I’ve entitled the message “Are Christians Social Revolutionaries?” Are Christians social revolutionaries? There has been much said in the past about the revolutionary nature of Christianity, and there has been much printed about Christian revolution, and there has been much discussion about the social implications of Christianity and does Christianity bear weight against social status and social institutions, and what kind of weight does it bear if any? What social activism is justified biblically, etcetera, etcetera.
Well, this simple passage, not difficult to understand once you really see it, from verses 17 to 24, will help us to focus on the priorities of the Christian experience, particularly as they relate to social things.
Now, the Word of God speaks authoritatively on almost every subject that we can imagine. At least if not in particular, in general. And as we have looked at 1 Corinthians, we have been made aware of the fact that already, in just the first seven chapters, many, many practical areas of living have been touched on by this letter.
Now, in the seventh chapter, we have noticed that Paul is writing about the issue of marriage. The Bible has a lot to say about that particular subject. It talks about single people and their behavior. It talks about married people and their behavior. It talks about divorced people. It talks about widows. It has much to say about what is required within a marriage, what God’s standards are for the life of the husband, the wife, the children. There is much in the Word of God about the whole theme of marriage.
Some of what is in the Word of God is contained here in the seventh chapter of Corinthians. Now, the Corinthians were having problems, as we saw in the last two messages, with the whole subject of marriage. The problem basically arose from the fact that when people were becoming Christians, there was certain pressure being put upon them to conform to a certain view of marriage.
For example, you’re a single person, and you happen to get saved in the city of Corinth, and you attend the Corinthian assembly. There are some well-meaning Jews there who believe, because Orthodox Judaism always believed this, that to be single is to defy the law of God. God said to multiply, replenish the earth. And if you do not do that, then you are slaying the posterity of God. And so, the Jews would say, “You must get married, especially now that you’re a Christian. And so, there was tremendous pressure being put on single people, some of whom had been given by the Holy Spirit the charisma of celibacy, or the grace gift of singleness. God intended them to be single, but the Jews were laying it heavy on them to be married.
On the other hand, you had a kind of an ascetic attitude that was a holdover from pagan philosophy, and some of the Gentiles were coming into the church and saying, “Marriage is not the thing; singleness is the thing because then you can be ascetic, totally devoted to God, and you don’t have any of the encumbrances of marriage. And what you really ought to do, if you’re married, is get a divorce and get out of your marriage.
And it went further than that, especially if you happened to be married to an unbeliever, dump him for sure because he’ll defile you, and if you have children, you’ll have half-breed, defiled children. So, these were the confusing elements in the Corinthian situation regarding marriage.
And so, some were saying, “Everybody has to get married.” Some were saying, “Everybody has to get single again so we can be totally devoted to God.” And there would be a high level of spirituality in the Jew’s mind connected with marriage, and a high level of spirituality in the Gentile philosopher’s mind connected with being single. So, Paul has to speak to these issues, and he writes the seventh chapter in response to that very struggle. Some were challenging marriage, and some were challenging the right to be single.
Now, we’ve already seen what Paul has to say to the single, to the married, and to those who are married to unbelievers. And now, as we look at verse 17, Paul takes these particular things that he has said and draws from them a general principle. And this is very interesting. It’s very simple, and it’s very repetitious. So, I’m sure you’re going to go away understanding the basic principle. The tough thing is going to be where you apply it, and that the Holy Spirit will have to work out with you.
But Paul takes the particulars that he is given and makes a general rule out of it in verses 17 to 24. Now, here is the general principle. I’m going to state it to you, and then we’ll see how it unfolds. Christians should not be concerned with changing their outward circumstances. Christians should not be preoccupied with changing their outward circumstances. Now, that’s the basic principle. The Christian life is not a social issue. It is not social revolution, it is spiritual regeneration. There is no reason to say, “Now you’re a Christian, you have to stop being single;” “Now you’re a Christian, you’ve got to dissolve your marriage and be celibate;” “Now you’re a Christian, dump that unsaved spouse or you’ll defile yourself;” “Now you’re a Christian and a slave, get out of the slavery. Christianity cannot be commensurate with bondage. You’re free. Tell your master to go fly a kite; you’re walking out.”
You see, Christianity was never designed to be a disrupter of social relationships. And that is Paul’s message. And what was happening in the Corinthian church was this: they were coming in and using their Christianity as a justification for all kinds of social change. They were dumping husbands and wives, single people were being forced into getting married when they had the gift of celibacy, which God had granted them for unique purposes of ministry.
