1 Corinthians 7:17-28 – Stick to your Calling

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 2008



15. But if the unbelieving man divorces himself, let him be divorced;

                        in this the brother or sister has not been bound,

                        yet it is in peace that God has called us.

                                    16. For what have you known, wife, if you will save your husband,

                                    or what have you known husband, if you will save your wife?

17. Whether or not, as the Lord has apportioned to each – as God has called each

            thus he should keep walking

            and thus I order in all the churches.


18. Anyone called after being circumcised should not should re-cover himself;

anyone called in uncircumcision should not be circumcised.

            19. The circumcision is nothing

            and the uncircumcision is nothing,

            but rather it’s [about] keeping the commands of God.

20. Each, in the calling in which he was called – in this, let him remain.


21. Were you a slave when you were called?

            Don’t let it bother you, but rather, even if you are able to become free, rather employ yourself.

                        22. For the slave who was called by the Lord is the Lord’s free-man;

                        likewise the freeman, when called, is Christ’s slave.

                        23. Y’all were shopped-for with value;

            stop becoming slaves of men.

24. In that to which he was called, brothers – in that – let each remain, alongside God.


25. Now concerning virgins, I don’t have an order from the Lord, but I am going to give advice

                        as one who has been treated mercifully under the Lord - in order to be faithful:

            26. Therefore I think this would be a good thing to begin on account of the current necessity,

            that it would be good for a man to be like this:

                        27. Have you been bonded to a wife? Stop seeking an annulment;

                        Have you been released from a wife? Stop seeking a wife.

            28. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned,

                        and if a virgin does get married she has not sinned,

                        but these will have stress in the flesh, and as for me, I am going easy.


Have you ever felt like a second-rate Christian? So often we look at other people or listen to what other people say and we begin to doubt whether we are acceptable:

·         I remember the one year in Jr. Hi. school that I played basketball. Since it was my first year, I was not very experienced, so I did not get to play much. The thing I did best was to catch balls on the rebound, but I couldn’t even perform very well in that post position because I didn’t weigh very much, and the big, tall guys on the other team could easily push me away from the basket. I remember one game in particular where our team was behind, so our coach wasn’t playing the weaker players like myself. I was sitting on the bench, wishing I could play, and then one of my schoolmates who was watching the game yelled down from the stands, “Hey Wilson, can I borrow your uniform?”

·         I easily start feeling second-rate when I see how much smarter other men are, how much better they are at speaking, how much more successful they are at evangelism, or how much better-behaved their children are. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in the right place or if I should be doing something different from being a pastor.

·         We all have our moments when we feel second-rate and question whether we’re doing the right thing, whether we need to make some change to better our life.

·         Paul addresses this problem in the middle of 1 Cor. 7 with a simple piece of advice: Keep walking in the way that God called you!

·         We left off last week at the end of v.16, where Paul makes the point that we really don’t know whether or not we will see an unbelieving spouse come to salvation, and then v.17 begins with the word “But/Only/Nevertheless/Except” I like Gordon Clark’s translation, “Whether or not.” No matter what happens in our marriage that is beyond our control, we must stick to the calling that God has called us to and use the gifts God has given us to use.


a) “Effectual” Calling – to Salvation

b) Lifework, or vocational calling

3 Examples

There are three areas in particular that the Corinthian church was tempted to walk away from concerning their gifting and calling, and Paul addresses these three areas in the rest of chapter 7: Circumcision/Ethnicity, Work contracts/Slavery, and Marriage relationships:

1) Circumcision (vs. 18-20)

18. Anyone called after being circumcised should not should re-cover himself; anyone called in uncircumcision should not be circumcised.

2) Slavery (vs.21-24)

- Four contexts in which the verb and noun for slave are used in the Bible ( עבד δουλεω/δουλος)

a) Worship

o       Exo 20:5 ASV  Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God…

o       1Th 1:9 … you turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God,

o       Ex 32:13, Lev. 25:42, Deut 9:27, Deut 32:36, Psalm 18:1 (and 50 others!, Acts 2:18, Acts 4:29, Act 20:19, Rom 1:1 … Rev. 1:1

b) Subjection to Civil leaders

o       Exo 20:2 ASV  I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (cf. Deut. 34:11 and Gen 47)

o       Num 32:5 ASV  And they [the Israelite tribes of Gad and Reuben] said to Moses, If we have found favor in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.(also vs. 25-31)

o       Mat 18:23 ASV  Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, who would make a reckoning with his servants.

c) Employment

o       Exo 20:9 ASV  Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work;

o       Eph 6:7 …working as unto the Lord, and not unto men:

d) Indebtedness

o       Exo 21:2-6 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing...  (5)  But if the servant shall plainly say, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:’  then his master shall bring him unto God, and shall bring him to the door, or unto the door-post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.”

o       1Ti 6:2 ASV  And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but let them serve them the rather, because they that partake of the benefit are believing and beloved. These things teach and exhort.

Additional points:

o       Slaves were considered household members. See also Lev 25:44, Deu 23:15

o       The O.T. law, the parables of Jesus, and the teaching of the Apostles all accept slavery as a normal part of life, not characterizing it as an evil to do away with. (Exo 12:44, Lev 25:6, Deu 12:12-18, Deu 16:11-14,1Cor. 7:21-24, 12:13)

o       Man-stealing or kidnapping in order to enslave someone is considered a crime in the Bible (1 Tim 1:10), and where this tactic is used to get new slaves it is wrong. The selling of our labour, if it must be done, should be done voluntarily by contract.

o       Paul encouraged slaves to obey their masters

o       Eph 6:5 ASV  Servants, be obedient unto them that according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

o       Titus 2:9 ASV  Exhort servants to be in subjection to their own masters, and to be well-pleasing to them in all things; not gainsaying;

o       1 Tim 6:2 ASV  And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but let them serve them the rather, because they that partake of the benefit are believing and beloved. These things teach and exhort.

o       1 Pet 2:18  Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh ones.

o       Slavery is not wrong according to God and the Bible. Only Humanists think slavery is wrong; that is because they don’t like the idea of subjecting their god (a human being) to any other. Most Humanists I’m aware of are actually very much in favor of what the Bible calls slavery – financial debt  (Prov. 22:7) and the selling of a person’s labor to a superior for specified lengths of time in return for paychecks and benefits.

