“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor. 7:17-24).
In the words of Francis A. Schaeffer “there are no little people and no little places.” I think what Schaeffer meant by that is very similar to Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 7:17-24 when he says, “only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”
We live in a culture where bigger is better and climbing up the economic ladder is essential and not optional. The American economy, for better or worse, is very hierarchical. In our economic system there are little people and there are big people and there are people in between. I am afraid sometimes we have a similar situation in our churches. We view pastors as the more mature and holy Christians–especially the famous ones who write books and speak at conferences. This, however doesn’t seem to fit the ethic of the Kingdom of God. Especially when Jesus said things like “whoever wishes to be first must be last and servant of all” (Mark 9:35) and “whoever shall be great among you shall be your servant” (10:44).
Seeking to climb the evangelical ladder is a dangerous ambition. Especially when Paul says, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” I don’t think that means that if you become a Christian as a school teacher you must remain a school teacher for the rest of your life. I think what it means is that our position in the world really doesn’t matter. What matters is that in whatever position I am in, I am pointing to the one who has freed me from sin and death–Jesus Christ the righteous one.
A slave in first century Corinth would have been lowest of the low on the social totem pole. And yet Paul tells slaves who have become Christians “do not be concerned” about your position as a slave. Didn’t Paul care? Didn’t he want slaves to be free from the difficult yoke of slavery? Yes and no. Yes in that he tells them if they can gain their freedom to do so. But Paul is more concerned with teaching slaves to be content in Christ and to realize that all who have come to know Christ are “Slaves of Christ!”
If you want to read more about why the New Testament writers never call for the abolition of slavery read my article on this blog titled Slavery and the New Testament. Again, the New Testament writers were not social revolutionaries but spiritual revolutionaries–they wanted to see people free from sin and enslaved to Christ! The message of Paul to the slaves in Corinth was one of reminder–he reminded them that they had been “bought with a price!”
Whatever place you are in right now matters to God and God wants you to be faithful to display the gospel wherever you are at. Sometimes being in Seminary feels small. I am learning important things but I am not pastoring a church or planting a church overseas, but what I have come to realize is that it doesn’t matter where we are in life so much as that we are obedient to the one who has called us.
I don’t want to think of myself better than Jesus. That is what we are doing when we refuse to serve in whatever position we are in–we are thinking ourselves better than Jesus. For “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark10:45).
That is why Peter could tell slaves in Asia Minor to obey even “unjust” masters, because Peter was more concerned that slaves in Asia Minor bore consistent witness to the glory of Jesus than that they get out of their difficult social position. A slave was the lowest of the low in Roman culture, but a slave that lives to consistently bear witness to the freedom he has in Christ is precious in the eyes of God. You may feel pretty low in the big scheme of things and that may be a good thing, but remember, there are no little people, there are no little places.
The gospel levels the playing feild. In Christ there is “neither slave nor free . . . all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We are all dead in trespasses and sins and every believer has received new life in Christ. If a slave’s witness to Christ matters, so does yours.
Spiritual one-upmanship has no place in the Kingdom of God. Don’t think yourself better than Jesus, do what Jesus did–serve.