1 Corinthians 7:17-19 ~ 20131124 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
11/24 1 Corinthians 7:17-19 Remain As You Were Called; Circumcision is Nothing; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131124_1cor7_17-19.mp3
17 Εἰ μὴ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ἐμέρισεν ὁ κύριος, ἕκαστον ὡς κέκληκεν ὁ θεός, οὕτως περιπατείτω· καὶ οὕτως ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις πάσαις διατάσσομαι. 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· ἀλλ’ 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.
1Cor 7 [ESV2011]
7:17 Only 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. 18 Was 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. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For 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. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
In chapter 7, Paul has begun to answer questions from the Corinthians. Chapter 7 addresses the hot topics of sex, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and singleness. In verses 17-24 we come to the core of this passage, where Paul gives the underlying principle that he is applying to these various relational situations, and he demonstrates how he is applying it with two extreme scenarios. At first it seems abrupt and out of place to address circumcision and slavery in the middle of a chapter about marriage and singleness, but we will see how this relates to what he is teaching throughout this passage. It will be helpful to look at the broad flow of the passage and see where verses 17-24 form the core of this chapter, where he lays out his guiding principle, remain as you are.
Structure of Chapter 7
In verse 1, he repeats the Corinthian slogan 'it is good for a man not to touch a woman' and he begins to apply a different guiding principle to various relational circumstances; 'each one should remain in the condition in which he was called'.
2-5 mutual obligations of marriage – remain as you are: do not deprive one another (unless temporarily by agreement for prayer)
6-9 to the unmarried and widows; good to remain as they are, (unless not gifted for celibacy then they must marry)
10-11 to the married where both husband and wife are believers; remain as you are (unless separated; then be reconciled)
12-16 to the married where the husband or wife is not a believer; remain as you are (unless the unbeliever leaves; then you are free)
17 principle: as the Lord has gifted and called, so walk
18-19 circumcised or uncircumcised; remain as you are
20 principle: each remain in your calling
21-23 slave or free; remain as you are (unless you can be free)
24 principle: each remain in your calling
25-26 to the virgins; remain as you are
27-28 remain as you are; free from or bound to a wife (unless you desire to marry - it is not a sin)
29-31 temporality of this world
32-35 advantages of singleness
36-38 virgins free to marry (but better to remain)
39-40 widows free to remarry (but better to remain)
Jesus Overcomes All Ethnic, Social and Gender Barriers
Paul widens his discussion from the roles of men and women in singleness and marriage to include other major societal issues of circumcision/uncircumcision and slavery/freedom. This parallels what he taught to the Galatian believers.
Our relationship to Jesus tears down all major social and cultural barriers. The major ethnic barrier between Jew and Greek (or circumcised and uncircumcised) is nullified in Christ. The major social status barrier between slave and free is abolished in Christ. The major gender barrier between male and female (including all the various sub-categories of single, married, divorced, widowed, remarried) are all made nothing at the foot of the cross. This does not mean that ethnic, social or gender differences no longer exist; those differences are very real, but that they have no bearing on how one is rescued by Jesus. This is the great truth of Revelation 5 and 7 that people from every tribe and language and people and nation will be worshiping Jesus together around his throne. But a person of Jewish descent and a non-Jewish person both enter into a relationship with Jesus in the same way. A slave and free person, or a social outcast and a CEO must both humbly seek forgiveness for their sins at the cross. A man and a woman both equally must believe the good news about Jesus to be saved. The Corinthians were asking if there was a higher spirituality to celibacy over marriage, if abstinence within marriage earned extra points with God, if asceticism was spiritually beneficial. Paul says no, remain as you are. Whether you are male or female, single, married, widowed, divorced, none of this changes your status with God in the smallest degree. There is no spiritual advantage to any ethnic group, any social standing, or any marital status.
Paul states the foundation principle for everything he has said in this chapter. He says 'this is my rule in all the churches'. This is not special instructions for a special situation in Corinth, he is not singling them out for unique treatment. This is the same teaching he would give any other church in any other circumstance, including our church in our society today. The principle is universally applicable. He points them and us to walk in the way that the Lord Jesus has assigned and that God has called. This idea behind the word 'assigned' is divided or distributed. This connects back to what he said in verse 7.
God distributes his gifts as he sees fit. God gifts some for singleness and some for marriage. Each one has his own gift from God. We have a natural tendency toward the greener grass syndrome. We are discontent with who we are and where we are and want to be on the other side of the fence. But Paul tells us to enjoy the grass on your own side of the fence! The Lord Jesus is the one who assigns to each his own particular gifting and situation, and Paul advises us to walk in that.
He says 'let each person lead the life' Literally that could be translated 'let each person walk this way' Walking is a favorite metaphor of biblical authors for steady progress in Christian living. We are to walk in the pasture that God has placed us in and not seek to unnecessarily jump fences. If you are single, divorced, or widowed, be that for the glory of God. If you are married, be married for the glory of Christ. Don't always seek something different. Learn to enjoy who you are where you are. Learn contentment. We make steady progress in holiness when we embrace what God has allotted to us.
