This sermon is number 18 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 18
"Stay As You Are"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 7:17-24
When we embarked upon this chapter 7, we embarked, as it were, upon a sub-series found within this book. There are many different issues addressed by the great apostle in 1 Corinthians, that's why it's so interesting - at least I think it's interesting, I don't know about you - these Monday nights, I hope you do. There is so much covered in one particular book, but in chapter 7 we have been slowing down, as it were, in order to really get everything that Paul is saying concerning marriage, relationships, celibacy, single life, those who are divorced, whether it is legitimate to be remarried, and also those who are widowed, and those we will be looking at later on who are virgins, and what they ought to do with regards to the things of God concerning the situations in which they find themselves in these personal relationships. So we'll be looking these weeks at marriage matters, and we'll be doing that, I think, for a week or two yet - but tonight I want to home in on the real principle that is behind all that Paul says, because we found out in the last study two weeks ago when we looked quite considerably at the subject of divorce, that the principle that was coming out from everything that Paul said and the varying situations that Paul addressed, the one principal was: stay as you are. It is better to stay as you are than alter your circumstances.
So we're going to look at a few verses tonight that really, if you like, unpack that principle behind all that Paul says in this chapter. We begin reading at verse 17 through to 24: "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. Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God".
'The grass is greener on the other side' is a condition that many of us fall foul of in our lifetime at sometime or another. I don't know whether there's anybody here this evening suffering from this. When we think of it in the context of relationships and marriage and so on, and even some of the things that Paul touches in these verses that we've just read, perhaps there are some gathered with us this evening saying: 'Well, I wish I wasn't married, I wish I'd never got married'. That would be a terrible thing to say, wouldn't it? But you know, there may be times that even in the context of what Paul says, that it's easier at times to serve the Lord, and some of you may be tempted to say: 'Well, if I didn't have the ties, the restrictions of a family home, a wife, children, a husband, well, I could be on the mission field or something, or I could be an evangelist roaming from house-to-house and hedge-to-hedge with the Gospel'. Some could say the opposite: 'Well, I feel I'm left on the shelf, and I wish I were married - oh, if there was anything I would want, I would long to be married'.
Paul talks about slaves and masters in this passage, and perhaps some people are saying: 'Well, I wish I was unemployed, I wish I hadn't work to go to in the morning'. Or maybe you're unemployed, and you think: 'Well, I wish I was employed, I really want to be employed', and you're obsessed by this. Maybe you're obsessed by the job that you have, getting promotion within it; or maybe you would long for a better job, or a job that you have true satisfaction in - and maybe the whole motivation for that is because you just would like a bit more money to buy some of the possessions you want, to have a more luxurious and affluent lifestyle.
Now we have to be careful to say that some of those things are wrong, not all of those things are wrong - but what is wrong, according to the New Testament, is to be preoccupied with those things, to let those things take over your life so much so that all that you think about is those things, and you begin to change your external circumstances to achieve your one purpose and prime goal in life, no matter what that is. But what is definitely wrong is if you go further, just like the Corinthians did, and if you make the conclusion and the equation: 'Well, if I only wasn't married, then I would be more spiritual', or 'If I was married', or 'If I was married to a better Christian they would encourage me in the faith and I would be more spiritual', or 'If I wasn't married to a non-Christian the way I am, perhaps I would be able to be more spiritual and have a more spiritual home. If my husband was saved, perhaps if I went to a better church, if I had more of an education, if I had more money, if I had more things going for me I might be more spiritual for the Lord Jesus Christ and for the furtherance of His Gospel'.
That was akin to what the Corinthians were saying, and they made a fatal mistake - not only to say those things, but they went a little bit further to drastically change their external circumstances in order to bring these things into being which they thought would make them more spiritual. This was the Corinthian problem. Equally today, some try and change society around us. They make the equation in their minds: 'Well, if only I could infiltrate society, even as a Christian, and change society - relieve poverty, help the sick, go to the land where there there's famine and bring aid to them - well then I would contribute a little bit more and it would make me more spiritual, and it would make the world a better place'. Now both of these scenarios are fatal for the spiritual life and for your growth in maturity, because both of them miss the fundamental point of why the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world. The Lord Jesus did not come to earth to instigate external societal revolution in this world, but the Lord Jesus came into the world in order to instigate spiritual revelation in the hearts and in the lives of individuals.