Slaves were chafing under the role of slavery and saying, “I demand to be free; after all, we’re equal, one in Christ.” Galatians 3:28, “There is neither male nor female, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ.” And all of this social reactionary attitude could have destroyed the testimony of the Corinthian assembly. Just destroyed it. Because if anybody began to see Christianity as a social revolution, they would put the revolution down, and then they would lose the opportunity to be exposed to the reality of Christianity, which is a transformed life, not a social reformation.
So, what Paul is saying is don’t turn Christianity into a social thing, make sure that everybody understands that it is a spiritual regeneration and that it can exist in any kind of social situation. Now, that’s the basic content of these verses.
There is no question in my mind, and certainly in the mind of anybody who studies the Bible, that Christianity must have had a profound effect upon society. The fact of miracles and signs and wonders, the teaching of equality of the sexes and of bond and free, the tremendous preoccupation with the second coming of Jesus Christ, the idea of coming judgment, the idea of eternal bliss in heaven, disdain for any earthly wealth, these things were factors that were very, very hard for the world to understand, and I’m sure it had a profound effect.
And in the midst of this effect, which I think, at that point is legitimate, it could have had an effect further than that that would have been illegitimate. It was enough that the world was confused without confusing them further by making Christianity not just theological but social.
And so, the Spirit of God wants to make sure that the world always keeps its perspective. Yes there are signs and wonders. Yes there is a preoccupation with heaven and eternal things and a disdain for the earthly things. Yes there is the coming of the Lord Jesus; for the Christian that’s good, for the non-Christian that’s bad. Yes all of these things are true, but let’s keep it at the spiritual level, and let’s not make Christianity a justification to overthrow the government. Because when we do that, then we become just like every other revolution, and the distinctiveness is lost.
Now, Paul wants to show, in this passage, that being a Christian does not mean that you have to create chaos by jolting the institutions in which you live. The point is this: a relationship to Christ is compatible with any social status. You can be single, married, widowed, divorced. You can be a slave, a free man. You can be a Jew. You can be a Gentile. You can be a man. You can be a woman. You can live in any kind of society: democracy or total anarchy, or you can live in a dictatorship. You can be anywhere from America to Cuba to Red China to anyplace in the world, and Christianity is compatible with any social status. Why? Because it is internal, not external.
And Paul says, Corinthians, if you’ll please let the world keep the perspective by not using Christianity as a justification to misrepresent the truth. It doesn’t matter what you are; it doesn’t matter what the society is in terms of the basic identity of Christianity. The Gospel is not an immediately revolutionizing, disorganizing element in society.
For example, if a wife becomes a Christian, what should she be? A better wife. Right? If a husband becomes a Christian, what should he be? A better husband. First Corinthians 7 talks about those two things. If you have a friend who becomes a Christian, what should he immediately be to you? A better friend. If there is a slave who becomes a Christian, what should he be? A better slave. A master who becomes a Christian? A better master. A citizen who becomes a Christian, what should he become? A better citizen, not a social reactionary.
Now, this is repeatedly spelled out in the New Testament. Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me add this footnote. I am not saying that Christianity has nothing to do with social activism. I feel that the Bible is very clear about the fact that we are to meet the needs of people, that we are to bind up the wounded, that we are to feed the hungry, that we are to clothes the naked, that we are to house the lonely and the outcast. The Bible is very clear that we’re to do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith. There is a social responsibility that Christianity has, that Christians should seek justice in a society through the means that that society provides, that Christianity should seek right and honest things, and that Christianity should speak the truth of God against an unjust, unrighteous society.
But the heartbeat of Christianity, with all of its deep social ramifications is still this: it is a spiritual regeneration and spiritually transformed people will change a society not like dynamite, but like leaven. Not by blowing the lid off the society, but by spreading the power of Christianity through the transformed lives of the people within that society.
And so, I would say it this way: Christianity interferes indirectly, not directly with social institutions. Christianity has really been the cause of great social change in history, but not by exploding on that society, but by leavening that society. That means penetrating it at its roots.
Paul reveals the divine truth that Christianity is never to become a superficial social situation. It is always compatible with any earthly circumstance in any society. Eventually, as it grows, the seeds of godliness, and justice, and righteousness, etcetera, will begin to affect the society in which it grows.
