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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 7:17-24

12/02/2012

Being Content with our Call!
1st Corinthians 7:17-24

Paul has been talking about marriage and the family, and he has had to deal with problems caused by mixed relationships, where one of the partners is still living under the influence of the pagan world, while the other is walking with the Lord, as a Christian believer. He gives people sound advice in such situations. He counsels us that we are to remember that marriage is God’s divinely given ordinance for society, the right and proper and only way to lead a healthy, happy life while enjoying human love and affection, and the right and godly setting for the procreation and rearing of children. He argues that while a single Christian should not marry outside the faith, a Christian person in a mixed marriage should never initiate a divorce, just because their partner is not a Christian believer. On the contrary, that person should remain in such a situation, bring an element of Godliness into an otherwise ungodly home, and being a Christian influence on the Children, claiming always God’s promise of household salvation, and in faith, praying to that end.
It is necessary for Paul now to insert a reminder for his readers. Christians are to therefore be content with their lot in life! While Paul is dealing in this chapter specifically with marriage, this is a principle that applies to all areas in life, and so here he widens the discussion to include slavery and circumcision. It is a principle also which we should learn well today also, but in the learning of it, we must be extremely cautious not to take Paul’s words out of context!

There are many evangelists in the visible church today who would tell us that if you come to Christ, He will change your circumstances. They say, “Come to Jesus and you will be more healthy, and you will have success in your business, and you will prosper financially, and you will gain great happiness.” (You will hear them on some of these supposedly Christian TV Channels). People hear these messages and they make a superficial response, based not upon the sovereign call of God upon their life, but upon the desire for a better lifestyle. Of course they are often disappointed. The promised utopia often does not come. They find that being a Christian is a difficult path. It means going against society’s flow. It often means being ostracised by former friends, and being regarded as some kind of religious freak by others.

The plain truth is that God does not always change our circumstances when we come to Christ, as we shall see in this passage. Instead, what He does do, is to CHANGE US, so that we will better deal with our circumstances, and so that we will be useful to Him where we are placed. This is the BASIC PRINCIPLE, which we shall be exploring in this study. So let us see:-

The Call of God and the Condition of the Sinner
Now we have seen that in His wonderful Covenant Love and Sovereign Plan, God is calling out from this world a people for Himself. God ordains the station of man! God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one. We spend so much time complaining about our lot in life! Paul said, Philip. 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Now there is nothing wrong with legitimate ambition. It only becomes a problem when ambition takes over your life and becomes your chief aim. It takes the place of the Lord, and that is a form of idolatry. When we see what others have and desire those things for ourselves that is covetousness, and that is sin! There is a great blessing in simply being content with what we have!

Paul has reminded us in 1st Corinthians chapter 1, that in election and commission God does not take into account the social, economic or ethnic status of his people. 1 Cor. 1:26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. In fact, His election of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament is an illustration of how God will take the lowliest, most enslaved, most despised nation in the world, and make them His own loved and cherished people. Why so? Well, the Israelites could never boast of what they had done, they could only ever thank God for their deliverance. So it was at Corinth. The people there could never have saved themselves. It was all of the Lord. He took them from awful filthy heinous sin, and he saved them by His own sovereign grace. So it is with us today! We can contribute nothing to what God has already done! Salvation is all of the Lord, and He is no respecter of persons! In Corinth He had redeemed and saved people from all sorts of conditions!

Now we need to add a note of caution here. There are some in the visible church who will tell us that because God saves us where we are, we can remain, unchanged, just as we are, throughout our Christian lives. They will say, for example that there is no need for us to shun the places and excitements of this world ‘for God takes us just as we are.’ Yes he does! But when he takes us he changes us!

I heard an announcement being made in a big church once. It was one of these churches that builds its congregation through a constant diet of gimmicks. The announcement was that the following week the service would be taken by some man who was a ‘Gospel Punk-rocker.’ I made a few enquiries, and sure enough this visiting preacher was someone who dressed and spoke and acted like a ‘punk-rocker.’ “Oh,” they said,” He really relates to the young people.” Aye, he probably does, for what he would be preaching would be an easy-believe type of Christianity, with one foot in the church and one foot in the world.

So, where we are is where God has placed us. He has placed us here for a purpose, and he has not placed us outside his reach. And when He reaches us He changes us, so that while our circumstances may remain the same, our lives are totally different! And this is an important and significant matter! And so ordain I in all churches. This is such a basic commandment that Paul lays it down as a precept to apply in every church, not just in Corinth. It applies to us today, as much as it did then.

The Call of God and the Circumstances of Society
There were two great divides in ancient Corinth, and I would venture to suggest that they are still with us today, religion and social differences. 7:19-20. Of course there were some at Corinth who were Jews before they were converted, and who wanted the others to be circumcised and to become like them. There were others who declared that circumcision was of no effect whatsoever, for it was considered to be the sign of a despised religion, and that the circumcised would be better to renounce their Judaism altogether. This issue had become divisive in the church. Paul’s argument in response to this feud is, of course, entirely consistent with the teaching of Christ, as you would expect. He tells these believers that outward religion does not save a person! Outward ritual does not make a person acceptable before the Lord. What matters is what goes on in that person’s heart!
Let’s examine the Scriptures,

Galatians 5:2-6 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
Romans 2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
1 Samuel 15:22 Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. Hosea 6:6

We might argue that there is far too much emphasis on the OUTWARD ASPECTS of religion in the modern church today also!

