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1 Corinthians 7:17-24 Study Guide: Living the Life God has Given

Community Group Study Guide — Living the Life God has Given
1 Corinthians 7:17-24

Main idea:
In the middle of this discussion on marriage, sex, divorce and singleness Paul gives us these verses about remaining as you are. What’s behind that? Paul is showing us that God can and does work in whatever situation you find yourself in and though you may wish that God authored your life differently, he is nevertheless at work. Rather than fight against God because of discontentment with our lives Paul tells us to “remain with God” and seek to honor him with the life he has given us.  

Study Information:
Many of us may be filled with regrets or maybe even envy of the life someone else has as we work through this discussion on marriage, divorce, sex and singleness. It could be that your marriage ended, or you have a list of sexual encounters in your past or you earnestly desire a spouse but remain single. Often what we do is we work hard to try and fix our situation and through our self determination we try to author our own stories rather than seeing how God can be at work in the situation we find ourselves in. This passage is not calling us to be passive or not to put forth effort, rather it is reminding us that the Lord is the author of our life. We are to “remain with God” rather than be bitter about how our life has unfolded and work hard to try to fix it (1 Corinthians 7:17, 24). Paul talks about this in terms of “living as you are called.” This calling is not talking about your vocation, it is talking about your identity in Christ and how you live your life in response to that. In other places Paul refers to walking in a manner worthy of your calling as a way to express what Christ-like living looks like (Eph 4:1, Phil 1:27). The question the Christian ought to consider in relationship to these verses is, “how can I honor God in the situation I am in?”, rather than the situation you wish you were in.

Indeed many of us feel a need to change the life we were “called” to live. We think that if we can tinker and fix things we’d find joy. The immediate context is a big area many of us tinker in, thinking if we could just make some adjustments we’d be set. Paul just finished telling the Corinthians that someone married to an unbeliever may feel a need to change their marriage. Paul gave a theological reason for why one should remain in the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) and now he continues that conversation by giving us an illustration of how God can be at work through non-ideal circumstances and how we ought to purpose to live out holiness in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Paul gives us two illustrations of situations many people would want to change about their “calling” or current life and how God can indeed be at work in those situations to help us to honor him. Let’s remember, Paul’s end goal here is to help us consider things related to marriage, sex and singleness, but he is using other illustrations to help us understand how to be content and strive to live for holiness in relationships. 

First, the Corinthians found value and status in either being circumcised or uncircumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18-20).
Remember, this church struggled with pride and division (1 Corinthians 1-4). This church was made up of Jewish (circumcised) and gentile (uncircumcised) believers. Part of the church may be finding standing and value in their past marking and others may be desirous of those who were Jews first. The desire would be to change the life that the Lord assigned to them. The answer is not to remove the marks of circumcision as if that were possible, or to seek circumcision but rather to keep God’s commandments and live in the condition you were called (1 Corinthians 7:19-20). One’s christian identity and calling is not dependent on these sorts of outward circumstances. Instead of trying to change their outwards circumstance, they should think about how to live according to the life God has authored for them. 

Second, the bondservant who longs to be free (1 Corinthians 7:21-23)
In the ancient world a bondservant was a household servant who had likely sold themselves into that servitude for a period of time. Some of these situations were abusive and deplorable, but for many bondservants they chose that kind of employ because of security it afforded, indeed there were many just and good masters to work for in Corinth. Many bondservants in the ancient world were doctors, craftspeople, artists or house workers. Based on our present day circumstances we would think that Paul’s automatic advice would be “seek your freedom”, while he eventually gets there in verse 21, his focus is on how you can honor God in the situation you are in whether servant or free. Look at verse 22, if you are a bondservant your secure identity is actually marked by freedom in Jesus; and if you’re free (not a bondservant) you still have a master to honor in Christ. Paul caps off his argument by reminding all believers that their life belongs to Jesus who bought them at the cost of his life. So yes, honor your boss because the Lord has called you to; but do not put your hopes in a change in your work life to bring you contentment, rather figure out how to honor the Lord with where you are currently called. 

So, are you chasing contentment somewhere other than where God has currently placed you? Are you putting your hopes in a different marriage, a more vibrant sex life, maybe you’re married and wish you were single or single and wish you were married? Paul’s exhortation, “in whatever condition you are called, remain with God.” This word “remain” in verse 24 is the word for “abide” or “live” (see John 15:1-11). Your life’s calling is to live with God and to seek to find out how you can walk in a worthy manner even in the difficulties of your current situation. Trust us when we say that if you are discontented in your spouse the answer is not “change your spouse.” It will not solve your problems. If you’re single and you think that if you can just find the right spouse then your discontentment will go away, trust us your problems will follow you into that relationship. To go to Paul’s example, if every boss you’ve ever had has been “the worst” then maybe the problem is not your string of bosses but rather some way you’re approaching what it means to work to the glory of God. To summarize, the calling Paul talks about here is: God is at work in the situation you’re in, strive to live in a manner worthy of God and seek to live with him rather than think that these changes will bring you the hope and contentment you’re looking for. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

In what ways can people put hopes in a different situation rather than hope in the Lord? How does envy relate to this?

How does this passage relate to what Paul has been teaching in the previous verses in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7?

Does this passage mean that you have to stay in whatever situation you are in forever? Why or why not? How would a bondservant receive these words from Paul?

What does it mean to “remain with God?” What are some ways we can put that into practice?