until the Lord moves you on. Don't get involved trying to manipulate the circumstances, trying to push things along, trying to hurry things up, trying to create what you think is the right situation for your happiness and your spirituality. Stay where you are because that is where the Lord put you and He has a ministry for you right there in those circumstances, and don't get your eyes on next year of five years from now or ten years from now, or some other people or some other circumstance for your happiness.

"Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one." Here is the aorist active indicative of the Greek word MERIZO [merizw] which means to divide or distribute, to divide up, to categorize, and what it emphasizes is that God has a distinct plan for each and every believer. He has one set of circumstances for one believer, another set of circumstances for another believer, and another for some other believer. We should not get caught up in the trap of looking at somebody else's life and thinking that if only you could be like them then you would have happiness, be successful spiritually, and you could really grow in the Lord if you just had another set of circumstances. "Only" is the Greek is EI ME [E)I mh], which has the idea of "except," and it is emphasizing the fact that he is making a point. So each person has their own plan. God has a particular set of circumstances for them. "God has called each" is actually walk in each situation as God has called each individual. The command here is the present active imperative from PERIPATEO [peripatew] which emphasizes the lifestyle. Remember a present imperative emphasizes a habit pattern. The word "called" is from KALEO [kalew] and this refers to the operation of the Holy Spirit in making the gospel clear at the point of salvation when the believer puts his faith alone in Christ alone. In 1 Corinthians 1:9 Paul states, "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." It is used here, "as God has called each," as a perfect active indicative and a perfect tense verb focuses on completed action, action that is completed in the past and it is emphasizing present results from that past action. Here Paul is talking about the fact that we were called into a saving relationship with Him and as a result of that we are now in our present circumstances. So it is focusing on what happened in the past, whatever those circumstances were, stay in those circumstances.

Now don't take that too far. We have to be so careful in this chapter not to take there general principles and make them a rule without taking into account the whole context. The context is talking about certain circumstances, specifically marriage. He is not stating this as a definite law, he is saying don't think you have to change your circumstances in order to be more spiritual or to serve the Lord. He is not offering absolutes that you can't ever change your circumstance, but he is saying not to look to changing it as a solution to problems, as a solution to happiness or a solution to spirituality, which is apparently what they were doing in the Corinthians congregation. "Let him walk." Live inside the plan of God and don't seek to change everything, wait on the Lord and when it is time for things to change the Lord will kick us through the door without any help from us.

In verse 18 Paul is going to apply this principle to the area of religious background and ethnicity. There are two basic illustrations of the principle here as it applies to the congregation at Corinth. The first has to do with spiritual heritage or ethnicity, the ethnic problem, and the second has to do with the social problem. Verses 18, 19 address the ethnic problem and the spiritual heritage problem. There are two circumstances here. First of all, an individual who is called while they are circumcised. That would relate to the Jew. He because saved while he was circumcised, emphasizing that at that time he was actively involved in applying the Mosaic law. On the other hand relates to a Gentile who did not have the spiritual heritage of a Jew and is uncircumcised, and he might think that as a result of the legalist he needs to be circumcised and enter into some of the Jewish ritual in order to, have a little more spiritual blessing. Apparently there was a problem with Jews in a Gentile culture. The first problem is that they had Jews who had been following the law, had been circumcised as infants signifying their identification with the Abrahamic covenant. They now were saved, they understood the principle that there was no longer a spiritual distinction between Jew and gentile in the body of Christ, and so they thought they didn't want the sign of circumcision. On top of that there was a greater problem which was probably pressuring some of them, and that was that there was a large amount of anti-Semitism in the Roman empire and the Jews were having to deal with this as far back as the days of the second and third centuries BC when they were under the thumb of Antiochus Epiphanes and his harsh anti-Semitic decrees in Judea. There was a social stigma attached to the Jews and if you wanted to advance socially, economically, or get into certain positions in the empire then you would not want it known that you were a Jew. So there was a certain amount of pressure perhaps that now they were believers and Jewishness didn't matter could they reverse this so nobody would know they were Jews, so they could get out there and be promoted in society, in their jobs, and therefore be able to serve the Lord in a greater capacity. Then there were, on the other hand, Gentiles who were under the pressure of the legalism of the Judaizers, and these were the ones who said that is was great that a person was saved as a Gentile but if they really wanted to be spiritual and really wanted everything that God has for their life, if they really wanted the full blessing of God, then what they needed to do was to be circumcised so that they were aligned with the Abrahamic covenant and be super-spiritual. So the Judaizers introduced the legalistic principle to the Gentiles that they needed to be circumcised in order to be spiritual and Paul is negating this principle here.

