Over the last couple of weeks we have begun looking at a series of questions that the Corinthian church addressed to the Apostle Paul. The first question seems to have been about how this new faith in Christ impacts the issue of marriage. As a response to this question Paul not only talked about singleness and marriage but also about the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship and the side issues of divorce and remarriage.
As we continue our study of 1 Corinthians 7 Paul continues (I believe) answering this question by laying down some basic principles that are foundational to all he has said so far. These principles are not only applicable to the issues of marriage and singleness; they are basic to all of life.
Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. [1 Corinthians 7:17-20]
SERVE IN THE POSITION YOU ARE IN (17-28)
Some people say that Paul was so convinced that the Second coming was right around the corner that he was telling the people to be like so many of the cults of today who are waiting for the Lord, or a spaceship, or something else. They believe he was saying that there is no reason to get married because the second coming is imminent.
Paul certainly believed the return of Christ could be at any time (like we believe today). He also believed that persecution would soon come upon the church (and it did). But I don’t think that was the primary message he was trying to convey. Paul was telling us that we do not need to make some dramatic change in our life before we can serve the Lord. We can (and should) serve Him right now where we are.
It is a common tendency among those who come to faith to feel that now that they have become a follower of Christ they must do something dramatic in order to follow the Lord. Many become believers and immediately determine that they should become a Pastor, Missionary, conference speaker or recording artist. These are noble and well-meaning thoughts. People want to do something great for God. However, they all have the same problem: they believe truly serving the Lord requires some kind of change in the circumstances of their life. They believe they will be able to serve the Lord when they make the necessary changes. I believe Paul wants the people to see that they should be serving the Lord right now!
It should be obvious that if a believer is in an occupation or profession that is inherently immoral or illegal, they need to change their circumstance. A person who is a thief must give up the robberies; a person who is a prostitute should stop selling her body; the person who is involved with drugs should stop dealing or using. Everything sinful is to be forsaken. However, most people are already planted into their mission field.
Paul says that what matters is not our social status, our place of employment, our marital status, race, age, nationality or gender. He says, “keeping God’s commands is what counts”. What matters is not whether or not you are circumcised, or married, or a slave or a freeman, what matters is that you follow the Lord right where you are. What is important is not your position but your willingness to obey God and be used right where you are.
If we will serve the Lord with the heart of Christ we will find that God can use us right now in the places where we have been planted. God desires to use us in the workplace, in the classroom, on the athletic field, in the business world, in the home, the restaurants, the bank, the hospital, and the repair shop. What God desires is that we serve and obey Him in what we are doing right now.
Charles Simeon who lived in the mid 1800’s said three things are necessary to follow Christ in this immediate kind of way.
- We must Submit to God’s Will
- We must depend on his grace
- We must seek to promote His glory.
Let’s look at these one at a time. First, we must submit to His will. That starts by realizing that God is in charge and He does not make mistakes. Therefore, God has placed us where we are for His purpose. God is like a General who has positioned His troops to accomplish a victory. The foot soldier may not understand why he is exerting so much energy to gain a hill in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. However, from the perspective of the General, that hill is a key acquisition.
Players that are put out on a football field all have a particular job to do. If the guy on the offensive line mopes about not being the Quarterback, the whole team will suffer. The team depends on each player doing his job.
The point is that we all have a job to do. God has placed you right where He wants you to be and calls you to be faithful where you are. Let’s get specific,
- You may work in a factory. God has called you to pursue excellence in your work and love and faithfulness in your relationships with your co-workers. He has placed you in that factory to be a beacon of light in your workplace.
- You may be a student or a teacher. God has called you to follow Him faithfully at school. He has called you to stand for Him in a worldly environment. He has called you to show compassion to the hurting and extend friendship to those who have been cast aside. He calls you to pray for the salvation of those you see every day and He wants you to look for opportunities to plant seeds of faith.
