“Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:17–24, NASB95PARA)
We don’t know the real amount of dissatisfaction with their lives that these believers in Corinth were experiencing, but it must have been there to some significant degree. As they were becoming Christians it appears that they were looking to change other things as well. Their new position in Christ was leading to them desiring new positions in life. They were seeking change and needed some instruction in what that change was to look like. Having just addressed individuals remaining either in marriage or singleness after being called by God to salvation in Christ, Paul here expands this instruction to other areas of life as well. He dealt with them being rightly Jews or Gentiles and their status of being slaves or free.
As it was in the previous passages, so it is in this that he encourages all believers to remain “with God in the condition” they were in at the time of their calling. Paul begins this statement with the words “as the Lord has assigned to each one.” The word “assigned” means to divide, distribute or apportion. God is sovereign in their life in all areas. They did not determine their race at birth, but it was God who formed them in their mother’s womb. And, short of them doing something to indenture themselves into slavery, this too would have been largely a condition of birth. This was where they were placed in their life, and they were to be content to remain in that place.
It was from there that God called them to salvation in His Son, and it is in that place that God will work in and through them as His adopted and beloved children in the Lord. Therefore, they were to walk in the manner in which they were called whether it be married or unmarried, Jew or Gentile, slave or free. This was the word that was to be spread among the churches, and it was the instruction that the people were to be given in how to move forward in their new lives of faith.
If one was born a Jew, he did not need to forsake his Jewishness in favor of Gentile ways. God had made a promise to the Jewish people and they had no need to distance themselves from being of His chosen nation. Sure, the sacrifices could go away and some of the ritual because Christ had given Himself as the once and for all time perfect sacrifice for their sins. But there was so much more to being Jewish. And if one were born a non-Jew or a Gentile he or she did not need to become a Jew to be a proper Christian. In making His promise to the nation of Israel, God said that in their seed all of the nations would be blessed. And this is what Jesus did. He brought salvation to all men each according to their race, and He brought them into His family through the blood of His one Son, Jesus Christ.
For those coming to salvation in Christ the big thing regardless of their race or origin is that they follow God in obeying His commandments. As we learn the words of God we are to hide them in their heart and obey them with diligence and in so doing prove that we are truly His disciples. Changing the things that the Corinthian believers were asking about was not the change that God desired. His desire is obedient hearts leading to obedient lives of service to our Lord. It was true then, and it is true today.
Continuing from race to position, Paul wrote that it they were born a slave that they were not to worry about it. Sure, if an opportunity to become free came along they were to take it, but this was their daily reality. In that reality God calls us to Himself and He is able to keep us and making us to grow. Our real freedom comes in not who we answer to here but in being set free from the bondage of sin and being given a new Lord who we are to serve with all our hearts. This is what we read in Ephesians chapter 6, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:5–8, NASB95PARA)
Regardless of who we might serve here on earth our real service is to our Lord. He bought us with the price of His blood and we belong to Him as His bondservants. It is from the framework of these truths that we are to be content to remain as He called us knowing that should that change in some way then that was okay as well. God knows every detail of our lives. He knew this before we were ever conceived, and He knows exactly what He has prepared for us to do. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)