Now we’ve already seen what Paul has to say to the single, to the married and to those who are married to unbelievers. And now, as we look at verse 17, Paul takes these particular things that he has said and draws from them a general principle.
And this is very interesting. It’s very simple. And it’s very repetitious so I’m sure you’re going to go away understanding the basic principle, the tough thing is going to be where you apply it and that the Holy Spirit will have to work out with you.
But Paul takes the particulars that he has given and makes a general rule out of it in verses 17 to 24. (That is 1 Corinthians 7:17-24)
Now here is the general principle. I’m just going to state it to you and then we’ll see how it unfolds.
“Christians should not be concerned with changing their outward circumstances.” Christians should not be preoccupied with changing their outward circumstances. Now that’s the basic principle. The Christian life is not a social issue. It is not social revolution, it is spiritual regeneration. There is no reason to say, ‘Now you’re a Christian, you have to stop being single … now you’re a Christian, you’ve got to dissolve your marriage and be celibate … now you’re a Christian, dump that.
Being dynamite vs. being leaven
But the heartbeat of Christianity with all of its deep social ramifications is still this, it is a spiritual regeneration and spiritually transformed people will change a society not like dynamite but like leaven, not by blowing the lid off the society but by spreading the power of Christianity through the transformed lives of the people within that society.
And so I would say it this way. Christianity interferes indirectly, not directly with social institutions. Christianity has really been the cause of great social change in history. But not by exploding on that society, but by leavening that society, that means penetrating it at its roots.
So continue to walk
Now notice the seventeenth verse for some particulars. “Only as the Lord has distributed to every man…” The Greek verb for “distribute” means to apportion to one his share of something. If you’re a slave, who is it that apportioned to you that position? Who is it? It’s the Lord. If you’re a wife, who is it that apportioned to you that position? The Lord. Husband? Single person.
Whatever it is, remember this, whatever the Lord has allotted to you in whatever way God has called you, so continue to walk. If you’re a slave, did you know that God put you in that position before He saved you and He saved you in that position to use you in that position? If you’re single, God had you single before He saved you. If you’re married, God allotted to you a marriage situation and saved you in it to use you in it. God knew that. God saved you in a certain situation, for the time stay in that situation–married, unmarried, mixed marriage, circumcised, enslaved, free, whatever it is, your life status is given by the Lord.
Christians need to be preoccupied with spiritual things
All right, having stated the principle and illustrated it, he now states it again. And if you think it’s repetitious, you’re right. Any time God bays something it’s important. Any time He has His prophet or his Apostle say it three times, it’s that much more important. Verse 20, “Let every man abide in the same calling in which he was called.” Let every man stay in the same situation he was in when he was saved. That’s precisely what he’s saying. Concentrate on the spiritual, emphasize the Christianity, not the circumstances socially. Christians need to be preoccupied with spiritual things.
…Don’t ever let outward things become a major importance.
…You see, when the Lord saved you, He didn’t save you to change your earthly status, He saved you to change your soul, your eternal destiny.
The downfall of slavery
You say, “Well, does the Bible approve of slavery?” No. But it also doesn’t approve of Christians creating a social revolution to overthrow it because that misdirects the whole point of Christianity.
You say, “Well, how can we change slavery?” Did you know that the concentration of righteousness that was in Christianity really became the catalyst that ultimately abolished slavery in the world? Christianity has done that. The important thing, you see, is to serve God and a slave shouldn’t worry about the fact that he’s a slave, he should just serve God.
And as this whole righteous kind of life begins to penetrate and spread, the downfall of an enslaving system will occur.
You know, that’s what they expected Jesus to do when He came into the world. Remember? They expected Jesus to come as the Messiah and overthrow Rome. Then Christianity would have gone down in all of history as a political movement, wouldn’t it? Jesus said no. That isn’t what it is. It’s change on the inside.
…And, you know, he had a lot to risk because slaves in those days for running away could be killed or at best they could have a brand in their head. They put a big “F” on their head for fugitivus which means “runaway.”
Now, some people have criticized Paul for not attacking the system of slavery, but the point is this, people, if Christianity had encouraged the ending of slavery, then Christianity would have been seen as a political revolution and Christians would have been killed in a revolution.
And I would add another thing. If Christian slaves had started to disrupt society, then the major issue would have been lost, the issue of faith in Jesus Christ.
Now you know what’s happened in America. Every time Christianity, quote/unquote, attaches itself to a social movement, the message of Christianity gets totally lost. Given the Christian faith, emancipation is bound to happen. But the time was not ripe. So Paul says don’t concern yourself with your earthly state. Don’t concern yourself with a situation that is superficial. The major issue is internal.
Slaves are free under God
Now let’s look at verse 22. And here he draws a very interesting paradox that is not really totally understandable if you keep pushing it out, but in simplicity, it’s very clear. “He that is called in the Lord being a servant, or a slave, is the Lord’s free man.”
He that is called in the Lord while … he that is saved while he’s a slave is really the Lord’s free man.
Do you understand that? I mean, what does it matter if you’re a human slave or a physical slave if you’re freed from sin, freed from Satan, freed from hell, freed from the curse of the law? I mean, what does it matter that you have to serve somebody else? I mean, you’re really God’s free man.
Do you understand that paradox? That as a Christian you’re the servant of Jesus Christ and yet as a Christian you’re free from the law, from sin, from Satan, from hell, from the curse. Do you understand that paradox? That’s what he’s saying. Christ has totally set you free to be His servant. Don’t worry about the superficial situation you’re in.
Now he takes it a step further in verse 23. He says, “You are bought with a price, be not ye the slaves of men.” Don’t ever again consider yourself a slave.