I believe that in whatever place in society a person finds himself, he can be a Christian, and he can be a good Christian. I think of Russia. Some people think that it would be impossible to be a Christian in Russia. Do you know that the Christian church in Russia is growing by leaps and bounds? I told you that within a matter of weeks or months at the most, we will be broadcasting into Russia. The messages that we give you here are now being translated into Russian, 1 and 2 Peter, to be broadcast into Russia, and the estimation of the listeners that are hearing the Word that is going in there is between 14 and 20 million people who are listening to an all-Christian radio station with a – I don’t know, a half-a-million watts beaming in there, that is so massive that the Russian government can’t afford to stop it or block it. It’s outside the country, and they can’t afford the equipment to jam it, apparently. And God may have something to do with it.
But the point is there are people hearing the Word. And they were saying, you know, we need to get tapes, and we’ll translate them into Russian, and we’ll get the tapes into Russia.
And I said, “Well, how are you going to do that?”
“Oh, all we have to do is take one tape in; the Christians have duplicating places where they reproduce all the tapes and pass them all over everywhere.”
The government may have something to do with the organized church, but it can’t do anything to put out the life of God that God is planting in the hearts of people. And the folks told me that on any given time, when the Word of God is being preached, they estimate somewhere around 14 million people are listening to the Word of God in Russia.
You can be a Christian in any society because Christianity is a spiritual relationship to the living God, and it has little or nothing to do with social status. Now, this is the principle that Paul wants to get across here, because he wants the Corinthians to know that being a Christian is no reason to start changing every kind of social relationship. The principle he states in verse 17, in verse 20, and in verse 24, he repeats it three times, the same principle. And then in between those three times, he illustrates it.
So, point one is the principle. Then the illustration, two. Then the principle again, then the illustration, and then the principle at the end.
Now, notice as we go, let’s begin with the principle first of all in verse 17. Now, the words “God” and “the Lord” in the manuscript should be reversed. So, it would read this way, “Only” – and that’s probably a better way to start the verse – “Only as the Lord has distributed to every man, as God has called everyone, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the churches.”
Now, however it is that God’s called you, stay there. Don’t create a social revolution. Whatever God has allotted to you, just keep in that course. Everybody walk in the chosen course that God has given him. Conversion does not mean that single people who have the gift of celibacy are to get married. It doesn’t mean that married people are to break their marriage. It doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t mean that if you’re married to an unbeliever you dump the unbeliever. No, not a bit Stay where you are. If you’re a slave, stay a slave. If you’re a Jew, stay a Jew. If you’re a Gentile, stay a Gentile. Stay where you are. This is the general principle. The normal thing is to maintain your social status.
Now, I hasten to add it doesn’t mean that if you got saved when you were 13, and you were single, that you have to stay single the rest of your life. It doesn’t mean that. It is a general principle, not an absolute law. Later on you’ll see how that works. I mean it even said in chapter 7, remember, that if you’re married, stay married. But then it gave an exception. If an unbeliever wants to depart, let him depart. So, there’s a general principle that does have exception. Here is one as well. God says, “Stay the way you are.” That’s the general rule.
Now, if you’re a slave, stay a slave. But if freedom does come along, take it. Just don’t be preoccupied with that problem. We are not to create social turmoil. Why? Verse 15. Back up and remember this principle; we saw it last time. The end of verse 15, “God has called us to” – what? What did he call us to? – “peace.” Whatever it is that we do in the world should have the ultimate effect of making – what? – peace.
Now you say, “Well, the Christians in Russia should have overthrown the Russian society.”
Why? What biblical justification is here for another Christian revolution like the Bolshevik revolution that brought communism? They can be a Christian within a communist society. And when God gets ready to change that society, the roots of Christianity spreading through that society may bring its downfall. But if Christianity turns into a social issue, then you know what you have? You have exactly what’s going on in Ireland. And nobody understands that. And the whole testimony of Christianity is totally destroyed. You see? Because Christianity there is nothing but a social issue. Better that the church should leaven the society than take guns. That only confuses the issue.
God has called us to what? To peace. Stay where you are. Whatever situation you find yourself, stay there. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus. In Romans 12:18, it says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” In Romans 14:19, “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace.” In 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men.” In James, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy, good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
If you are exemplifying and communicating the wisdom from above, divine wisdom, it is first of all pure, then peaceable. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace. If you’re going to really bring about righteousness in a world, it’s going to be sown by – what? – peace. Peace by them that make peace.
In 2 Timothy chapter 2, Paul says to Timothy, “Now, Timothy, you be a peaceful man. And you maintain that peaceful stance.” And there’s a reason for that. He says this, “In meekness, instructing those that oppose, if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil.”
