When you were called 蒙召的时候Sermon passage: (1 Corinthians 7:8-24) Spoken on: August 19, 2019
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians
Title: When you were called
Date: 18th Aug 2019
Preacher: Rev Wong Siow Hwee
"I shall have to sell that old donkey of ours," said a miller to his son. "I cannot afford to keep him through the winter." In a little while the miller, his son, and the donkey were on their way to town.
They had not gone far when they met some girls going to a party. One of them said, "Look at that man and boy driving a donkey. One of them surely might ride." The miller heard what they said, and quickly made his son mount the donkey, while he walked along at its side.
After a while they came to a group of old men who were talking very earnestly. "There," said one, "I was just saying that boys and girls have no respect for the aged. See that boy riding while his old father has to walk." "Get down, my son," said his father, "and I will ride." So they went on.
They next met some women coming from town. "Why!" they cried, "your poor little boy is nearly tired out. How can you ride and make him walk?" So the miller made his son ride on the donkey behind him.
A man coming down the street called to the miller, "Why do you make your old donkey carry such a load? It has barely any strength left. You can even carry him better than he can carry you."
At this the miller and his son broke a long branch from a nearby tree. Then, they tied the donkey's legs together, turned him over on his back; and began to carry him.
A crowd soon gathered to see the strange sight. As they were crossing a bridge the donkey became frightened at the hooting of the crowd. It broke loose, fell into the river, and was drowned.
Over the past 2 weeks, we have studied many of Paul’s recommendations to deal with the manifold issues of man-woman relationships. But perhaps you might feel like the miller and the son with all the recommendations that seem to be polar opposites. Should you stay single or get married? Should you divorce or stay with your unbeliever spouse? Each of these recommendations comes with its own reasoning that sounds valid by itself. Which should be the one that is ultimately decisive? If we can’t figure out the underlying spiritual truths, it would only result in superficial changes in behavior like what happened to the miller and son. The problem with the Corinthians was that they were swayed by each and every false teaching they came across, and failed to think deeper into the spiritual truths.
Thankfully, Paul did show us the key principle that he used to arrive at his recommendations. This is the overriding rule: everyone should conduct their lives as the Lord appointed, as God has called them. Paul’s rule to all the churches was that whatever situation you were in when you were called by God, you should live as a Christian in that situation. The call of God has a tremendous implication: we are no longer the same person. We now come into a relationship with God and we belong to him. We are set apart from the others for God's holy use, to live in a Christ-like manner. We now hold God’s standard and God’s will as the measurement of what is desirable. Our settings may or may not remain unchanged, but our lives can still change because of our new identity. Paul’s rule seems contrary to our prevailing wisdom. Many of our major decisions involve a desire to improve our lives through changing our status. We get a new job, or we look for a spouse, or we join a gym membership hoping for our lives to change. There’s nothing wrong with all that because that’s what people do. But for Christians, there is a deeper spiritual truth. Improving our status in life is important, and we all aim to upgrade our standards of living. But when God calls us, we now derive our identity from God. We believe that it is ultimately how God sees us, how God defines who we are, that matters.
Paul’s principle was aimed at the issues of sex and marriage. But he chose the examples of circumcision and slavery as illustrations for his point. This was not a coincidence. These examples were part of the basic beliefs of living as a Christian family in the early church. In Galatians 3: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. We shall see how the examples of circumcision and slavery can enlighten us about the relationship between male and female.
For the Jews, circumcision is a physical mark to indicate that you are God’s people. However, Romans went naked when they went to the gym, or used public baths, so Jewish identity was difficult to hide. So, many Jewish men in Paul’s day were under pressure to pretend they were non-Jews, and some even tried surgery to make it look as though they were uncircumcised. At the same time, there were also pressures from the Jewish teachers that Gentiles had to be circumcised into a Jew to receive the “full salvation”. Paul stated that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision mattered any more. This is because identity is no longer defined by a superficial physical mark. You can be circumcised but your heart is far away from God by doing evil. You need the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). Jesus Christ showed us that what matters is our obedience to God’s will, a life marked by serving and loving. In living out a Christ-like faith to serve and to love, we already have the full identity before God.
Similarly, Paul told the Corinthians who were slaves that they did not have to worry about their status. Some have tried to lessen the strangness of Paul’s advice by explaining that many slaves at that time were treated kindly, and slaves who ended up in supervisory positions were better off than freemen in poverty conditions. But these were secondary considerations. The main reason for Paul’s advice is that our sense of identity rests on who are we before God, not our social or financial conditions. We are free in Christ to serve others, we are servants in Christ to serve others, whether we are slave or freemen in reality. Just in case there’s any misunderstanding about his disapproval of slavery, Paul added that, 21 Although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. But Paul’s main emphasis is our identity in Christ supersedes our outward social status, however important that may be. Our action and attitude is to love and serve, and it starts the moment we are called by God.
I believe this is the same mindset we need for our understanding of marital status. Today, we often face pressure from society and personal desires to change our lives through changing our status, whether it is to get married, or to get divorced. When you’re married, you wish you were single and vice versa. The grass looks greener on the other side. It was the same in the Corinthian church. There was pressure for the widows and widowers remarry to improve their financial stability. There was personal desire for the married to get divorced to practice sexual abstinence for their asceticism. There’s pressure for those with non-Christian spouses to get divorced to separate their holiness. There’s personal desires to stay married as well. With each of these decisions, we can always find justification for what we want to do.
But when you are called by God, the mindset must be that of Christ’s. You keep God’s commands whether you are circumcised or not. You serve and love others whether you are a slave or free. Similarly, if you are divorced or widowed, then you can contribute by remaining single and focusing your energy on God through loving and serving people. If you choose to remarry, then be fullly devoted to loving and serving your spouse. It is the same even if your spouse is still a non-believer when you were called. In fact your calling is now even more important. Because you know you are set apart to be holy, your family is now your mission field. They are your most direct subject of loving and serving. Paul said, “God has called us to live in peace”. If your non-believing spouse demands a divorce, out of peace you have to separate amiably. You have to understand that in the first century, there were those who thought of Christians as a crazy cult. Sometimes, unfortunately, agreeing to a divorce is your only way of serving and loving them. But if the non-beliving spouse wishes to stay in the marriage, even better. Your holiness in service will spread to them, not the other way round.
I would like to conclude with a personal reflection on my own experience. I entered into theological studies immediately after my tertiary education. Sometimes I wonder if I should have picked a secular job. After reflecting on today’s message, I’ve found my answer. My sense of calling informs me that my life is to be fully devoted to God. What this means is that whether it is full-time ministry or working outside church, my focus remains the same, building the kingdom of God and not my own wealth. This perspective is critical because I shouldn't think that working for the outside world is my own business while only church work is God's work. In fact, you need the sense of God’s calling even more outside church where the rules of the marketplace may contradict the Bible. No matter what is the final decision, it is only considered responsible when it is done with God in mind. He has called us such that whichever path we take, we do it for him. We are all one in the family of God. May God bless us through the love and service we have for one another.
1 Corinthians 7:8–24 (Listen)
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
17 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. 18 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. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.