Reading Time: 6 Minutes
God spoke through the Psalm writer and said:
“Stop striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth.” (Psalm 46.10)
Paul didn’t use the same words, but he wanted the church in Corinth to stop striving for social status and public recognition.
He wrote, “However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7.7).
There are many people who would take exception to Paul’s message today. Slavery and racial injustice would still exist in America if people hadn’t sought to free people from the life “assigned” to them.
The same could be said for people who escape poverty or abusive situations.
How can we understand apply Paul’s words to our culture. First, we must see what Paul meant when he wrote to the church in A.D. 50 Corinth.
What did Paul mean when he commanded the church in Corinth to “stop striving”? Status and a lofty position in life was the highest achievement a person could attain in Corinth.
Striving for status and position may be a cultural value, but it is not always what is most important in life.
Stephen Covey, author of a famous book on success, described a person who climbed the ladder to success only to learn that it was leaned against the wrong building.
Jesus told the parable of the Sower and spoke of “thorns” that choked out God’s activity in a person’s life.
He said, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Matthew 13.22).
Striving for freedom from oppression, for racial injustice, for economic opportunity, and more is a worthy task. People with selfish ambition and a passion for personal recognition should heed God’s voice and “Stop striving.”
Strive for the Most Important
Paul listed some examples in Corinth that emphasized what is most important in life.
He wrote, “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” (1 Corinthians 7.18).
The value of circumcision for Jewish people cannot be emphasized enough. It was a sign of their covenant relationship with God and was valued to the utmost.
For Paul to suggest that circumcision was not one of the most significant issues would be similar to telling a group of Marines that it really didn’t matter if people honored the American flag or not.
I believe Paul used this example to highlight is most important in life.
He said, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything” (1 Corinthians 7.19).
In a world where God’s guidance and direction is ignored in favor of competing issues, Paul calls the church to live by what is most important – obeying God’s commandments.
If we adopt Jesus’ actions and attitudes toward life, we will be certain to not climb the ladder of success only to discover that it is leaned against the wrong building.
The Example of Slavery
Another comparison that Paul used was the issue of slavery.
The Roman Empire was not able to function without slaves. One-third of the Empire’s population were slaves.
There were some slaves who lived lives similar to those who suffered under America’s system of slavery. However, many slaves had positions of importance in business and manufacturing in Rome.
Under the Roman Empire many slaves fared better than free persons. They had food, clothing, shelter, and protection that some of the free persons didn’t have.
Paul’s message to the church, which included slaves was, “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called” (1 Corinthians 7.20).
Here is how he counseled Christian slaves: “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever” (1 Corinthians 7.21).
A Civil War era Presbyterian minister wrote a book that detailed why slavery was an institution that God endorsed. I have only read references to the book, but I expect he used verses like the one above to make his case.
I can’t state it strongly enough that Paul was not advocating for the institution of slavery. He was advocating a committed decision to obey God in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
He reminded Corinthian slaves of this fact: “For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7.22).
Some people are slaves to an addiction, others are slaves to ambition, still others are slaves to power and status. Jesus is the great Liberator. He sets our inner live free, so we can live as his friends.
Whether we have experienced it or not, we will discover the most liberating and joyful life is the one lived as a friend of Jesus Christ.
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. He discovered the fact that he had no freedom, except the freedom of his inner life.
Behind the barbed wire and machine guns of the Nazis, Frankl was more free than his captors.
With similar thinking to that of Frankl, Paul told slaves of the Roman Empire, “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters” (1 Corinthians 7.23).
No matter what happens in our lives – where we work or our status in life – Jesus has set us free. As we choose to live a Jesus-kind-of-life, we will be able to stop striving for the ideas and values imposed on us by our culture.
About This Blog
Tomorrow’s blog article will return to the message of the prophet Micah.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The prayer team at Maywood Baptist is honored to pray for you.