In other words, “Timothy, if you’re peaceful, and patient, and gentle, and longsuffering, God will use that to bring people to the knowledge of the truth and free them from Satan.” The way to evangelize the world evangelize the world is not through social revolution, but it is through spiritual regeneration. So, he’s saying, “If you guys split all of the social institutions down the middle and create and create chaos, you’re not going to help the cause a bit.”
Now, notice the seventeenth verse for some particulars, “Only as the Lord has distributed to every man.” The Greek verb for distribute means to apportion to one his share of something. If you’re a slave, who is it that apportioned to you that position? Who is it? It’s the Lord. If you’re a wife, who is it that apportioned to you that position? It’s the Lord. Husband? Single person? Whatever it is, remember this, whatever the Lord has allotted to you, in whatever way God has called you, so continue to walk.
If you’re a slave, did you know that God put you in that position before he saved you, and he saved you in that position to use you in that position? If you’re single, God had you single before he saved you. If you’re married, God allotted to you a married situation and saved you in it to use you in it. God knew that. God saved you in a certain situation. For the time, stay in that situation: married, unmarried, mix marriage, circumcised, enslaved, free – whatever it is, your life status is given by the Lord.
Now, that’s an interesting thing to realize, people. The kind of job you have, and the kind of marital status you have is related to the plan of God even before you got saved. And when the Lord redeemed you in that, He redeemed you in that to use you in that, at least for the moment. Don’t be discontent. Don’t say, “Oh, now that I’m a Christian, I can’t do this anymore.”
Now, I’m not talking about, you know, if you’re a – if you run a brothel, or you pedal whiskey across the state line or something. That’s something different, because that’s illegal and immoral. But when we’re talking about things that are just social, relational things that have no moral value, God doesn’t expect you, all of a sudden that you’re a Christian, to bail out of everything. God has you there for a reason. He had you there before He even saved you. Saved you while you were there. And so, it’s simple; stay that way. Whatever social situation you’re in, God can work, and Christianity can be compatible with that. So, stay where you are. Let’s not make Christianity the upheaval of the whole society.
“Let’s show people in the world,” says Paul, “that Christianity gives solidarity to society, that it gives solidarity to life, not that it’s chaotic. We don’t want women leaving their husbands, who are unbelievers, to find nice, Christian husbands just because they’re Christians now and think they can’t live with an unsaved man. No, stay there. So, let him walk.”
Now, after sustaining the principle, he illustrates it. Now, watch verses 18 and 19. This is a fascinating illustration; believe me. When I first read this, I didn’t really understand it. “Is any man called being circumcised?” Were any of you – the word “called” means saved. Were any of you saved while you were circumcised? Now, a circumcised person is a what? Is a Jew. All right. Were any of you saved when you were Jews? Well, of course, many of them. Then do what? “Let him not become uncircumcised.”
You say, “Oh, a lot of chance he’s got of that.”
I mean that’s what I said when I first read it. “Well, it’s real nice.”
“Don’t you dare get uncircumcised.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t; I won’t.”
It seems a little bit irrelevant. Well, you know, I did some research on that, because I figured if it’s in the Bible, it’s got to have a meaning. And even though it sounds like it would be a little bit difficult, do you know that there was a period of history in Israel, between the close of the Old Testament, Ezra and Nehemiah, and the opening of the New, the arrival of John the Baptist, there was a 400-year period. And during that period, the Greeks ruled in Israel. And there was a man there by the name of Antiochus who ruled. There was an interesting reaction to his rule. Some people revolted against it, the Maccabees, Judas Maccabeus and his sons who were Jews and very zealous and patriotic and nationalistic. They started the Maccabean revolution, revolted against Antiochus.
On the other hand, there were some Jews who wanted to go along with the Greek system because they wanted to gain favor and social prestige and social status. The history of Judas Maccabeus and his revolution is contained in three books, 1, 2, and 3 Maccabees. Now, those three books appear in the Apocrypha, which is the non-biblical part of the Catholic Bible. For example, some of you may know that middle part that has Esdras, Bel and the Dragon, and all that in there.
Well, 1 and 2 and 3 Maccabees tell the story of that Maccabean revolt during those intertestamental years. They’re not biblical books, but they have interesting history in them. And it tells us in the first chapter of 1 Maccabees, from about verse 11 to 16, that there were renegade Jews who wanted to identify with the Greeks. And so, they actually went through a surgical operation to try to remove the scars of circumcision so that they could go to the gymnasium, says Josephus, and appear as uncircumcised.
