Eight times in eight verses the apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians about understanding their various vocations in light of God’s effectual “call.” These instructions about one’s calling before God broaden Paul’s focus in chapter 7 from marriage, singleness, and sexuality to matters concerning circumcision (Jew vs. Gentile) and slavery (bondservant and free).
All in all, Paul’s heavy emphasis on the Christians upward call in Christ make these verses a cornerstone for understanding our earthly labors at home, in the marketplace, or the church. You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message (shortly) or peruse the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources on the doctrine of vocation.
1 Corinthians 7:17–24 (ESV)
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.
** The four italicized words (bondservant or bondservants) were changed by the ESV Translation Oversight Committee in 2011 when they revised just under 500 words (from a total of 750,000). A video of the discussion about doulos (slave, servant, bondservant) is available here. (HT: Justin Taylor)
The discussion questions are keyed to the sermon I preached at Occoquan Bible Church.
- Why is our cultural setting so powerful in shaping the way we read Scripture? Should we ignore the biases we bring to the text? How can we appropriately compensate for our ‘situatedness’? What if we don’t compensate for our cultural biases?
- In general, how can we “see the shape” of a biblical passage? (Here are a few examples where the literary shape of passage helps us see the author’s main point: Genesis 1–11, Jonah, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 1)
- What did you think of the statement from the ESV Translation Committee? Does that lower your trust in the Bible you hold in your hand? (It shouldn’t. Innerancy is a doctrine that affirms the inspiration and absolute veracity of the original autographs).
- What is the main argument Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 7:17–24? How do we know (see vv. 17, 20, 24)? How does his argument fit into the chapter?
- How would define vocation? What is the difference between a heavenly calling and your earthly calling (or earthly assignment, v. 17)? How does these relate? (Cf. “Seven Truths about the Doctrine of Vocation“).
- What would it look like to apply 1 Corinthians 7 to your vocation? How does that vision encourage or challenge you?
- How does this understanding of vocation impact your understanding and love for the gospel? How does the doctrine of vocation help you carry out your calling to make disciples (the Great Commission) and to love your neighbor (the Great Commandment)?
For Further Study
- ‘Do Not Work For That Which Is Not Bread’: A Biblical Theology of Work
- Seven Truths about the Doctrine of Vocation
- God at Work: Learning About the Doctrine of Vocation from Gene Veith (and Martin Luther)
- God at Work: Your Vocation in All of Life by Gene Veith
- The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Work by Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger
- Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Tim Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf
- What’s Best Next? How the Gospel Changes the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman
- Made to Flourish — A Pastor’s Network for the Common Good
- Theology of Work — A Biblical Perspective on Work, which includes an online Study Bible keyed to discussing faith and work
- Center for Faith and Work — A Ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Tim Keller), with plenty of resources
Lord, may we your people seek first your kingdom and our upward calling in Christ. May all our earthly labors be keyed to our calling in Christ. And may you use the highs and lows of our vocations to make us long for more of you.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds