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1 Corinthians 7:17-40: Identity with Christ Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 18 October 2015

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Your identity with Christ transcends all others. Whether you are black or white, rich or poor, old or young, who you are in Christ is more important. People place great importance on these issues and go to great lengths to protect or secure a certain identity. Recently, there was a lady in the news, Rachel Dolezal who convinced people that she was African American because she felt like she identified with that race. She lied about her race for years and was able to become the leader of an NAACP chapter in Washington. She went to great lengths to change her identity because she seemingly wanted to fight for racial equality. She thought that the best way to accomplish this was to attempt to change her own identity.  Whether you are talking about race or something else, it is obvious that identity is important to people. But for the Christian, our identity as followers of Christ transcends all of these others, including singleness or marriage.

As we saw last week, Paul is answering a question from the Corinthians that they had apparently asked him in their letter. Because of their belief that all matter is evil, it seems that some were trying to leave their marriages to avoid sexual activity altogether. At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul informed them that such an approach was wrong and that they needed to remain in their marriages, even if they were married to an unbeliever if possible. Instead of divorcing for these false spiritual ideas, Paul tells them to remain. His reason for telling them to do this is their identity in Christ, which is what he tells them in our passage this morning. He wants this principle to be clear so he states it repeatedly in verses 17-24 and then goes on to apply it to the betrothed and the widows in verses 25-40. So then, in our time together this morning I want us to look at what he says about the principle and then consider how he applies it to these two particular situations.

The Principle: Remain as you are with the Lord (v. 17-24)

Paul states the principle three times in verses 17-24. Look at verse 17. The language that Paul uses here implies God’s sovereignty over all situations. The life we have is no accident. The circumstances that we face are no accident. And the identity that we have is under His sovereign control. Referring to this verse, one of my commentator’s writes: “It is a statement based on the conviction that God’s sovereignty extends over all the detailed circumstances of every individual life. God assigns everybody a place in life and calls each one to his particular function.” 1

Paul repeats the principle in verse 20. Look at that with me. He concludes the paragraph by repeating it one more time. Look at verse 24. The point that Paul is making with this repetition is that a person can serve the Lord in whatever circumstances he finds himself. Are you rich? You can serve the Lord. Are you poor? You can serve the Lord. Are you married? You can serve the Lord. Are you single? You can serve the Lord. Our identity in Christ, the truth that we are with God through faith in what Jesus did for us at the cross, means that we can serve Him no matter what our circumstances.

Paul drives this principle home with two examples concerning social identity. The first is circumcision. Look at verses 18-19. The issue here is whether or not a person was a Jew or Gentile. If they were Jewish, then they would have been circumcised when they were converted. If they were Gentile, then they would have been uncircumcised.

So what is Paul saying? Being Jewish or being Gentile is not what is important to the Christian because both can serve the Lord faithfully. There is no reason for a Jew to seek to be a Gentile or vice-versa. Not when both can be followers of Christ. His second example involves slavery. Look at verses 21-23. If a person was a slave when they heard the gospel and believed in Jesus, then they can keep following Christ as a slave. Of course, if they can gain their freedom, then they should, but it is not the most important thing about them. After all, in Jesus we are all free from sin and slaves to Christ (see Romans 6). Our identity in Christ transcends circumcision and slavery. Who we are in Him is the most important thing about us.

The principle applied to the betrothed (v. 25-38)

Paul goes on to apply the principle to two more situations in chapter 7. He first deals with the betrothed, or the virgins. We should not necessarily think of these as the engaged since our engagement is less significant and weighty as their betrothal. But it seems that Paul is simply addressing those who are considering marriage to a particular person, but are not yet married. Apparently the Corinthians had asked Paul about this in their letter, which is why he starts with Now concerning the betrothed… So then, what does he tell them?

First, they should remain unmarried if they can. Look at verses 25-27. Again, they do not have to get married to be faithful servants of the Lord, so Paul tells them to remain as they are in the Lord. He gives some further reasons for this in these verses. Look at verses 28-31. We are living in the last days. Christ has promised to return for His people and that promise could be fulfilled at any moment. Paul wants the Corinthians to live with an eternal perspective. We cannot act as if our identities in this age (married, single, rich, poor, slave, free, etc.) are more significant than they are.

Not only that, but it seems as if the Corinthians were going through particularly difficult times when Paul wrote this letter. Perhaps they were facing more and more persecution, we cannot be sure. But Paul is pointing out the difficulties of being married in these last days and we wants the betrothed to be aware of these as well. We must live in light of Christ and not be totally consumed with the identities of this life, which is what I think he means when he tells us to live as if we were not married or not buying or not having dealings with the world. We must always remember that the present world is passing away. We must hold fast to the eternal, while laboring to be faithful in this life with these other areas.
 
Another reason that Paul gives for them to remain single is to avoid worldly anxieties. Look at verses 32-35. The married man must be concerned about caring for his wife and family. He must take care of his responsibilities. These are not bad things, they are just a real part of life. A single man or woman does not have these responsibilities. Thus, their devotion to the Lord is undivided in that sense. They can spend more time serving others and sharing the gospel. They can spend more time in learning and teaching. For Paul, this is just another reason why the single man or woman should remain as they are.

Yet, second, Paul does tell the betrothed to get married if they must. His advice for them to remain single is not a command or a law. They are free to marry. Why does he tell them that they can do this? Look at verse 36. If a man who is betrothed cannot control his passions, probably referring to his sexual passions, then Paul tells him to go ahead and get married. It is not a sin for them to get married. Look again at verse 28. But to commit sexual immorality is sin. Thus, Paul says if the two people really do desire to get married, then they should get married.

He draws his conclusion for the betrothed in verses 37-38. For Paul, it is better for the betrothed if they can remain unmarried simply because the world is passing away and the unmarried man is undivided in his devotion. But neither getting married or not getting married is a sin. Why? Because you can serve the Lord faithfully with both identities.

Although, he does not mention it here, elsewhere Paul will define the marriage relationship as a picture of the gospel, with the man playing the role of Christ and the woman playing the role of the church. It is a great blessing to live out the picture of the gospel as a married person. But this does not mean that the single person is left out. No, they can be undivided in their devotion to the Lord. They can spend more time ministering to the Church and witnessing to the world. Thus, married or single, you can serve the gospel. Either way, you have been given a gift by God to use for His glory.

The principle applied to widows (v. 39-40)

Paul applies the principle of remaining with the Lord to one other situation in verses 39-40. Look at those with me. As long as a husband is living, then the wife is bound to him. Yet, if he dies, then the widow is free to remarry, as long as it is in obedience to the Lord, which would imply getting married to another believer. Again, Paul encourages her to remain single, but he does not command her to do so.

Conclusion
So then, Paul encourages the Corinthians to remain as they are with the Lord. He does not give them commands or laws about these issues, but he does tell them to live in light of their identity in Christ. Whether single or married, the most important relationship in the Christian life is the relationship with Jesus. If you are here this morning and you are single, then use God’s gift to bring glory and honor to Christ since your devotion is undivided. And if you are here this morning and you are married, then use God’s gift by accurately portraying the gospel through your marriage. The question is not, ‘Can I use my particular identity to serve Christ?’ The answer to that question is YES! Rather, the question is: ‘How can I use my particular identity in the service of Christ?’ No matter where we are or what circumstances we face, may we take each and every opportunity we are given to point others to our Savior. Amen.

1 David Jackman, Let’s Study 1 Corinthians (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), p. 121. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 29 October 2015 )

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