- You may work in an office with others working under you. God calls you to be a person who uses your authority to encourage and help people rather than to beat them up. Perhaps He would have you start an after hours Bible Study with your workers.
- You may work on a farm. If so, then God calls you to provide food that is of the highest quality. He wants you to use your resources to help others. He calls you to look for ways to share your faith as you visit with other farmers in the local gathering place.
- Perhaps you may be a stay at home mom. God calls you to love your kids but even more He wants you to teach them about how much God loves them. He wants you to teach your children to love the Word of God and to make decisions based on God’s Word. God wants you to minister to the other mothers you visit with, the people in the Pediatrician’s office, and the teachers who influence your kids.
- You may be in health care. God wants you to be His agent of compassion. He wants you to help people to look not only to the Doctor but also to the Great Physician
- You may be a parent of a child involved in many activities. God wants you to do more than sit in the audience and cheer. Those other parents you see all the time are your mission field. He wants you to build relationships with these people. He wants you to find ways to plant seeds of grace in their lives.
- You may be retired and limited in what you can do. Perhaps God would have you use your time to write notes of encouragement. Maybe He wants you to devote yourself to prayer. Maybe he wants you to write a book or simply use the time you have to share your faith with family members.
God has a plan for each of us. Our job is not to debate the things He has given us to do. Our job is to do those thing.
So, the first thing we must do is submit to God’s will. Second we must depend on His grace. As we think about the jobs God has given us to do it is often overwhelming. Our job is to move forward and trust that God, in His magnificent grace, will provide what we need. He will give us the words to say. He will give us the courage we need. As someone has said, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” Don’t miss that. God is not looking for gifted people He can use; God is looking for willing people whom He can equip.
It’s not easy to serve God. It is hard to start a conversation with someone about their relationship with Christ. It is difficult to go against the tide of public opinion. It is difficult to pursue excellence when everyone around you is satisfied with mediocrity. It’s hard to continue to follow when the weight of life’s responsibilities weigh you down.
In 2 Corinthians Paul tells us that he had learned a very valuable lesson. He learned that God’s grace is sufficient for us. He discovered that when he felt the weakest and the most inadequate but still tried to do what was right, those were the very times he was actually the strongest. In those times He had to depend more fully on God’s strength. God’s strength never disappoints.
I wish I could count the number of times I have walked into a home or a hospital room or greeted someone in my office in a crisis situation and felt completely unequipped. There are times I walk into the pulpit and wonder what God could possibly do through me. So often in those times I discover a supernatural strength. The words seem to come and people are helped. On the other side, I have also walked into a pulpit thinking, “I have really got something good to share” and found that my words lacked power. The point is: it is His strength which leads us.
We must submit to His will, We must depend on His grace and Third, we must seek in all circumstances to promote His glory. The key to truly blooming where we have been planted is to remember that our job is not to promote ourselves . . . it is to promote Him.
“Practicing the Presence of God” is a classic book by brother Lawrence who was a monk who sought to glorify God in everything he did. Brother Lawrence was content to wash dishes to the glory of God. I truly believe that God is honored more when we serve Him in the shadows than when we serve Him in the crowds. Much of what we do publicly is designed to gain the praise of men. What we do when no one else is looking is the true test of character and of faith.
The bottom line is this: the true measure of faithfulness will not be what people say about us; the true measure of faithfulness will be how others view God because of us. It doesn’t matter if no one knows our name as long as they see Jesus in us. It doesn’t matter if we get credit for our work in this world. What matters is that God’s glory is promoted.
LIVE WITH SINGLE-MINDEDNESS (29-31)
Paul adds one more thought in verses 29-31
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
Paul urges us to recognize that the time is short and instead of spreading yourself thin He says we should become focused. Paul gives us five illustrations.
First, those who are married should live as if they are not married. Paul is not saying that we should disregard our spouses. He is saying that even in marriage you must put God first. You need to do what is right even if your spouse resists.
