Contentment with the circumstances of our lives can be illusive. For most of us, though we may feel blessed on many fronts, there are usually more than a couple situations we might like to see different. We may wish for a better home in another neighborhood or for a higher position at work. Single people want to be married, etc., etc.
The Apostle Paul understood this natural, human tendency to have some discontentment with earthly circumstances. He addresses this theme in several of his writings. Paul tells Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” This sets up his famous statement just verses later that the love of money is a root for all sorts of evil.
The Corinthians, being quick to follow varied teachers and form cliques, were also quick to form alliances around ethnicities, marital status, and social class. Paul’s emphasis was to point out that these earthly classifications were transcended by their new classification as fellow servants of the Lord. Becoming a Christian should not motivate them to seek to be something different. Rather, they should – as the famous phrase goes – “bloom where they are planted.”
Those who were from a Jewish background should not insist upon Gentile believers coming under the elements of the Law, such as their oft-emphasis upon circumcision. Neither should there be some insistence in the other direction from the Gentiles.
Likewise with slavery – a very big issue in that era where about 50% of the Roman world lived as an indentured servitude/slave class of people. Both masters and slaves would end up in the same church family. Becoming a Christian should not, in an of itself, motivate a person to seek a higher station in life such as freedom from servitude. If this happened, great! If not, live a life of obedience to God in that classification.
Toward the end of our reading today, it is interested to see how Paul tells the slaves that they are free in the Lord spiritually, yet he tells masters that they are servants now of God.
Paul’s rule (meaning his strong teaching and opinion that would be wise to follow) was for these new Christians to find contentment where they are at in life … yep, to bloom where planted. Or, to go back to Christ’s word picture, to serve in the place of God’s vineyard where he has assigned you.
Pastors are not exempt from this occasional feeling of some fraction of discontent.
Just recently I was at a denominational gathering of pastors in our Maryland/Virginia district, a group of about 25 guys of all ages. There was a very, very blunt and open discussion about the experiential nature of our calling in life. Several of us (who are now on the older end and who have been friends together for 25-30 years in the same churches) shared with the younger guys that 40 years ago we honestly expected that our church ministry careers would have led us into more expansive situations than the outworking of our callings gave us. But we were also able to tell the younger men that, looking back, we have seen the faithful hand of God putting us at the most perfect places for our own service, enrichment, and family blessings.
Whatever we do, wherever we are, we should awake each day with a desire to serve God obediently in whatever the day brings to us. It may not be glamorous … probably won’t be. But when you do that with some consistency over multiple decades, you can look back and find a peaceful and pleasurable contentment with your circumstances and the experiences of God’s faithfulness in and through your life.
I Cor. 7:17 – Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.
7:21 – Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 24 Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.