Radical Contentment

| June 14, 2021

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a First Century letter that has aged very well, covering issues as current in America then as were in Corinth them — from sexual immorality to divisions within the church, to lawsuits against fellow believers and guidelines for a strong Christian marriage. It has been said that we might call it “First Americans” as much as First Corinthians.

In chapter 7 (:17 – 24), Paul turns to an attitude towards life marked by a Radical Contentment.

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.

This particular section is bracketed on both sides by advice from Paul on principles for a Godly marriage which on the face of it seems a disconnected conjunction of subjects. But upon further examination, we see that Paul is actually discussing similar principles. His main point is that the ability to live a godly life that is pleasing to the Lord does not hang on our social status or external circumstances. Such things are not certainly not trivial, and surely it is not wrong to seek to improve our personal lives.  But Paul is (i) challenging the notions that our circumstances hinder us from serving the Lord; and (ii) to encourage the Corinthians to live contentedly in the life that God has called them to. Here we learn that God can use anyone of any social status, any profession, or any background to serve His divine purpose.

Paul dramatically makes this point by grabbing two of the most controversial and difficult issues for the early church tightly by the horns: circumcision and slavery: circumcision being the largest religious barrier and slavery being the largest social barrier for the early church to deal with.  Paul’s comments concerning them were truly revolutionary and speak to us today.

Before the coming of Christ circumcision was absolutely essential in the mind of every Jew. It was the outward representation of their covenant with God and it was of utmost importance that all men were circumcised.

On the other hand, in the mind of the Gentile, circumcision was the mark of a despised people in Hellenistic culture and so why would any gentile seeking Christ want subject himself to that?

While the Corinthians are consumed with this issue, this letter from Paul would have shocked all those who read it. Paul says neither side is right, and that the question itself is wrong. Was anyone circumcised when they were called? Ok! Was anyone not circumcised when they were called? That’s fine too! “as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk.” Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Ritual does not take the place of obedience. Rather “keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (7: 19).

Then Paul doubles down and adds to the religious issue of circumcision, the social issue of slavery, in a way that makes us as uncomfortable to read as it made the Corinthians.

Americans are very proud of our national heroes who rightfully stood athwart the practice of slavery, risking their own lives and fortunes to advance the emancipation of those held in bondage: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman and others. It was the worst of social sins in our nation’s history.

But even that does not stop Paul’s argument. He is not writing the Corinthians to tell them how to best achieve earthly justice, or how to live up to the words of the American Declaration of Independence, or to advance human rights. His message transcends all of that, explaining that anyone in the worst social status can still use their position for the glory of the Lord. Even the most dreadful ones like slavery.

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

So if a Corinthians came to Christ when a slave, remember that you were bought by the blood of Christ at a price that transcends all earthly standing. Likewise let those who are free remain committed each day to being Christ’s slave. As Jesus says in the gospel of John “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”

To do His will and to finish His work – that is the bottom line. We are called to walk with the Lord through our even though we have different life stories. Regardless, there is no schism in the body of Christ. Our testimonies are many and varied and we can look around, acknowledge this to be true, and still serve a common purpose.

This section makes us uncomfortable not because of Paul’s comments on slavery, but because it runs contrary to our social expectations.  We could consider this letter as “First Americans” because it is about something that we are famously bad at – Radical Contentment.

Americans are famously discontent and constantly restless. We are perpetually on a search for the next best thing: another job, another degree, another house, another car, another anything. It is rare to find someone truly content in the life the Lord has for them now. If living life completely against the grain is what makes a radical, then it is a very radical idea in our day to be content.

We (and I) need to learn that there is not some optimal place to serve the Lord that is just around the next corner. There is only the place I am in right now. This job. This school. This church. Today matters and tomorrow may not come. But my mission remains the same: to do God’s will and to finish His work. My prayer is that with the help of the Lord that we walk worthy of the calling which God gave us, and that we bloom where He has planted us.

 

And therein lies the challenge of this passage.


Category: Faith

About the Author ()

Email | Website | Nathan Gorman is a third year senior political science major and business administration minor at Towson University. He is an active member of his church, pollyannaish Baltimore Orioles fan, and avid reader.