Now don't misunderstand me this evening: although we seek as much as we can to influence always for the good and for the right wherever we are found in life from day-to-day, I hope none of us are foolish enough to think that we in some way can turn the world upside-down to such an extent that we change fundamentally and philosophically this world system. You cannot do it! Even when the Lord Jesus Christ was face-to-face with Pilate in John chapter 18, He confessed to Pilate that that was not His goal in coming to earth. He said: 'My kingdom is not of this world'. Although there is coming a day when His kingdom will come upon the earth in fulfilment of prophetic Scriptures, the Lord Jesus in His first advent had come to set up a kingdom in men's hearts, not to change or instigate some external changes and revolutions in society and in the institutions and governments of our world - but rather to penetrate the hearts, the personal lives of individuals, and change that way.
I believe personally that Christianity cannot help but radically affect society in which Christians are living, and that ought to always be the case - institutions ought to be affected when Christians are living within a generation. But what we cannot fail to miss is that the primary purpose of the Gospel is internal, a change from within that affects without. Now what I want you to see this evening is that the Corinthians were trying to change their external circumstances to affect themselves internally. They thought that by changing their externalities they could become more spiritual. So what was happening was, the married were saying: 'Well, if I could just get a justification for getting a divorce and not been married, well then I'd be freed from all the sexual temptations that I have believed from my past life is so terribly sinful, and I could be freed to be holy and righteous for the Lord'. Those who were slaves were saying: 'Well, I don't believe it's right that I should be a slave. I'm told that I'm now free in the liberty with which Christ has made me free, and to be no longer entangled with the yoke of bondage - so how can slavery be right?'. Slaves were beginning to seek emancipation, and seeking what they saw as their human rights.
What we've got to see tonight from the teaching of Paul is that Christianity has not been brought to this world by the Lord Jesus Christ to destroy governments, to destroy societies, or to break up families. Don't misunderstand me, the Lord Jesus said that He had come to bring a sword, the Lord Jesus said that He had come to put at variance a husband and wife, and a son and a daughter; but that is the default if you like, that is the fallout and the overflow, the effect of what the Gospel does - but that is not the primary purpose of the Gospel, the primary purpose of the Gospel is to change individuals, not to change countries or to change governments or to change whole families all at once, but to work on the individual. The main point of what Paul is bringing to us through this passage is: Christians can be Christians anywhere in any situation - and although Christianity ought to bring, when Christians are living in a society, better government, better society, better families; the main point of what Paul is saying being Christian really means is that you can be a Christian anywhere in any situation, even if the government, the institutions and your family is not changed.
You see you can be a Christian in a dictatorship, and you can also be a Christian, as you know, in a democracy - but you can even be a Christian in anarchy, when everything is against you, against government, against civilisation. You can be a Christian if you're a man, you can be a Christian if you're woman, you can be a Christian if you're a child, if you're an adult, if you're married, if you're single, if you're divorced, if you're a Jew, if you're a Gentile, if you're a slave, if you're free you can be a Christian! Even though those external circumstances are not altered you still can be a child of God. If you live in Iraq you can be a Christian as well as you can live in the United Kingdom and be a Christian, in Vietnam or in China, in Germany or in Dublin. Paul is saying: whatever you are, wherever you are, you can live, exist as a Christian.
