This article on 1 Corinthians 7:17 is about looking to God for help in the decisions we have to make.

Source: Clarion, 2011. 2 pages.

1 Corinthians 7:17 - Remain in Your Calling

Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.

1 Corinthians 7:17

Is the Bible opposed to change? "Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him," we read in 1 Corinthians 7:20. And Paul says this is a rule he lays down in all the churches. Are we not allowed to change? Is it wrong to change jobs or careers? Is it wrong to move to another place? I am sure many of us have moved at some point in their life or made a change in career, without thinking that we did wrong. What then do these words mean?

When we have a closer look at the chapter, we are faced with another question. It is quite clear that chapter 7 deals with matters related to marriage. The chapter starts with addressing the matter of the sexual relationship in marriage. This is followed by instructions about being married to an unbeliever, and in the last part of this chapter Paul deals with being single. Yet in verses 17-25 there is no mention of marriage at all. Instead, it speaks of circumcision and being a slave. How does all this fit together?

Paul is writing to recent converts. Originally the Corinthians had been unbelievers, but they had received the grace of God in Christ Jesus (1:4). This had changed their lives, for they now belonged to Jesus Christ. And this change came with questions: "What does conversion mean for my marriage? Is it still good to have a sexual relationship? Should I stay in this marriage with my unbelieving spouse?" They ask Paul about it, but he does not give a list of things to do or not to do, nor does he give a one-size-fits-all answer. He helps the Corinthians by pointing them to the basic rules of living in Christ's kingdom. They have to learn to work with these rules. So do we, as we make decisions in our lives about how to serve the Lord.

What is the basic rule? Remain in your calling, in the place assigned to you by the Lord. Three times Paul stresses this, in the verses 17, 20 and 24. What does this mean? Paul reminds them that their lives are directed by God's providence. They may have changed from being unbelievers to believers, but their situation in life is still assigned by God. That work they are doing, or that marriage they are in, falls within God's providence. Father's hand remains in control – that has not changed.

What has changed is the direction of their lives. The Lord has called them. The gospel of salvation has changed them around. They now belong with body and soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some situations in this life are easy to accept, others are much more difficult. Some of the work we do is a joy, other tasks can be demanding. In all situations we have to realize Father's providential care, and at the same time understand that our lives have been changed by the gospel of Christ.

The basic rule of the Christian life is that this calling – namely, belonging to Jesus Christ – now governs your whole life, no matter what work you do or in what marital situation you are. To show them how basic this is, Paul gives two examples from totally different areas of life, ethnic background and social status. Should a Jew now change and undo his circumcision? Would that make him a better believer? No, says Paul. The question is not whether you are circumcised but whether you keep the commandments of God. Or should a slave try to become free? Would that make him a better believer? Sure, if you can gain your freedom as a slave, do so. But that does not make you a better Christian. What counts is remembering your calling, that you belong to the Lord. What counts is keeping God's commandments, being a slave to Christ. Your past, your ethnic background, or your social status does not determine whether you are a true believer. What matters is that you have been called.

The Corinthians had many questions, and initially some may have been frustrated at this answer. Why doesn't Paul give a clear answer? Indeed, Paul does not say this is what you have to do, period. Because the Spirit wants to remind us: Let the call of the Lord determine what you do. The Lord has come into our lives and is taking us along. He has given us his promises. All my plans and decisions, my work and my marriage, ought to be ruled by that call. In that call God himself takes us along on his way to his future. Then our labor will not be in vain.

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