Today, we are looking at an interesting passage; it reflects a cultural issue within the early church, but the principle is as relevant today as it was then.
17Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
— 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (ESV)
Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews, and much of the Old Testament law is built on circumcision. Jewish children were to be circumcised 8 days after birth, and converts to Judaism, mirroring Genesis 17:10, were circumcised as adults. With both Jews and gentiles being added to the church, circumcision had become quite the divisive issue. In the passage above, Paul writes that there is no need for the circumcised to try to alter that, nor is there a need for the uncircumcised to become circumcised. In Romans 2:29, he wrote that circumcision doesn’t even mean what either side thought that it did.
29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
— Romans 2:29 (ESV)
Paul also dealt with the issue of slaves. Slavery was much more common in that day than it is today, and was not viewed as the moral abhorrence that we have come to realize that it is. In some cases, entering into slavery was a way to pay off a debt. In other cases, it was a way for someone to attempt to better their lives, by living as a slave for a period of time. However, there were some slaves who, upon their period of slavery being fulfilled, chose to stay and work in their master’s house. These were called bondservants, and that title represented a lifetime choice.
Just as with circumcision, Paul emphasizes that one’s status regarding slavery has no effect on one’s ability to serve, and that coming to Christ does not require a change in status. In verses 19, 22, and 24, Paul zeroes in on where the focus should be. Circumcision and slave status are side issues, distractions from the “main thing.” Keeping God’s commandments is the focus, and slave status can be flipped either way in Christ. The summary, in verse 24, tells them (and us) that in whatever condition we were when we were called, we should remain there – but in God.
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, recently put it this way:
The person who tries to clean themselves up before coming to Jesus is like the gunshot victim performing surgery on themselves before going to the hospital.
He’s right - there is no reason for anyone to try to clean themselves up before coming to Christ. This runs against the way we normally think. We clean our houses before we have company - there are even people who clean before the housekeeper comes - because we do not want to expose our literal “dirty laundry” to others. However, Jesus already knows what we are, how we think, and what we have done; He knows all that, and still offers us His payment for sin, free of charge. All we must do is answer His call.
The set of people who God calls is as diverse as the set of people He created. There are Christian businessmen, MMA fighters, actors, retail workers, athletes, motorcycle customizers, landscapers, and on and on. God’s desire is not for every person, once saved, to go into full-time Christian service. He cares about all people, and by having His representatives in all these various fields, these people can tell their peers how their relationship with Christ has changed their lives. God doesn’t want to change your job; He wants to transform your life.
If you have never answered His call, today is the day! Take a look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, and begin your relationship with Him. If you are a Christian, consider where you are. Barring sin issues, you are where God wants you to be. He has chosen you because of your abilities and place in this world; use that for Him!
This week, we’ll look at Hebrews 3:16.
16For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses?
— Hebrews 3:16 (HCSB)
We’ve all heard certain phrases throughout our lives. “History repeats itself.” “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (This seems to also be a warning to high school students everywhere.) “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” These phrases all point to the phenomenon of people doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the outcome.
In today’s Scripture, the author of Hebrews reminds us that it was the people who knew the truth and even experienced it - the Jews - who rebelled against God. And rebel they did! In three straight chapters in Exodus, the children of Israel complained and rebelled against Moses.
23They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water at Marah because it was bitter - that is why it was named Marah. 24The people grumbled to Moses, “What are we going to drink?” 25So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable.
He made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah and He tested them there.
— Exodus 15:23-25 (HCSB)
2The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”
4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. This way I will test them to see whether or not they will follow My instructions.”
— Exodus 16:2-4 (HCSB)
2So the people complained to Moses: “Give us water to drink.”
“Why are you complaining to me?” Moses replied to them. “Why are you testing the Lord”
3But the people thirsted there for water, and grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you ever bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
4Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with these people? In a little while they will stone me!”
5The Lord answered Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take the rod you struck the Nile with in your hand and go. 6I am going to stand there in front of you on the rock at Horeb; when you hit the rock, water will come out of it and the people will drink.” Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
— Exodus 17:2-6 (HCSB)
But, surely, once they get to the promised land, the Israelites will remember God’s provision, right? Well…
1Then the whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night. 2All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron, and the whole community told them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and little children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4So they said to one another, “Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.”
5Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces [to the ground] in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. 6Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. 8If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us.”
— Numbers 14:1-8 (HCSB)
It’s easy to look back at the failings of the Israelites, and point fingers at them. But, aren’t we the same? Don’t we do the same foolish things over and over again? It’s easy to see how other people don’t learn from their mistakes, but it’s often more difficult to see our own. Even if we are aware of our failings, though, we still have the inner conflict between the old, selfish nature and our new holy one. Paul expressed this sentiment in Romans 7…
14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. 15For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21So I discover this principle: when I want to do good, evil is with me. 22For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. 23But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.
— Romans 7:14-23 (HCSB)
So what is the solution? Later in Romans, Paul gives us the answer.
1Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
— Romans 12:1-2 (HCSB)
As gold is refined, it is heated to the melting point, and its flaws are literally burned out. I’m pretty sure that if the gold could talk, it would tell us that it doesn’t particularly enjoy this process. However, the result is a more pure precious metal. This is how God works in a Christian’s life; He brings challenges into our lives to mold us into His image. Some of these challenges are external, but some are internal. We must give this to God, and trust Him to work His will in our lives. Will we fail at times? Of course. Does that mean would shouldn’t try? Not at all!
We have been entrusted with the truth. May we surrender our lives to it, and trust God to use the circumstances in our lives to mold us into His image. May we learn through each of our mistakes, and may God give us the power not to repeat them.