Text: 1 Cor. 7:17-24
But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.
Have you found your calling? This is a question that your probably hear from time to time. It can take a number of different forms. Usually it’s about your job or life commitment—are you doing what God has called you to do? But it can also be applied to romance and marriage—have you found “the one” that God has picked out for you? These questions tend to assume that you might not have found your calling yet, and sometimes people are even told that they need to wait until they do find it. In the world of romance, people can even go so far as to put off commitment until they find “the one.” But is this the right way for Christians to think about it?
Here in 1 Cor. 7:17-24, Paul introduces the doctrine of calling right smack in the middle of a section on marriage, divorce, and widowhood. At first this might seem like a change of subject. He mentions being called to circumcision or uncircumcision, as well as slavery and freedom. But this isn’t a new subject. Paul has been dealing with questions about whether Christians should get married, stay single, or get divorced, and what he’s doing in this section is sending a message: go where God has called you. In fact, Paul doesn’t just say go where God has called you. He says stay where God has called you.
What Paul is saying in this section is that all callings are spiritually equal, so long as they allow you to keep the commandments of God. What he wants us to be able to do is to put our earthly calling in a sort of second place. Don’t worry so much about them. God will work them out. We should prioritize Him. This morning we will take a closer look at this teaching. We will see that it is actually impossible to “miss your calling.” Whatever you are currently doing in life and wherever you find yourself—that is your calling. Your duty is to use it for God. We will see that no one calling in life will improve your standing in God’s eyes. It cannot make or break your salvation. And so all of this gives us the freedom to “stay put” and do the work set before us in a joyful and faithful way. The knowledge of God’s calling also allows us to be content in all things and to use whatever means we have to serve Him.
“Calling” Happens By Ordinary Means
Now, lots of people misunderstand they doctrine of calling. They think it means that God has some secret plan for them that they have to discover by extraordinary means. Perhaps they are waiting for a sign from God or some inward spark that will give them confidence. This is very common in our day. It’s a form of Romanticism. May people don’t appreciate the “ordinary” way of living their life. Instead they want some super spiritual message that will let them be certain that the choices they are making are in line with God’s will.
You hear this kind of talk all over the place today. “How can I be sure that it’s God’s will?” It’s actually an old problem. At the time of the Reformation there was a group known as the “Enthusiasts.” They claimed that they had a special and direct spiritual message from God that told them what to do. The problem with this was that it meant that there was never any arguing with them. They and they alone had received this revelation, and there was no way to hold it accountable or judge it by Scripture. Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers condemned it as heretical. God does “speak to us,” but He does so through His word which is found in the Scriptures.
Instead of thinking about calling in this Romantic or mystical way, the Apostle Paul presents a different approach. He says that the Corinthians are all already in their callings. “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk… Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.” (1 Cor. 7:17, 20). Basically, Paul is looking at a congregation of people who are in various walks of life. Some are married. Some are single. Some are widows. Some are slaves. Some are free. And he says to all of them, “Stay in the calling that you have been called.”
In fact, verse 20 literally says, “Remain in the calling in which he was called.” The Greek word for “calling” appears twice. It reads like this klēsei hē eklēthē. That translates to “the calling in which you were called.” They have already been called, and their calling is their current state of life.
So the first point is that our callings are given to us by God. They are not things we have to discover and find out. We don’t have to do anything to get them. God gives them to us, and that means that whatever we are currently doing and wherever we currently are is our calling. We don’t have to “find out” our calling. We already have it. Use it and do it.
Strategic Change Is Ok Because All Lawful Callings are Equal
Now, there are two more things about this doctrine. It is true that whatever you are doing is God’s calling in your life, but this assumes that you are keeping His commandments. If you find yourself in a state of sin, then you are abusing God’s calling. You should stop and repent. Any job that requires you to sin as a part of doing that job is what is known as an “unlawful calling.” Quit that job and find a new one. Yes, God has put you in the place and time that you are in, but He never approves of sin. He wants you to repent of that sin and then use your position to do good and influence those around you. Christians cannot simply justify whatever sort of action or lifestyle they want by saying “This is what God gave me.” There are many jobs that Christians should not take, and there are many people that Christians should not marry. But making this decision does not require secret knowledge of God’s plan. It simply requires you to read what God has said in His Word, the Holy Scriptures, and then to compare that with what you see in your life. If you are sinning, then knock it off. Repent. Otherwise, follow God and obey Him wherever you are.
The second qualification is that this teaching does not mean that you can’t “improve” your calling. While Paul doesn’t want us to be anxious about changing our calling in life, he does allow us to improve it if we get the chance. We can see this point in his instructions to the slaves. “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it” (vs. 21). That is actually a pretty incredible statement and something that would get you into big trouble for saying today.
Two points are made in this one verse. First, being a slave is not a big deal when it comes to your spiritual status. “Don’t worry about it.” We see this same teaching in Ephesians 6:5-9, Col. 3:22-4:1, 1 Tim. 6:1-3, and 1 Peter 2:18-25. Slavery was a reality in the first century, and it even existed among members of the early Christian Church. It was not ideal, but it was also not the kind of thing that always demanded immediate action. It was an imperfect but tolerable situation, at least for a time. Paul says that a Christian can remain in the calling of slavery and still be faithful to God.
However, Paul does not say that a Christian must remain a slave. Instead he says, “if you can be made free, use it.” If the opportunity arises, take it. Freedom is better than slavery, and so Christian slaves can accept freedom. They can even take positive steps to be made free if they do so in an orderly manner. We talked about this topic when we discussed the book of Philemon. Paul does not command emancipation, but he does say that it ought to freely and naturally flow from our transformation in Christ. He wants it to happen, but he wants it to be voluntary and without compulsion.
