Paul has instructed those married to unbelievers to remain with them. He revealed that God hates all divorce and instructed people to, instead of seek their own freedom, to love their spouses. In such a revelation, we discover that love is not about me seeking what is right for me but, instead, long-suffering with others and being content whatever my circumstances in life. Paul now broadens his instruction to include all people in all sorts of circumstances–yes, even slaves and minorities and the oppressed.
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1 Corinthians 7:18-24
18 περιτετμημένος τις ἐκλήθη; μὴ ἐπισπάσθω· ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ κέκληταί τις; μὴ περιτεμνέσθω. 19 ἡ περιτομὴ οὐδέν ἐστιν, καὶ ἡ ἀκροβυστία οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ. 20 ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ᾗ ἐκλήθη ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω.
21 Δοῦλος ἐκλήθης; μή σοι μελέτω· ἀλλʼ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι. 22 ὁ γὰρ ἐν κυρίῳ κληθεὶς δοῦλος ἀπελεύθερος κυρίου ἐστίν· ὁμοίως ὁ ἐλεύθερος κληθεὶς δοῦλός ἐστιν Χριστοῦ. 23 τιμῆς ἠγοράσθητε· μὴ γίνεσθε δοῦλοι ἀνθρώπων. 24 ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη, ἀδελφοί, ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ.
Circumcision (v. 18-20)
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. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
Circumcision is the mark of the Abrahamic covenant, a removal of the foreskin from the penis to signify the removal of what was unclean and distinguish Jew from Gentile–holy from unholy. Circumcision marked the covenant community of God. It was a type of an eschatological reality. Therefore, Paul reveals that outward circumcision and uncircumcision matter not. Particularly, it is not necessary for an uncircumcised individual to become circumcised like the Judaizers taught. The notion is as silly as insisting that any circumcised person must become uncircumcised, which seems impossible to me without modern cosmetic surgery. One does not have to convert from Gentile to Jew or from Jew to Gentile in Christ. All those in Christ are one people despite outward appearance. Essentially, Paul reveals that outward religiosity does not matter as much as worldly people seem to think.
Instead, keeping the commandments of God matter. Which commandments? The commandments that deal with love, loyalty, and respect are contextually in view; but I believe Paul’s instruction, here, refers to all of God’s commandments. Paul instructs the church not to focus on looking a certain way. She is not to pursue equity, outward relevance (coolness), ritual, or making a show out of her religiosity. Instead, the local church is to focus on being a people after God’s own heart—caring more about what God wants than what she wants to build for herself.
Concerning the outward marks of religion, Paul instructs each one to remain in the condition he was called. God does not require outward branding. After all, He chose Abraham before He gave the mark of circumcision, not after.
Slavery (v. 21-24)
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; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.
Paul moves beyond the bearing of religious marks, or lack thereof, to socio-economic status. If a slave has the opportunity to become free, he should. This means that it is not always a sin to change our circumstances if we have the opportunity. If the slave does not have opportunity, he should not worry about it. Slave and free are to be content in the circumstances which they were called to follow Christ. This makes the Christian outlook on life entirely different from the world’s. Scripture admonishes us toward contentment while the world yells at us until we try to exalt ourselves by doing the right thing or looking a certain way outwardly by seeking equity.
All Christians were bought with a price, Christ’s blood on Calvary. Paul plays on the word for slave, here, by revealing that no Christian is a slave to men. How can he do so after instructing slaves to be content? Here, he means a slave to the worldly ways of men that seek equity. We are not bound by the world’s socio-economic rules. Only worldly people measure others by such rules. Christians live by a different standard now, therefore even slaves can be just as content as free men. Why? We are all slaves of Christ, and we are all free in Christ. Christ is interested in a higher form of liberty than anything we can find in this world. Contentment is the key.
Each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called. Christians do not worry about changing their socio-economic status because they serve the only sovereign, providential God. Likewise, they do not worry about how they are perceived or their reputations but simply strive to honor God. So, when any church or school or government tries to make itself look better by making sure the right colors of people are exalted, it is in blatant sin. Christ is not concerned about outward appearance but the heart.
Three branches of Christian contentment
In 1 Corinthians, we see three branches of Christian contentment prescribed—each marked by the phrase, “Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called” (v. 20; cf. v. 17, 24). Worldly people know nothing of this contentment, and infant Christians haven’t yet learned to be content in these areas of life. As each one is mentioned, we consider our own ways and hearts to see whether we are in Christ and mature in the faith He so graciously provides.
The first branch of Christian contentment deals with relationships, primarily that of marriage. Paul instructed those who are single to remain as he is and those who are married to remain as they are with who they are. Though Paul’s instruction concerns the marriage relationship, it applies to all relationships.
The world apart from Christ builds relationships based on merit. If you are good to me, I will be good to you. If I can gain something from you, I will be your friend. Merit-based relationships cause people to forsake other people for any reason. Merit-based relationships cause men and women to be dissatisfied with their current marriage or singleness and resort to pornography because their circumstances or wives are not good enough. Merit-based relationships cause people to demean or attack others because of something done or said. Merit-based relationships cause many people to leave the church because they grow discontent with people even though they claim to have the unconditional love of Christ in them, which is why John identified those who leave the fellowship as apostate antichrists who neither know the truth nor have everlasting life (1 John 1:7; 2:4, 9, 11, 18-19). It is why the preacher instructed the Hebrews to not neglect the gathering (Hebrews 10:24-25). We don’t have to go to church to be saved. If we are saved, we are part of the body of Christ.
