Just as the purpose of education is not to get a job, but to walk with Jesus and fear God, so too with work. The goal is not to look busy, but to walk with the Lord and produce something of value for those in your care (Ephesians 4:28).
Our education is an opportunity to nurture a love for God (worship), our work is an opportunity to bear fruit as a means of loving our neighbour (service).
In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul brings up the topic of work – our vocation – and our overall station in life. He begins by saying,
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. (1 Corinthians 7:17)
The basic thrust of this passage is fairly simple. Your circumstance is no accident. They are ordained by God as the means through which He has called you to Himself.
Paul tells us that the Lord has assigned each of us a place in life. The word means cut up and dished out, apportioned, allocated.
If you’re married, it’s by design. If you’re a slave, it’s by design. If you’re a free man, it’s by design. If you work in a bakery or find yourself washing dirty nappies, it’s by design.
God has put you there as an act of grace.
How can we say such circumstances are a display of God’s Grace?. Because, like Joseph in Egypt, it was through these circumstances – your vocation – that God brought you to His Son.
And so Paul in Acts,
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him… For in him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:26-28)
The “call” is not the circumstance or the job. Paul does not use the word, “call” as a way of describing the particular situation that God has placed us in.
So that we don’t miss the point, Paul repeats himself three times.
- 1 Corinthians 7:17 “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”
- 1 Corinthians 7:20 “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.”
- 1 Corinthians 7:24 “So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”
In each of these verses, there is the call of God to Himself and there is the vocation or circumstance we found ourselves in when the call came.
The word “calling” is used in this sense right at the beginning of Paul’s letter (1 Corinthians 1:9).
On either side of verse 20, Paul develops an example.
Perhaps you were a circumcised Jew when God called you (1 Corinthians 7:18). Perhaps you were a slave (1 Corinthians 7:21). Perhaps you were single or married. It doesn’t matter. And by that, I mean, it really doesn’t matter
“Circumcision is nothing”, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:19.
That was about the most offensive thing Paul could say to a Jew. Circumcision is nothing. And if we understand its broader application, it offends all of us. But it’s true.
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Notice how radically different Paul’s thinking is to that of the world.
In a misguided passion to make everyone feel special (or perhaps make ourselves look good!), we might say, “White is beautiful, black is beautiful, brown is beautiful, yellow is beautiful; therefore, don’t try and change who you are.”
Paul says, “White is nothing, black is nothing, brown is nothing, yellow is nothing, but keeping God’s commandments is everything.”
We could go further (So let’s!). Baptist is nothing, Anglican is nothing, Presbyterian is nothing, The Holy and Immaculate Sisters of Inverted Ablution is nothing. Lord mayor is nothing, Doctor is nothing, street sweeper is nothing, pig farmer is nothing.
These things are the circumstances. They are not you. They are not your life.
And so, assuming there is no sin in the work itself, Paul’s concern for these young Corinthian sheep is simply this: “Don’t stress about the work or station in life that God has assigned for you. Remain with Jesus and obey God. If He moves you on, great. If He keeps you there, fine.
Pauls’ words are also a reminder to be wary when people (or churches) come and promise you a better Christian life, greater freedom, greater joy, the “higher life” or greater prosperity by changing your circumstances or environment.
True contentment is not determined by the job, status or station that you or your kids have in life. True contentment comes to those who come to Jesus, stay close and obey God’s commandments.
Living and thriving in the vocation God has assigned to you comes when you realise that our freedom and our joy are not tied to the circumstances, but to our daily fellowship with Jesus.
And so Paul concludes by saying that, in whatever situation you found yourself in when you were called to Christ, stay there. Abide with God in obedience to His Word. Stay close to Jesus.
You should work. Productive labour that meets the needs of others is an important part of loving our neighbour. And if a man will not work, neither should he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
But the great priority in life is not what you do for a living. Our priority is to maintain our freedom in Christ and not be enslaved again by sin, false allegiances, traditions, status, worldly wisdom or outward appearance.
We do that by walking with Jesus and abiding in His Word. We do that by being fruitful and faithful in our vocation – whatever and wherever that may be.