Now, if Paul can say this about slavery, how much more can he say it about other challenging callings in our lives? If you can remain a slave, then surely you can remain in a challenging marriage. Surely you can keep that less-than-stellar job. You can and should bear with the calling that God has given you at the present. Don’t complain about it. Don’t use it as an excuse to not take responsibility. But at the same time, you are allowed to improve your standing if it becomes possible. If God gives you new opportunities, then you can and should take them, and you are allowed to be on the look out for these opportunities, in a lawful way, so that you can be ready for them.
This is true because all lawful callings are spiritually equal. It’s also because all lawful callings are spiritually relative. Now, I don’t mean that they don’t matter at all. I just mean that they don’t matter as much as obeying God matters. All lawful callings are means to an end, and that end is glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.
Paul makes this point when he says, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (vs. 19). Of course there are all sorts of implications on a 1st-century Christian for being circumcised or not. It “meant something” in the eyes of the people. But it didn’t earn you a better status with God, and it couldn’t make or break your salvation. This meant that early Christians had the ability to make a strategic decision on this question. They didn’t have to be absolutists, so long as their decision didn’t impact the gospel.
This too is a pretty big deal. Circumcision was a major theological controversy in the New Testament. Acts 15 shows us the debate at the Jerusalem council:
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)
This same controversy shows up in the book of Galatians, and there Paul is passionate about the implications. If anyone says that a person must be circumcised in order to be saved, then that person is denying the gospel. Paul even says, “Let them be accursed.”
But did you know that Paul actually instructed Timothy to be circumcised? Yes, shortly after the Jerusalem Council, in the very next chapter of Acts actually, Paul meets Timothy and invites him to come along on his mission. But it says that “he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek” (Acts 16:3). Timothy was half-Jewish, you see. His mother was Jewish but his father was Greek, and so he had not been circumcised as a boy. Paul found out about this and decided to go ahead and have Timothy circumcised in order to not put a stumbling block in the way of the Jews who lived in that region. Paul made a strategic decision to change Timothy’s status in order to make it easier to evangelize.
Now, think about this decision for a moment. Had the Jews been the first to push the issue, saying that Timothy couldn’t be saved unless he was circumcised, then Paul would have had to have said “No.” He could not have compromised if they made it some sort of divine law. But Paul didn’t wait for that to happen. He took the initiative and had Timothy circumcised before the problem actually happened. He did it based on strategy. Paul knew that it didn’t matter, spiritually, whether Timothy was circumcised or not. But he knew that it could present a strategic problem for evangelism, and so he chose to change Timothy’s status. Had this been something that Paul felt “forced” to do, then it would have been wrong. But as long as it was done for reasons of wisdom and charity, then it was ok.
So we can change our callings in life, but we should do this based on wisdom. Don’t be anxious about it. Don’t think that it affects your salvation. It doesn’t. Each lawful calling is actually equal, and that’s why you have the freedom to change or not to change. Paul puts it in a slightly different way but with the same meaning when he says:
For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Cor. 7:22-23)
As long as your decision doesn’t make you a spiritual slave, you are free to change or stay put. Find how you can best serve the Lord and use that opportunity. Don’t worry about the rest.
Conclusion: The Grace of Staying Put
So that’s the basic answer to “finding your calling from God.” You don’t actually have to find it at all. God gives it to you, and He always gives it to you. Whatever you have and wherever you are, that is your calling. God does this through ordinary means, and He even allows you to change your calling as He present new opportunities. Your job is to make the most of whatever comes your way, to serve God, share the gospel, and keep His commandments. You are free to change, and you free to stay put.
Having said this, though, Paul does seem, at least in this section of 1 Cor., to prefer the option of “staying put.” I don’t think this means that he’s opposed to all forms of ambition. However, he is dealing with a specific problem in Corinth. The people are restless. They all want to outshine the other, and there is an unhealthy sort of competition and boasting. That’s why he says tells them to “remain as they are” four different times in these seven verses. Their spiritual need is clear. They don’t need to be encouraged towards ambition. Instead, they need to find contentment in staying put.
Since this is Paul’s intention here, and since we are in the middle of a study of 1 Corinthians, let me conclude this sermon by showing you the grace of being able to stay put. Paul says, “As the Lord has called each of us, so let us walk” (1 Cor. 7:17). Then he adds the line, “Don’t worry about it” (vs. 18). Your earthly status, whether Jew or Gentile, married or single, free or slave—it “means nothing” (vs. 19). Instead, what matters is keeping God’s commandments. “Remain as you are” (vs. 20). Just don’t become a slave to men (vs. 23). Don’t let other men control how you think about your spiritual worth, and also don’t let you own expectations, ambitions, and feelings of guilt make you a slave to yourself! God has given you your worth and your freedom in Christ. That’s what counts. Believe in Jesus and serve him!
Brothers and sisters, the gospel gives us freedom. Our circumstances do not make or break us, and they do not enslave us. And this means that the gospel gives us contentment. We can stick it out with our current calling and not feel bad about it. Use whatever God has given you for His kingdom. Perhaps the best thing you can do is to go ahead and make your decision. Look at your gifts, look at your opportunities, and then pull the trigger. Get to work so that you can put down deep roots. Get to work so that you can make progress. Get to work so that you can network with others, make lasting friendships, and bring others into your life so that you can bless them. Get to work so that you can evangelize those around you. After all, you can’t build a community of faith if you don’t have a community in the first place.
You should find your calling, but the first step is simply taking a look at your own feet. Where are you right now? That’s your calling. Use it for God. Keep His commands, and you will be doing His well. Evangelize those around you, wherever you are. If you do that, then you will do something that no one else can do. You will do your part in the kingdom of Christ.
Let us pray.