Tuesday, June 24, 2014

1 Cor 7: Ideal, Ordeal and New Deal


1 Cor 7:17-40 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. 

Now concerning the betrothed,  I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Here Paul addresses the issue of one's life station. The general rule is: "Remain in the station where you were called." Of course, there are exceptions: if you are living a life of crime, you should change vocation immediately. Otherwise, for most of us, we should remain in the state or station where God called us. Of course, it's never the ideal, but God is in the business of transformation: turning an ordeal into a new deal in Christ. So Paul lists a few examples:
  • If a Jew, remain a Jew: "Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision" (v.18). What counts is not  religious markings or rituals but the keeping of God's commandments: "For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God" (v.19). In other words, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, our priority is not changing our status but keeping God's spiritual and moral standards. 
  • If a slave, remain a slave: "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" (v.21-22). Of course, slavery is not God's ideal, but if a slave can gain freedom, he should avail himself. But a slave in Christ is a freedman while a freedman in Christ is a slave of Christ. So, even in situation less than ideal or even in situation that may be an ordeal, our priority is not to seek a new deal but to seek the Lord's blessing in that situation. Of course, if we can get a new deal, we should.
  • If single, stay single: "I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is" (v.26). If you are single but unhappy, changing your marital status will not increase your happiness quotient. One should enter marriage out of fullness so that we can share the fullness with another. But if two empty lives come together, it can only multiply the misery. So, if we are single and happy, Paul's advice is that we focus on serving the Lord while we are single, rather than feel deprived. Paul himself was single. So was Jesus--and they are not emotionally or spiritually deprived.
  • If married, stay married: "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free" (v.27). If you are married, and it's not the ideal or it has become an ordeal, you should stay where you are and be God's witness to your partner. Seeking a new deal is not God's ideal: "A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" (v.39). Only death can dissolve a marriage vow. God has not called us to seek a New Deal but to become the New Deal--or better still, the Ideal.
None of us lives in an ideal world--whether it is family, marriage or work. Instead of seeking to change stations, God may be calling us to change our present station. It may not be easy, but through God's transforming power in the Gospel, we are called to be salt and light. Light has no purpose in brightly lit environment, but it works best in darkness. So we may be in a less than ideal or even ordeal situation, seeking new deal is not the first priority. Our first priority is to become the New Deal in that situation, to transform Ordeal to Ideal.

Father, grant us grace to be Your agents of transformation to be light in darkness. Amen.

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