In the World, Not of the World
1 Corinthians 7:17 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. 18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21 Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22 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. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called. (NKJV)
The writer of 1 Corinthians is the apostle Paul. He wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, Greece during his third missionary journey during his two year and three-month ministry in Ephesus, Asia in A. D. 54-56. The church in Corinth was established by Paul during his second missionary journey when he ministered there for a year and a half during A. D. 51-52.
In this passage Paul is addressing what Christian relationships should be with the world, and with the Lord. He begins by stating that we all have our own personal stories, our own backgrounds. When a Christian is “called”, he already has a life, a “walk” (v. 17a).
Paul makes it clear that he is not just addressing a situation unique to the church in Corinth, but rather he brings the same message to every church to whom he ministers (v. 17b). The message is that when we become a Christian we should not turn our backs on our previous life. Our previous life is a part of who we are.
For example, if a Jew converted to Christianity Paul did not want them to “become uncircumcised” (v. 18a). Unfortunately, some of the Jews of the day who had converted to Christianity had undergone the painful surgery to undo their circumcision. Paul states that they should remain “circumcised” (v. 18b).
Whether they are circumcised or uncircumcised did not matter. The only thing that mattered is “keeping the commandments of God” (v. 19). They should “remain in the same calling” they were in previously, unless that calling interfered with keeping the commandments of God (v. 20).
If they were a slave they should remain as a slave, unless, of course, they could gain their freedom (v. 21). They could still keep the commandments of God as a slave.
In fact, the slave who became a Christian would become as a “freedman”, being freed from the bondage of sin (v. 22a). A “freedman” was a slave who had gained his freedom. Whereas, a free man was one who had never been a slave.
Those who are freed from sin become “Christ’s slave” (v. 22b). They are “bought at a price”, the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross (v. 23). Since Christians are slaves of Christ they should not be “slaves of men” (v. 24a). If one is a slave, he can only have one master. He should obey Christ, not men.
Paul concludes this passage by reinforcing the commandment to Christians to “remain” as we were in our life before becoming a Christian (v. 24b). We should not go live in a commune or withdraw from the world.
We should not shun our former friends or socialize only with “church people”. We should not change jobs, activities or who we are because we think it will be easier to live the Christian life.
The Lord wants us to bring our Christianity into our current life, not to withdraw from our current life and only hang with other Christians. We are called to be a light to the world, not to withdraw from the world.
Although Christians are to be in the world, they are not to be of the world. We draw the line where we are unable to keep the commandments of God.
Online Bible Commentary