1 Corinthians 7:18 NASB "Was any man called {when he was already} circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. [19] Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but {what matters is} the keeping of the commandments of God." Here he is stating that circumcision or uncircumcision no longer has spiritual significance. It did on the Old Testament because it signified that they were in relationship with God under the Abrahamic covenant. But there is a new situation in the church age. In the church age because of the baptism of the Holy Spirit ethnicity is no longer an issue as it was in the Old Testament where God was working through the Jews specifically. In the church age there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond or slave in the body of Christ. That is not saying these ethnic backgrounds are completely wiped out but they are no longer determinative for one's spirituality. What matters is keeping the commandments of God, and here in context it is to let him walk in the condition or situation God called him in, which takes us back to Galatians 5:16, walking by means of God the Holy Spirit. What makes you spiritual is not whether you are Jew or Greek, what makes you spiritual is walking by means of the Holy Spirit. [20] Paul reiterates the principle: "Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called." Don't seek to change the status quo to make you somehow happier or make you more spiritual, or thinking that somehow this will make you a better Christian.

Circumstances or situations in your life may remain unchanged but it is your relationship to the Holy Spirit and your attitude toward those circumstances that is important.

1 Corinthians 7:21 NASB "Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that." Here is a principle that has been completely missed in handling this whole issue of slavery, and it is also an important issue when it comes to the marriage and divorce question, and that is that God does not regulate sin. So when we come to slavery, if slavery is inherently evil, then God would prohibit it. God doesn't prohibit it, what he does is to regulate it. The application of that in the context has to do with the marriage and divorce question. If divorce is always a sin and remarriage is always a sin then God would just prohibit it, he wouldn't regulate it. There are regulations in Deuteronomy 24, regulations in Matthew 19 and in 1 Corinthians 7. In Ezra when the Jews returned to the land and the Jews married Gentile wives, God told them to divorce those wives. So if these things are inherently sinful God would just prohibit it completely. It is in the regulation where we understand that there are some circumstances where the way slavery is practiced is inherently evil and in other circumstances where slavery is not inherently evil. And as slavery was practiced both in ancient Israel and in the Roman empire there was the opportunity for the slave to better himself, to buy his freedom and to work his way out. It wasn't the same kind of chattel slavery that was practiced later on in the 19th century throughout Europe, Islamic countries, and the USA. [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." Here is the issue. If you were called while a slave then you have liberty in Christ. Your circumstances can't hinder you from serving the Lord. When you become a believer it doesn't matter what kind of restrictions you think are on you physically, you can still serve the Lord. Circumstances are not the key to spiritual growth and spiritual happiness. [23] "You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men." You have been redeemed, therefore you are to serve God as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your circumstances are still being controlled and determined by God who is working in your life to produce spiritual maturity and Christlike character. [24] Conclusion: "Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that {condition} in which he was called." Circumstances aren't the issue; the issue is your volition right where you are and whatever those circumstances might be, to serve the Lord, to take in the Word, and to apply it as consistently as possible. No one has the ability to keep you from applying doctrine in your soul, no one can stop you from growing spiritually, you can do that right where you are and just wait on the Lord. Let God change the circumstances and be patient, letting God change them in His time.