Now please do not misunderstand what Paul is saying, and what I'm expounding this evening: he's not in any shape or form justifying corrupt governments or immoral societies - in fact one day God's going to come and judge societies and corrupt governments. He is saying that the Gospel is not to revolutionise social institutions, rather to revolutionise men's hearts and affect society, if necessary, through that. Christianity doesn't mean that you cease to be a husband, or you cease to be a slave; but Christianity means you become better husband, you become a better wife, you become a better slave or son or daughter or citizen or student, or whatever you are. In other words, this Gospel is so radical and so powerful that it can be planted and take root anywhere across the face of the globe, no matter what is going against it! Isn't that tremendous? That where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound - and no matter how deep-dyed your sinful background is, praise God: anyone, and I say that, anyone can be a Christian! You don't have to engineer external circumstances before you come to Christ - it's just as well, because I don't think any of us here tonight would have been taken in by Him if that was the case.
So Paul begins here in this paragraph, and you would almost think he was digressing from off the main track of talking about marriage - and that is true of the content. He has digressed to talk about those circumcised Jews, uncircumcised Gentiles and slaves - and although he has digressed with the content, the overall concern is still the same and we'll see that. If you look at verse 15, Paul was talking about the mixed marriage, in other words a Christian married to a non-Christian. They got married and they were both non-Christians, and then one of them was converted, and there was this situation where one was saved and one was not. Paul says in verse 15: 'But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace'. In other words, if you get converted and your wife or your husband is not converted, you're to seek to live with them in harmony and peace; and if that is not possible, the partner wants to leave and separate, you're to allow them to separate from you - but the common denominator, and the fundamental operating factor is this: that we are to live in peace.
If you become a Christian and you want to push them away because they're not a Christian, that is not living in peace - that's a recipe for war and dissension! But equally so, if they want to leave you, they want to live their own life, you're to let them go the Bible says, because that will be the only way to have peace. Now as Paul moves on from that idea of a mixed marriage, he impacts this principle: God has called us to peace. Now he picks up that theme and he presses it home, and this is the point that controls everything throughout this whole chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians. Let me show you this, remember the slogan that the Corinthians were crying in verse 1: 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman'. Some of them are married, and because of their promiscuity before marriage and even their adultery during marriage, they decided: 'Now we're converted we can't have anything to do with sexual relationships whatsoever', and they tried to sever the relationship they were in. Or, if I could put it like this to you: they sought to change their present status, and they sought to do this because they believed it would be more spiritual not to be married.
'I'm spiritual', they concluded, 'now therefore I shouldn't be in a relationship that I deem to be unspiritual'. So they saw the status of marriage, some others saw the status of celibacy, as having more religious and spiritual significance, so they sought after it to change their situation to be more spiritual. They were forced to drastic action because of this teaching they were imbibing. But Paul comes along, and has already done this, but he's really nailing it now, and brings this spiritual principle to them: stay as you are - in order to bring to their minds and hearts the true perspective of what spirituality really is. He comes to them and says: 'You say, well we've got to get divorced because we're married, and we don't think that's spiritual', other ones say: 'Well, we're going to stay celibate even though we're roaring with sexual passion, can't control our actions, because we believe it's more spiritual' - and Paul comes in and he says: 'Remain in whatever social setting you have been in at the time of your conversion'. Have you got that? Remain in whatever social setting you were found in at the time of your call.
Now let's break this up to make it more simple: God's call to be in Christ, in other words when you're saved and you hear that call of God's Holy Spirit, and you answer that invitation of grace, that salvation experience transcends the setting in which you were found at that time. What do I mean? Well, if you were an adulterer like some of these, if you were a fornicator like some of these, no matter what your background was - a thief, a murder, an extortioner, you know the list that we've come across in this epistle - that conversion experience transcends all that. When you're forgiven your calling in Christ transcends the settings and the circumstances that you were found in. But Paul tells us that not only does it transcend those circumstances, but it makes them irrelevant! Paul is saying that conversion creates such a change in the relationship that we have with God, one minute being in darkness, the next being in light; one minute being an enemy of God, the next being a friend and a son of God; that we don't need to change any of our relationships with people. Because the relationship with God has been changed so drastically we don't need to start changing our externalities around us in our settings and our circumstances. You see, even our relationships are transformed in conversion!