You say, “Well, why would they do that?”
Well, it’s obvious why they would do that: they would do that for the purpose of identifying with the Greeks for social status. So, you know what Paul says? “Look, if you were saved a Jew, don’t do that.”
You say, “Well, why not?”
Let me tell you. A Jew comes to Christ; he gets saved. Who would be the most likely person that he then could lead to Christ? Another Jew, right? And somebody in his own family. So, if a Jew comes to Christ, and immediately renounces his Judaism, wants to get uncircumcised and totally identify with the Gentile culture, what are his Jewish friends going to say? They’re going to call him a what? Blasphemer, an apostate who isn’t fit for heaven. To remove the mark of the covenant would be unthinkable. And he would immediately alienate himself from the harvest field that he is most capable of reaping in. You see?
So, Paul says, “Don’t do that.” There were some Gentiles in the Church saying, “Now that you’re a Christian, if you really want to reach the Gentile society, you’re going to have to – you’re going to have to quit, you know, the Jewish thing, and you certainly can’t go with me down to the local spa down here. And everybody’s going to know. You know, you got to do something about that, fellow. Otherwise you’ll not reach these people.”
And he says, “Look, stay the way you are, because in your effort to reach those people, you probably won’t succeed anyway, and you’ll alienate the people that God intends you to reach, your own people.” Every one of us has a harvest field. There’s no reason to alienate all the Jews who feel strongly about their Jewishness.
I think one of the things that’s kind of exciting about today, you know, we see people today who are Jews. They get saved, and they don’t reject their Jewishness. They hold onto their Jewishness, and this gives them accessibility back into the Jewish community, doesn’t it? They have an open door maybe to friends and family when they maintain something of the belief and the love of the Jewish heritage, even though they have seen it fulfilled in Messiah, there’s no reason to assume that they have to deny all of that heritage. To deny it and become a Gentile would alienate them from the harvest field that God would give them the most fruit in.
Now, he turns it over in the next part of verse 18 and says, “Is any called in uncircumcision?” Were any of you saved while you were Gentiles? “Let him not be circumcised.”
Now, you know what this story’s all about, don’t you? Some Gentiles came to Christ. And what would the Jews say? “Oh, it’s so nice that you’ve come to Christ. But listen, if you want to get in on the really great stuff in the kingdom, you got to have this operation.”
Now, I don’t think it was like Galatia. In Galatia they were telling the Christians there they had to get circumcised to be saved. I think here they’re trying to show them that they had to have this to get the full blessing. And the reason I believe that is because Paul would have been a lot more adamant here if it was an issue like Galatia for salvation. But I think the Jews here were saying, “You ought to identify with God’s people. You ought to identify with the covenant people, and we’ll just have this little operation.”
And you know what? The Gentiles looked down on the circumcision and the Jews as a despised people. They really believed that the Jews were a low-class, despised people. Now, to identify with the Jews, then, would have alienated a Gentile from – what? – from all his people. And, you see, then he would have alienated himself from the harvest field that God had designed him to reach. Do you see the point? God says, “Just stay where you are; that’s where I have your for the reason that I have you there, to reach those people. Don’t worry about your social status. It doesn’t matter.”
Look at verse 19; this is pretty clear, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing” – neither one of them matter – “but the keeping of the commandments of God.” The only issue is a moral issue, a spiritual issue, not an external. It doesn’t matter what operation you had or didn’t have. And there’s no sense for something that doesn’t matter, there is no sense in you alienating yourself from all your friends and all your family. There’s no sense.
I could say a lot about the word obedience. That’s the heart of everything, isn’t it? The thing that matters in verse 19 is keeping the commandments of God. Let’s focus on what is important. Let’s not major on the minor. Let’s not get bogged down in the externals, the superficials. Let’s remember that the issue is obedience.
All right, having stated the principle and illustrated it, he now states it again. And if you think it’s repetitious, you’re right. Any time God says something, it’s important. Any time he has his profit or his apostle say it three times, it’s that much more important. Verse 20, “Let every man abide in the same calling in which he was called.” Let every man stay in the same situation he was in when he was saved; that’s precisely what he’s saying. Concentrate on the spiritual. Emphasize the Christianity, not the circumstances socially. Christians need to be preoccupied with spiritual.
