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09.26.21 God’s Call to Each and All 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 Sermon Summary

by on September 27, 2021

As young person and a young Christian, I was preoccupied with romance, relationships, and marriage. Naturally I looked to the Bible for God’s direction. There’s not much there. What little there is quite specific, for example, Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7.

It seems that some Corinthians were saying that celibacy is better than sex. ( . . . ) And it seems that Paul agrees. (!) But Paul recognizes that the sexual drive is powerful and so he makes a “concession”: It’s OK to get married—to allow for sexual activity. “But practice times of abstinence!” Paul says. He even tells you how long.

First Corinthians addresses other related topics. Paul speaks to unmarried people, widows, and to sexually active singles. He advises engaged couples, married couples, and couples is mixed marriages (that is, one spouse is a Christian while the other is not).

It can be very confusing to a young person (or any person) looking for guidance. Could it be that Paul’s advise is too specific to Corinth and its day to be helpful in our day? Because relationships today (to say nothing of marriage) are complicated! They are highly individual and highly personal.

In my service as a pastoral counselor, for example, I’ve come up with many complicated situations. What are the roles between partners? Who’s going to do the grocery shopping, the lawn care, the vehicle maintenance, the schedule keeping? How will couples discipline children? Time outs or spanking? What about the relationship with the in-laws and where to spend holidays? Remember, Thanksgiving here obligates you to Christmas there.

What about the financial relationship? Should couples keep separate financial accounts? What about prenuptial agreements, especially between older partners with significant assets and children from first marriages to consider? Should older people get married at all and risk losing the financial benefits to which they’re entitled as single people?

Paul has none of this in mind in 1 Corinthians. So how can we find direction in all this? Paul himself distinguishes his personal opinion from directions he believes reflect God’s will! Is it even possible, then, to find direction in our day from this highly dated and contextual scripture?

One answer is to look for principles. But how to find them? One popular technique is to investigate other passages in the Bible on the same or similar topic. Once found, look for some consistency or theme. That may be helpful.

Another approach is to consider the comparisons the author may make on the topic. What illustrations, analogies, metaphors, or similes does the author use? That could be helpful.

In the case of 1 Corinthians 7, right in the middle we have a statement of principle and two parallel illustrations. The principle is, “Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches.” And the two examples parallel to marriage are circumcision and slavery. 

Here’s how the illustrations work. Circumcision is an outward display (though not very public). It is evidence of an affiliation. In Paul’s day, it is particularly Jewish (for males only, of course). 

Now Jesus was a Jew, and so was Paul. In Paul’s day, some preachers taught that to become a follower of Christ one must first convert to Judaism. That is to say, become a Christian, and you have to be circumcised. 

Paul emphatically taught against this, and being a church founded by Paul the Corinthians knew this. So Paul simply reminds them: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”

So with slavery. Keep in mind that slavery in the ancient world of Paul was much different than slavery in the antebellum southern United States. Even so, Paul prefers the manumission of slaves because Christ makes all people free. On the other hand, Christ is also Lord of all, that is, “master” of all. So all members of the church are both free and slaves simultaneously. Thus Paul writes, “In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.”

So with marriage. Are you single? Are you married? Can you remain single? Can you remain married? If so, don’t change your state. If not, change your state. The principle is, “Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.”

Paul combines these three illustrations a lot. In Galatians 3:28, in the most succinct and famous example, Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

The bottom line? Paul is saying be faithful in your life. In the details of your life. In the circumstances of your life. In the uniqueness of your life. Because God has called you. Nothing about your life is unimportant, or inconsequential, or wasted. 

You are not too young, or too old, or too lacking in resources, or too abundant in resources. You are not too educated, or not educated enough, or too busy, or too available. 

God is calling you to live a faithful life. Paul applied this to his life. He spent a lot of time in prison where you might have thought he would doubt his calling to be a traveling evangelist. But no; he wrote letters, sent messengers, introduced other prisoners to Christian faith, and even guards too.

You might think you can’t do much in your life, but because God calls you, you can! “Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” In God’s hands, all things serve a purpose, and Jesus gave us the Table to remind us of this. In Jesus’ hands, bread and cup are more than just grain and grape. And in God’s hands, your life can be a sacrament also. Live the life that God has assigned to you, to which God has called you.

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