To the contrary, Scripture instructs Christians to be content. We are to be content in our marriage relationships or singleness, not desiring something other than we have–which constitutes porneia. We are to be content in our other relationships and fellowship, neither holding grudges against nor hating our brothers or sisters. If God is sovereign and providential, I can’t forsake anyone because I don’t see how I am benefitting or because my sensibilities were hurt. God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him. If I forsake others, or even neglect the gathering, I bear the fruit of unrighteousness. My malcontent is evidence that I may not be in Christ or have eternal life.
The second branch of Christian contentment deals with religion. Whether circumcised or not, whether Jewish or not, Paul instructs Christians to remain as they are—to be content.
The world, represented by the Judaizers often addressed in the epistles, expects to look good outwardly, put on big shows, be ritualistic, pray loud, use the correct language, produce numbers, and be equitous in its results—all outward marks of religiosity Scripture instructs us not to be concerned about. Jesus once addressed the tendency of the Pharisees who used the Old Testament instruction to make disciples of all nations to build their own kingdoms while ignoring the weightier provisions of the Law (cf. Matthew 23:15, 23). The Pharisees were concerned about their own reputations, titles, and exalting themselves and their own ministries above what God had provided. They were not content. I have seen people, like the Pharisees, plant their own churches out of anger toward the established church, start rogue ministries outside the scope of the local church structure God provided, and use the local church God provided in order to build their own support system rather than being part of the community of faith. Jesus invited us to sit at His feet and learn from Him before instructing us to go make disciples (cf. Matthew 11:29; 28:18-20). Both are important, but He gave us the higher priority.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees for these things and instructed His people to live differently:
They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:6-12).
We are not to be concerned about our own reputations, titles, or ministries. Instead, we recognize that only God is worthy and we are subject to Him. We are not better than others, and so should not build our own kingdoms on their backs or Christ’s. Malcontent means we don’t believe what God has provided is enough and we can build something better than He is building. Again, Jesus condemned the Pharisees to Hell for such things. Contentedness seems to be one of the great fruits of salvation. Malcontent seems to be the fruit of unrighteousness—evidence that one is not in Christ and does not have eternal life.
The third branch of Christian contentment is socio-economic. If God is sovereign and works all things together, He is directly responsible for our economic and social circumstances. So, Paul instructs slaves not to worry about their current state.
The world does not know this kind of contentment, and many local churches prove to be of the world rather than Christ on this point. They are interested in having an equitous appearance and exalting certain groups because of their socio-economic history. The Bible speaks clearly, here, against any worldly philosophy including Critical Race Theory and intersectionality. It calls out the pursuit of equity as a new form of racism and sexism and reveals the liberation (otherwise known as woke) gospel a false gospel because it promotes the exaltation of people rather than Christ alone. The liberation, or woke, gospel seeks liberation from circumstances rather than sin and consequently forces people to live in the sin of malcontent. Neither God’s providence nor grace are enough, so we complain about our circumstances, people, groups, and the states of things. As soon as we complain about anything, we mock God because He has worked all things together.
To the contrary, Christians are instructed to be content in all things. Malcontent is not of Christ but of the world.
Malcontent is the fruit of prideful living. Since Paul is writing to admonish the Corinthian church toward unity, we can see that malcontent is the source of many offenses, disenchantments, and quarrels in the world today:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).
If you have something against someone else or are offended, check yourself instead of throwing stones. If you only ever see what is wrong with the world instead of seeing how God is working, evaluate your heart to see whether you are in the faith. Your own desires have likely taken root and you are against God. To operate according to our own lusts is friendship with the world. Friendship with the world is hostility toward God, and many make themselves enemies of God and still believe themselves to do well. Worse, they make themselves enemies of God in God’s name. Unity comes by maturity. Maturity comes in contentment. Contentment is humility of circumstance. Many professing Christians never seem to grow past infancy in the faith because they are not content in their relationships, religion, or socio-economic status. Malcontent is a snare of the world.
Most problems can be cured by learning contentment. Most sin can be overcome by learning contentment. Contentment is only possible when we recognize the providence of God. For, God has called each to his specific circumstances (cf. v. 17, 20, 24). Paul feels this single point important enough to make thrice in this section of his letter. May we follow hard after Christ rather than ourselves. Only when we follow Christ will we be content in our relationships, religion, and socio-economic circumstances. Only when we are following Christ will we be dedicated to the body of Christ in a beneficial way. We are not interested in merely attending a church service. We are not Pharisaical such that we are interested in using the church to build our own things. We are followers of Jesus Christ such that we are His church, devoted and humbly serving without regard to ourselves or building up our numbers. May God accomplish the good work He has started. May we be more content today than we were yesterday as we are continuously sanctified in Christ. Amen.