You might think: 'What's this boy talking about? He's going down a line here that I've never heard of'. Well, look at verse 14, you remember this mixed marriage - one's converted, one's not converted - here is the principle: 'the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy'. Here's this husband saved perhaps the wife's not saved, but the wife is sanctified now in her husband, the children are now made holy in the home - they're not saved, they're not going to heaven, but because of this transcending relationship where we are transformed when we're converted into Christ, it affects our relationships without us having to do anything about it! Do you see that? You don't need to divorce the wife to make her sanctified or to make you sanctified. You don't need to shun your children and throw them out the door, but conversion has actually changed the circumstances that you are in when you were converted!
Now why does Paul say that? This is why he says it: because you're no better off in one condition or the other. Remember we saw this in the week we spoke about celibacy and singleness? He said it's good, it is morally good for a man not to touch a woman, to remain single; but it's equally morally good to be married. One is not better than the other, one is not more spiritual than the other, and he's saying exactly the same thing here: when you're converted the relationships that you are in when you are converted are affected by your conversion, so much so that even if you weren't married to an unbeliever, even if your children weren't saved, one is not better than the other! Have you got it? It's understandable, but perhaps you envy the little Christian home - your wife or your husband is not saved, or some of your children are not saved, and you envy that, and you really feel: 'Oh, the grass is greener on that side, that's for sure'. Well, I know that desire is worthy, and I encourage you to pray for their salvation of course - but don't for one minute think that you in some way are less spiritual, and that you would be more spiritual if you had the opposite scenario! That was the mistake that they were making.
So Paul moves now from this mixed marriage to illustrate it in two other times of social conditions. He talks about circumcision and he talks about the slave. I believe that the lack of passion when he's describing these two things shows that it wasn't really a problem in Corinth, circumcision and uncircumcision, maybe slavery was a bit of a problem but I don't think it was too big a problem, because Paul's lack of passion shows me that he's only using these things as an illustration - it's as if they're already convinced about these other things, and he's using them being convinced on these things to convince them that they don't need to affect their external circumstances with regards specifically to marriage. So, the issue of concern for the Corinthians was: 'Well, we have to change our status, we have to change our situation and our circumstances', and so Paul comes and gives them an example of Judaism and the Gentiles, slaves and masters, and he comes and enshrines his whole argument in this phrase: 'Stay as you are', or a better translation, 'Remain as you were when you were called in Christ'.
Look at verse 17: 'But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk', that word 'walk' could be translated 'let him remain as he was when he was called in Christ'. He opens the paragraph with this statement 'let him remain'; he concludes the two illustrations, circumcision in verse 20, with that same statement; and in verse 24 he closes the whole thing by saying: 'Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide'. So I hope you're beginning to see the principle, but let's tease it out a bit more - first of all the guiding principle in verse 17. This is very easy to understand, he's saying simply: 'Live out your Christian lives in the situation where God called you, because those things are relevant to your life in Christ'. Can I put it like this, here's a paraphrase of it: 'Do not be in a hurry to change the external circumstances of your life simply because you have become a Christian' - have you got it? Don't be in a hurry to change your external circumstances, because now that you're saved your setting has become relevant to your Christianity - and the fact is this, reading between the lines, God in His sovereignty has saved you at that moment in time, in that situation, to be in that scenario for your good and the good of others.
The theme in these verses is very clear that it's the word 'calling' that's right throughout the whole passage that is central to his argument. Let me outline what he means in this. First of all 'calling' describes conversion. Remember in chapter 1 verse 9: 'God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord' - it speaks of the conversion experience. That is chiefly what this definition is within this passage. Therefore Paul is saying that when you were called, when you were saved, that call came to you as an individual personality in a given social setting. I don't know what your job is, I don't know what you were dabbling in, I don't know what your personal relationship was in the home or with a partner or whatever it may be - but in verse 18 twice, in verse 21 and 22 twice, he uses this word emphatically 'calling', to mean 'you were converted'. So when God called you and saved you in your various situations and settings, when He saves you He renders those situations now irrelevant. In other words, it doesn't matter what your situation is, 'for when God calls you', he says, 'you're to remain in that situation'. Change is not necessary! 'Stay as you are' is the principle.