Second, those who mourn should live as if they did not. Paul is saying that we must not let sorrow or tragedy keep us from serving the Lord. Bad things happen. We can curl up and pout or we can determine that we will serve Him in good times and in bad.
Third, those who are happy are to live as if they were not. Paul is not telling us to be grouchy. He is saying we should not let pleasure and enjoyment take the place of God in our relationship. It is possible to get so involved in indulging our appetites that we can be enslaved to those very appetites.
Fourth, those who possess things should treat those things as if it were not theirs to keep. We are to view all our possessions as tools for God to use. It is not “my stuff” it is His. My job is to look for ways to use the stuff to bring honor and glory to the Lord.
Finally, Paul says those who use the things of the world should do so without being addicted to them. Have you noticed how our list of “the things we need” has changed over the years. For many of us if our television, microwave, air conditioning, computer, internet access or cable was lost, we would consider it a crisis. Paul would remind us that this is just “stuff”. These things should not influence our lives . . . that is God’s job.
One of Satan’s favorite strategies is to create a diversion. He will take something that is good and get us so focused on it that we drift in our walk with God without even noticing. We can become obsessed with politics, sports, television, saving money, video games, our jobs, and even our children.
None of these things are bad until we become engrossed in them. When the ways of the world begin controlling our life, Satan has won a key battle. Paul is calling us to get focused. He challenges us to set our sights on what is truly important and not let anything distract us.
Think about an Olympic champion. These athletes focus on being the best. They train tirelessly. While friends are out having a good time, they are working to shave a tenth of a second off their time, or are working on a new move or trying to master their weakest swimming stroke. While friends are out partying, the champion is watching what they eat and getting the rest they need. During the training time people may say they are crazy. We confess that we wouldn’t want to work that hard. However, when these people stand on the winners platform we all wish it could be us.
We may wish we could be the Super Bowl champion Quarterback that is headed to Disneyland after the big game. However, what we don’t see are the hours upon hours that Quarterback spent working on arm strength and accuracy. We don’t see the nights he spent studying the playbook or watching film.
You don’t become a champion without single-minded focus and sacrifice. This is what Paul is calling for from us. We are pursing a crown that will not tarnish, spoil or fade. We are not playing a game. Eternity hangs in the balance. Paul’s challenge is for us to be done with lesser things and to give ourselves to serving Christ wholeheartedly, right where we are.
Chuck Swindoll has written,
It’s helpful for me to remember that our eyes are focused on one of four places at all times: on our circumstance, on others, on ourself, or on the Lord. If they focus on any one of the first three and not on the Lord, we will drift and ultimately fail. It’s only a matter of time.
So how are doing? Are you blooming where you are planted? Are you serving God where you are or are you busy making excuses? Are you serving as a missionary in your world, or are you standing on the sidelines criticizing what others are doing?
Our church could not function without scores of people who serve in simple ways every week. There are those who serve in the Nursery, teach Sunday School, play the music, lead children’s Church, help at Awana, lead youth groups, take up the offering, serve as greeters. There are those who keep the building in shape, there are those who set up and take down tables. There are those who faithfully send out notes of encouragement. And there are those who uphold us in fervent prayer.
Most of those who visit our church come here because someone invited them. Most of the people who make a commitment to Christ do so not because of the persuasion of an evangelist but because of the influence of a friend, co-worker, or family member who shared the truth in a simple way.
When the soldiers on the battlefield faithfully fight their battles, the war is won. When the members of the football team make their blocks and run their routes, the game is won. Likewise, if we will serve faithfully right where we are, the Kingdom of God will be advanced.
So here’s the challenge: this week look around at your life. Notice the mission field that God has given to you. Ask yourself, “How can I serve God in my present position?” Don’t limit yourself to big things; look also for little ways you can show faithfulness. Look for ways you can plant a seed of grace. Look for ways you can honor the Lord. And once you have identified what you can do: Take a step of faith, trust His wisdom and grace, and then get to work.