He adds 'and to which God has called him'. Calling plays a significant role in this passage. A form of the word 'called' shows up 9 times in these 8 verses; we saw it once in verse 15; it showed up 5 times in chapter 1. In 1:1, Paul was called by the will of God to be an apostle. In 1:2, the believers in Corinth were called to be saints. In 1:9, God called us into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In 1:24, it is God's call that differentiates between those who hear the gospel, believe, and are being saved; and those who hear the gospel, reject, and are perishing.
God's call cuts across social and ethnic barriers. God called both Jews and Greeks. God's call came to the foolish, the weak, the low, the despised, the nothings of the world in order to eliminate human boasting. When we get to chapter 7, we find that God called divorced people. God called widows and widowers. God called single people into a relationship with him. God assigns gifts as he wills, and God calls different people who find themselves in different situations. Paul's instruction is:
Circumcision and Uncircumcision
Paul demonstrates this principle by fleshing out its application to two extreme situations; circumcision and slavery. He starts with circumcision, the outward sign of the Old Covenant people of God. In order to become part of God's people in the Old Testament, you had to be circumcised. Circumcision was a big deal. When the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, was extended to the Gentile nations in Acts, this became a big dispute among the believers. Did Gentiles have to undergo circumcision and become Jews in order to become followers of the Jewish Messiah? In Acts 10, God sends Peter to the house of a Gentile with the instructions “what God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). By Acts 15 this had become such a major issue that the first church council was formed to answer the question of circumcision for Gentile believers. Peter relays that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9) and he concludes “...we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11). Paul writes his Galatian letter to adamantly oppose the Judaizers who were insisting on the circumcision of Gentile believers as a requirement for their salvation. He says:
Apparently this legalistic Judaizing influence was not a problem in the church in Corinth. He doesn't attack the issue like he does in Galatians; instead he uses it as an example.
This sounds strange, because circumcision is an irreversible procedure. But we find in the writings of Celsus documentation of a surgical procedure that was the equivalent of plastic surgery to reverse the appearance of circumcision. In the time of the Maccabees, there were Jewish men under Roman rule that would have this procedure done to hide their Jewish identity when they participated in the Roman gymnasium (the word 'gymnasium' literally means to exercise naked; the original Olympic games were carried out naked). Paul applies the principle that we are to remain as we were called to the issue of circumcision. He says that anyone who was uncircumcised at the time of his call should remain uncircumcised, and anyone already circumcised should not seek to reverse the procedure. In the context, Paul is addressing issues of marriage and singleness. We could take circumcision as a metaphor and apply it to his previous discussion on marriage. In the marriage union, two become one flesh, and we should not seek to reverse the irreversible. 'What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate' (Mt.19:6).
Circumcision Counts For Nothing
Paul's statement in verse 19 is amazing.
This is amazing, because we could easily argue from the Old Testament that circumcision is clearly a commandment of God (Gen.17; 21:4; Lev.12:3). The requirement for circumcision even superseded the Sabbath laws if the eighth day fell on a Saturday (John 7:21-24). But Paul here says that in our New Covenant relationship with Jesus, whether you are circumcised or not is irrelevant and meaningless. How can Paul contrast circumcision with keeping the commandments of God, when circumcision was one of the commandments of God?
If we look to Jesus teaching in John 6, we begin to gain some clarity. Some people asked Jesus this question in the context of gaining eternal life.
Jesus made it clear that going through the motions of obedience to God was worthless without a relationship with Him. Jesus repeatedly teaches that belief in him is the one thing that is required for eternal life.
In 1 John 3, John teaches us what it looks like as believers in Jesus to keep the commandments.
Jesus taught that the greatest command was to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength (Mt.22:37; Mk.12:30). We cannot truly love God if we do not believe that he is who he says he is. But when we believe in Jesus and experience God's great love for us which he expressed at the cross of our Lord Jesus, that love can then overflow toward others around us. So love for others becomes the expression and overflow of belief in God and love for him.
God never intended us to view his commandments as a list to check off in order to earn his favor. All the way back in Deuteronomy he says:
What God requires is a genuine love for him, to love and serve him with all your heart and soul in response to his love for us. Real circumcision is circumcision of the heart.
This is fulfilled in the New Testament. Paul says in Romans:
It is in this sense that Paul can say to the Corinthians that what counts is not circumcision or uncircumcision but keeping the commandments of God.
He makes parallel statements to this in his letter to the Galatians.
Paul is saying just what Jesus is saying. Faith or belief in Jesus powerfully expresses itself in love. The inevitable result of genuine belief in Jesus is love for God and love for other people. A chapter later, in Galatians 6, Paul says:
A new creation is what counts with God. He says 'I don't boast in circumcision; I only boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.' Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I am now a new creation.
As a new creation, I have new desires, new motives, new loves. My heart has been transformed by God's love to love God and love others. I no longer seek to earn God's favor by my performance. Rather I have been transformed by Christ and now naturally do the things that please him. My love for him is a response to his love for me (1Jn.4:19).
When we take these three parallel statements of Paul together and allow them to define each other, we get the full picture of what he is saying. It is not following the letter of the law that gains any standing with God, but becoming a new creation through the new birth. As a new creation we trust Jesus. We believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be, and we believe that at the cross Jesus took all our sins upon himself. Our belief in Jesus expresses itself in love, an overflow of love for God and love for others, which is a genuine keeping of the commandments of God from the heart.