Why does he say that? Simply because you are able to live the Christian life in whatever setting the call of God took place on your life. On the other hand, because those settings are irrelevant, if they do change, a change takes place that's out of your control, or it's better for a change to take place at some time, that too is irrelevant. It's not a rule, black-and-white, but God is just saying: 'When I called you, I've called you in a particular certain situation and scenario, it's better that for the meantime you stay in that situation and don't drastically change your circumstances'. What you're not to do is seek a change as though it will have some kind of spiritual significance - Paul says it does not. Now please don't misunderstand what I'm saying, or misquote me, I'm not talking about that if you were a prostitute before you were converted, that when you're converted and God calls you you stay a prostitute, or a drunkard, or a pimp, or a racketeer, or a drug dealer, or doubtful occupations - Paul is not talking here about things that are inherently immoral, he's talking about neutral situations, domestic situations. He's talking here in a passage about marriage! That when you are called by God you are to stay in the calling that you are in, provided it's not sinful, not drastically change your circumstances or situations with the motivation that you think that you'll become more spiritual!
Paul is saying that God, by calling you in a situation, He is actually calling you to that situation - are you understanding this? The situation becomes sanctified to you, you don't need to change it! Just like the mixed marriage of the Christian husband and the Christian wife, you don't need to change your wife to one that is a Christian, she is sanctified because of what has happened to you. In a sense this means, as far as I can see, with regards to culture, custom and work that there's nothing secular any more to the believer - you can't divide the secular from the spiritual, but everything becomes spiritual to you and sanctified to you because of your changed relationship with God! The Christian life, Paul is saying, can be lived out successfully where you are when you were called - you don't have to make drastic changes like divorcing your wife, or going into a monastery, or getting circumcised if you weren't before, or deciding: 'Well, I've had enough time as a slave, and I'm a Christian now, I've got rights so I'm going to get rid of this slavery and be emancipated'.
Paul wants them to see that your faith in Christ gives significance to your social setting, the time and the place that you were saved - you don't need to change! I hope you're understanding me and not misunderstanding me, but I'm bringing this to you not to confuse you but to encourage you, and even to emancipate you. If you've been under some kind of guilt and cloud of: 'Och, if I had this', or 'If I was like this', or 'If my situation and my home scenario was like this I would be more spiritual, I would be better and more effective for God' - that is nonsense! Don't be running around trying to change your external situations with the preoccupation that you're going to become more spiritual, because it doesn't work like that! Paul is saying that it doesn't matter if you have that thing or don't have that thing, it doesn't make one iota of difference with God.
Now that is the guiding principle, I hope that's hammered out enough. But now he comes and he applies it to Jewish rites, or maybe it would be better in hindsight 'racial ties' - verses 18 and 19. Now he's not talking in a religious sense about circumcision, he's talking socially about the Jews and Gentiles: 'Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised'. Paul is saying that the Gospel eliminates the situation in which you were saved, have you got that? If you were a Jew and you get saved it's irrelevant whether you were circumcised or not, it's irrelevant, the Gospel transcends all that - you don't need to go and get uncircumcised. If you're a Gentile and you're saved, that's the situation in which God called you, so you stay as a Gentile, you don't try and be a Jew!
In chapter 12 we'll see this in weeks to come, verse 13, Paul outlined this very clearly spiritually: 'For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit'. There's now no distinctions socially among those who are saved, the Gospel has transcended all of that and made it totally irrelevant. If you are circumcised when you were called, don't become uncircumcised, and vice versa. You might say: 'Well, that can hardly happen, if you're circumcised to become uncircumcised' - well, believe it or not, it was happening in Paul's day. There was a surgical procedure to reverse circumcision, do you know why? Because some of the Jewish businessmen, when they were in the baths with Gentiles, felt inferior, and they wanted to be like those who were 'in the world'. So they were changing their situations, the Judiasers were coming into the church and saying: 'You need to keep the law, you need to keep religious Jewish rites and be circumcised', and Gentiles after conversion were being circumcised - Paul says circumcision means nothing, as well as uncircumcision!
