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1 Corinthians 7:17-31 – Staying “As Is”

Summary

Paul advises his readers not to seek to change their status. Whether circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, married to a believer, to an unbeliever, or unmarried, his readers should stay as they are since "the appointed time has grown short" (1 Corinthians 7:29) and "the present form of this world is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:31).

Analysis

Part of the occasion for 1 Corinthians is that the church in Corinth has sent a letter to Paul asking for his comment on various issues. One of them is the issue of sex within marriage. It is not entirely clear what is going on in Corinth. Are spouses separating or refusing to be sexually involved with each other, because the spiritual has become so fashionable and the physical so passé? Whatever the case, Paul advises people not to seek status changes (from married to single, from single to married, etc.). At some points in his advice (see 1 Corinthians 7:17, for example), he is clear that he is offering his opinion, rather than a word received from the Lord.

First Corinthians 7:21-24 is controversial because of the way this text has been used to support slavery. In these verses, slaves are encouraged not to take advantage of opportunities to gain their freedom. In the larger context of Paul's advice here, his argument for staying "as is" has two points. First, for those in Christ, socially constructed human divisions no longer have any real existence. What is slavery when a slave is a freed person belonging to Christ and the free person is a slave of Christ? The institutions by which humans had ordered their relationships are all made relative as Christ creates new lines of kinship and commitment.

Second, time is short. Paul says that he and his readers are those "on whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). He sees his present time as the time when the old age has bumped up against the new. Soon "the Day" (1 Corinthians 3:13) or "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:8) will reveal the new age in its fullness and none of these socially constructed categories-marriage, singleness, slavery, freedom, Jew, Gentile-will matter. Since the lifespan of these categories has grown so short, Paul argues, why worry about them at all?

1 Corinthians 7:17-31

The Life That the Lord Has Assigned

17 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. 18Was 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. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. 20Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

21 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.* 22For 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. 23You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 24In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters,* there remain with God.

The Unmarried and the Widows

25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26I think that, in view of the impending* crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. 27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life,* and I would spare you that. 29I mean, brothers and sisters,* the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and 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 possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

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10 February 2011

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