Sunday, 27 July 2014
Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.1 Corinthians 7:21
Paul now refers to the second major issue tied to what he said in verse 17 – ” But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk.” This second issue is slavery. He asks a question of those who are bound in slavery, “Were you called while a slave?”
Slavery is something that has occurred throughout human history and has come in different forms, from complete bondage and absolute rule, to simply being owned by another yet with varying amounts of freedom, but without pay for the work which is performed. The Old Testament details provisions for slavery, how certain slaves are to be treated, and the rights which slaves bore within the context of Israelite society.
In the Roman Empire of Paul’s time, a large portion of the population were bound under slavery and it was as common and accepted as the general paid-labor force is in the world today. The difference mostly centered on the amount of freedom offered to slaves. In coming to Christ, the individual slave may feel that his allegiances were now confused. He or she is bound to a master and yet they have committed to Christ. This might have brought about a level of concern or anxiety concerning their position.
His question as to their state when they called on Christ is to show them that there is no true complication in the matter. If they are slaves now as he writes and they were slaves when they we called, then there currently is no change in their state. Christ called them while they were in servitude and they were accepted by Him. And so, He understands the dilemma they feel which to Him is no dilemma at all. Because of this he continues with, “Do not be concerned about it…”
If Christ wasn’t worried about it, then they shouldn’t be either. The allegiance they have to Him is one that will not conflict with the allegiance they have with their own master. They are to remain obedient to their rightful owner and what he expects. A good example of this actually comes from the Old Testament. It is found in 2 Kings 5. A Syrian officer, Naaman, came to know and call on the God of Israel, but he also had allegiances which bound him to his master. This caused him a bit of anxiety as to what he should do when he had to accompany his master into the temple of Rimmon where his master would worship. He asked Elisha the prophet for pardon concerning this matter. The request and response are found in 2 Kings 5:18, 19 –
“‘Yet in this thing may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord please pardon your servant in this thing.’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So he departed from him a short distance.'”
Jesus is looking upon the hearts of his faithful and He understands the difficult position that they are in concerning worldly responsibilities. As He called us, so we may continue, but with a different heart and direction concerning Him. However, at the end of Paul’s words today, he gives this final thought, “…but if you can be made free, rather use it.” What he means is that if a slave can free himself, then there is nothing wrong with that.
In the Roman Empire, like in Israel, there were provisions for obtaining freedom. One could buy their freedom or earn it in various other ways. Paul told them that despite being called as a slave, nothing bound them to remain as slaves. But if they did remain as slaves, there was nothing wrong with that either. Today, this is comparable to changing jobs. If you were a lawyer when you were called, there is nothing wrong with changing one’s profession. The principle which is being laid down is one for peace and contentment in the state one is in, but not necessarily being firmly bound in that state.
Life application: There is nothing degrading in menial labor or even bondage. If the Lord calls you in such a state, then how can it be considered degrading? You have been given the highest honor in all the world. Whatever lowly position you think you’re in is only in your mind, not His. To Him, you are a member of His family and in a high and exalted position!
Oh Lord, at times I feel like the menial jobs I do are degrading and not worthy of notice, but then I remember that You called me just as I am. You weren’t at all concerned about the amount of money I make, about the dirty hands and face I have at the end of the day, nor the life which lacks flash and pomp that I live. Instead, You called me and set me next to You in the heavenly places. What higher honor is there? When I remember this, the jobs I do take on a new and wondrous light. Thank You for the work of my hands which You have established. Amen.