Don't misunderstand me again, we're talking spiritually here. It means nothing to God whether you're a Jew or a Gentile, I'm not talking prophetically here I'm talking in the light of the salvation of grace and the age of grace. It doesn't matter to God, but that doesn't mean that you cease to be a Jew or a Gentile when you get saved. I was talking to a man recently and he had an argument with a man who said once a Jew is converted he ceases to be a Jew - that's exactly what Paul is saying is not happening! That doesn't happen, you still are ethnically a Jew and racially a Jew, but what Paul is saying is: it's irrelevant spiritually what nationality you are, what you are socially doesn't matter to God, and that's why you don't need to change it, you don't need to affect any external changes in your circumstances. Changing doesn't make a difference, it wasn't a religious point it's a social point.
It's interesting that he makes no exceptions here as he does in the rest of the passage, because there are no exceptions to the Gospel - you're either saved or lost. What you are socially or racially or ethnically doesn't mean one pick or iota of credit with God. It's a gospel of grace, and that's why Paul was so hard and determined on it. You might say to me: 'In Acts 16 verse 3 Paul got Timothy circumcised', that's right, he did! Do you know why he got him circumcised? He got him circumcised for a pragmatic reason, because those he was going to witness to wouldn't have even listened to Timothy. But then, when there are Jews saying: 'Well, it does affect you spiritually whether you're circumcised or not', when the Jews started to make it of religious significance whether to do this or not, Paul is vehement in his opposition of it. He's not making rules here, he's not saying you can't do it and you can do it, he's saying make sure you don't do it - whether it's getting married or not married, becoming a slave or not a slave, becoming circumcised or not circumcised, Jew or Gentile - don't do it if you think it's going to make you more spiritual, because it's not!
I wish we had the time to look at Galatians, because it's all outlined there, but what Paul is just saying is that it doesn't count spiritually. Verse 19: 'Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God'. How astounding! If you were a Jew, and you heard this great Jew, Paul the apostle, speaking and saying: 'Circumcision is nothing', you would be devastated! Because for the Jew, circumcision was everything - it was a sign of God's covenant with His people, but Paul could see the danger it was to the gospel of grace, and I believe the Corinthians were able to see it - that's why he's using this example. It's a danger, you're not to see this as making you more spiritual. Now Paul says: 'You can see that, can't you, Corinthians? Now apply it to marriage, now apply it to your relationships - here it is: marriage is nothing, celibacy is nothing, because they all belong to the categories that are irrelevant!'.
Paul doesn't want to be misunderstood, like I don't, but he often was, and I'm sure I will be too! He says at the end: 'but the keeping of the commandments of God' - now that doesn't mean circumcision or uncircumcision, it's a bad translation. What it's saying is this: what really counts is not circumcision or uncircumcision, not the sociological conditions, but what counts is the commandments of God! He sees the commandments of God not as the ritualistic ceremonial keeping of the law, but rather as the ethical life of the blameless, perfect believer in holiness and righteousness of God in a world that is dying and damned - that's what he sees as important! You see, the danger was that these antinomian Christians in Corinth, that means people that didn't believe in the law - in other words, they thought they could do absolutely everything, every sin going - he didn't want to give them some kind of a licence and say: 'Well, it doesn't matter whether you keep the commandments of God or not'. He wants them to know that these ritual things are irrelevant, the situations you find yourself in when you're saved are irrelevant - but that doesn't negate us from keeping the commandments of God as Christians.
Then after he applies this to Jewish racial ties, he applies it to the social situation in verses 20 to 24. Again 'calling' here doesn't mean if you're called to be a slave, in other words that's your calling and vocation - that's not what it means, it means if you're called to be a Christian when you're a slave, that's the sense of the Greek there. You're to live out your Christian calling in Christ in the situation of your calling vocationally, where God has called you in Christ, you're to stay in that situation because your Christian faith sanctifies your vocational calling. Notice the difference of how he says this here, he doesn't say 'Stay as you are', but he says 'Don't let it trouble you'. If you're called in the Lord being a servant, verse 21, 'care not for it' - that doesn't mean 'don't care two hoots about it', it means don't be anxious, don't let the thing trouble you that you're now a Christian and you're also still a slave.