You know, we live in a democracy, and it’s exciting, but I wouldn’t doubt that there are Christians, who are as equally mature as we are, who are as equally devoted to Jesus Christ, and who may realize far more reward than us, living in countries where there’s total oppression. Because Christianity is compatible with any social situation.
And Paul’s concern here is that the Christians realize that the primary business is being a Christian, not outward circumstances that are relatively or totally unimportant. Don’t ever let outward things become a major importance.
You’re saying, “This means you can’t have any progress?”
No, he isn’t saying that. He isn’t saying you can’t have a promotion, you can’t advance in your business or your education, or seek a better life, or seek to increase your income or get a better job or change employment. No.
What he is saying is don’t disrupt the social balance in the name of Christ. In other words, nobody should desire to change his status in life simply because he’s a Christian, as if Christian was incompatible with certain kinds of social positions. It isn’t. It’s compatible with anything. It’s well-suited to any man or any woman in any situation in life as long as that person realizes that the key thing is to keep the commandments of the Lord. Obedience is possible in any situation. Now you may pay a higher price for it in some than in others, but it’s possible.
You see, when the Lord saved you, He didn’t save you to change your earthly status; He saved you to change your soul and your eternal destiny.
Now he’s going to illustrate it again. Look at verse 21 and 23, and this is illustration number two, and here’s a good illustration, because it’s an illustration out of slavery. “Art thou called being a slave?” Doulos, a bond slave. “Were you saved as a slave? Don’t worry about it. Care not for it.” That’s a Greek idiom, it means never mind. It doesn’t matter. “If you were called as a slave, it doesn’t matter.”
You say, “John, did the Bible say slavery doesn’t matter?”
No. No, the Bible doesn’t say slavery doesn’t matter; the Bible says if you were saved as a slave, don’t worry about it. You can be a Christian as a slave. Can’t you? You can be a Christian as an anything, socially speaking. I’m not talking about moral things, but social. Paul is not approving of slavery; he is merely saying that slavery is not an obstacle to Christian living.
You know, in Ephesians chapter 6, Paul has a few words for some slaves. And you know what he says to them is not, “Now that you’re a Christian, you go to your master, and you tell him, ‘Look, fellow, you and I are equals. So, I’ll do what you want to today, and you’ll do what I want tomorrow, and we’ll just get this thing worked out.’”
No. He says, “If you’re a slave” - verse 5 of Ephesians 6 - “be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart as unto Christ.” Just be a good slave. Give that guy everything that he wants. Serve him with your whole heart as if he was Jesus Christ in the flesh. Give him everything he asks for, “Not with eye service” – you know what eye service is? That’s working when the boss is looking. Oh, we know about that. “Now with eye service, as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”
Hey, you’re doing the will of God. If you’re a slave, you know why you’re a slave? Because God’s will is that you be a slave. If he saved you as a slave, that’s where he has you. That’s fine. Whatever you do, the Lord is going to reward you. Serve the Lord in that position. Colossians 3:22 to 24 says identically the same thing.
You say, “Well, does the Bible approve of slavery?”
No. But it also doesn’t approve of Christians creating a social revolution to overthrow it, because that misdirects the whole point of Christianity.
You say, “Well, how can we change slavery?”
Did you know that the concentration of righteousness that was in Christianity really became the catalyst that ultimately abolished slavery in the world? Christianity has done that. The important thing, you see, is to serve God. And a slave shouldn’t worry about the fact that he’s a slave; he should just serve God. And as this whole righteous kind of life begins to penetrate and spread, the downfall of an enslaving system will occur.
Now, if the Lord tarries, if the Lord tarries, I believe the seeds of Christianity, even in a nation like Russia, will bring the downfall of that nation. I believe that. And I believe it may come faster than many of us think.
No, the important thing is to serve God. And God will, through the righteous life of many, bring about His ends socially in the world. So, if you’re a slave, be a good slave. If you’re a master, be a good master. If you’re a wife, be a good wife. Whatever it is.
So, he says, “If you’re a slave, don’t worry about it.” One thing that Paul didn’t want was a whole lot of Christian slaves revolting. Can you imagine a Christian revolution? It wouldn’t work. You know, that’s what they expected Jesus to do when He came into the world, remember? They expected Jesus to come as the Messiah and overthrow Rome. Then Christianity would have gone down in all of history as a political movement. Wouldn’t it? Jesus said no. That isn’t what it is. It’s change on the inside.
Slavery is fine, if God has called you in that status. And built into the Christian righteousness pattern, like leaven, moving through a society, is the dissolution of evil in that society as Christianity penetrates.
