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Live as You are Called Not where you find yourself

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Sermon 25 – “Live as You are called………….

not where you find yourself!”

STAND & READ 1 Cor. 7:17-24



          One evening in 1986….in a remote village in the mountains of Pakistan, Zahid stood holding an iron bar and shouted to the men around him, “When you catch the infidels, beat them!”  The young men from the mosque raised their wooden clubs and iron bars and shouted “Allah Akbar” and waited for his next exhortation.  Zahid was proud of his position as Imam – his family rich in religious zeal for Allah (his father and older brother were also both Imams) and it was his duty to continue to enforce Sharia Law – a strict Islamic code that considered it extreme blasphemy deserving of death for any who insulted the honor or name of the prophet Mohammed or the Koran….and any who claimed Christ were guilty of such an offense.  His hatred and anger swelled as he thought of these Christians who forsake the teachings of Mohammed!

On this evening, with his young men angry and ready….he led them to a place where he had learned a small group of Christian young men were to be gathered….and as they came upon them, one of the young Christians dropped his Bible.  One of Zahid’s group snatched it off the ground to rip the pages from it…..but Zahid stopped him.  His instructions were to always burn any Bibles collected during these outings, but for some reason he ordered it given to him and he slipped inside his shirt.  He would read some of it and point out it’s inconsistencies with the Koran to his followers.  Later that night Zahid began reading about Jesus….looking for the lies from this Satanic book.  But that night in a vision, his room became bright….so bright he could not bear to look…and a voice said, “Zahid, why do you persecute me?”  Zahid was frightened and thought, I must be dreaming….. “Who are you?” he asked.  The voice trumpeted, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  This happened again the next night….and again the third night…and on the fourth night, Zahid knelt down and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.  He felt his anger slip away…and he immediately went to his family and to his flock at the mosque and told them what had happened over the past 4 nights!  They refused to believe him….labeled him a blasphemer and he was imprisoned for 2 years – beaten regularly…twice having his fingernails ripped off; once he was tied to the ceiling fan by his hair and left hanging…but he would not deny Jesus Christ nor the gospel that led him to know Christ! 

Zahid was tried and found guilty of blasphemy and condemned to death by hanging.  Offered complete exoneration if he would deny Jesus Christ….he refused.  He continued to pray for his guards and tell them of the love of Jesus!  His execution day arrived….they came for him and led him to the place of execution and placed the noose around his neck while Zahid continued to proclaim the good news of Jesus – wanting his last words to be words of his love for Christ and God’s love offered to his executioners through Christ-----When suddenly loud voices were heard in the outer room and guards came bursting through the door!  The court had unexpectedly issued an order for Zahid’s release!  He never has learned why.  Later, Zahid changed his name to Lazerus…saying he too was brought from death to life!  He travels the villages speaking of the One who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life!”  Reflecting the words of the Apostle Paul, Zahid wrote, “I live in a land ruled by the false teaching of Islam.  My people are blinded, and I was chosen by God to be his voice in sharing [the gospel].  I count all that I have suffered nothing compared to the endless joy of knowing Jesus, the way, the truth and the life!”[1]

Tie-in  There are countless stories….thousands of Christian disciples who counted their circumstances….their possessions in this world, and even their own lives as nothing when seen through the light of Christ!  So often, we Believers enslave ourselves to the fears and anxieties that come with the changing circumstances in our lives….we are caught-up in the things of this world – whether they be possessions, our health, the morals of our own culture or even our political beliefs or freedom – but the Apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7 is one of practical application of a general principle!  It is theology and doctrine applied to our worldview.  First, he’s answered their questions about marriage – for widows, for those married to unbelievers, for those previously married….and now he turns to our circumstances in life…..and the apostle draws our attention in all these situations to God’s guiding principal for the church in Corinth and for our church today:

1 Cor 7:17

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.

It is a principle upon which his earlier answers on marriage are based and it is one he repeats three times and illustrates twice in just these 8 verses.  As Christians….as those adopted into the family of God and who belong to (that means we are a possession of ) Jesus Christ – we must recognize that this world is passing away///being made new by Christ and that our ultimate concern is not our circumstances – our marriage, our job, even our health – but our focus must be on following Jesus Christ – no matter the situation or the cost!  It is a transforming truth – and by that I mean that we can and will do it only through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit – for it goes completely against our human nature!

God’s Principle  vv. 17 “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…”  

In order to understand this verse, we must understand what the Apostle means by the word “called” (kaleo).  Today, we often use the word “calling” to refer to our vocation – to our job.  But this verse points to the sovereignty of God through the drawing action of the Holy Spirit to all who come to faith in Christ.   It is the action of God’s grace in, as Jesus describes in John 6.44, the Father drawing one to Christ in salvation.  The call of God is a powerful, effective bringing of the person into fellowship with Christ.  We see this in 1 Cor. 1.9 “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

We see this word 8x in the passage and in all but 1, it is used of our salvation.  So the principal is just this….that we are to walk in the life (circumstances) to which the Lord has assigned to us and we are to be faithful (obedient) in whatever condition we are in when God calls us to salvation.  It is not that we are to be oblivious of our circumstances, but we are to be confident in the fact that God has called us as we are into His family and in whatever marital situation, job, economic status or culture we are in….our focus is not on changing the circumstances, but it is on obedience to Christ and His Word….and God’s promise is that His Spirit will transform us into the image of His Son, regardless of the circumstances.  Put simply….we can follow Christ whether single, married, or divorced….whether wealthy or poor….whether living in a free democratic state or under a dictator!  Whatever we are wherever we are….we are to live our lives to the glory of God!  The only thing that prevents obedience is our own sin….never our circumstances!