Why does he not say 'stay as you are'? Simply because you have no choice but to stay as you are if you're a slave, it's not in your hands, it's in your master's hands. But what Paul is saying is: whether he lets you free, or whether he keeps you, don't let it trouble you. It's the same point made in a different way, but he gives an exception and he says, verse 21: 'but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather'. In other words, if you're a slave and you're kept a slave, well don't worry about it, be content; but if you're made free use the opportunity for freedom for the best of your ability. So you see that this is the rule that he's laying down, that you have to do this and you can do that, but he's saying: whatever way you're called, stay in that calling, and if there's an occasion to better your circumstance that's the exception - but realise that you can be a Christian in the very situation in which God has saved you, in which you're in tonight, apart from sin of course, you can thrive as a child of God and God can bless you, and you don't need to change your externalities to be more spiritual.
When God called you, you aren't given a new occupation, but your old occupation is given a new significance - that's what Paul is saying. Let's break this down so that we understand it. Let's look at the first illustration again, circumcision. To the circumcised, Paul says, don't change your situation if you're circumcised. To the uncircumcised he says the same thing, don't change your situation. What's the reason for saying those two same things to two different situations? Because neither of them counts spiritually with God, they don't make any difference. What's Paul's conclusion? Stay in your call, stay as you are. The second illustration is slavery. To the slave he says, don't be concerned about your situation as a slave. He gives an exception: if freedom is granted, make use of your freedom. What's the reason that they should be content as slaves? One: because to the slave, you need to know that spiritually you are free in the Lord Jesus Christ - verse 22: 'For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman'. It doesn't matter that you're found as a slave when you become a Christian, because you're free in Christ. To the free person he says: 'Well, if you're a Christian....ye are bought with a price', verse 23, 'be not ye the servants of men'. In other words, you're Christ's servant, at the end of verse 22, you're Christ's slave. So even if you have freedom from slavery, don't forget that it doesn't make a difference because you're still Christ's slave! Do you see that?
The conclusion in it all is: stay in the calling where God saved you in the first place. Let's wrap it all up with an application, because it's so important that we know what Paul is saying to us today. It's simply this: Christians are needed everywhere. Christians are needed in every situation, among people who are servants, among the masters, among workers and employers, the poor as well as the rich, the lowly as well as the high. The Christian life, the beauty of it, is that it is designed to operate on every level of humanity! That's why external changes don't need to be made - as one author said: 'Christianity does not create an artificial greatness, but teaches that true greatness is in humble places. After all, true greatness does not consist in doing great things, but rather doing little things in great ways'.
The world is full tonight of men who are abject slaves to passion and habit because of so-called freedom. They may be monarchs in the eyes of men, but before God they are menial slaves to sin, and the last word that God leaves to us - all of us, no matter where we find ourselves tonight, is: 'Brethren', verse 24, 'let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God'. Are you a mother changing nappies, filling baby's bottles? Are you a mother of teenagers, and your heart's being broken, and you wish that they were grown-up, and you wish perhaps that you could get away from it all? Are you a housewife, and when you're at the kitchen sink, you think: 'Is there not more purpose to my life than this? Is there nothing more that I can achieve for God, for myself, or for my family?'? Maybe you're fed up being a teacher, lack of discipline; or you're a banker, or a lawyer, or a labourer, and you would long to be something else - listen, this is what Christianity is! Let every man abide as he is when he's called, for he can abide with God in it! No matter how menial it is, if you add God to your life you immediately subtract all the evils. No matter where you are, no matter what you're doing, the proverb is true that you can bloom where God has planted you - for that's where God has called you! You don't need to take drastic actions to alter your circumstances, thinking that it will make a difference and you'll be more spiritual - it won't do that, and it certainly won't bring more joy to you.