Notice what he says in verse 21, at the end of the verse, “If you may be free, then use it rather.” But I’m not saying you’ve got to stay a slave. Now, some people use this passage – they turn the end of the verse around to mean, “Even if you have liberty offered to you, turn it down.”
“Boy, if you were saved a slave, you are a slave.”
No. No, I think what he’s saying here is if you’re saved a slave, don’t worry about it. But if freedom comes along, grab it. And, you know, in Rome, there was the provision. In fact, many owners kept a nest egg, and they added money into it all the time, until finally it got to the place where the guy could buy his own freedom. So, the definition wasn’t that, necessarily, oppressive. In some cases there were cruel masters, but you could be a slave. And it could be tolerable. Don’t worry about it. But if you’re freedom comes, use it. And this just means God’s giving you that and taking you another step.
There’s a good illustration of this in the little book of Philemon. Philemon is an interesting little book, right after Titus and before the book of Hebrews. And Philemon was a Christian man in Colossi. He had a slave, among other slaves. He was probably a very wealthy man. One of his slaves was named Onesimus. And Onesimus decided he wanted his freedom. So, Onesimus stole some stuff out of Philemon’s house, packed his little bag, and hustled off to Rome. And what he was figuring, to lose himself in the mob at Rome.
And while he was mingling with the crowd at Rome, he ran into a very interesting man by the name of Paul, which began a very dramatic transformation in the life of Onesimus. In verse 10, Paul says, “I beseech you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” Now, we don’t know how – Paul was undoubtedly a prisoner here, and somehow he got in connection with Onesimus, and led Onesimus to Christ.
Onesimus became a Christian, and oh, Paul loved him. In verse 11 he says, “This guy was profitable, and I really cared for him. And he was important to me.”
But one day, Paul and Onesimus were kind of getting down to it, and they sat down, and Onesimus says, “Hey, Paul, I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t know how this is going to go over, but I’m a runaway slave.” Well, that must have really crushed Paul. What was he going to do?
“Well, who’s your master?”
“Well, he’s Philemon. You know, a Christian over at Colossi.” That even made it worse.
“Oh.” Well, what could Paul do? “Well, look, slavery’s a rotten institution anyway. Just cool it, and I’ll keep you here, and no one will ever know. That’s one thing; we’ll just hide you. The other one would be I’ll send you back with a letter telling Philemon what I think of him as a slave owner.” And Philemon could have been, “Dear Philemon, let all your slaves go. Slavery’s a rotten institution.”
Or Paul could have just said, “No, according to this society, we have a social status of masters and slaves. You’re a slave. You disobeyed the rules of society. You have to go back and make it right.”
And that’s what he did. And he sent Onesimus back with a letter. And you know what the letter says? “Hey, Philemon, here comes your slave, and he’s really been great to me, and I’ve led him to Jesus Christ. Would you accept him as a brother? Would you take him back in good graces as your good slave? I think he’ll serve you better than he’s ever served you.”
And off hustles Onesimus with a letter. And, you know, he had a lot to risk, because slaves in those days, for running away, could be killed, or at best they could have a brand on their head. They put a big F on their head for fugitīvus which meant runaway. So, he could have paid a high price. But Onesimus, now in the bonds of Christ, goes back and gives the letter, and tradition tells us Philemon embraced him with open arms, and they were accepted as brothers together, even though he continued to be his servant and his slave.
Now, in all of Philemon, Paul says nothing about slavery. He doesn’t condemn it. He doesn’t tell Philemon to set Onesimus free. He just accepts the social status that Onesimus was in and knew he could go back and be a slave, and it wouldn’t have any effect on his Christian life.
Now, some people have criticized Paul for not attacking the system of slavery. But the point is this, people, if Christianity had encouraged the ending of slavery, then Christianity would have been seen as a political revolution, and Christians would have been killed in a revolution.
And I would add another thing. If Christian slaves had started to disrupt society, then the major issue would have been lost: the issue of faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, you know what’s happened in America. Every time Christianity quote-unquote attaches itself to a social movement, the message of Christianity gets totally lost. Given the Christian faith, emancipation is bound to happen. At the time, it was not right. So, Paul says, don’t concern yourself with your earthly state; don’t concern yourself with a situation that is superficial. The major issue is internal.