This is a universal principle for all churches:  This is my rule in all the churches.  The gospel is targeted to the heart…not culture….and it radically transforms that heart which bears spiritual fruit… is the fruit-bearing in the obedient lives of the Christian that changes society – that fights poverty, hunger, societal injustice and political oppression – but the world is changed through spiritual regeneration, not social revolution!

Illustration – Circumcision:  Paul applies this universal Christian principle first in dealing with the Jew / Gentile division of his day.

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.

Circumcision in the Roman (that is, Gentile) world was considered an embarrassment – the Romans considered on par with castration!  And beginning with the growing influence of Greek culture in Palestine around 100 BC, there were Jewish men who underwent a surgical procedure to “hide” that they had been circumcised…(Greek athletics in nude; Roman bath houses).  Paul says, were you circumcised when God saved you….stay that way…it doesn’t matter (don’t try to remove the marks, i.e. hide it).  Were you uncircumcised, then don’t have it done – it doesn’t matter!  Jew or Gentile….Roman or Greek…American or European or Asian….black, white…it matters not!  The real focus here is on culture.  The African Christian doesn’t have to be Americanized to follow Christ!  A huge problem and hindrance to the gospel for many decades on the mission field – but the principal is clear….in whatever culture context in which you are in – dress means nothing, skin color means nothing, obedience to God’s commands means everything!

Which commands must we keep?  Jesus tells us: Matt 22:37-40

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

All of the OT is fulfilled in these 2 commandments!  John repeats this in 1 John 4.21 “and this commandment we have from him [Jesus]; whoever loves God must also love his brother [and sister].” 

The Principal Repeated    1 Co 7:20-24

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave 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 slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

The most horrible social status in the Roman world was slavery.  Although it came in many different forms…from voluntary indenture to cruelty on par with our own sordid evil through the end of the 19th century, it was the best example Paul could use to bring the kind of understanding needed to the principle – God will bring a radical change inside you….regardless of what circumstance or condition you find yourself in!  He is not minimizing the evil of slavery (for the Bible speaks against slavery 1 Tim. 1.10), but that even if enslaved, God has saved you (as a slave) and you can be obedient and bring glory to God. To the slave, God says you are free in Christ; to the free, God says you are a slave of Christ!  No matter your circumstances, God has purchased you with the precious blood of Christ!  We need to understand that whether imprisoned or free, rich or poor….. fear and anxiety should not be our companion – but in whatever situation in which we find ourselves…our sovereign God has placed us there and if we live daily as disciples of Jesus Christ, then the radical transforming power of God will be at work in our lives and we will experience the joy of Christ…the peace of our Savior and our Father will receive the glory!  But as Paul states, for the third time, the same principle, we need to see God’s promise: in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.  In whatever condition we find ourselves in…we are never alone…for we are with God….in Christ….filled and empowered by His Holy Spirit!                              {4 Take-Aways}

Conclusion: Here’s some take-away applications for us in this passage:

1.    The power of the gospel to change is focused on you…not our culture or society.  God changes society one heart at a time.  Our focus as individual Christians is on Christ and obedience to him; as our church it is living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  Doing that will radically change our government, our culture and even our world!

2.    God is sovereign in all things and in all circumstances.  No matter the trial or hardship – God’s will for you is to follow Christ daily!  Fear and worry are not to dictate our demeanor, but joy and peace will reign in the obedient heart.

3.      We must get our eyes off the world and our own circumstances and onto Christ and His eternal Kingdom!  Look at vv. 29-31: 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

    We cannot care most about the things of the world!  It is not God’s wisdom but man’s that looks primarily at our circumstances and allows them to dictate our happiness (joy).  So many churches today preach a false gospel of prosperity in earthly “stuff”…but they are preaching their own brand of some human gospel….not the gospel of God!  Time is short for this world….Jesus is coming back……and the concern is not what you have or your marital state or your career…but are you ready to face the judgment to come? 

4.    Finally, for our church…we must be missional!  A great sin and a deadly disease of so many churches today is that before any program, ministry or event is planned…the question most asked is how this will help us instead of the question that always touches God’s heart – “How will this reach out from us to others for the cause of Christ and His gospel?”  The inward reaching church wants to open its doors to everyone just like they are….the missional church understands that God is glorified through diversity (black, white, rich, poor, American, Mexican, laborer and capitalist) – it is in the diversity of our condition and circumstances that the tremendous reconciling love of the gospel flourishes!  It is out from such diversity that the Holy Spirit calls us all to one Lord, one Faith, and one baptism!

May God our Father be glorified through such unity from diversity as He grows His church at Cragfont Baptist! 

Let’s Pray   


[1] Live like a Jesus Freak, pg.113.

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