Listen to what Robinson Crusoe says - a great scholar he is, on his deserted island, after his heart had been changed by finding a Bible in a chest and opening it up and reading it - it had been salvaged from the shipwreck. This is what he wrote: 'I learned to look more upon the bright side of my situation and less upon the dark side; and to consider what I enjoyed rather than what I wanted. This gave me sometimes such secret comforts that I cannot express them, and which I take notice here to put those discontented people in mind of that, who cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them because they see and covet something that He has not given them. All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have'. What situation do you find yourself in? I know it's not the most desirable, I know you wouldn't have planned it that way, I know you didn't even choose it, but contentment is realising that God has already provided everything we need for our present happiness.
Listen to this story: once upon a time there was a stonecutter who lived alone. Though he had acquired great skills he was very poor, he lived in a tiny bamboo hut and wore tattered clothing. One day as a stonecutter he worked with his hammer and chisel upon a huge stone, and he heard a crowd gathering along streets. By their shouts he could tell that the King was coming to visit his humble village, and joining in the procession the stonecutter gazed in awe as the king, dressed in marvellous silk, was greeted by his subjects. 'Oh, how I wish I had the power and glory of the King', he thought, 'He has soldiers at his command, there is no-one more powerful than the King'. His cry was heard in heaven, and immediately the humble stonecutter was transformed into a powerful King. He found himself riding on a great horse, waving at the crowds of people who had flocked to see him. 'This is power', he thought. As the summer progressed, however, the new king watched the effects of the heat upon his people. Men and animals became weary in the summer sun, the plants withered under the powerful rays of the sun, and as he looked at the sky the new king realised that the sun was more powerful than the earthly rulers. 'How I wish I were as powerful as that', he thought, 'I wish I were the sun'. Immediately his wish was granted, and the stonecutter relished his new role as the sun. He gloried in the power he felt as he surveyed the kingdoms below. He sent his bright rays to the earth, he watched kings and princes hide under their parasols, he watched as powerful warriors became weak under his gaze, even the crops in the field were under his command. Then one day a tiny cloud moved over the land, shielding the earth from the sun's bright rays. Seeing that here was something more powerful, he thought: 'I want very much to be a cloud'. Again his wish was granted, he blocked the sun himself - he felt so important, he gathered all his strength becoming a gigantic cloud, and he began to pour down rain on the earth. Rivers that were formed previously were no more, and water flooded the streets of the cities and the farmland - everything, trees, animals, people, seemed to be awed by his power. Only the massive rocks were unswayed. Again he had discovered something more powerful than he - 'There is nothing', he thought, 'as powerful as a rock, how I wish I where a huge stone' - and his wish was granted. As a stone, there he sat in the countryside, motionless and powerful, unmoved by sun or wind or rain - and he felt exempt from all the forces that shaped the existence of those around him. Then one day a man approached carrying a bag. When he stopped, he pulled out a chisel and a hammer, and he began to chip away at the rock. Realising that the man with the tools was more powerful than any rock, he cried out: 'Oh, I want to be a stonecutter'. Once again the heavens heard his cry, and he became a stonecutter; once again he lived in a bamboo hut and made his living with hammer and chisel - but this time he was content.
Hebrews says: 'Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for whatever they are, He has said: 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee''.
Father, we pray that You will help us to effect the changes that we can, which are internal changes. But Lord, help us to accept those things that we cannot change, those situations that we may have found ourselves in when we were converted, and have been such a pain and a burden to us. Perhaps, our Father, we've looked over the fence and said: 'Oh, if I could be like them', but Lord, You know and Your word has taught us tonight that that is foolish, for we are in Christ and Christ is in God, and we have all things. Lord, I just pray tonight that you would lift the burden from some souls here tonight - those who are striving for something that they think is spirituality, that cannot be achieved, that they would accept the grace of God and all the riches that are in Him now. Help us, our Father, not to lose the joys of today for discontent about tomorrow. Let us realise that at this moment we have everything that we need to be satisfied in Him. Take us now to our homes, we pray, for Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighteenth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Stay As You Are" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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