Now again we must issue a word of caution. There are some people who will argue that this teaching implies that when a person comes to Christ he can remain in some dead liberal church where the gospel is not being presented, or even in some false religion or cult. So we had the situation in the fifties and sixties where big gospel crusades were being held, with people like Leslie Weatherhead on the platform, a man who did not believe in salvation by grace, the deity of Christ, the resurrection etc. People who professed faith at these crusades, history records, were frequently sent back to churches with liberal and ungodly ministers, some even to Jewish synagogues, and all on the strength of these verses! There are others who see this verse as an excuse for ecumenical syncretism, the belief that we can allow fellowship with other church bodies regardless of the doctrines that they hold. There are two basic principles we should note about the people that Paul is urging to bury their religious differences:-

They were all BORN AGAIN. They all had experienced Christ! There was already an organic unity among them. They were already united in truth!
They were all IN THE SAME LOCAL FELLOWSHIP. They had already ceased their previous religious associations, and they had left the pagan temple and the synagogue, and had joined together in a local assembly of evangelical believers. It is within THAT ASSEMBLY that Paul argues for divisions over outward religion to cease.

A modern parallel might be church that is splitting itself down the middle over head-coverings or Bible versions!

The second great divide among people in Corinth, was the partition caused by social divisions, and Christ has broken down even those divisions. 7:21-23 In this country we do not have or support slavery today. In Corinth, slavery was a real problem in the church, for many members of the congregation would have been slaves, at the bidding of their master 24 hours a day. They would often have been prevented from coming to church services, or going out to work for Christ. They are TO SERVE CHRIST WHERE THEY ARE, and if the opportunity comes up to be free then they must take it. In fact, the Christian slave was to be the best slave a master could ever have! So it is with us today. We may think that our employment is humble, or lowly. We may be in a boring monotonous job but we must still honour God in that job! Col. 3:22-24 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. cf Ephesians. 6:5-7.

Because of this teaching, A Christian worker will be a good employee! He will do his work to the best of his ability, because he is actually working for the Lord! He will seek to obey his employers! And he will be a trustworthy employee! He will serve with singleness of heart!

There is a great story about the Belfast shipyards in the time of W.P Nicholson. Nicholson held many Gospel Crusades in East Belfast, and many sinners were converted. There were so many shipyard workers saved during Nicholson’s crusades that a big shed had to be built at Harland and Wolff’s to contain all the stolen goods that were being returned!

Well, you may not steal goods from your employer, but what about stealing time? Can your employer trust you when he goes out of the office? These Christian slaves were not just serving with ‘eyeservice.’ Not just trying to please their employers when they could be seen!

Furthermore, A Christian worker will be an expectant employee! What will he expect? It seems today as if everyone wants more and more of the material things of life, and we work only to get richer quicker. Listen again to Paul, And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. Even in our secular employment, we must be faithful! Our honest work can be a testimony to the Lord, and we can expect the reward of the faithful! If a slave is be a faithful and loyal servant to his employer, how much more we, who willingly sign over our service to others?

Again a word of warning. Paul is not condoning slavery. Slavery was a fact of life. He tells his readers that if slaves can free themselves by legitimate means, they should certainly do so. Likewise, men who are not slaves, should never sell themselves into slavery, for they are already bought with a price, and that price was paid by Jesus on the Cross. So you have this huge social division here in Corinth, there are slaves in the congregation and there are freemen! But in Christ, all men are equal!

The Call of God and the Challenge to the Saint!
1 Cor. 7:24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. So we must be faithful, in the station in life wherein God has placed us. We must learn to be CONTENT! This does not mean that a believer cannot better his lot in life when opportunity presents itself, for Paul does tell slaves that they may be able to buy themselves out of slavery! Three times this exhortation to contentment is given in the passage. 7:17, 20, 24. It must be important, and yet we moan and complain so much about our lot in life!

The story is told of a farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. It was a good farm, but with the passing years, the farmer began to tire of it. He longed for a change–for something “better.” Every day he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place. Finally, he decided to sell, and listed the farm with an estate agent who promptly prepared his glossy brochure. As one might expect, it described the farm in glowing language: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy stock, acres of fertile ground, etc. Before erecting the for-sale sign and displaying the details in his window, the estate agent called the farmer and read the copy to him for his approval. When he had finished, the farmer cried out, “Wait a minute! I’ve changed my mind. I am not going to sell. That’s just the kind of place I’ve been looking for years!”

Hebrews reminds us of the spiritual dimension to the command for Christian contentment. The writer says, Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 1 Tim. 6:8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

When we learn the basic principle, that we are saved to serve the Lord where we are, with what he has given us, then our Christian life will be all the happier, and all the more fruitful for the Lord.

From → Sermon Notes

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