Now, let’s look at verse 22. And here he draws a very interesting paradox that’s not really totally understandable if you keep pushing it out, but in its simplicity it’s very clear. “He that is called in the Lord, being a servant” – or a slave – “is the Lord’s free man.” “He that is called in the Lord, while – he that is saved while he’s a slave, is really the Lord’s free man.” Do you understand that?
I mean what does it matter if you’re a human slave or a physical slave if you’re freed from sin, freed from Satan, freed from hell, freed from the curse of the law? I mean what does it matter that you have to serve somebody else? I mean you’re really God’s free man.
And on the other hand, he says, “Likewise, he that is called, being free” – in other words, somebody who gets saved while he’s a free man becomes Christ’s slave.” All he’s simply saying is, “You may be a slave physically, but you’re a free man spiritually. And you may be a free man physically, but you’re a slave spiritually.”
In other words, he just kind of shows the fact that nothing really matters on the surface. It doesn’t matter whether you’re physically bound or free, it only matters that you’re both spiritually bound and free in the paradox of Christianity. Do you understand that paradox? That as a Christian, you’re the servant of Jesus Christ; and yet, as a Christian, you’re free from the law, from sin, from Satan, from hell, from the curse. You understand that paradox? That’s what he’s saying.
Christ has totally set you free to be His servant. Don’t worry about the superficial situation you’re in. Now, he takes it a step further in verse 23. He says, “You are bought with a price; be not ye the slaves of men.” Don’t ever again consider yourself a slave. You may be a physical slave, but you don’t go around saying, “Oh, I’ve got to get rid of the bondage of my slavery.”
Listen, you’re not really a slave to men. If you happen to be a Christian slave, you’re a Christian slave because God has you there, and he bought you with a price, and you’re His slave, His servant. And that’s what I read you earlier in Ephesians 6, that when you serve your master, do it hardly as unto whom? The Lord. You’re really serving God. You ought to obey your employer as if he were Jesus Christ incarnate. That’s his point. If I am a slave, my service is to God. If I am free, my service is to God. It doesn’t matter; e bought me with a price.
What was the price? 1 Peter 1:18 to 19 tells us that the price was the precious blood of Jesus Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. You’re really God’s servant. Don’t worry about externals.
He repeats the principle in verse 24, “Brethren, let every man, in whatever state or status or situation he is called there abide with God.” However it is that you’ve been called, however it is that you’ve been set apart, whatever status in life you’ve been allotted by the divine sovereignty of God, maintain it. Hold onto it. God has you there for a reason. And conversion is no signal for a man to leave his occupation, for a man to leave his wife, for a man automatically to panic and want to get married. No. All of life is God’s; we are all His servants. He places us in all different positions, and we are to serve Him in those positions. Let’s concentrate on spiritual service, concentrate on obedience, and let the social thing take care of itself as the leaven of righteousness will permeate a society to bring about change.
So, Paul says to the Corinthians, don’t make your Christianity the cause for the hatred of the world. If the world is going to reject, make sure their rejecting with the knowledge of Jesus Christ, not rejecting out of the fear of a political play that you may be making on their society. Let’s pray together.
Father, as we have shared in these brief moments, and now our time is gone, we recognize that You have repeated again and again this principle, and yet we struggle, all of us, in our hearts to make application of it in our lives.
For some, the application may be very clear. There may be a person here who’s single and who feels even that such singleness is a gift of God, and may be being pressured into being married. May it not be, Father, that they would expect that there is any greater blessing in marriage. There may be some who are married, Father, and because perhaps they’re married to an unsaved person, may be being pressured to leave that person and not to abide. Father, may they realize that their Christianity is no reason to leave.
There may be some who have certain employment, and they feel that because they’re now Christians, they can’t be under somebody, or they can’t endure the position of servitude that they have. May they realize that even as a slave, they can be just as good a Christian as anyone in a position of authority would be.
And, Father, perhaps there are even some who would want to turn in their Jewishness, or even the opposite. We pray, Lord, that that would not be the case, but that they would be thankful for whatever state they had racially and nationally in the past that will enable them to reach the people that are part of their life and heritage.
Father, help us to realize that as Paul said, “In whatsoever state I am therewith to be content” is the rule that should govern our lives. And when some change does come, when freedom comes, we can use that as well. When for those that are single marriage comes, and that’s something that God has in mind, we can use that as well.
But, Father, may we always major on the majors, not on the externals, but on the things that are concerned with obeying Your commandments and keeping Your truth, that the world may be brought to repentance and to the acknowledging of the truth as they see it in us. We pray in Christ’s name, amen.
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