·       With this Biblical understanding of slavery in mind we can proceed to consider Paul’s advice:

o       If you were called – if you became a Christian – while a slave, then don’t let it bother you to remain a slave.

o       This much is clear. However, the next phrase is hotly debated by Bible scholars.

§         All the American commentators and translations printed after the War Between The States render the last part of v.21 as though Paul were saying that if you can gain your freedom you should do that instead of remaining a slave. Calvin also leaned in this direction, although he said the meaning was “uncertain.”

§         However, other Bible commentators, such as the Greek church father Chrysostom, Henry Alford – dean of Canterbury in the late 1800’s (almost two generations after the abolition of slave trade in England), as well as the Scottish Presbyterians Jameison Fausset, and Brown who also wrote their commentaries in the late 1800’s, as well as Gordon Clark, who wrote a couple of generations after the abolition of slavery in America, all have a different view. They say – and I am inclined to agree with them – that the second half of verse 21 tells slaves to prefer to remain slaves and use their slave status for God’s kingdom – even if it is in their power to gain their freedom.

§         I am inclined to agree because this fits the message of this passage, “Remain in the position in which you were called.”

§         Here is my attempt to render the second half of verse 21 as literally word-for-word as possible: “but, even if you are able to become free, rather employ yourself.”

o       The point is this: are you willing to glorify God in the situation God has placed you in, or are you filled with discontentment and striving to better yourself?

o       This is not to say that there’s anything necessarily wrong with getting a higher educational degree or landing a better-paying job, but there is something essentially wrong with having an “if only” attitude: If only I had a better job; if only I made more money; if only I had this; if only I had that. The “if only” attitude is the sin of coveting.

o       JFB elaborate on v.22, writing that we are, “free from sin (John 8:36), free from the Law (Rom 8:2), and free from circumcision (Gal. 5:1), but bound to God (Mt. 11:29-30, Gal 5:13, 1 Pet. 2:16).”

o       Paul closes this section in v.23 with a repeat of 6:20 “you were bought with a price” and the exhortation “stop becoming slaves of men.”

§         John Calvin suggests that this means slaves should not obey their masters if their masters ask them to do something evil. For instance slaves were often used as prostitutes. That would be wrong according to God’s word, so a slave should not simply do anything his master tells him to do.

§         That may not apply too much to us, but where it does apply is in our desire to please other people. How often do we compromise ourselves before God by trying to make other people like us? Stop becoming slaves of men.

·         Some slaves had no way to get free. Likewise there are some other life conditions that we are unable to get free of but which God can use.

o       For instance, my Mom knows pain. She knows the relational pain of being disliked by her own parents. The pain of a father who killed himself. The pain of a broken family. The pain of every one of her own children failing in life – one even landing in jail. Mom also knows physical pain. She has had three back surgeries to date and constantly has to manage overwhelming pain in her back with physical therapy and painkillers. She can’t escape from these things. These things could make a person very bitter. But my Mom uses the pain for God’s glory to empathise with hurting people and pray for them. I have seen her wince as though she felt the pain when someone else described their pain to her. God is using even this difficult circumstance in her life to spread His glory among those who have also had painful experiences.

o       God can even use your difficult and painful experiences if you will let Him!

3) Marriage (vs. 25-28)

The third and final example that Paul brings forth as a calling that should not be avoided is our marital status.


When my classmate yelled down at me during that Jr. Hi. basketball game, “Hey Wilson, can I borrow your uniform?” It made me think, “What am I doing here? I wish I had never committed to this team!” However, I had a Dad who knew what I was going through, and Dad had prepared me for this kind of trial.


During that basketball season he reminded me of the character of Reepicheep in the Chronicles of Narnia. Reepicheep, the mouse, was one of the smallest and weakest of creatures, yet he was always courageous and great-hearted. At one point in the story, Reepicheep was on a sea journey on which the crew had run out of food. Reepicheep replies, “"My owns plans are made. While I can, I sail east in [our ship] the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.” Reepicheep wasn’t a quitter. He wasn’t looking for a way out; he would keep going.


Dad’s encouragement to be like Reepicheep encouraged me to keep playing on that basketball team despite my weakness and the ridicule of my peers.


How about you? What challenges do you face? Are you willing to remain with God in the calling to which you were called?


Order of Worship




John 15:15 NASB  "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.


Psalter 130


1 Corinthians 15:3-4 & I Timothy 3:16




John 8:31-36 NASB  So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;  (32)  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  (33)  They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?"  (34)  Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  (35)  "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.  (36)  "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.




O Lord How Shall I meet Thee?

OT Text

Leviticus 25:35-46 (or 39-46 if it needs to be shorter)


Pete Matthews

NT Text

Romans 4


Jesus I my Cross Have Taken (707)


1 Corinthians 7:17-28 - Remain in the Calling to which you were Called




O The Deep Deep Love of Jesus


1Cor. 10:16-17 NASB  Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  (17)  Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.


Be Thou My Vision


Heb 13:20-21 NASB  Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord,  (21)  equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.


Psalm 72d